Friday, July 31, 2015

Pop Health Is Now on Instagram

A few years ago, Pop Health posted on using Instagram for public health. Well- I am now joining in here! Having an IG account will allow the Pop Health topics and discussions to continue between blog posts. This week I highlighted the following stories and public health issues:

Nick Offerman (aka Ron Swanson) is a pizza farmer in a new Funny or Die video sponsored by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association focused on healthy school lunches.


The death of Bobbi Kristina Brown. So sad and bringing up many important issues from interpersonal violence to end of life care.
Screenshot: The New York Times

The cover of New York Magazine was incredibly powerful this week with 35 women coming forward to tell their stories about being assaulted by Bill Cosby.

The Menninger Clinic, one of the nation's leading psychiatric hospitals, released a video this month featuring a conversation with Oscar-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss about what it's like to live with Bipolar Disorder.

Please follow me on IG and comment below with your recommendations on the best public health practitioners and organizations for me to follow there!

Friday, July 24, 2015

How the American Heart Association and the Red Cross Won #Sharknado3

My regular Pop Health readers know that (1) I love Sharknado and (2) I love to see how public health organizations capitalize on pop culture events (especially those accompanied by a large social media discussion) as an opportunity to advocate for health.

So I followed #Sharknado3 on Wednesday night...and was surprised that a large number of organizations DID NOT take advantage of the opportunity to talk about public health.

However, the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross (along with their local affiliates) did a great job of tweeting throughout the movie, using humor to engage users, and starting a dialogue about important topics from emergency preparedness to CPR. Below are some of my favorites, please comment and tell me yours!

The American Heart Association




The American Red Cross









Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What Are We Telling Mothers When We Say “Breast is Best"? Today on The Scientific Parent

I have recently joined The Scientific Parent as an Editor at Large. Today I'm getting a little personal and talking about why I chose to formula feed my preemie. I also put my public health hat on and discuss why I am concerned that we haven't learned how to promote breastfeeding without stigmatizing formula feeding.

There is a great discussion happening in the comment section of the article "What Are We Telling Mothers When We Say “Breast is Best"? Please join us!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Sofia Vergara, Nick Loeb, and a Bioethics Dilemma

Image Credit: NY Times
On April 29, 2015 Nick Loeb, actress Sofía Vergara’s ex fiancé, published an op-ed in the New York Times outlining why he should be able to bring their frozen embryos to term against her objections.

I am thrilled to welcome Macey L. Thompson Henderson, JD, PhD (ABD) to Pop Health today to discuss the bioethics and public health implications of this case.

Question: From your perspective, what are the key bioethical considerations in this case?

The principle of respect for autonomy involves respectful action as well as attitude. Beliefs and choices shift over time and problems can arise when a person’s present choices, desires or actions contradict previous choices. The ethical question to ask over the principle of autonomy in frozen embryo cases would be: “Is this person autonomously revoking their prior decision?” Informed consent is inherent to the ethical principle of autonomy.

The media coverage of the present case itself could very well be considered an ethical issue. What is the role of the celebrity voice in raising public health awareness? It would be my hope that can we use this legal dispute to engage the public in a thought provoking conversation about prevention and advance planning for all areas of one’s healthcare. Nick Loeb’s ability to coin a New York Times OpEd and to subsequently gain publicity across international media outlets about a personal issue he admittedly originally intended to keep private could be examined with an ethical lens as well. I find it interesting how the timing on Loeb’s personal revelations directly coincide with the release of a new movie starring Sofia Vergara.

Question: Loeb writes, “When we create embryos for the purpose of life, should we not define them as life, rather than as property?” Should a couple’s intentions at the outset of IVF impact how embryos are later defined? Why or why not? 

American courts have never deemed frozen embryos as children. Frozen embryo case law appears to follow a logical and straightforward application of the abortion cases which the United States Supreme Court has upheld. The rationale for upholding these cases is based on a mother’s right to privacy and control over her own body versus any right of a nonviable fetus.

See: Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 492 U.S. 490 (1989); Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973); Davis v. Davis, 842 S.W.2d 588 (Tenn.)

Media coverage seems to focus less on the debate about the classification of embryos as property versus children and more tuned into reproductive choices in general.  I am happy to see a trend where the reproductive rights and decisions of all adults are valued and the conversation about parenthood choices have been promoted by various celebrities and media personalities.

If the question really becomes about a “right to life” for the frozen embryos versus the “right to parenthood with Sofia Vergara” for Loeb, we could begin the public discussion about embryo adoption versus destruction which has more ethical implications.

Question: Loeb writes, “In my view, keeping them frozen forever is tantamount to killing them.” These are powerful words. In using them, he addresses a long-standing ethical debate regarding when life actually begins. How should this debate be addressed in the context of this case?

I don’t agree that Loeb actually addresses a debate about the beginning of life with his claims that keeping frozen embryos are tantamount to killing them. Instead, I think Loeb opens the door for us to discuss important processes and educational efforts (including basic education about contracts) that should be in effect before people utilize assisted reproductive technology to aid infertility, delay parenthood, or for any other reason—medical or not.  This is an opportunity to explore these public health communication opportunities from the perspective of patients, providers, and the public surrounding assisted reproductive technology.

Loeb’s point makes me think about the ethical issue of post-mortem sperm retrieval. Is killing involved if you fail to procure a man’s viable sperm after death for potential fertilization of future embryos? What are the impacts on the future child and society?

Question: In thinking about this from a public health perspective: what system or policy-level changes could/should be made in reproductive health technology to avoid these types of disputes in the future? 

Assisted reproductive technology has left areas of American jurisprudence shuffling between gaps in family law, constitutional, statutory, and common law over family decision-making rights.  Courts will remain key players in the debate in absence of state legislation. Is legislation always the best thing? Many would argue that unless contracts go against public policy, there is no need for the government to interfere. Parties in a contractual agreement can even agree to follow the laws of different states (which is common), therefore it can be challenging to get consensus on how much government involvement is necessary.

In this case Loeb wants to void a contract based on a procedural problem with a form. “We signed a form stating that any embryos created through the process could be brought to term only with both parties’ consent. The form did not specify — as California law requires — what would happen if we separated. I am asking to have it voided.” This is where a public health perspective is important. There can be more attention paid to how healthcare forms are created and evaluated. Standardization of forms at the state level could help these types of challenges in the future.

Health communicators can aide in providing patient education about all health planning, whether for reproductive and family planning or other types of advanced care planning like end of life care. It is obvious that Loeb and Vergara are “lawyered” up and that their celebrity status aids their ability in resolving these disputes especially with the public watching. I am more concerned about the couple in small town USA who might be going through a similar thing without the same resources. I think we have the duty and obligation to take celebrity cases involving health care decisions like this seriously in public health because we often fail to realize that television is one medium for which many individuals consume health information.

Please add additional comments/resources for readers here:



Macey L. Thompson Henderson, JD, PhD (ABD) is a Health Policy and Management PhD Candidate focusing on implementation science and donation and transplantation. She has a law degree and extensive training in bioethics, data science, and public communications.  Finding ways to utilize patient voices, media, and technology to improve living organ donor follow-up care is the focus of her doctoral dissertation. She currently teaches bioethics and health policy to public health and medical students. You can connect with Macey on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Health Awareness Days: Sufficient Evidence to Support the Craze? A New Commentary in AJPH

My regular readers know that I have some hesitations about campaigns that focus on "raising awareness". The phrase is vague and its definition often varies depending on who you ask.

So I'm excited to share that I recently published a new commentary on the topic with my colleague Dr. Jonathan Purtle at the Drexel University School of Public Health. "Health Awareness Days: Sufficient Evidence to Support the Craze?" was published by the American Journal of Public Health yesterday. Drexel University posted a great press release that summarizes the article and includes comments from us regarding recommendations and next steps.

I hope you will all read and share the commentary!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Celebrity Moms Who Side With Science: Today on The Scientific Parent

I have recently joined The Scientific Parent as an Editor at Large. Today I'm talking pop health on the site with "Celebrity Moms Who Side With Science". I'm giving a shout out to celebrity moms who side with science and passionately advocate for vaccination. I also break down their messages to see how closely they align with the barriers we know stand between children and their vaccinations. Please join us there for the conversation!

Friday, April 10, 2015

"Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt"…Comedy and Public Health?

Image credit: Netflix.com
Over the past year, I've enjoyed binge watching various TV shows after my son’s bedtime. I've been hooked on anything from old school Gilmore Girls to The Good Wife. My husband and I recently started watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. We currently find ourselves 5 episodes into the series.

The show has a funny female lead and a great cast of supporting characters (reminiscent of Parks and Recreation)...so I think it can be easy to forget that we are watching a character who has just survived a serious trauma. In eighth grade, Kimmy Schmidt was kidnapped by the Reverend of a doomsday cult. She and several other women spent years hidden away in an underground bunker. In the pilot episode, the women are rescued from their bunker and Kimmy decides to start her life over in New York City.

In a recent essay for The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum did an incredible job reviewing this show, discussing Kimmy’s resilience, and highlighting an increasing trend to portray sexual violence survivors on popular TV shows.

While the show is clearly a comedy, it still highlights several public health issues related to experiencing and surviving trauma. And these are important discussion points:

  • The “Right” Language: When I worked in rape crisis services, there was much discussion about the terms “victim” and “survivor”. We were encouraged to use the term “survivor” because it conveyed strength and hope. However, some people seeking services do not connect with that term initially (or ever). Therefore, it is important to ask people what terms they are comfortable with. There is no "one size fits all" in terms of how people label themselves afterwards and how much they do (or don't) want to discuss the experience or have it be a part of their lives going forward. We see this distinction in the very different approaches the bunker survivors take to moving on with their lives.
  • Posttraumatic Growth: The term posttraumatic growth, coined by Drs. Tedeschi and Calhoun, refers to the kinds of positive changes individuals experience in their struggles with trauma. These changes can include improved interpersonal relationships, exploring new possibilities for one's life, etc. This show is all about Kimmy's posttraumatic growth! If you look at the episode guide for the show, each episode explores a new experience for Kimmy (e.g., "Kimmy Gets A Job!" "Kimmy Goes To School!")

What Do You Think?

  • Does the show do an effective job of balancing comedy with real-life challenges for a trauma survivor? (i.e., re-entering the workforce, experiencing PTSD/flashbacks)
  • Is it possible that some trauma survivor organizations (or individuals) will be offended by the show for its comedic approach to such a serious subject? Why or why not?
  • How could the show integrate more effective public health messaging  for the aftermath of trauma? (e.g., "Kimmy Visits A Therapist!)