Kayte Spector-Bagdady is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Michigan Medical School and the Service Chief of the Research Ethics Service in the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM). Her current research explores informed consent to emerging technologies with a focus on reproduction and genetics. Prof. Spector received her J.D. and M.Bioethics from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and School of Medicine respectively after graduating from Middlebury College.
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The August 2016 issue of AMA Journal of Ethics features commentaries by Christian Vercler, Lauren Smith, and Andrew Shuman.
"Is Consent to Autopsy Necessary? Cartesian Dualism in Medicine and Its Limitations"
Commentary by Megan Lane and Christian J. Vercler
"I Might Have Some Bad News: Disclosing Preliminary Pathology Results"
Commentary by Michael H. Roh and Andrew G. Shuman
"Requests for VIP Treatment in Pathology: Implications for Social Justice and Systems-Based Practice"
Commentary by Virginia Sheffield and Lauren B. Smith
Tell us what you think about certain public policies designed to reduce the incidence of diabetes in the US.
Please read this hypothetical news article and then answer a few questions at the end.
People with Diabetes Lobby Congress This Week
- strongly disagree
- strongly agree
- strongly disagree
- strongly agree
- strongly disagree
- strongly agree
Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, or what?
- Strong Democrat
- Not so strong Democrat
- Independent, close to Democrat
- Independent, close to Republican
- Not so strong Republican
- Strong Republican
- Don't know, haven't thought much about it
How you answered:
Researchers affiliated with CBDSM and the School of Public Health have found that "Americans' opinions about health policy are polarized on political partisan lines. Democrats and Republicans differ in the ways that they receive and react to messages about the social determinants of health."
In the study, lead author Sarah Gollust, PhD, randomly assigned participants to read one of four hypothetical news articles about type 2 diabetes. Diabetes was used as an example of a common health issue that is widely debated and that is known to have multiple contributing factors, including genetic predisposition, behavioral choices, and social determinants (such as income or neighborhood environments).
The articles were identical except for the causal frame embedded in the text. The article that you read in this Decision of the Month presented social determinants as a cause for type 2 diabetes. Other versions of the article presented genetic predisposition or behavioral choices as a cause for type 2 diabetes, and one version had no causal language.
Dr. Gollust then asked the study participants their views of seven nonmedical governmental policies related to the environmental, neighborhood, or economic determinants of diabetes:
- bans on fast food concessions in public schools
- incentives for grocery stores to establish locations where there are currently few
- bans on trans fat in restaurants
- government investment in parks
- regulating junk food advertisements
- imposing taxes on junk foods
- subsidizing the costs of healthy food
Dr. Gollust also asked participants their political party identification and a number of other self-reported characteristics.
The most dramatic finding of this study was that the news story with the social determinants as a cause for type 2 diabetes had significantly different effects on the policy views of participants, depending on whether they identified themselves as Democrats or Republicans. After reading the social determinants article, Democrats expressed a higher level of support for the proposed public health policies. Republicans expressed a lower level of support for the proposed public health policies. This effect occurred only in the group of participants who were randomly assigned to read the version of the news article with social determinants given as a cause for type 2 diabetes. Dr. Gollust summarizes: "Exposure to the social determinants message produced a divergence of opinion by political party, with Democrats and Republicans differing in their opinions by nearly 0.5 units of the 5-point scale."
The study suggests several possible explanations for these results:
"First, the social determinants media frame may have presumed a liberal worldview to which the Republican study participants disagreed or found factually erroneous (ie, not credible), but with which Democrats felt more comfortable or found more familiar. . . Second, media consumption is becoming increasingly polarized by party identification, and . . . the social determinants message may have appeared particularly biased to Republicans. . .Third, the social determinants frame may have primed, or activated, study participants' underlying attitudes about the social group highlighted in the news article. . . Fourth, participants' party identification likely serves as proxy for . . . values held regarding personal versus social responsibility for health."
Dr. Gollust and her colleagues conclude that if public health advocates want to mobilize the American public to support certain health policies, a segmented communication approach may be needed. Some subgroups of Americans will not find a message about social determinants credible. These subgroups value personal responsibility and find social determinants antagonistic to their worldview. To avoid triggering immediate resistance by these citizens to information about social determinants of health, public health advocates may consider the use of information about individual behavioral factors in educational materials, while working to build public familiarity with and acceptance of research data on social determinants.
For more details about this study:
Reshma Jagsi, M.D., D.Phil., is Professor and Deputy Chair in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Michigan Medicine and Director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine. In addition to her medical training at Harvard Medical School, she served as a fellow in the Center for Ethics at Harvard University and completed her doctorate in Social Policy at Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar. Dr. Jagsi is board-certified in Radiation Oncology by the American Board of Radiology.
Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher is an Associate Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, University of Michigan School of Public Health, as well as a Research Associate Professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School. He has been part of CBSSM and its precursors at U-M since 2002 and acts as CBSSM Associate Director.
Raymond G. De Vries, Ph.D., gave his inaugural lecture on the occasion of assuming professorship at Maastricht University in May 2011.
Michael D. Fetters, MD, MPH, MA, Associate Professor, presented at Grand Rounds, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, Ypsilanti, MI, in May 2010.
Scott Roberts, PhD, is Associate Professor of Health Behavior & Health Education at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health (U-M SPH), where he directs the School’s Public Health Genetics program and teaches a course on public health ethics. A clinical psychologist by training, Dr. Roberts conducts research on the psychosocial implications of genetic testing for adult-onset diseases.
Raymond De Vries PhD is Associate Director at the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine at the University of Michigan and is a Professor in the Department of Learning Health Sciences and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He is also visiting professor at CAPHRI School for Public Health and Primary Care, University of Maastricht, the Netherlands.