Saturday, April 7, 2007

The USC Psychology Department: How To Improve It

The University of Southern California (USC) has always strived to secure its place among the nation’s top universities, as it continues to progress and improve education for its students, in spite of the evolving changes that occur throughout the world. Because USC is a university that plans its future, it may be difficult when “the external environment for higher education is quickly changing in significant [and uncontrollable] ways,” mentioned in the USC 2004 Strategic Plan. Nevertheless, the role and mission of USC continues to be “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” The mission continues, “[o]ur faculty are not simply teachers of the works of others, but active contributors to what is taught, thought and practiced throughout the world,” which is demonstrated through USC’s strong integration of both teaching and research for the purpose of advancing new knowledge. USC’s vision of becoming one of the most influential and productive research universities in the world, as well as its core values for improving education for the future is duly noted in the USC 2004 Strategic Plan, as it states, “[o]ur focus on increasing academic excellence, on hiring the best and most creative faculty, and on encouraging pathbreaking research, must continue to underpin all of our future activities.” Therefore this week's post offers a proposal for improving undergraduate education in the Department of Psychology, my unit on campus, in response to the USC College Dean’s Prize, which calls for suggestions from students to enrich the academic life and educational experience at USC. Based on USC’s mission statement and strategic plan for the next decade, it is note-worthy and sensible that the Dean of the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, pictured to the left, has created this prize to continue to enhance academic excellence, especially with "intensif[ying] competition among higher education providers." It would only make sense that the Dean would encourage students to give suggestions to help USC strive to be everything it has set out to be, while promoting its flexibility in adapting to change both within and outside of the university.

My proposal for improvement of the undergraduate psychology program, which is encouraged to be "creative and daring," would be to include more guest speakers in the classroom setting, or even as a separate event in our Bovard Auditorium. By comparison, the competitive psychology department at Stanford University, which has been the top-ranked program for the past two decades, challenging other institutions, invites numerous guest lecturers from other universities to speak on their current research in psychology. Several speakers include Daniel Pine of the National Institute of Mental Health, Glenn Schellenberg from the University of Toronto, and Max Muenke of the National Human Genome Research Institute. An array of positive feedback on these lectures has been received, one of which states, “[m]any students find it an enlightening experience to hear firsthand about recent studies in these lectures.” Stanford even holds a reception afterwards that allows students to ask questions regarding the research. Despite the various accomplishments in psychology at USC, including state-of-the-art research facilities and the Psi Chi Honor Society, I have realized that, in learning about this colloquium series, this is a valuable experience that USC lacks in psychology. While USC aspires to greatness, there are still other commendable programs or ideas from other highly ranked institutions that can be worthwhile to USC.

Just as the College Dean’s Prize website mentions the example of a “speaker series on Becoming a Physician,” it would be highly beneficial for psychology students to have an opportunity to listen directly to psychology researchers, social workers, or psychologists who do work in the field. Psychology is a broad domain, encompassing many different approaches to the study of the brain and human behavior, and these events would enable students to obtain an understanding of the work involved in a particular dimension of psychology, as well as make them aware of the various opportunities that are available following graduation. I think that this could only broaden students’ horizons, further engaging them in their career of interest, and making them better suited for deciding what particular path to take within psychology. While the psychology professors at USC are extremely qualified individuals, listening to others from all different avenues of psychology talk about the research they have conducted or the work they perform in the field would be an inspirational, educational, and informative experience. For instance, there are a number of unique examples including Dr. Tara Victor, who could speak on the problems of malingering in a mentally retarded population, Robert Ressler, founder of the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program could speak on criminal profiling, and Dr. Ellen Markman, one of the nation’s leading developmental psychologists could educate on cognitive and developmental psychology.

The proposal for more guest speakers, whether they present themselves within a particular psychology class or in an auditorium for a wider number of attendees, will not just serve the needs of the students, but also those of the university and community at large. Part of the vision for USC’s future is “becoming a major force in addressing critical issues facing society and creating new societal opportunities,” and “creat[ing] solutions to the pressing concerns of society.” USC intends to “advance knowledge” and “address issues critical to our community, the nation, and the world.” The only way these needs can be met is through the proliferation of knowledge to the masses so that more people can get involved and take action. Much of psychology can be applied in every day life, especially concerning “critical issues facing society,” such as the problem of eating disorders to name one relevant example, because psychology attempts to explain behavior and social interaction. While this proposal is both rewarding and influential, it is also feasible, with a high potential for successful implementation given the necessary funds to contact and welcome such esteemed individuals. If this suggestion were to be implemented at USC, not only would current undergraduates be enriched, but also the next cohort of students that follow would be more inspired, scholarly, and robust, bringing about greater changes for our future.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

USC Honorary Degree: Who Should Be the Nominee?

In view of the fact that spring commencement is quickly approaching in May, I decided to take this opportunity to acknowledge an individual who I believe has greatly influenced the field of medicine and health, one particular focus of my blog, and who therefore would be a well-qualified nominee for an honorary degree at the University of Southern California. For those unfamiliar with this tribute, it is the award given during each annual commencement ceremony “to honor individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements," or contributions to others through their professions, philanthropies, or other activities, "whether or not they are widely known by the general public." According to James Freedman, president emeritus of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth College, in presenting this award, “a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most.” My nominee’s respective field of endeavor is quite appropriate to USC, seeing as this university is world-renowned in teaching and research, and is one of the leading research universities in the nation. Based on the above-mentioned requirements, I believe that the individual who most deserves this award is Wendy Harpham, M.D., pictured to the right.

Dr. Harpham graduated from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, and began her career in her own practice of internal medicine. She spent seven years tending to patients, before she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “Forced to redefine her career,” Harpham decided to turn to writing in order to support, reassure, and assist others in need. She realized she had a very unique perspective as both a physician and now a patient, and therefore extended her care from not only her own patients, but to cancer patients and their families, as well. Through her experiences with cancer, she has written numerous award-winning books, shown to the left, regarding the issues that surround cancer including diagnosis, recovery and survivorship, and raising children when a parent has cancer. Harpham's goal was to help people find happiness in difficult times, and strived to “educate, comfort, and inspire others.” She states, “I share my personal story not to teach people about me but to help them think about, talk about, and better understand what is happening to them. I hope that others can learn from my mistakes and successes, and more easily find what can work well for them.” On top of these remarkable measures, Harpham has written a column “View From the Other Side of the Stethoscope” for the magazine, Oncology Times, in which she discusses challenges that may occur in caring for cancer patients. In addition to writing, Harpham has been recognized for her influential speeches concerning similar issues such as educating oneself on the nature of cancer, coping with illness, finding hope, and embracing life after cancer. Put succinctly, “Dr. Harpham devotes her energy to helping survivors directly through her writing and speaking, and indirectly through her activities as a patient advocate.”

USC "welcomes nominations of persons with distinguished accomplishments," and in light of her achievements and personal triumph against cancer, Harpham presents an exceptional example of someone who should be honored with the degree of Doctor of Science. Not solely because she practices medicine and is a cancer survivor, for these triumphs are not uncommon, but for how she made good out of a bad situation. Harpham has turned adversity into something more positive, and that is by reaching out to others in similar difficult situations. The fact that she possesses this distinguishing “physician-patient” outlook enables her to make a unique difference in her field of work. As a "nominee of exceptional merit," Harpham also has a meaningful and relevant message to instill upon the graduating class at the commencement ceremony. Upon learning of her diagnosis, Harpham was compelled to re-evaluate her career, purpose, and path in life. This demonstrates how, realistically, no one knows what is in store for them; the future is unknown. One must be flexible, because even after years of work and pursuing a passion in a career, as these students have done thus far, certain life tribulations may occur unexpectedly that cause a change in how one must live life. This is a strong message for diverse individuals graduating from college, entering the “real world,” and embarking upon career interests and other adventures. Harpham could guide the students in understanding one perspective on life, which is that what they believe is their “calling” on this day might very well change or be altered by a course of events in the future, but that their flexibility in adjusting will show promise and strength of character.

Wendy Harpham might not have walked on the moon, as past recipient and USC alumnus Neil Armstrong has, and she might not be as well known as past recipient Stephen Spielberg, but she has more than met criteria for this honorary degree, which as Freedman puts it, should "celebrate distinguished and sublime achievement." Harpham is a doctor of internal medicine, cancer survivor, author, public speaker, patient advocate, and mother of three, who embodies many qualities known to the USC mascot, Tommy Trojan, including scholarly, courageous, and ambitious. Not only has she made commendable achievements in her field of medicine, but she exemplifies admired qualities through her teachings, humanitarian acts, and inspiration for the future. Harpham is widely respected and would make a proud and highly valued candidate for the 2007 USC honorary degree.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Family Matters: In Good Times and Bad

Inspired by the This I Believe site, I’ve decided this week to reflect upon a core belief of mine that has helped to influence the focus of my blog. Family has always been an essential part of who I am, and my parents and sister are undoubtedly the most important people in my life. I lean on them for support, guidance, and advice. My mom always emphasized the meaning of family by telling my sister and I to “be good to each other and stay close because in the end, when your dad and I are gone, your sister is the only family you’ll really have.” Families share memories, successes, fears, laughter, and tears, and it is this commonality that helps families relate to each other and remain close. Family members give each other strength and support for the happy, joyful times, and of course, for the difficult struggles that inevitably occur in life.

Nine years ago my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was unfortunately not caught early on, and thus considered Stage 3, which means that the cancer has spread outside the ovaries, outside the pelvis, and into the abdominal cavity. She underwent surgery and chemotherapy for about seven months. About four years later, in 2002, the cancer recurred on her diaphragm. She once again had surgery and chemotherapy for almost a year and a half. During this time, I naturally experienced overwhelming feelings of anguish, fear, helplessness, and resentment. I resented how everyone seemed to live so carefree, taking such simple things for granted, such as their health. While my friends were extremely supportive to the best of their ability, both they and I knew that, with no fault of their own, it was impossible for them to completely understand. I was envious of them and their families, even despite other marital or family issues they might have had, because they had their health, something that matters more than anything; more than money, more than fame, more than all the little things in the world. In reality, there are few things worse than not having your health.

Throughout this time I came to realize how important and necessary one’s support system can be. Having my friends and family around to care for me, make me strong, and keep me optimistic was a blessing. My family and friends are what got me through this terrible tribulation, and I know I can depend on them. They stood by me, offered support and encouragement, and prevented me from losing hope. This episode in my life has allowed me to develop an understanding of the important things in life. Through my experience, I have established a more grounded outlook on what truly matters to me, and that includes my family and our health. Both are of remarkable value to me.

I don’t think anyone will ever understand or know why some have the unfortunate task of dealing with cancer. I probably will always wonder, “why us?” But I do know that this incident has given me the opportunity to learn to enjoy every day, cherish my family and friends, take advantage of the peaceful times, and never take anything for granted. My mom is doing well, and for this I could not be more thankful. Nothing is of greater worth than the bond shared between family members and the strength and hope they can bring to the table in times of fear and distress, specifically over an illness. “When dealing with illness, you may find strengths you never thought you had. And while illness may close the doors to some parts of your life, it may open others,” states a Clinical Center patient from the Patient Information Publications of the National Institutes of Health. I believe it is not necessarily what happens to you that truly matters, because everyone faces adversity in life, but rather how you decide to confront and take control of the challenge. The quote by Jawaharlal Nehru supports my belief in stating, “Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will.” With my family by my side, this unpleasant event has helped to shape my beliefs and values, influence my outlook on life, and provide the strength I need to tackle and cope with new hardships that may await me in the future. This experience and the lessons I’ve learned from it have changed my thinking about family, health, and life in general, teaching me first-hand the value of each. It may or may not have sparked my interest in a health career specifically, but it certainly got me thinking about health overall. “Mind and Body,” the title of my blog, suggests the importance of both mental health, which may even include the optimism needed in times of distress, as well as physical health. Having a family member’s health so severely jeopardized and vulnerable has enabled me to find interest in this relevant and significant topic. I look forward to continuing my studies in health, as I have become quite invested in this field.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Drug Abuse: Are Brains Predisposed to the Problem?

According to BBC News, government figures estimate that in Britain “up to 500,000 people are currently addicted to Class A drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and amphetamines.” In addition, drug abuse is prominent with reported use at about 53% for adolescents in 12th grade, according to the 2003 Teen Drug Abuse statistics, which also states that as many as 30% of youths 14 years old were misusing drugs. An important question regarding addiction has always surrounded the origin of brain differences observed in drug users, displayed to the left, and whether they resulted from their individual brain makeup or from previous drug use. These differences are physical in nature, one of which includes a scarcity of dopamine receptors in one area of the brain. The findings from one study provide great insight while indicating the possible answer. This study conducted by Dr. Jeff Dalley of the University of Cambridge and published March 2 in the journal Science claims that some individuals may be predisposed to the effects of cocaine on the brain, making them more likely to try the drug and become addicted. It is widely recognized that drug addiction is associated with risk taking, sensation seeking, and impulsivity, according to Miranda Hitti of WebMD Medical News, and Dalley's experiment sought to determine the role of dopamine on impulsivity and drug addiction.

Dr. Dalley examined rats without any previous exposure to drugs, and tested them on impulsivity. The rats were confined in a cage as a light was randomly and briefly illuminated in different spots throughout the cage. While the rats that ran towards the light were rewarded with food, those who “impulsively” ran to the wrong spot were not rewarded with food. These impulsive rats demonstrated two interesting findings. They were not only more likely to continuously and obsessively self-administrate cocaine through an IV tube than the less impulsive rats, but they also were more likely to possess fewer dopamine receptors, pictured to the right, prior to cocaine exposure than the less impulsive rats. This was detected by a PET scan. Interestingly, human addicts also have a scarcity of dopamine receptors in the same area of the brain, the nucleus accumbens, which is involved with motivation and behavior. According to an article from Medline Plus, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse believes it is well-known that low levels of dopamine receptors in the nucleus accumbens, shown below, are linked to addiction, thus encouraging the use of drugs.

This is a very significant discovery because it suggests that an individual’s natural brain chemistry is setting him or her up for drug abuse, and it is not just the addictive drug itself. Knowing that a shortage of dopamine receptors appears before drug exposure provides additional knowledge on the causes of addictions, and what can potentially be done to combat them. While this is promising, it is still necessary to be skeptical that brain configuration is the only factor driving drug abuse. Although impulsivity seems to be playing a large role in compulsive drug disorders, it seems only reasonable that a multidisciplinary aproach be essential to an intervention since a variety of factors for substance abuse must be taken into account. Clearly it is more complicated than just reducing impulsivity and risk-taking behaviors. In the BBC article, Martin Barnes of DrugScope plainly agrees that “[t]he reasons why any particular individual may start using drugs and become a problem drug user are far more complex than just genetic make-up.” While it should not be disregarded that this genetic trait may produce vulnerability to addiction problems, ultimately, there are many reasons why one may initiate drug use. Therefore it is imperative to keep an open mind regarding the causes of addictions and what can be done to prevent and treat them. In doing so, valuable therapeutic strategies will not be overlooked so that with additional time and research, an effective treatment procedure will hopefully reveal its success.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Childhood Obesity: What Can Be Done to Fight the Battle?

According to the American Obesity Association in 2005, 30% of children ages 6 to 11 are overweight and 15% are obese. Because of these disconcerting statistics, there are many questions as to why this trend is occurring and what parents can do to prevent childhood obesity from continuing. It appears that parents are either not aware of the methods available to stop child obesity or are choosing to ignore these various approaches. In this post I have commented on two blogs regarding the problem of obesity in children, and what has been believed to be some issues linked to the continually-high statistic rates. The first blog post is a Weight Loss Blog by the Wellspring Family Camp, a weight loss camp for families pictured below, in which it describes how children who watch a significant amount of TV are exposed to hundreds of junk food advertisements, making them susceptible to learning unhealthy eating habits. In the second post at, Harminka discussed a study that found that individuals living near supermarkets as well as large parks or open green areas, like the one shown below, are at a decreased risk for being overweight. My comments on these posts can be read below.

I found this post quite interesting, partly due to the fact that a good amount (30%) of the TV ads viewed by children were for food, specifically fast food and unhealthy snacks. This is unsettling because it gives kids the wrong idea about what they should be eating. I completely agree that parents should be aware of how much television their children are watching. A good point was made that not only is watching TV a sedentary activity, keeping kids from physical activity, but in addition it involves advertisements promoting kids’ interest in junk food. Fortunately however, an article was published by Jon Land two days ago stating that in 2008 commercials for unhealthy food products will be banned during programs appealing to adolescents under age 16. This will hopefully not only directly reduce kids’ exposure to such foods, but also indirectly diminish the adverse consequences to their body that comes from eating sweets and fats. I think it is particularly alarming that the study found that the ads “influence parents to buy their children snack foods that have no nutritional value,” because these parents are essentially aiding in the child obesity epidemic. Parents should avoid buying these kinds of snacks and encourage more outdoor activity. They should also emphasize the importance of sit-down family meals as opposed to advocating snacking in front of the TV. It is up to parents to start changing the harmful lifestyle of their kids who are overweight.

I was not entirely surprised to read that living close to large parks or “green space” and supermarkets is associated with a reduced risk for being overweight. It makes sense that children who have access to such vast, open areas of land will have a greater opportunity to enjoy physical activities, allowing them to be more active. In addition, access to supermarkets containing fresh, healthy food choices is extremely beneficial. Lower-income families may lack such means, thus making it difficult for them to obtain fresh produce, like fruits and vegetables. This post supports these ideas stating that proximity to both green space and supermarkets “affects weight by positively influencing physical activity and dietary behaviors.” In light of this, why is obesity still such a growing problem? Parents can take advantage of the parks and supermarkets around their neighborhoods to educate their children about the importance of physical exercise and healthy food choices. More must be done to get young people active. Parents must take responsibility and be good role models for their children by maintaining a healthy lifestyle in order for their kids to follow their lead. It may be too often that parents buy into their children’s pleas for junk food, and avoid opting for healthier options. If America is going to combat obesity, there must be a fundamental change in our children’s behavior as well as a transformation in the behavior of parents.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Fish as Brain Food: To Eat or Not to Eat

While it has been widely recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) since 2004 that pregnant women should not eat more than 340 grams (12 ounces) of fish a week because of the danger of mercury poisoning, recent news addresses the benefits of consuming fish during pregnancy, contradicting this well-established view. Mercury is a toxin found in fish and seafood, and can damage the nervous system, especially in growing fetuses. At the same time, fish and seafood are rich sources for nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to brain maturation. This poses a difficult dilemma regarding the decision to consume fish, and whether it is a friend or foe to development.

Dr. Joseph Hibbeln of the National Institutes of Health conducted a study published just last week monitoring the eating habits of almost 12,000 pregnant women in Britain. After tracking the developmental progress of the children born through age eight, the researchers found that women who ate more than 340 grams per week of fish “had smarter children with better developmental skills.” Hibbeln and his colleagues assessed issues including the children’s social and communication skills, their hand-eye coordination, and their IQ levels. According to, eating more than the FDA and EPA recommended amount of fish during pregnancy benefited the children’s brain development, suggested in the picture below, while children whose mothers ate no fish were 48 percent more likely to have a low verbal IQ score. Another article adds that in addition to low verbal IQ scores, these children may face “suboptimum performance on tests of social behavior, fine motor activity, communication, and social development.” In addition, Jennifer Warner of WebMD describes in 2006 a study that showed that pregnant mothers who took fish oil supplements as opposed to olive oil supplements improved their baby’s hand-eye coordination and brain development, based on tests taken when the children reached age two and a half.

So in light of these results it seems as though pregnant women who eat less than the government recommended levels of fish may be causing more detriment than aid to their child. It is possible that limiting fish consumption will reduce the intake of necessary nutrients like long-chain fatty acids, shown below, to aid children’s neurological and cognitive development. As indicated by Dr. Gary Myers, there is little evidence to back up the FDA’s advisory to limit seafood consumption while pregnant. He states that “it is very clear that omega-3 fatty acids are very important for brain development, [and] it is less clear that mercury at the levels you get from eating fish poses a risk.” But in saying this it is important to understand that one must keep a balanced view and consider not just the factors that improve health, such as the beneficial effects of the nutrients in fish, but also the risks that could be potentially harmful, including eating fish with mercury. While it is promising that the study did not find evidence of increased harm from eating fish, thus challenging government advice that limiting seafood intake is of great value, one still must be cautious and skeptical in interpreting the results of the study because of its self-report nature. And after all, one may be apprehensive to ignore and defy FDA and EPA suggestions simply based on one study's results, since these suggestions are put in place for the purpose of protecting the public’s health and well-being.

Because of this contradicting evidence, one may still be confused about the decision to eat fish or not, specifically regarding pregnant women. Should one eat fish and take the risk of possibly ingesting mercury in order to improve a child’s cognitive development, or should one be safe and avoid all fish even if it may mean lower IQ scores in the child? Even if there is no clear-cut answer, it might be feasible to reach a happy medium. For example, WebMD reporter Salynn Boyles states that pregnant women can abide by FDA and EPA warnings to avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish, which are more likely to have high mercury levels, but still eat other fish low in mercury. These include shrimp, salmon, canned light tuna (not albacore tuna), and catfish. Pregnant women ought to be well-informed about the levels of both mercury and omega-3 fatty acids in certain fish, as indicated by the graph, in order to make an educated decision about which they should eat. Until a definitive answer can be made as to the better option, individuals must make the choice suitable to their own beliefs. In the meantime, we hope the FDA will maintain its obligation to promote public health, while psychologists simultaneously continue to search for new knowledge and findings.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Adolescent Sex, Drugs and Depression: Which Leads to Which?

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Which one led to the other? That is the type of question plaguing many confused individuals regarding the association between adolescent sexual activity, drug use, and depression, shown below. Numerous articles have opposing opinions on this matter. For example, some articles state that there is no doubt that risky behaviors such as sex, drug use, and alcohol lead to depression, and others contradict arguing that depression leads to these risky behaviors. Despite these conflicting views, it is at least clear that there is an association between risky behavior and depression. This much we do know. In response to two blogs which emphasize the position that sex and other high-risk behaviors leads to depression, I have commented that this prediction cannot be regarded as a factual, straightforward cause-and-effect relationship. I think that people may easily be confused by the link between sex and depression and whether or not there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the two, and therefore that is why I have commented on these entries. In addition, I address the issue in one blog regarding its support for abstinence only education. I believe in educating teens to the best ability possible, and that entails utilizing all information available. If interested, the comments just mentioned regarding the two blogs can be read in their entirety below.

In response to the entry by Janice Crouse, it must be noted that the data for The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study, which claims that “sex and drug behavior predicted an increased likelihood of depression, but depression did not predict behavior,” came from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Longitudinal studies are correlational research studies, which indicate that no causal relationships can be detected because it is not a controlled experiment; it is merely observation. Therefore, there is not “solid evidence” claiming those who engage in risky behaviors like sex and drugs will become depressed. In contradiction to Crouse, the message is certainly not clear. Are teens who engage in risky behavior at risk for depression, as Crouse claims? Possibly. But isn’t it also possible that depressed teens are at risk for engaging in risky behavior? The relationship between the two is in fact, quite fuzzy. In addition, it is not sensible to state that it is a myth that teens are going to ‘do it anyway,’ referring to sex, because some teens most certainly will. Even if only a few teens ‘do it anyway,’ isn’t it vital that these teens know about safe-sex practices? It is true that contraceptive methods and the prevention of disease transmission is not entirely effective, however it is still important that teens be educated on theses issues in case they decide to buy into this so-called ‘myth.’ I agree that “we ought to be telling adolescents the truth…and make them aware of the possible consequences and risks that they are taking,” but part of this truth involves providing them with “condoms and teach[ing] them safe-sex practices,” which Crouse undermines. Adolescents will only be denied the truth if they are not given all resources and information regarding sex, the consequences that come of it, and safe-sex practices. Providing abstinence-only programs not only misguides adolescents to believe that abstinence is the only option, but by limiting sex education and “protection,” teens or even adults who do become sexually active may be uninformed and thus perpetuate the spread of disease and cause harm to others.

It is quite confident of Shimla Pooja to use such strong language about how teens “spoil themselves with dicey behaviors, like sex and drugs,” making them more vulnerable to depression, without providing any explanation for how this is done. I find it interesting that such bold statements are made in reference to teens engaging in risky behaviors, leading them towards an increased risk at depression, however no evidence is provided to back up this strong claim. For example, it states that new research contradicts the widely-held belief that unsafe or dangerous activities like alcohol, sex, and drugs is used to alleviate the already-existing depressed symptoms, and that it is in fact the other way around, however no research is actually sited or specified. While the entry states that sex and drug behavior predicted an increased likelihood of depression, it is impossible to state that one thing predicted another based on correlational data. Pooja states that increased rates in depression and suicide are “only the result of causal sexual intimacy.” Just because sex and drug use predates depression does not prove that one causes the other. Quite frequently in fact, depressed teens seek out drugs, alcohol, and even sex to escape from their depression and pain, and instead consume themselves with these troubles. It is important that one does not get caught up with what may seem like ‘new and improved’ research and disregard other possible explanations because both explanations are viable. It is valid, as stated, that teens must be familiar with and knowledgeable about the potentially dangerous consequences of these behaviors, and that is why education about sex and drugs will be more effective in delaying these experiences than a lack of such education.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Man’s Best Friend is Indeed in Need: Dogs Role in Reducing Stress

In today’s fast-paced life in which people seem to never stop working, shown below, stress can play a drastic toll on one’s physical and mental health. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reported from a survey that 34% had difficulty in sleeping because they were too stressed out. Not only is it important to be aware of the impact stress can have on our bodies, but it is also vital to recognize ways to reduce such ill-causing tension.

Research at the Baker Medical Research Institute has shown that owning a pet can have great health benefits including lowering blood pressure, and lowering risk factors for cardiovascular disease. According to Janet Crosby, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), owners of pets also benefit from lower cholesterol, reduced stress levels, and better overall mental health. According to Dr. Allan Schwartz, in a study conducted in 2006 at the State University of New York at Buffalo where participants were subjected to stress-induced tasks, those who were allowed to have their dogs present during the task resulted in the lowest stress response in regards to blood pressure and heart rate. The presence of a dog can provide social support in the form of comfort, companionship, and happiness, which reduces feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

Almost anyone who owns a dog can probably vouch for the fact that these animals provide tremendous joy, love, and devotion. A key explanation for why they are such successful pets is because they simply want to please their owners. It is one reason why they are used so commonly in pet therapy in hospital and nursing centers, as well as for the disabled, shown in the picture to the right. According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, studies have shown that owning a dog played a significant role on survival rates in heart attack victims, as these animals help people cope with illness, loss, and even depression. He also states that research from the University of Missouri-Columbia suggests that interactions with dogs cause changes in hormones, including serotonin, which help individuals cope with stress-related disorders or other illnesses. In addition, non-pet owners, specifically those living without dogs, are “exposed to more persistent fears, increased feelings of panic, experience more frequent headaches, and take more medication for stress-induced illnesses than pet owners.”

It is no surprise that coming home from a long day at work to see that tail wagging fervently because of your arrival can suddenly uplift one’s spirits. Activities as simple as playing fetch, fishing, hiking, or going for a walk with your dog like the picture shown to the left can be a remedy for reducing stress, and improving our emotions, according to Tom Canavan. In addition to their company, the exercise and fresh air is beneficial to one’s health. While it is easy to stay inside on the couch, watching a favorite TV show or surfing the Internet, getting outside incorporates necessary physical activity with release from the stresses of work and everyday life to help one remain healthy. Canavan states how the laughter and enjoyment received from watching your dog’s behavior provides the pleasure and emotional relief needed to reduce stress and anxiety. In addition, he notes how dogs are non-critical and may provide unconditional affection for their masters without the expectation of something in return, which is in “sharp contrast to the stresses and strains of everyday human relationships.”

Because it is true that having a pet, especially a dog, requires great amounts of time, care, effort, and responsibility, it may be important to see the negative side of owning a dog, in addition to the positive side. Some critics of owning dogs may argue how dogs can increase stress by increasing the amount of demands placed on their owner. A considerable amount of time is needed to take care of a dog, including time spent on training it, walking it, and feeding it. In addition, money must be spent on food, toys, shots, and emergency care visits. Nevertheless, for the majority of individuals, the benefits of owning a dog outweigh the drawbacks considerably. It is evident that having a dog can provide great happiness and companionship, while improving health and a sense of well-being. A new dog can easily buy its way into one’s heart, and the constant love and support that is provided from a dog will result in great mood and health-enhancing benefits, which will make it impossible for one to believe that (s)he ever once lived without this remarkable furry friend.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Anorexia Nervosa: More Effective Intervention is Still Needed

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder found predominantly among young adolescent females, posing numerous physical, psychological, and emotional problems. Despite treatment and therapy for eating disorders like anorexia, there are still far too many individuals who succumb to this disorder, many of whom either fail in restoring their health, or die due to life threatening consequences. Because of an emphasis on a lean body image from fashion and media industries, young women are given the impression that they must be skinny if they want to be beautiful. They learn to idolize the models and actresses portrayed on T.V. or in magazines, resulting in a negative self-image, where emphasis is placed on thinness rather than health.

According to Mental Help Net, many teens are learning ways to lose weight through the Internet. It was found that “teens who look for eating disorder information on the Internet are more likely to be hospitalized for their condition than teens who don’t turn to the Web.” This is troubling because it demonstrates how adolescents learn and apply the easily accessible and potentially dangerous information they encounter on the Internet to reinforce harmful behavior. In response to a survey regarding Internet use and eating disorders, an alarming 41% had visited a pro-eating disorder website. Ninety-six percent of these teens “reported gleaning new weight-loss or purging information from the sites.” Due to a strong denial of a problem which occurs alongside of anorexia, it can be difficult to convince someone that they need treatment, and motivating that person to participate in their treatment is a challenging goal. Nevertheless, it is vital that education and treatment take place.

Some believe that it would be difficult to change social and cultural factors that favor thinness in women. There are well-established economic interests in industries such as fashion, physical fitness gyms, weight loss companies, diet, food products, and clothing companies. In addition, there is a dichotomy in this country between an epidemic in obesity, where weight loss and exercise is justifiable, and the rising incidence of anorexia nervosa, where weight loss is excessive and dangerous. There is also a concern that public awareness of eating disorders through education could promote more eating disorders, as susceptible individuals might learn improper eating habits from friends or the media. Despite these issues, it is clear that an effective intervention strategy should be developed for this large subgroup of individuals with persistent anorexic-like thinking, to reduce the vast number of cases of anorexia. Since it was shown that teens turn to the Internet for an assortment of information, some of which is inaccurate, the Internet and T.V. should be utilized as a means for preventing anorexia. For example, a study found that “an Internet-based intervention program may prevent some high risk, college-age women from developing an eating disorder,” according to the National Institutes of Health. The online program, which included reading assignments, keeping a body-image journal, discussion groups, and follow-up sessions, helped high-risk women learn about nutrition and diet while reducing their concern with weight and shape. While 30% of individuals in the control group developed an eating disorder within two years, only 14% in the intervention group developed an eating disorder within two years. While it is true that this success may not apply to all individuals, and not everyone has access to computers or internet, it is still a very viable, inexpensive option for preventing those at risk for an eating disorder.

In addition, a public service announcement program promoting the importance of healthy eating, and the harm of extreme dieting should be implemented. A national public campaign on TV reaching millions of viewers, possibly involving role models like movie stars revealing their own experiences with weight control problems, could promote awareness of eating disorders. Images of severely malnourished anorexics could be employed to illustrate how dangerous anorexia can be if not treated promptly. Fund raising campaigns for various treatment programs could be advantageous as well. The power of the media is very significant, and teens rely greatly on T.V. and Internet sources as noted earlier; thus these role models could be influential for young adolescents. While at first glance, this may seem impractical, however there are national campaigns against tobacco, smoking, and other addictions, and a campaign against the addiction of excessive dieting and weight loss seems appropriate. Just as there are weight-loss commercials for those who are overweight or obese, such as Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, there could be commercials emphasizing the importance of weight gain for those with eating disorders. While some may argue that a commercial designed for the sole purpose of educating others on the harm of eating disorders will be expensive, time-consuming, and quite possibly even unsuccessful, these individuals must ask themselves, will it be worth it if it helps someone? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? If it saves even just one life, then yes, they most certainly do. And anyways, until the program is implemented, its success will remain unknown. One will never know until it has been tried. Television and the Internet are used for numerous useless, insignificant, and trivial shows and sites, respectively, so why not make use of these influential mediums to expose people to information regarding a relevant and crucial issue that can benefit many individuals? There is no way to remove all misguiding, problematic, and damaging messages displayed through the media, but there is a way to enhance the media through providing informative and valuable messages, such as one for the prevention of anorexia.