Psychological scientists featured in Hill briefings

Psychologists spoke about coping with disasters and preventing diabetes

During the week of September 12, two well-known health psychologists were featured speakers at briefings on Capitol Hill, sponsored by coalitions in which APA is active.

Dr. Jerry Suls of the University of IowaOn September 12, Jerry Suls of the University of Iowa was featured in a briefing sponsored by the Coalition for Health Funding, called “Public Health 101: Restoring Order After the Cameras Leave,”  about the importance of the public health infrastructure to help people cope with and recover from natural disasters. Speaking on a panel with public health officials from New York and Louisiana, Dr. Suls noted that the psychological damage caused by tornadoes and terrorist attacks can outlast the harm done to buildings, bridges and people's physical health. Attending to the public's mental health needs, which he called the "psychological infrastructure," is nearly as important as securing clean water and providing emergency medical care, Dr. Suls said.

At the briefing, Suls shared his research showing how floods, tornados, terrorist attacks and other disasters cause many people to feel fatalistic, pessimistic and depressed. This is especially true of people who are already vulnerable, such as poor and elderly people, as well as those who live in rural areas and can't reach service providers, Suls said. Most public health departments don't have the funding or staff to conduct mental health outreach, interventions and assessments, and so vulnerable people often turn to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes to cope, he added. In addition, some people having been through one disaster don’t prepare for others, assuming falsely that their risk has been lowered.

Dr. Rena WingDr. Rena Wing of Brown University spoke at a September 15 briefing titled “Advancing Discovery: the Role of NIH Research in Fighting Diabetes,” sponsored by the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research, and cosponsored by member organizations including APA, the American Diabetes Association and a dozen other nonprofit groups.  Dr. Wing presented findings from her Diabetes Prevention Program study funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK). Wing and fellow researchers randomly assigned 3,000 participants with pre-diabetes to one of three conditions: moderate exercise paired with calorie reduction and healthy eating that resulted in a 7 percent loss of body weight, metformin — a drug used to reduce sugar in the blood — or a placebo. She followed the group over three years and found that metformin reduced people's risk for developing diabetes by 31 percent, but the lifestyle intervention of exercise and diet reduced people's risk by 58 percent. Some groups, including older adults, were even more successful in the lifestyle intervention.

NIDDK Director Griffin Rogers, MD was also a speaker at the briefing. He noted that NIDDK is disseminating Dr. Wing’s exercise and weight loss intervention across the country. “We have developed education efforts based upon this and are trying to translate these clinical studies into the community settings," he said. "We are using the YMCA because over 60 percent of the American population lives within a six-mile radius of one."