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The Diabetes Lobby (Dec-09)

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

Washington, March 28 – About 1000 patients with type 2 diabetes (also commonly known as adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes) have converged here as advocates for the American Diabetes Association (ADA). They will be meeting with their members of Congress to discuss their condition and advocate for federal policies to address their disease. In addition, they will hold a rally on Thursday of this week on the National Monument grounds, to attract popular attention to their disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 21 million Americans have diabetes, but one-third of these people do not yet know they have the disease. More than 90% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, a form of diabetes which typically emerges when people are adults but which may develop during childhood. The number of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes has been increasing every year. There were over 1 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed in 2005 among adults. Researchers believe that the conditions in the neighborhoods where people live increase their chances of getting type 2 diabetes. Rates of diabetes are highest among people living in poor neighborhoods.
People with type 2 diabetes develop a problem with the way their body secretes or responds to insulin, a hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. As a result, they have elevated blood sugar levels, which they must check multiple times per day and monitor their food intake. Researchers are working hard to understand more about what causes type 2 diabetes. Diabetes expert Dr. Howard Smith says, "People who live in neighborhoods where the majority of stores sell food with high calories and low nutritional value, such as fast food restaurants or convenience stores, are much more likely to develop diabetes." Several other scientific studies have supported the idea that people’s neighborhoods, including not having convenient or safe places to exercise, and being exposed to many advertisements selling high-calorie foods, are associated with the development of diabetes.
If left untreated, people with diabetes can become blind, have kidney damage, lose their limbs, or die. Physicians, health plans, employers, and policymakers are considering new ways to prevent diabetes, help patients manage their diabetes, and reduce this deadly epidemic. It is expected that the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Labor will consider several bills about diabetes in the upcoming session of Congress.
Some people with diabetes check their blood sugar with a device called a glucometer.
Having read this news article, please tell us if you agree with the following policies:
The government should impose higher taxes on food high in calories and fat, like it does for cigarettes.
  • strongly disagree
  • disagree
  • neutral
  • agree
  • strongly agree
The government should provide financial incentives to encourage grocery stores to locate in areas where there are few.
  • strongly disagree
  • disagree
  • neutral
  • agree
  • strongly agree
The government should regulate advertisements for junk food like it does for cigarettes and alcohol.
  • strongly disagree
  • disagree
  • neutral
  • agree
  • 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
  • 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:

Gollust SE, Lantz PM, Ubel PA, The polarizing effect of news media messages about the social determinants of health, Am J Public Health 2009, 99:2160-2167.


Sun, November 14, 2010

Raymond De Vries, Professor in the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine and the Departments of Medical Education and Obstetrics and Gynecology, authored a commentary in a Dutch national newspaper examining media misrepresentation of a recent article in the British Medical Journal about perinatal death in the Netherlands.  Dr. De Vries and colleague Lisa Kane Low, Director of Midwifery Education, will present at a conference, Knowledge in Business, sponsored by the Zuyd University in Maastricht.

Along with Ted A. Skolarus, M.D., M.P.H., CBSSM Co-Director, Angela Fagerlin authored a Viewpoint article titled "Rethinking Patient-Physician Communication of Biopsy Results -- The Waiting Game." In the article, they conclude, "Telemedicine approaches can potentially relieve much of the anxiety associated with in-person consultations while delivering bad news in a timely, compassionate, and patient-centered manner."

CBSSM Faculty, Brian Zikmund-Fisher, Tanner Caverly, and Jeffrey Kullgren were co-authors on a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine Article on Why Doctors Order Unnecessary Scans for Back Pain. Erika Sears, MD, MS was the lead author.

The study was highlighted in UMHS news release here.

Research Topics: 

Lisa Szymecko, JD, PhD


Lisa Szymecko joined CBSSM in May 2012 as a Research Area Specialist Intermediate, working as the study coordinator for Susan Goold on the DECIDERS and PCORI projects.

Lisa earned her Bachelors of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from Michigan Technological University, her Juris Doctorate from Detroit College of Law, and her PhD in Resource Development from Michigan State University.

Last Name: 

Kathryn Moseley served as one of the judges at "The Big Ethical Question Slam 5" hosted by In addition, Naomi Laventhal, Michele Gornick, Christian Vercler, Lauren Smith, and Lauren Wancata served as judges at the "Michigan Highschool Ethics Bowl 2."

Thanks to all the CBSSM folks who contributed their time!

For more information about these events and other great ethics-related activites, go to

A short video about the Highschool Ethics Bowl can be found here.

I Saw It on a Billboard (Feb-10)

What is the impact of medical advertising that is directly targeted at patients? What information do consumers of medical products and therapies need in order to make informed decisions about their health?

Consider the following:

Ms. J, a healthy 50-year old woman, drives by a billboard that advertises low-dose spiral computed tomography (CT) scanning to screen for lung cancer. Although she has no family history of cancer and has never smoked, several of Ms. J’s friends have been diagnosed with cancer recently. She worries that she herself may have an undetected malignancy.

Responding to this advertising, Ms. J decides to pay out-of-pocket for a CT scan at the imaging center advertised on the billboard. The radiologist at this imaging center profits from the number of scans interpreted. As a result of the CT scan, an abnormality is found, and Ms. J undergoes a biopsy of her lung. A complication occurs from this procedure, but Ms. J recovers, and the biopsy comes back negative. She is relieved to learn that she does not have lung cancer.

After reading this scenario and thinking about direct-to consumer medical advertising, which of the following statements best represents your views?

  • STATEMENT A: Direct-to-consumer advertising improves patient education and patient-physician communication. Such advertising informs and empowers patients, so that their health care better reflects their needs and values. In particular, certain health services require complex medical equipment with high capital costs. Physicians who invest in such equipment do so because they believe in its promise, and they deserve payment to recoup their investment.
  • STATEMENT B: Direct-to-consumer advertising often results in misunderstanding, increased costs, and disruption of the patient-physician relationship. Such advertising can skew information to portray products in a positive light and can prey upon patients’ fears. Physicians closely allied with a treatment cannot offer objective assessment to patients about the efficacy or risks of the treatment. Further, most patients are ignorant of the financial incentives to physicians for various procedures.
  • STATEMENT C: I have not formed a viewpoint on direct-to-consumer medical advertising.


How do your answers compare? 

CBDSM's Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil, has written a powerful challenge to the medical profession and medical industries in a recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Dr. Jagsi argues that the increasing proliferation of direct-to-patient advertising has raised questions of how physicians can function as unbiased intermediaries between patients and industry.

In the article, she presents six case studies, one of which has been excerpted and adapted for this Decision of the Month. Dr. Jagsi uses these case studies to address serious issues related to both advertising and conflict of interest. Some examples:

  • What implications does the frequently used advertising directive "Ask your doctor about X" have for the doctor-patient relationship?
  • How ethical is it to disguise medical advertising—for instance, to hire celebrities to discuss treatments during interviews?
  • Should a physician who prescribes a particular medical device be allowed to receive payment from the speakers' bureau of a company that produces that medical device?
  • Should a physician who holds an ownership interest in an expensive treatment machine be required to explain alternate treatments to patients?
  • When does a website about a medical treatment cross over from being informational to being promotional?

Dr. Jagsi argues that physicians have a strong ethical responsibility to their patients to call attention to potential conflicts of interest and to help interpret medical information in the best interests of their patients.

For more details about this study:

Jagsi R. Conflicts of interest and the physician-patient relationship in the era of direct-to-patient advertising. Journal of Clinical Oncology 2007;25:902-905.


Bioethics Grand Rounds: Musical Event "When Death Comes Callin"

Wed, October 26, 2016, 12:00pm
UH Ford Amphitheater & Lobby

When Death Comes Callin': Songs and Reflections About Death

Charlotte DeVries, Jeanne Mackey, Merilynne Rush, and friends offer a program of songs and brief readings reflecting various perspectives on death - humorous, sad, thoughtful, and quirky.

Lunch is provided on a first-come, first-served basis.

Thu, December 20, 2007

A CBSSM study found that colostomy patients who felt that their condition was irreversible reported better quality of life than those who hoped that they would be cured. For a summary, see this press release and video. The researchers are Dylan M. Smith, PhD; Peter A. Ubel, MD; Aleksandra Jankovic, MS (all at the University of Michigan); and George Loewenstein, PhD, (of Carnegie Mellon University). Health Psychology will publish the article in mid-November 2009.

Press coverage of this research has been extensive. Peter Bregman reported on the study in the July 2009 Business Week Online, applying the concepts to help people manage their stressful and unpredictable lives. Read his full article here. Preliminary data from this study were cited in the 7th Annual “Year in Ideas” issue of the New York Times Magazine in December 2007. Read recent international media coverage:
US News and World Report Health Day
Voice of America Radio
Daily Mail UK
Reuters India