Friday, April 30, 2010

Where Do Scientists Belong in Policy?

I finished my Ph.D. in July and promptly packed up and moved to D.C. Why? I have had a long-standing interest in science policy and wanted learn how scientists fit in the process. As I try to find my place in the science policy world, I'm interested in knowing where you, our readers, think scientists belong.

There are multiple ways that scientists can contribute to policy, but what role do you think they should be playing?

What role should scientists play in the policy process?
Vote in elections
Get published
Be a science advisor
Get a job on the Hill
Become a lobbyist
Run for office free polls

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

On Writing

Today's post was inspired by this publication.

In my work with New Voices and the interns and fellows in our office, I often find myself repeating the same advice: add a story, make it personal. Most of the people I'm working with are trained scientists, and they claim that learning how to inject themselves in their writing is incredibly difficult. A quote I found while reading this week, explains the situation:
"[Scientists'] language is intended to convey a special meaning: the relationship between the problem expressed, and the results at hand, not a plot or storyline." (chapter 5)
When I received my first training in writing, I was told that my personality should only be expressed in the nature of my writing, not in the words themselves. That meant no first-person narrative style, personal anecdotes, opinion statements, or un-researched claims. If it was a valid claim (I can hear my teacher saying this in my head), someone else will have opined it or you'll be able to quote a source of some kind.

My academic writing never veered far from that philosophy. Outside academia, however, I found it confining; with all due respect to my writing instructors, I cannot agree with that theory. To think that if it was a good idea, than someone else will have had it first, is to believe that there is no new knowledge or perspective to be had in the world. Moreover, it is hard to be persuasive without passion, and passion is personal.

Not all personality is professional and there will still be some venues (say, when submitting to an academic journal) that academic-style writing is appropriate. But when trying to communicate with the public or policymakers, the personal story makes the difference.

I found my ability to integrate "story" during my last semester of graduate school. My speech writing professor insisted on the same reliable/credible sourcing as instructors of the past, but also on the integration of an arc, or a flow to the writing that compelled people to continue on.

Non-fiction can be entertaining as well as informative. All we need is a little science, a little passion, and a little practice.

Just (a little) food for thought.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

National Institutes of Health

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the primary agency that funds biomedical research. The NIH supports research at hospitals, medical schools, and universities.

Did you notice that there is an ‘s’ at the end of ‘Institutes’? That is because the NIH is made up of 27 institutes and centers, which makes discussions about funding sources really confusing since each institute and center has its own unique abbreviation. Were you submitting that application to NIGMS, NIBIB, or NCI? Huh?

The NIH began in a one-room laboratory in 1887. This lab was known as the ‘Laboratory of Hygiene’ and was set up within the Marine Hospital Service (which later became the U.S. Public Health Service). In 1930, the Ransdell Act reorganized the Laboratory of Hygiene into the National Institute of Health (no ‘s’ at this point). Today, the NIH has grown to a campus of 75 buildings over 300 acres.

Each year the NIH invests over $28 billion dollars in research, with over 83% of the money being distributed through competitive grants. Submitted grants undergo an intensive peer-review process to identify projects that are the most promising and address the NIH’s research priorities. This review process seems to work well for the NIH, considering over 100 scientists who have either worked for NIH or been funded by NIH have received a Nobel Prize for their work.

The current director of the NIH is Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., a brilliant scientist who is well known for the leadership role he took in the completion of the Human Genome Project. He is also invested in improving science communication, and was recently recognized as a Rock Star of Science.

This is Part 4 in the Introduction to Federal Agencies series.
Part 1 - Acronyms, Abbreviations and Agencies
Part 2 - A-B...C-D-C?
Part 3 - Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Child Nutrition is a Global Concern

April is Global Child Nutrition Month. This is the perfect time to give the globe a “check-up” for developments, efforts, and general information on children’s nutrition in a few regions of our planet. Let's start our journey here at home in the United States.

According to the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity, two-thirds of premature deaths in the U.S. are due to poor nutrition, physical inactivity and tobacco use. Nutrition is a key ingredient to a healthy life-style. It should be on everyone’s agenda, especially those in a position of responsibility to children.

Within the United States there are initiatives taking place to battle childhood obesity. The First Lady, Michelle Obama, and former president Bill Clinton have undertaken stamping out this problem as their personal platform.

A group of retired military officers going by the name “Mission: Readiness” are calling school lunches a national security threat. These officers are looking at it from a recruitment perspective. A large portion (9 million to be exact) of 17-24 year old are too overweight to join the military. Even those who wish to make that most noble commitment cannot because they do not meet basic regulations to be successful airmen.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that just passed the House Agriculture Committee gives power to the Secretary of Agriculture to set forth new standards for school lunches, breakfasts and all foods sold on school grounds. With efforts from the First Lady, “Mission: Readiness”, and many other public health groups child nutrition and combating childhood obesity has been brought to the forefront of policy in the United States.

The U.S. is not the only country with a childhood obesity problem. Mexico’s childhood obesity rate is second only to the United States. A health ministry report released in January noted that school children in Mexico have an average of five opportunities to eat in the average school day. This is quite astounding considering the school day only lasts four hours. School lunches and food sold on school grounds is a target amongst Mexican policymakers. North America is not the only region focusing on nutrition issues. Though, the picture in other nations is on the opposite end of the nutrition spectrum.

North America has plenty of food for its children. Children need only to make healthy decisions and have healthy options available to them. South-east Asian nations are plagued by a lack of food rather than poor quality. Organizations are engaging in grassroots efforts to develop new food options through farming, herding, and fishing.

To curb this problem World Vision introduced vegetable crops such as potatoes, carrots, and cabbage into children’s diet in East Timor, a south-east Asian nation. Also, farming techniques and goat, chicken, and fish farming is developing for new sources of food.

Cost of food and the heavy effect of weather are serious problems in most of Africa and organizations are working to counteract that fact.

Concern Worldwide hosts supplementary feeding programs for malnourished children. The UN World Food Program is also providing supplementary rations to children under the age of five, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

Babysitters, parents, school officials, and policymakers should be concerned with the food being distributed to the children of all nations. There are basic guidelines for nutrition and how much of which foods we are supposed to consume each day.

With this information in mind we should educate children on proper eating habits. Also, we should support organizations that provide nutritious meals or meal supplements to children in parts of the globe that do not have access to sufficient food sources. No child should go hungry, ever.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Advocating for the Intersection

Now that we’ve seen intersection between medical research and public health, what should our advocacy messages be moving forward in order to support this collaboration?

Increased funding for health research is vital. We are currently spending about five and a half cents on the dollar for health research, and approximately 70% of Americans believe that we should be spending more. By increasing funding we can support the discovery of new treatments and therapies for health problems such as childhood obesity and HIV.

In order continue public health’s work moving forward, it’s also important to increase funding for the CDC. By supporting the organizations that focuses on health promotion and disease prevention, we will help to find non-biomedical ways to combat health problems within the general public.

So, speak out! Talk to your congressman and senator about the importance of medical research and public health.

This is Part 5 of 5 in our Intersection of Medical Research and Public Health series.
Part 1 - The Intersection of Medical Research and Public Health
Part 2 - Research and Public Health Tackle the Flu Together
Part 3 - Today's Epidemic: Childhood Obesity
Part 4 - HIV/AIDS: From Death Sentence to Chronic Disease?
Part 5 - Advocating for the Intersection

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Friday, April 23, 2010

March of Dimes Walk for Babies

Looking at me using physics to life up a car at COSI, you'd never know I was born with a congenital birth defect. My right kidney had two upper poles, rather than one, and a blocked ureter.

In my case the doctor used dye to follow the path of blood and urine through my system. Because the blocked ureter only occurred in one kidney, renal function (kidney function) appeared to be normal. This was not the case and as a result the kidney deteriorated over time and had to be removed via nephrectomy (kidney removal). Because of organizations such as the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation better science exists today for identifying issues in premature babies, newborns, and infants.

As a teenager I babysat a young girl who had the exact same birth defect as I experienced. Her mother had us compare scars and this little girl’s scar was half the size of mine. Instead of an incision that extended from my front to my back , hers was only 3 inches long. She also had half of her kidney on which the doctor performed the nephrectomy. I was overjoyed to learn that medical science had developed enough for this little girl to have an even better outcome than my successful surgery.

March for Babies, formerly WalkAmerica, funds programs, advocacy and research to prevent premature birth, birth defects, and infant mortality. Each year the American government spends billions of dollars on research for diseases and disorders. It is imperative that research continue for children and infants specifically, because their bodies metabolize drugs differently. Medical professionals cannot make dosing decisions based on weight alone. Infants deserve definitive solutions to their health issues.

The March of Dimes first mission was to eradicate poliomyelitis (polio by its common name) in America. The polio epidemic reached its height in the mid 20th Century and affected not only infants, but also adolescents. Jonas Salk developed a vaccine for polio, which was subsequently tested in a clinical trial (one of the largest in history) sponsored by the March of Dimes. The trials were a success and as of 1991 polio has been eradicated in the western hemisphere.
March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation continues to educate people and fund and advocate for research to improve the health of premature babies and infants. We can contribute by participating in the Walk for Babies this Saturday, April 25th 2010.

If you live in the DC area, join the anticipated thousands of participants this weekend in the March of Dimes March for Babies. The March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation is holding its annual March for Babies.

The event begins at the Washington Monument grounds at 15th Street NW and Constitution Avenue NW. Registration begins at 8:00 am and the walk begins at 9:00am. Washingtonians will come together for four miles to support research that improves the health of one of society’s most defenseless group.

There are other opportunities to donate to the cause. Famous Footwear has a coupon for the official shoe of the Walk for Babies. You can form a team, join a team, or donate directly to the organization via their website.

Jessica Stutzman has a Bachelor of Arts in Security and Intelligence from The Ohio State University and is an administrative assistant at Research!America. She has previously contributed to New Voices on women's issues.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Environmental Re-Revolution

Happy Earth Day, New Voices! Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. The first Earth Day was held in 1970; founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson. After seeing the devastation caused by a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969, Senator Nelson was infuriated by the lack of action in Washington, DC. He suggested holding a nationwide “teach-in” in response to growing environmental degradation.

Nelson said, “I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda.”

At the end of the day, it was clear Earth Day was a success. The widespread involvement has been attributed to the grassroots organizing, with more than 20 million people participating. April 22, 1970 was the first Earth Day, but also marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement.

Forty years later, Earth Day is more widely attended and has become an international celebration. However, the event does not carry the same sense of urgency. Recent polls highlight the trend of the American public’s dampened concern over environmental issues. Americans increasingly believe that environmental issues, such as climate change are being over exaggerated.

Image credit: Gallup

This societal shift is, in part, because the environmental threats we face today are not things we can easily observe. In the 1970s, celebrating Earth Day was taking action against clouds of smog in Los Angeles, oil soaked wildlife that companies were not held accountable for, and a river in Ohio that caught fire. Today, Earth Day raises awareness for several environmental issues that are difficult to perceive for most Americans. Worldwide, drinkable water is becoming scarcer, yet in the U.S. it flows freely from our taps. The average global temperature has been on a long-term upward trend, but this winter Mother Nature crippled cities like Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD with record-breaking snowfall.

It is time to renew the call to action. Here's a powerful video put together by Greenpeace, evoking the memory of JFK to deliver a call to action for world leaders to address environmental issues, such as climate change.

Video credit: Greenpeace

This Earth Day make the commitment to advocate for environmental protection, and to also make small changes in your life that could really add up if they became part of a revived movement. Here is a list of some things you can change right now to make a difference:

If you aren’t using it, unplug it.
Even though you’ve turned an appliance off, if it is plugged into an outlet it is still drawing power. Unplugging appliances could result in a reduction in 10% of your household energy use, which can add up to real savings. If you appliances are plugged into a power strip, you can simply turn the power off.

Switch from bottled to filtered water. Bottled water requires much more energy to package and ship AND it costs you more money in the end.

Eat less meat. Meat production is estimated to produce 18% of global CO2 emissions.

Eat local. I was surprised to learn that the food we buy in the supermarket has traveled 1,500 miles on average to get from where it is grown to our plate. That requires a large amount of energy used just to move your food from point A to your plate.

Stop the leaky faucet. Not only is it an irritating sound to hear, it is also costing you money. The EPA website has some information about how you can do-it-yourself.

Be mindful of your water usage. Do you ever notice the person in the public restroom who leaves the water running not only while they lather their hands, but also while they go for the paper towels to dry off? I sure do. There are many times you can conserve by not leaving the water running, like washing your hands, brushing your teeth, or hand washing dishes.

Reduce Toxic Exposures. The EPA has started a great program called “Design for the Environment.” Companies with the label have worked with the EPA to reformulate products with safer chemicals.

Recycle Your Electronic Waste. Seventy percent of the heavy metals that end up in our landfills come from our discarded electronics, even though they are only about 2% of our discarded waste. Recycling keeps these toxic chemicals out of our environment.

How will you celebrate?

I myself will be attending “The Climate Rally” Earth Day event which is taking place this Sunday on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Festivities start at 11am and go on until at least 7pm. So if you are in the DC area, stop on by!

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

HIV/AIDS: From Death Sentence to Chronic Disease?

Yesterday, we talked about the childhood obesity epidemic in America, but as I stated at the beginning of this series, we have largely forgotten the problem of HIV and AIDS in America. Over time, it has become less popular to talk about HIV/AIDS, most likely because it is no longer considered a death sentence. During the beginning stages of the HIV epidemic in the late 70’s and early 80’s, there was little that clinicians could do to help HIV/AIDS patients, because no one knew what the mysterious illness was and people died within 16 months of exposure.

In 1983, we finally knew what the mysterious virus was that was causing so many people to get sick. Five years after identifying the actual virus we call HIV, the first anti-retroviral licensed as an effective treatment for HIV, AZT hit the market. This was a major breakthrough, significantly altering the course of HIV illness and helping destroy the notion that HIV/AIDS was an instant death sentence. Almost immediately, people were able to live longer with the virus. Basic science research helped to close the gap in time between identification of a virus and an effective treatment due to years of analyzing viruses and retroviruses, like HIV. Now there are over 20 different anti-retrovirals on the market.

While medical research has worked to find treatments and cures, the public health community has worked to prevent people from acquiring the virus. HIV testing has become widely available in health departments, clinics and doctor’s offices all over the country. Safe sex education has been paramount in limiting the spread of HIV. Public health has worked to make sure people use condoms during sexual activity and converse with their partners about knowing their HIV status.

The cutting edge research on HIV/AIDS bridges treatment and prevention by testing the effectiveness of pre-exposure prophyaxis, or PrEP. PrEP involves using anti-retrovirals as a prevention tool as opposed to treatment tool, to protect HIV-negative people from HIV infection. The theory behind this research is that if people take ARVs before they are exposed to HIV, they will lower their risk of infection if or when they do come in contact with the virus. If proven effective, PrEP would provide a safety net for anyone who is at risk of HIV infection.

Although PrEP is an exciting bridge between medical treatments and prevention, it is important to remember that we still must go forward in finding a cure or an effective vaccine against this illness. Worldwide, there are 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS. Medical research and public health must continue to work together, because there is much work yet to be done.

This is Part 4 of 5 in our Intersection of Medical Research and Public Health series.
Part 1 - The Intersection of Medical Research and Public Health
Part 2 - Research and Public Health Tackle the Flu Together
Part 3 - Today's Epidemic: Childhood Obesity
Part 4 - HIV/AIDS: From Death Sentence to Chronic Disease?
Part 5 - Advocating for the Intersection

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Today's Epidemic: Childhood Obesity

It seems as though once we solve one health crisis, another one emerges. According to a recent poll commissioned by Research!America, obesity is the fastest rising health concern in the minds of Americans. Childhood obesity is especially pressing, because overweight children are at higher risk for heart disease and stroke, diabetes, asthma and certain types of cancer.

Public health interventions have been developed to top and prevent the childhood obesity problem. The World Heart Federation has been urging soft-drink makers for the past year to remove sugary beverages from schools. The group is looking to fight a rise in childhood obesity, which can lead to diabetes and other ailments. In the last few weeks, Pepsico and the Coca Cola company have announced a new initiative to remove full calorie sodas from schools. Instead, they will be replaced with lower calorie options such as diet sodas, waters and juice with no sugar added.

Of course, stopping childhood obesity isn't as simple as just removing sugary drinks from schools. Children must become more active. Studies have shown that fewer children are walking to school because of safety concerns and increased usage of other forms of transportation. In response to these findings, communities have started walking school buses. A walking school bus is a group of students walking to and from school with an adult supervising them. The primary goal of the walking school bus is to and make walking to school safe, but it also hopes to reduce rates of childhood obesity by increasing a child’s physical activity in a day.

Since childhood obesity has gained so much national attention, Michelle Obama has taken this problem as her platform during her time as the First Lady. In February, she unveiled the Let’s Move campaign joins together public health and medical professionals along with schools and families to fight childhood obesity. Under this initiative, the American Academy of Pediatrics will help ensure that pediatricians and family practice doctors regularly monitor children’s weight and even write a prescription for parents laying out the simple things they can do to increase healthy eating and active play.

The Let’s Move campaign is also working with public health policy makers to ensure that children receive more nutritious meals in school and have better information on the importance of healthy eating to put them on track to a healthier life.

Hopefully, by bringing continued national attention to the problem of childhood obesity, we can drastically improve the health of children today and in the future.

This is Part 3 of 5 in our Intersection of Medical Research and Public Health series.
Part 1 - The Intersection of Medical Research and Public Health
Part 2 - Research and Public Health Tackle the Flu Together
Part 3 - Today's Epidemic: Childhood Obesity
Part 4 - HIV/AIDS: From Death Sentence to Chronic Disease?
Part 5 - Advocating for the Intersection

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Research and Public Health Tackle the Flu Together

We are currently at the end stages of the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic. Over the past few months, both the public health and medical communities have focused on preventing people from getting the flu, through vaccines and also practicing good hand hygiene.

Even though medicine and public health have synchronized messages in regards to the H1N1, unfortunately, we have still seen 16, 713 H1N1 related deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. This number is very large, but compared to the Spanish Influenza’s death toll, which was the world’s first encounter with H1N1, it’s obvious that medical research and public health have saved millions of lives in this current outbreak.

During the Spanish flu, an estimated 3% of the world's population died, which translates to about 50-100 million people. Because so many people died from the Spanish flu, the average life span was reduced by 10 years. Unlike the flu strains that that we are used to seeing, that affects the very young and the very old, this epidemic was the most deadly for people between the ages of 20 and 40, the working population, which led to significant economic consequences worldwide.

At the time, medicine had no way to treat flu patients, so doctors were left to do whatever they deemed necessary in order to try to help patients other. Many doctors tried bleeding patients and giving oxygen. The only treatment that showed some effectiveness were blood transfusions from patients that recovered from the flu to sick patients.

We now why blood transfusions had some sort of effectiveness in treating the flu because of our understanding of anti-bodies and how the immune system can fends off illness but this treatment provided the basic knowledge that lead to the discovery of the flu vaccine in 1945. This was arguably the most significant public health achievement in relation to influenza.

Public health contributed to our knowledge of sanitation, and preventing the spread of the flu from person to person by properly washing our hands; and more recently, using alcohol based hand sanitizer to kill germs and viruses on contact. Social distancing is also a major public health message; staying home from school or work is important in order to prevent others from getting the flu as well.

While people are at home sick, they can treat their flu symptoms themselves, thanks to the discovery and wide spread use of over the counter medications such as Theraflu and fever reducers, like Advil. And more recently, anti-viral medications have become widely available for the treatment of the flu. Antivirals are medicines that act directly on viruses to stop them from multiplying. Both Tamilflu and Relenza have been widely prescribed for H1N1 patients in the current outbreak.

So thanks to the contributions of public health and medical research, the flu has become more manageable, and much of its threat is still in the past.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

The Intersection of Medical Research and Public Health

Public health and medicine are the two largest sectors in the health system in the United States. Historically, they have worked together to solve health problems of the past, but more recently, they have worked together less. Today, we are seeing health problems that are extremely complex, that neither medicine nor public health can solve alone.

For example, obesity has become a major public health issue in the United States; children and adolescents are substantially affected. There are over 25 million children and teenagers are overweight or obese, which is equivalent to one in three young people. Childhood obesity is especially pressing, because overweight children are at higher risk for heart disease and stroke, diabetes, asthma and certain types of cancer. Studies are even showing that this generation is expected to live a shorter life than their parents.

HIV/AIDS is another health problem that is impossible to solve without the intersection of medical research and public health. Over the past decade, less attention has been paid to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic in the United States. The global epidemic — particularly the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa -- has rightfully received most of the focus.

Meanwhile, the prevalence of HIV infection within some U.S. populations now rivals that in some sub-Saharan African countries. For example, more than 1 in 30 adults in Washington, D.C., are HIV-infected — a prevalence higher than that reported in Ethiopia, Nigeria, or Rwanda.

In showing these two examples of health problems, it is clear to see the need of public health and medicine to work together to improve the health of our nation today, and in the future. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing a series of posts in a timeline approach to show how medical research and public health intersect to address health problems in the past (influenza), and how they can continue to do so in the present (childhood obesity) and the future (HIV/AIDS).

This is Part 1 of 5 in our Intersection of Medical Research and Public Health series.
Part 1 - The Intersection of Medical Research and Public Health
Part 2 - Research and Public Health Tackle the Flu Together
Part 3 - Today's Epidemic: Childhood Obesity
Part 4 - HIV/AIDS: From Death Sentence to Chronic Disease?
Part 5 - Advocating for the Intersection

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

You Have the Right to be Heard

No one ever expects to become the victim of a crime. But in the unfortunate case that it happens you need to know that you have rights.

Victims can face significant hurdles when seeking justice, especially victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. A story posted by Amanda Hess details one of the worst hurdles; the occasional police officer who prevents a victim from being able to file a report. The story Amanda told was about an officer who did not believe a girl was actually raped, and therefore, did not let her file a report. I find it sad to say, that I have heard similar stories from people I have actually met.

These hurdles are part of the reason only 6% of rapists ever see a day in jail. Having heard about such cases can also prevent women and men from wanting to even file a report which contributes to over 60% of all rapes never being reported.

In honor of National Crime Victim’s Week, which is coming up next week, I thought I’d review some important rights.

The Department of Justice has a list of victim’s rights on their website, including, your right to be reasonably protected from the accused.

However, one we may think of less frequently, but still very important to remember is:
The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim's dignity and privacy.
This means an official does not have the right to blame a victim of sexual assault for being raped. And if you are the victim of domestic violence, under no grounds can an officer of the law refuse to take your report of the incident.

For your protection, you have the option to have an advocate present for several parts of the process, such as filing a report with the police or any physical examination. Organizations, such as the National Center for Victims of Crime, are great places to get assistance finding these resources.

For more information about becoming an advocate for victims of crime, you can contact your local police department or the National Organization for Victim Assistance.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Advocate Profile: Keith Black, MD

My brain is on overload. I’ve been finishing up final projects for the University of Florida, preparing for graduation, getting ready for medical school…. I’m surprised that I haven’t passed out! We know that the brain is an amazing organ, but did you know that:

• Your brain uses 20% of your body’s energy?
• Your brain feels like a ripe avocado and looks pink because of the blood running through it?
• Your brain generates 25 watts of power while you're awake (that’s enough to illuminate a light bulb)?

Researchers are still learning a lot about the brain functions and also how to solve problems in the brain when things go wrong. At the forefront of neuroscience and neurological research is Keith Black, MD. Black published his first scientific paper and earned a Westinghouse Science Award at the age of 17, well before he became a doctor. Ever since then, Dr. Black, has broken barriers in the field of neuroscience and neurosurgery, becoming a prominent neurosurgeon and researcher.

Today, Dr. Black is the head of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, has five patents, hundreds of research publications and countless awards. He's also pioneered research on finding ways to surpass the blood-brain barrier, developing a vaccine to boost the body's immune response to brain tumors and the use of optical technology for brain mapping.

He hasn't figured out how to permanently de-stress graduate students from the woes of life, but Dr. Black’s career has been phenomenal, and is still growing.

Click below to hear Dr. Black's inspirational advice upon receiving the BET Honors Public Service award. (Sorry about the intro commercials.)

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

AHRQ - the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality - sometimes pronounced "ark," is part of the Department of Health and Human Services with a mission
"to improve the quality, safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of health care for all Americans. Information from AHRQ's research helps people make more informed decisions and improve the quality of health care services."
Sounds good to me; so why hadn't I heard of AHRQ until a few years ago? AHRQ was originally known as the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, but the purview has changed over time from policy to health services. The simplest definition of what AHRQ does is that the agency figures out what does and does not work in terms of health and health care and then translates that information into "everyday practice and policymaking."

As comparative effectiveness and personalized medicine become more prominent and health care reform begins to take effect, data collected by AHRQ helps improve efficiency and safety for everyone receiving any amount of health care in America.
“The essence of care delivery is in dramatic, urgent need of improvement. We know that the translation of science into practice takes far too long. We also know that we can improve that. We are working toward reliable and affordable quality care for all. Science is clearly going to be a key part of that.”
—Carolyn M. Clancy, MD, director, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

With less than 350 people on staff, AHRQ is relatively small in comparison to some other government health research agencies, but their work is just as important and is a perfect complement to translating the research and practices of its sister agencies like the National Institutes of Health (which we'll be covering later in this series).

This is Part 3 in the Introduction to Federal Agencies series.
Part 1 - Acronyms, Abbreviations and Agencies
Part 2 - A-B...C-D-C?

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Monday, April 12, 2010

How To: Understand Survey Methodology

It's pretty common to see polls mentioned on the cover of USAToday or on the evening news, but how reliable is that information? Today we're taking a look at survey methodology and discussing what to look for when you're trying to find credible poll data.

% error
The percent error or sampling error should be 3.5% or less. If a survey is done online, the percent error may be called a theoretical sampling error, but for the most part, percent error is about as theoretical as evolution.

Selection of participants
Whether the poll is done by phone, paper survey, or online, the participants should be randomly selected and demographically equivalent to the population of whatever group the survey is talking about. For national poll data, the U.S. Census provides a good guideline. Census data is also available for each state, which is important because age, race, and gender are not equally represented in every region.

How and when the poll is conducted
Not so long ago, credible public opinion polling was done almost exclusively by phone. Now, online polling can be as statistically significant if the participants are randomly selected. Both types of polling take about a week to reach the 800 to 1,000 respondents necessary for an acceptable percent error. When the poll is conducted can make a big difference in the results, so it is important to remember what major events were happening during the polling time. An election, a natural disaster, or a product recall can quickly change public opinion, and therefore the results of a survey.

Understanding the methodology of a poll can make a big difference in whether or not you trust the data. There are a number of other components to consider, but methodology is a quick and easy place to start. What do you look for when reviewing poll data?

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Friday, April 9, 2010

What's Your Theme Song?

I spent a significant portion of my childhood in dugouts or on metal bleachers next to a softball field. I was the "bat girl" for my sister's travel softball team, and boy, were those good times. Drinking Gatorade or - since our team was Davie Crush - orange soda with my big sister's friends, hollering at the opposing team, chewing sunflower seeds; it was a summer heaven. (Arguably, it was as hot as the other after-life realm, since she played on clay fields in Florida, but there was always a pool to jump in afterwards.)

My love of baseball, therefore, comes from my sister and those happy memories. Movies like a A League of Their Own or kids with their freshly-oiled gloves on the metro coming back from opening day always make me stop and remember; which is probably why I noticed this piece on NPR: What would be your at-bat theme song?

It got me thinking about what my theme song would be if I was headed up to the plate. Since I was never much of a softball player myself, I'd probably choose this classic (start at 3:10 for the clincher of a chorus).

In celebration of baseball (which we'll definitely be writing about this season) and as a way to learn about all of our fabulous readers, we want to know what your at-bat theme song would be (or is?). If you're not a baseball fan, what would your theme song be before a big presentation? Or, what's the song that you click to on your ipod for that last big uphill on a run?

When we have a full roster of theme songs, I'll put together a summer Play Ball! Playlist for New Voices, so make sure you get yours up in the comments!

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Prevention: The Ultimate Anti-Drug

Image credit: Montana Meth Project

In 1998, I was a junior in high school and had never heard of heroin. However, heroin use was on the rise in the Philadelphia-Delaware area, even among high school students. Many tried heroin because they did not know about the drug or fell for common myths like smoking heroin would not lead to addiction. But the problem is that smoking heroin does cause addiction, and it is a difficult drug to make a full recovery from because the addiction alters brain chemistry and addicts are prone to chronic relapsing.

Misinformation put many in danger. The resurgence in the Philadephia-Delaware area prompted a Senate hearing to address the issue. Dr. Alan Leshner, who was at that time the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said, “The misperceptions about the addictive properties of heroin, may account for why in 1997, an estimated 81,000 persons used heroin for the first time” in the United States.

In Delaware, the number of hospital admissions for heroin-related treatments increased 67% from 1995 to 2000, with 70% of admissions in 1999 being ages 18 to 35. The high purity of heroin in the area added to the danger of the epidemic. The national average was 38.2%, but in New Castle County Delaware the drug was between 80 and 90% pure.

The police presented a drug awareness program at my high school in 1998 called the Heroin Alert Program. They played a slide show that flashed statistics and gruesome photos of the physical effects of heroin use. They even played a recorded 9-1-1 call a parent placed when her teenage son had overdosed. The graphic presentation portrayed the drug for what it really was… unglamorous and a destructive force in the life of the addict and their family and friends.

Methamphetamine (or meth) abuse, another severely addictive drug, has been rising and is seen as the top drug problem in America. Meth abuse started in Hawaii and western parts of the U.S., but is spreading eastward. Between 1992 and 2004, methamphetamine/amphetamine treatment admissions rose from more than 1% to 8% of all treatment admissions.

One state that is experiencing a heavy burden from Meth is Montana, which had a 108% increase in hospital admissions for methamphetamine/ amphetamine treatment between 1995 and 2005 . In response to Montana’s meth problem, Thomas M. Siebel founded the Montana Meth Project, which is a research-based messaging campaign to combat abuse through prevention. The project uses “research-validated, high-impact advertising that graphically communicates the risks of meth use.”

The project began a large-scale, statewide campaign in fall 2005 running ads on TV, in newspapers and on the internet. By 2007, there was a 44.6% decline in teen meth use, which was greater than any other 2 year period since 1999. The project's great success has led to expansion of the campaign to many other states, which will hopefully also see reductions meth abuse.

Prevention is the best way to fight drug abuse, and the Montana Meth Project demonstrates that an effective way to prevent first-time drug use is with a healthy, graphic dose of reality.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010


In the world of government health agencies, there are so many acronyms that it starts to look like alphabet soup. Under the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), there is the ACF, AoA, AHRQ, ATSDR, CDC, CMS, FDA, HRSA, IHS, NIH, OIG and SAMHSA.

Confused yet?

Other health agencies focus on regulation, research and administering Medicaid and Medicare, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is our nation’s premier organization that is focused on health promotion, disease prevention and public health.

The CDC was founded on July 1, 1946 in Atlanta, GA originally called Communicable Disease Center. In its first years of existence, the CDC focused on fighting malaria by killing mosquitoes.

In 1970, the CDC’s name was changed to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and expanded its mission to prevent chronic and infectious diseases, injury, workplace hazards and disability.

Today, the CDC focuses on five strategic areas: supporting state and local health departments, improving global health, implementing measures to decrease leading causes of death, strengthening surveillance and epidemiology, and reforming health policies.

You don't have to be a part of the CDC to care about public health. All around the country, people are recognizing the contributions of public health and drawing attention to issues that are important to improving the public’s health. Get out and get active! April 5-11 is National Public Health Week. Click here to find events happening near you.

This is Part 2 in the Introduction to Federal Agencies series.
Part 1 - Acronyms, Abbreviations and Agencies

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Acronyms, Abbreviations and Agencies

Washington, DC is a city whose vernacular is deeply rooted in acronyms and abbreviations. Sometimes it feels like you need a top secret clearance or access to a guide book of all the different non-profits, for-profits, voluntary health groups, patient groups, and federal agencies. For (completely made up) example, "We recently saw the CBO's numbers for LHHS, but they don't match the OMB numbers that we saw a month ago regarding NIH or CDC."

If you understood that, hooray for you! If not, you're not alone. Heck, I'm pretty sure the CBO doesn't even have numbers for LHHS. But the point is there are an awful lot of groups around here talking about an amazing number of things - many of which deserve our attention.

Here at New Voices, there are four federal agencies we talk about a lot:
  1. AHRQ - Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
  2. CDC - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  3. FDA - Food and Drug Administration
  4. NIH - National Institutes of Health
We're going to help decode these four multi-letter names so you can see the agencies behind them over the next few weeks. Come back tomorrow for Kimberly's look into the CDC.

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Spring Break Homework

It’s spring break for many, including members of Congress. Although this time of year often conjures up images of relaxing somewhere sunny, we want you to go to work now. Your congressional delegation is most likely at home, providing an ideal opportunity to reach out to them.

Heather recently posted a list of town hall meetings. Members also hold and attend a variety of other types of events, so be on the lookout for those as well. Scheduling a meeting at a district or state office during a recess can also improve your odds of actually meeting with your representative and senators.

When Congress returns to DC, they will start the budget and appropriations process in earnest, making now an ideal time to speak out for research.

The funding levels necessary to sustain or grow research to improve health in FY 2011 are:

• National Institutes of Health - $35 billion
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - $8.8 billion
• Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality - $611 million
• National Science Foundation - $7.4 billion

Contact your representative and senators to take action locally now or, at a minimum, send your members an e-mail.

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