Wednesday, October 29, 2014

California Gold

I seem to be on a media kick with my blog posts lately. Here is another such post!

I have noticed on my Bart rides home that there is a new ad campaign in Berkeley encouraging residents to use their "green bins" to recycle food scraps, as well as soiled paper/cardboard. These can then be composted to enrich the soil, aka "California gold."

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Did you know that California produces about half of the nation's fruits and vegetables in our central valley region? For some items, such as artichokes and walnuts, it is as much as 99%! That's why we care about soil.

The ads are produced by Ready Set Recycle, a campaign in Alameda County to help people learn how to properly sort their refuse. They even offer prizes, like gift cards, gardening compost, and fresh  food boxes from local farmers, for engaging in certain activities that support learning to recycle.

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One tricky thing is that businesses in Alameda County can contract with private recycling companies, which may not follow the same rules as the curbside program. For example, where I work, a Starbucks coffee cup can be composted (green bin) and the lid can be recycled (blue bin). In other places, the lid may not be recyclable and would go to landfill.

So what does recycling and composting have to do with public health?

As it turns out, the environment affects our health! Things we do to and for the environment can have lasting impacts on our health. For example, according to the EPA, recycling can play a role in reducing GHC emissions, which are associated with chronic illnesses like asthma. For more information on waste disposal and public health, see here, here, and here.

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Does your town, county, or region offer large scale composting? How has it changed your thoughts about waste or the environment?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Health Insurance Changes Behavior: Moral Hazard

This semester, I am a Graduate Student Instructor for the undergraduate course Public Health 150D, Introduction to Health Policy and Management. I am really enjoying working with the students and am having fun helping them learn about the U.S. health care system! Here is something they learn about in our class:

UC Berkeley requires students to have health insurance to enroll in the school. When many of my classmates started graduate school, they had previously been working in settings that did not provide benefits and had therefore gone without some health services for a period. Once they started school and had insurance through the university plan, they got very excited to use those services to the fullest!

New glasses? Check!
Teeth cleaning? Check!
Pap smear? Check!
Flu shot? Check!
Sore throat? Why not get it checked out? Can't hurt! Check!
Ski trip? I'll have to save up to go, but at least if I get hurt on the trip, I know I'm covered!

Did you know? This phenomenon actually has a technical name!

Moral Hazard in health care is the tendency to behave differently when you have health insurance than when you don't. It can include both engaging in riskier behaviors (because you know you have insurance if you get hurt) or using more services (because they are covered fully or in part by your insurance).

Furthermore, it turns out that the better our insurance coverage (lower deductibles, lower copays, lower coinsurance, etc.), the more services (and more expensive services) we are likely to use! (See publications on the RAND Health Experiment and other similar findings.)

The name "moral hazard" makes it sound like this is a series of bad or wrong choices. But that is misleading, in my opinion. Sure, insurance companies dislike it, and in some cases, moral hazard can involve over-use of unnecessary services. But for most of us who just want to take care of our health, it is actually quite logical to weigh the risks and count the costs when we make everyday decisions. If we can afford it, of course we want to get the services that might improve our health!

If you have never heard the term "moral hazard" before, you have just been introduced to one concept from PH150D: Introduction to Health Policy and Management. And now you know!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Disney's Anti-Bullying Campaign #ChooseKindness

October is Bullying Awareness Month.

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While watching one my favorite ABC shows online recently, I saw an interesting anti-bullying ad put out by Disney, involving many of their stars donning t-shirts with anti-bullying messages and encouraging us to use the hashtag #ChooseKindness. Since bullying is an issue I have addressed on this blog before (read here and here), I looked into it more. As it turns out, Disney is doing an entire campaign this month around the issue. (For details, see their "Be Inspired" website.)

What I found particularly interesting is that they are not only putting out advertisements around the issue; they are also incorporating anti-bullying themes within the scripts of their television shows. Here are some sample clips I found:

Show Name: "Austin & Ally"

Show Name: "Girl Meets World"

I know that public health professionals have varying views on Disney as a whole (for example, some take issue with Disney's employment practices and affiliation with "The Other NRA"), and I am in no way trying to endorse them as a perfect company. And then, of course, there is the general philosophy (and evidence) that TV-viewing is not a particularly healthful behavior. (For more on that, see here, here, and here.)

But given the reality that kids watch an average of 4 hours of television per day,  I did want to share this one cool instance of public health social messaging making its way into mainstream media. I am thankful they are attempting something worthwhile through this campaign.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Great Shake Out on October 16

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People across the country will be participating in the Great Shake Out, a nationwide earthquake safety drill, on October 16 at 10:16 am.

What to Do When an Earthquake Starts

According to the Southern California Earthquake Center, the best thing to do when an earthquake starts is:

1. Drop to the ground (before the earthquake knocks you off your feet). Do not try to move!

2. Cover your head and neck with your arms, and duck under a sturdy table if nearby. They say that with modern building design, you are more likely to be injured by falling debris, such as lamps or books, than by a collapsed building, which is why a desk or table is helpful.

3. Hold onto your shelter (desk/table) and be prepared to move with it until shaking stops.

Earthquake Safety Myths

On its website, the Center also dispels some common myths about earthquake safety:

Myth #1: You should go to a door frame, because door frames are the strongest part of the house. 

Although images of earthquakes from 50 years ago may show standing door frames, the Southern California Earthquake Center says that door frames are not stronger than other parts of a building in modern building design. Furthermore, a doorframe will not protect you from falling debris off a shelf or cabinet, which is the greatest risk during an earthquake.

Myth #2: You should try to run outside.

Many earthquakes do not last long enough for you to get outside, and perhaps more importantly, they may knock you off your feet or cause falling debris to hit you on the way. Furthermore, you may be hit by bricks or shingles off buildings if standing near a structure outside. The Center suggests it is better to drop, cover, and hold on where you are.

Myth #3: It is better to stay next to a table than to get under it (as perpetuated by chain emails circulating about the "triangle of life.")

The Southern California Earthquake Center says that this myth is based on multiple false assumptions, including the false beliefs that falling buildings are your primary threat during an earthquake, that buildings that do fall crush all furniture, and that you will be able to anticipate how a building might collapse if it does. According to the Center, while collapsed buildings get a lot of attention in headlines, this is much less likely to happen with modern building design. On the other hand, falling debris, bookshelves, and other items are much more likely to harm you and should be your main concern. This is why they recommend getting under a desk, rather than next to it.

For more information on earthquake safety in a variety of situations, check out their website or this helpful two-page handout!

Are you planning to do anything for The Great Shake Out event?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Jesus as a Community Organizer?

For my Health Policy Advocacy class a couple weeks ago, we read an essay called, "The Power Tactics of Jesus Christ," by Jay Haley. The essay analyzes the ministry of Jesus as a movement for social change. The article compares Jesus' tactics to community organizers (and even dictators) who amass large followings. The text purports to describe the power dynamics of Jesus' movement-building work, providing lessons about rallying the poor and oppressed for a cause, which we can use in our own efforts to advocate for just health or other policies.

From our class discussion, it seemed like this article may be one of the few encounters many of my friends and classmates have had with Jesus, and it paints a rather disturbing picture. The text speculates on Jesus' ulterior motives and ultimately construes him as a tyrannical schemer who was willing to do anything it took to get his message of social justice out.

I have been hesitating on whether or not to share my thoughts on the essay for weeks, because of course, it is a controversial one to say the least. And then there is the personal temptation to hide who I am and what I believe, because faith is sometimes frowned upon in public health discussions.

But over the last few weeks, I have realized that I can only be who I am. Many of my classmates know that I am a Christian, and yet, I rarely share on a deeper level what that even means. The truth is, it has changed everything about who I am and how I see the world. Everything. I hope that sharing a glimpse into my own experiences of who Jesus is might open the door for others to feel more freedom in being real about who they really are and what defines them at the deepest level. So here goes nothing!

One thing I have in common with Jay Haley, the author of the essay we read, is that I do believe Jesus paved the way for a radically different view of the poor, hurting, and oppressed, and this belief is a large part of the reason that I am back in school to make a career change. I desire to love others through a career in public health.

Yet ultimately, the way I came to love Jesus had very little to do with His view of the world and everything to do with His view of me.

The scriptures taken as a whole, both Old and New Testaments, paint Jesus' motives and primary purpose not as a political campaign or rebellion, nor as a human movement for justice, but as the love-motivated fulfillment of God's plan to save and redeem humanity from separation from God himself. 

The most radical thing Jesus has shown me is that as much as I desire to love others through my own work and service, I cannot earn God's approval or love through these things. For one, my own efforts involve mistakes and mixed motives, many so corrupt that I hide them even from myself at times; as much as I try to be a good person, I shudder to think of what would happen to my reputation and relationships if the full content of my thought life were broadcast to the world on a projector 24/7. I don't know anyone that would fare well under the light of such a deep evaluation. Many of us agree that the world is a messed up place, but the more I examine myself, the more I realize that I am a central part of the problem.

Why is this so radical?

The miracle is that God actually knows all of the intimate details of every thought I have ever had, every motive I have ever held, every action I have ever done, and He loves me deeply.

Like, imagine the most passionate love story you have ever read or seen, multiply that by a million, and that is how God feels about me and you. In fact, He has already demonstrated his unconditional love for me through Christ's death on the cross. Christ lived the life of perfect love that I should live (but am unable to do in my own power) and then willingly out of love for me died the death that I truly deserve. When Jesus died on the cross, the scriptures teach that he actually paid the penalty for every corrupt thing I have ever thought or done, past, present, and future.

This free gift of love, this exchange of Christ's perfect life for my messed up one, is what I believe Christ's ministry was ultimately about. I don't need to keep trying to earn God's love or to save myself. I already have his unconditional love and salvation as a free gift.

It is out of the security of this relationship with God, knowing that He already loves me more than I could ever imagine or earn, that I grow to love Him more and can then serve and love others.

I am not interested in public health based on feelings of guilt or trying to earn God's approval with my chosen field.

On the contrary, because I understand at a deep level what selfless love is, based on what Jesus has already done for me and based on His unshakable love for me, regardless of what I do, I am overwhelmed with gratitude and have begun to be changed from the inside out. God's demonstrated love and his Holy Spirit guiding me are ultimately what help me pursue a world of greater equity, improved health, and justice for all.

When I was very young, I remember a few kids on the playground seemed to know something about God, and I had no idea who He was, having never gone to church at that time. I asked God to please show me who He was, and somehow He prompted my family to start attending the closest church to our house. Twenty years later, I am still leaning into new questions and asking God to show Himself to me, to help me figure out why I am responding to Him in any given way on any given day. And He is working on my heart from the inside out, revealing new aspects of His love in every season.

This is who I am. This is what shapes me.

My encouragement to those who have first encountered Jesus (or re-encountered him) through "The Power Tactics of Jesus Christ," would be to actually turn to God and ask Him your tough questions. Cry out to Him! If you find the essay intriguing, ask God to reveal Himself to you in other ways. If you find the essay disturbing, tell Him why and ask Him to help you in the search for answers. If you find yourself indifferent to it all, ask God why you feel this way. Maybe He will answer.

One great place to start in getting a glimpse into the life of Jesus is the book of John, the fourth book in the New Testament. If you are wondering who Jesus is, try reading it with an open mind, and see if God speaks to your heart through it. What events, characteristics, and statements stand out to you? What troubles you? What encourages you? God is not afraid of your questions; He already knows what they are before you speak them aloud, and He understands them. He loves you.

To learn more about the gospel of Jesus Christ, check out this resource about God's Plan of Salvation.

Not sure which translation of the bible to read? I enjoy the NLT, NIV, or ESV translations for modern language translated closely to the historical texts or The Message for a modern paraphrase / interpretation. (Note that The Message is NOT a translation.) All of these are available to read for free on

Friday, October 10, 2014

Jennifer Garner's Baby Bump

I saw this video posted recently, and I really appreciated it! I have not had children yet, but I hope to some day, and this just made my day. (And no, it's not what you think. Just watch!)

Thank you, Jennifer Garner, for your honesty and body positivity. So refreshing!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Colbie Caillat's "Try"

I hear this song on the radio a lot these days, but I feel like the video really enhanced my understanding of the meaning on a deeper level. So for those of you out there who are visual learners, I wanted to share.  It seems like so many of us struggle with image in one way or another, and this really spoke to my heart. I hope you too enjoy Colbie Caillat's new song, "Try."

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Lost Art of Listening

Discourse over social and political issues (and thus health issues) today is fraught with fighting, name-calling, finger-pointing, and a general lack of cooperation. It is no wonder that approval ratings for Congress hit an all-time historic low this summer.

In part as a response to this tumultuous state of affairs, some of my college friends recently started an organization called Listen First Project. Their mission is simple:
"Listen First Project seeks to facilitate greater understanding, respect and cooperation by encouraging the timeless but abandoned practice of listening to each other, regardless of politics, religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, education or any other distinction. We believe in the power of listening to transform our discourse and change the world."
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My dad loves to tell a story from my toddler years about the time I was chattering away on a long car trip, when suddenly it grew very quiet. Wondering why I made such an abrupt end to my soliloquy, my parents turned around to ask if I was ok. My response: "My mouth is tired."

And thus kicked off my illustrious career as a talker.

Listening has always been a challenge for me. It is not that I am uninterested in what others have to say. Quite the opposite! I get so enthusiastic, however, that I feel the need to jump in and respond to every....single....thing someone shares. When someone makes a statement, I often feel compelled to pose the arguments for the alternative position just to see if they can find any common ground with the opposition and to understand better what they think. I love engaging others and being engaged at what I perceive to be a fun and challenging level.

(Note to others: it turns out that not everyone enjoys this or feels respected and heard through this type of dialogue. Who'd'a thunk it?)

Despite my loquacious tendencies, Listen First Project has really struck a chord with me. When I think about the state of American politics, I sense that common decency has been lost somewhere along the way and is needed to bring us back on track.

Although I recognize the imperative for listening in the broader political realm, as I reflect on the above stories and personal traits embodied by my everyday experiences, I am realizing more and more that the first place listening needs to start is with me.

One thing I tried earlier this year was one week without expressing opinions - just to see if I could do it and come out alive. Most days, I failed at least once, but it made me much more aware of my own talking instincts and habits. Why do I feel the need to be heard on anything and everything? Will the world stop or people go on perpetually uneducated if I do not inform them of my views? As it turns out, the world kept turning and people kept learning and growing that week! In many ways, holding back my own voice made me more aware of the power that voice has when I do use it.

I was also called out by a friend for interrupting during a group project meeting last semester, and I really took it to heart to try to adjust this bad habit. I still struggle with interrupting, but being more conscious of it has meant that I now catch myself in the act more often, apologize, and ask the other person to please continue expressing their thoughts, because I do care.

Other places that learning to listen well has been making an appearance in my life include learning how to teach well (pedagogy) by facilitating other students in having discussions of their ideas, administering surveys with Best Babies Zone in East Oakland to understand community members' perceptions of their experiences,  and even learning in my prayer life how to sit quietly with God, rather than simply listing my requests.

Listening is one of the most important things I can do, both for my personal relationships and my professional success. In public health, understanding health concerns from the perspectives of the communities they affect, listening to community ideas for solutions, and investing in solutions that have community buy-in are often significantly more important to community thriving and successful interventions than any expertise or ideas I bring to an issue.

Learning to listen well will undoubtedly be a lifelong process for me.

I am excited to see where Listen First Project goes. To learn more about their efforts, check out the Listen First websiteFacebook page, and Twitter feed @ListenFirstProj.

Now, I would love to hear your ideas! How have you fostered the practice of listening well in public discourse, and perhaps more importantly, in your own day-to-day life?

Note: Another resource I have found helpful on this topic for those interested in the intersection of listening and faith is Richard Mouw's book, "Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World."