Faculty addresses food deserts

John Higginbotham, PhD, associate dean for research and health policy and director of the Institute for Rural Health Research at the College of Community Health Sciences, recently discussed the effects of food deserts on childhood obesity in a Crimson White article.

According to Higginbotham, children who grow up in food deserts have a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes and other health conditions associated with obesity and poor nutrition.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as areas where a significant percentage of the population lives more than a mile from the nearest source of fresh, healthy food. For many people living in a food desert, the only sources of food they have access to are gas stations and convenience stores.

“Right now our adolescents and our young children, 31 percent of them are either overweight or obese,” Higginbotham told The University of Alabama student newspaper. “If we look at the adults, that number jumps to 69 percent in our state. These children are going to have the same problems with obesity that adults are having but at a younger age. There have even been some people who have said this may be the first generation that doesn’t outlive their parents if it continues to go in this direction.”

UA was awarded a $1 million grant from the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities that is funding Project UNITED, which works to reduce childhood obesity in Alabama’s Black Belt region. Through Project UNITED, a collaborative effort of the UA Colleges of Community Health Sciences and Communication and Information Sciences, Higginbotham and other UA researchers involved in the project are working to create lasting solutions to food deserts and obesity by customizing solutions that fit each individual community.

Read the full Crimson White article here.

Economic impact of practicing rural obstetrics

According to the research of Dan Avery, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the College of Community Health Sciences, a family physician practicing obstetrics in a rural community adds a nearly $1.5 million annual benefit to the local economy. The research article looking at this economic impact was published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine (JABFM) earlier this month.

The project was a joint effort of several UA researchers, including: Dwight Hooper, MD, , a professor, and John McDonald, MD, an assistant professor, both in the College’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology; Melanie Tucker, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and director of clinical investigations for the College; Jason Parton, PhD, an assistant research professor of statistics in the Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration’s Department of Information Systems, Statistics and Management Science; and Michael Love, MD, a 2014 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Medicine.

According to the article, obstetric care affects the economic development and sustainability of rural communities. The availability of maternity care affects young people moving to the community, local businesses and other medical and hospital services.

“When maternity care is lost in a community, negative effects occur on many levels,” Avery says.

The University of Alabama Family Medicine Obstetrics Fellowship was founded in 1986 by the College to help bring obstetrical care to Alabama’s underserved, rural communities and is one of the oldest fellowships of its kind in the United States.

Read the full JABFM article here.

Tucker joins Department of Family Medicine

130914_JH_CCHSMelanie Tucker, PhD, has joined the College’s Department of Family Medicine, where she was recently appointed an assistant professor of health education. Tucker has been with the College since 2005 as an assistant professor in the Department of Community and Rural Medicine and as director of clinical investigations.

In her new role, Tucker will provide clinical health coaching to University Medical Center patients with chronic diseases. She will work directly with individual patients and patient groups to set behavior change goals and to help motivate them through the process. Tucker will also develop and implement a health education and health communications curriculum for the College’s medical students and family medicine residents.

“I will work directly with the students and residents in the clinic to improve patient health by providing health education and making effective use of a health educator,” says Tucker.

Keeping in line with her research background, Tucker will also work with the residents to complete their scholarly activity projects.

“I most look forward to being able to use my health education and health promotion background and experience to help patients make healthy lifestyle changes,” Tucker says. “Being able to plan and implement behavior change programs in the Family Medicine Department is exciting, and I hope some of these programs can be expanded to other departments.”

In addition to educating and providing clinical experiences for medical students and family medicine residents, the College operates University Medical Center, a multi-specialty primary care clinic serving The University of Alabama and West Alabama communities.

Students elected to membership in honor medical society

Four University of Alabama School of Medicine students who are receiving their clinical education at the College of Community Health Sciences were elected members of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.

The students, all in their fourth-year of medical school, are Chelsea Cernosek, Duncan Harmon, Jamie Leigh Powell and Nathan Wilbanks.

Alpha Omega Alpha is a professional medical organization that recognizes excellence in scholarship as well as outstanding commitment and dedication to caring for others. The top 25 percent of a medical school class is eligible for nomination to the honor society, and up to 16 percent may be elected.

“These students were elected based on their outstanding academic achievements, character, community service, and leadership,” says Heather Taylor, MD, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and director of Medical Student Affairs at the College. “We are very proud of them and all of their accomplishments.”

About 3,000 students, alumni and faculty are elected to Alpha Omega Alpha each year. The society has 120 chapters in medical schools throughout the United States and has elected more than 150,000 members since its founding in 1902.

In its role as a regional campus of the University of Alabama School of Medicine, the College provides clinical education to a subset of third- and fourth-year medical students. The students complete the first two years of basic science courses at the School of Medicine’s main campus in Birmingham, and then complete clinical rotations on the Tuscaloosa campus in the departments of Family Medicine, Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Neurology, Psychiatry and Surgery.

Faculty talks Stand Up To Cancer’s ‘tobacco-friendly’ donors

Alan Blum, MD, professor in Family Medicine and the Gerald Leon Wallace Endowed Chair for the College of Community Health Sciences, recently addressed the “tobacco-friendly” donors associated with Stand Up To Cancer, a non-profit cancer group that conducts televised fundraising events, in an article on The Cancer Letter. The group raised more than $109 million last weekend. Read the article.

Campus-wide Flu Shot Campaign Under Way at UA

 University of Alabama campaign to vaccinate faculty, staff and students against the flu this year begins in mid-September and will continue into November.

The vaccination effort is being led by the College of Community Health Sciences. This is the third year the College has lead the University’s efforts to protect employees and students against the flu. Last year, more than 8,000 vaccinations were given.

UA Engages in Intervention Pilot Program for Childhood Obesity

Faculty from The University of Alabama and community members from Alabama’s Black Belt region have been awarded $45,000 to support a childhood obesity prevention plan through Project UNITED’s Intervention Pilot Program.

The project will run through June 2015.

UA faculty members on the project are Dr. Linda Knol, associate professor in the department of human nutrition and hospitality management; Dr. Sheila Black, associate professor of psychology; and Dr. Harriet Myers, associate professor and clinical psychologist in UA’s College of Community Health Sciences.

What’s On Your Plate?

Remember the Food Guide Pyramid from the 1990’s?  It was released by the USDA in 1992 as a tool to help us plan a healthy diet.  The Food Guide Pyramid divided foods into food groups and recommended the number of servings to eat daily.  While it was a great way to help us learn about the food groups, it didn’t show us how to plan each meal.  To remedy this, the Food Guide Pyramid was replaced with MyPlate in 2011.

What is MyPlate?

MyPlate focuses on one meal at a time and helps you build a healthy plate.  Again, it divides your plate into food groups, with your dairy on the side.  As you can see, half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables.  The other half of your plate should be proteins and grains.  Don’t forget to include dairy at each meal.

Here are some basic tips:

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Make at least half of your grains whole grains.
  • Choose low fat dairy.
  • Choose lean meats.

Which foods fall into each food group? 

Check out the following link: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups

Here you can find information on each of the food groups, along with tips on making healthy choices from each group.

But what about my budget?

Many people want to eat healthier, but feel that healthy food just costs too much money.  Not to worry!  With a little planning, you can make healthy foods fit into your grocery budget.  Check out the following tool from the USDA, called ‘Meeting Your MyPlate Goals On A Budget’:  http://www.choosemyplate.gov/budget/downloads/MeetingYourMyPlateGoalsOnABudget.pdf

This booklet provides you with great ideas for healthy foods that are inexpensive and gives you tasty recipes on how to create the perfect plate!

For more information and meal planning tips, visit www.choosemyplate.gov.

-Joy Douglas, MS, RD, LD

Alabama’s Black Belt churches join the fight against HIV/AIDS, al.com reports

Dr. Pamela Payne Foster, who works at the University of Alabama’s School of Rural Medicine, has helped enlist 12 Black Belt churches to participate in an HIV and anti-stigma program similar to one used in Ghana, according to the report.

Faculty opinion: ‘Stand Up to Cancer’ not standing up to cigarette promoters

In three previous national telethons, Stand Up To Cancer has raised more than a quarter of a billion dollars for cancer research. Contributions to the “War on Cancer” pledged in the fourth such telethon on September 5 would seem to be welcome. But several sponsors that were praised in the telecast appear to be doing more to promote the leading cause of cancer — cigarette smoking — than to prevent or cure cancer.