Lisa Wehr's Public Health Blog

Lisa is originally from Sigourney, Iowa. She attended Iowa State University and received her bachelor’s degree in Music in 2010. She is currently a first year Master’s of Public Health (MPH) student in community and behavioral health (CBH). Lisa works on the medicine-psychiatry unit at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC). Through this blog Lisa hopes to let people learn about the CBH department.

This student blog is unedited and does not necessarily reflect the views of the College of Public Health or the University of Iowa.

23 February 2011


And after my last post about my decision to write a paper on eating disorder relapse I remembered that it's National Eating Disorder Awareness Week!

National Eating Disorders Association

Today I Woke Up...

...with a dog on my head.
Okay, that has nothing to do with the rest of this post, but it was a strange way to wake up.

Actually I wanted to write about writing papers. Yay! (I just finished my first paper of the semester this morning)

I believe a couple weeks ago I wrote a post about how I was graded in classes. In case you didn't notice, papers are highly prominent. Particularly long, involved, research papers. Or a series of smaller papers that all add up into one long, involved, research paper. Key words there: long, involved, research. Meaning I can't just sit down a couple days before the due date a whip something out.

So how do I start? And how do I keep from getting buried in the work?
Tiny steps. I always start work on the paper on the day it's assigned. This doesn't mean I start research and writing on the first day of classes (blasphemy!). It typically involves something benign like narrowing down and/or choosing a topic. I am terrible at choosing topics; probably because I am terrible at making decisions. So starting early gives me plenty of time to suck it up and decide. I don't really have a system for topic decisions. I usually look at the professor's directions ("a health related behavior?"....there's a lot of those) and think about what I am interested in researching. I write down those areas. For example:

  • Mental Health
  • Rural Health
  • Primary Care
Then I go through and brainstorm topics within those larger areas that fit the required paper topic:

  • Sleep and mental health
  • Nutrition and mental health
  • Exercise and mental health
  • Mental health in rural areas (two areas of interest!!)
  • Preventing eating disorder relapse
  • Nutrition
As you can see, some are narrower than others, some have a specific health-related behavior, others will take some more brainstorming. Eventually I force myself to choose one from the list. Sometimes I'm smart and think to look at the available literature before getting myself too deep and finding out that no one has really studied the topic. For this paper I chose eating disorder relapse prevention. A couple reasons preventing relapse narrows my target population, it has more defined behaviors (as opposed to primary prevention of eating disorders), and I'm interested in it.

Then comes the research....

21 February 2011


It's so easy to bash big companies like google and claim they're ruining our privacy, and maybe they are. But I'll be completely honest: I love Google. And this is not an exaggeration. Sometimes it's a little disconcerting, but it's so darn convenient. One username, one password.
A quick breakdown of the Google services I use:
  • Google (the search engine): the most obvious service, but so useful. It creeps me out when it remembers my past searches and become ever more talented at predicting my next search, but it's still amazing. 
  • Google Scholar: great for research. And the best part is I can access essentially all the full-text results for free because of my affiliation with the university. 
  • Google Chrome: It's fast and a beautifully minimal browser. When I open a new tab it pops up icons of my most frequented web pages that I can simply click on. It also syncs my chrome browsers, setting, and bookmarks across my computers (desktop and laptop) so they're both exactly how I want them without much work. My biggest problem is that I like to keep a lot of tabs open (at least 10 at a time) and chrome slows down when I get to about 12 or more. It does remind me to keep my tab appetite in check though. And I am still puzzling about why Google Bookmarks doesn't automatically sync with the bookmarks in chrome, hence the reason I don't use google would be a lot of work. 
  • Gmail: Amazing simple and brilliant.
  • Google Translate: ok, rarely do I actually need to translate webpages, but it's still a lot of fun to play with. (and I waste way more time than I should on it)
  • Google Trends: Another amazing time sink. Although I have found a couple legitimate uses when researching blog posts and being able to see the rise in searches about obesity, for example.
  • Google Reader: An outstanding RSS reader. It consolidates all my blogs, lets me star and tag them, email them and more. (You could even add this blog's RSS feed! *wink*wink*nudge*nudge*)
  • Google Calendar: Another simple, elegant service. I can have multiple color-coded calendars (e.g. work, school, personal). I can set up email, text, or pop-up alerts for 5 minutes before to weeks ahead of time (great for reminding myself to start work on a paper). 
  • Google Voice: I don't know about anyone else, but I hate listening to voicemails. Google voice lets me avoid that. When I don't answer my phone it forwards to my google voice account which then transcribes the voicemail and sends it to my email. The transcribing is a little buggy, but it's usually decipherable, and it's improving, and the actual audio is still available to listen to. 
  • Blogger: Ok, so this is one google service I don't particularly like. I use it for this blog out of necessity, but my personal blog is on Wordpress (a far superior platform). And it really irritates me that every time I put pictures in my posts blogger refuses to format them correctly. I have to view and preview the pages multiple times and make a hundred tiny edits to just make things line up correctly. 
  • Google Maps: this always gives me better directions than mapquest, it might be because I grew up in a rural area and mapquest is terrible in rural areas. I also love that it now provides walking and biking directions with consideration to bike lanes and wide sidewalks (public health, eh? eh?)
  • And then there's Google Earth, YouTube, Google Body, Google Books, Google Docs, Picasa (I find the face recognition in Picasa to be endlessly fascinating). 
But the one that trumps them all is Android. I can't live without my android phone (and the little green guy is kinda cute). Everything is interconnected: I can post articles from the NYTimes app directly to my facebook, I can open up twitter links in my browser and save them to my ReadItLater account. And since I use such a large number of Google services, they are automatically set to work with my phone...brilliant!

Seeing all these written out makes me realize just how much I depend on Google. It would be a very rough day for me if Google disappeared. Maybe I'll consider changing some...on second thought, that would be an awful lot of work. I'll continue as a diehard Google groupie for a while longer. 

18 February 2011

Grammar and Writing

My younger brother calls me a grammar snob. I'm not. Really. I mean, I listen the the GrammarGirl podcasts, and I own Grammar Girl's books, as well as a couple of Diana Hacker's books, and I have a slew of grammar bookmarks in my browser. But I equate being a grammar snob with having perfect grammar/writing. At this I surely fail. Yes, mistakes bother me. Yes, I point out other people's mistakes. But I know that I have plenty of my own mistakes. Despite my attempts to edit I would venture a pretty large bet that several slip through. And there are probably grammar errors that I make that I don't even know I'm making (ignorance is bliss?). In most of my writing (formal and informal) I try to write things as concisely as possible. I also fail at this quite often.

I can be pretty hard on myself about grammar, which is why blogging can sometimes be such a relief. It gives me a legitimate outlet for a more informal writing style. I can pull out my favorite [often questionable] writing vices.

  • I like to ask questions and then answer them (check out a couple paragraphs down). I'm sure there are times that I overuse that technique (probably every blog post). 
  • I like to use ellipses (...) although I do my best to restrain myself since there are very, very few uses in formal writing and it is oh so easy to overuse them and drive people nuts. Extreme use of the ellipses bothers me too.
  • And my use of sentence fragments? (see that one there!) I like to tell myself it is "stylistic" and not just plain wrong. Mostly I use them for my question asking, but I occasionally use them for emphasis (such as right after the first sentence in this post. 
  • I also have a love affair with parenthetical remarks. This is because my brain thinks like that. Severe caffeine use makes it worse. Sometimes to the point where what I write is almost impossible to follow. The majority of my editing involves removing my tangential thoughts, or at the very least making them less obtrusive. I attempt to spare you all the torture of my mind. I live with it 24 hours a shouldn't have to. 

  • Not as easy to spot, but I can get rather verbose at times. I forget that writing "I think" or "every single" or "so amazing" is redundant. The remainder of my editing revolves around removing those.
I'm positive there are many many more. But the beauty of blogging is that I can use them. I can evaluate where they work and how many is too many. I can edit. And none of it is graded!

    16 February 2011

    That's great! So what do

    Anyone currently in public health knows where this comes from.
    It starts with an innocuous "So what are you doing these days?"
    And the answer, "I'm in grad school in public health." (note: Avoid simply saying "I'm getting my MPH" It generally causes more trouble than it's worth)

    Then comes the awkward moment where they start to sound happy for you but then they just wonder what on earth public health is.

    And the next awkward moment where you know that they don't want a long answer, but it's nearly impossible to explain in just a single sentence. (Unless, of course, you use a run-on sentence).

    Because, really, does anyone actually know what public health is? Maybe on some level people in the field have a sense of how broad it is, but I think it would take a lifetime to know everything it possibly encompasses. (Seriously, at least once a week I ask myself "What is public health?" I still don't have a good, succinct answer.)

    To begin with, there are the 5 main areas: community and behavioral health, epidemiology, environmental health, health policy, and biostatistics Though many schools use various titles, they all have the same basic ones. But even that doesn't tell most of the story. So much in public health is collaboration between the departments and collaboration with other professions.

    Sometimes I consider giving a quick example of public health that people might easily relate to, but there are so many! It's completely overwhelming.

    A sampling:
    community clinics, food safety, community planning, policies for insurance companies, vaccination programs, sanitation, health education, disease prevention, infectious disease, farm safety, workplace injuries, promoting seat belts and responsible drinking and exercise condoms nutrition birth control sunscreen sleep habits medication adherence, studying trends in diseases injuries food poisoning risks and social trends, emergency response, professional licensing, air quality, food quality, water quality, household safety (radon, lead, etc), number crunching (determining the deaths from gunshots or diabetes), prenatal care, childhood care, environmental testing. And not just in the US, but all of this happens globally, too!

    I could sound pretentious and cite a dictionary definition: "Public health is the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals"

    I could be a jerk and tell them to look it up themselves (this is what I did to my little brother growing up when he asked the meaning of a word).

    I usually give in to brevity and simply say "I'm in community and behavioral health, and I focus a lot of disease prevention, and health education, and interventions that impact communities."

    Is it the actual definition of public health? No. Is it all those people really care about? Usually.

    15 February 2011

    Another Week

    How did I miss my Monday blogging date? My sincerest apologies. 

    My weekend was fairly uneventful. I did homework, slept, visited my parents/little brother, slept some more, went to a meeting for my homeowner's association (somehow got elected to the board of directors?!), returned to sleeping, and did a little more homework. 

    And I enjoyed the weather. It's been above freezing for a few days now! The snow is melting, which does make mornings slightly difficult as it all refreezes into ice. I made the "mistake" of taking Zephyr on a long walk on Sunday. Walks energize him and I had to suffer through the rest of the day as he obnoxiously stared at me and barked, threw toys in my face, dropped toys on my laptop, dropped tennis balls off the couch, squeaked squeakers next to my ears, and chewed bones on my lap. 

    I worked yesterday; I work again today; I work overnights this weekend. 

    That pretty much sums up my life: school, sleep, Zephyr, work, repeat.

    You should also check me out in the CPH news digest.

    My favorite part of this article is that the writer uses the word gander in the intro paragraph. I'm a sucker for vocabulary.

    Some of it is stuff you could glean from my blog, but there's some unique stuff as well.


    11 February 2011


    I have been restraining my excitement and motivation regarding the blog. I have so many great thoughts I want to share with you all. And when I take a day to sit down and draft a bunch I can hardly keep from posting them all at once. Although it's slightly frustrating, it's even more exciting because I look forward to every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and choosing which post I get to put up that day!

    My current queue is dwindling (down to like 5ish random posts), but never fear because I have a word document listing all the new ones I still want to write and this is my catching up weekend....which was (is) the intended topic of this post.

    As much as I attempt to stay organized and on top of things, life still gets in the way from time to time and my system falls behind. This was one of those weeks. I worked this past weekend and had a hellish time. This included exhausting patients, a couple attempted punches, and getting off 2 hours late. Thus I didn't get much of a chance to do my typical weekend work. I didn't read my textbooks, I didn't get all my assigned articles read, and I didn't get to clean my house and backpack. I had Monday off and spent part of it catching up on sleep and baking for journal club. Tuesday I had class, meetings, and work from 9:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m.--with no break. So I got nothing done there. Wednesday had some appointments and class and Thursday had class, some breaks to play catch-up, and band rehearsal. And somewhere along the way I started to come down with another illness (I spent the first week of classes this semester incredibly sick).

    So where do I stand overall? I have 3 chapters to read in one textbook, 4 in another, I need to go through my biostats notes (completely lost on a couple things), do my biostats homework, start writing a paper (apparently the middle of February snuck up on me!), and write a few more blog posts. This is in addition to my sadly neglected house, dog, and flute. I have the weekend off. I had to decline a visit to Ames to play catch up :( and I am gearing up to tackle it. I did pick up a few hours at work today, but not a whole shift.

    In these times it is always tempting to start at the beginning and work until I'm up to what needs to be done for the coming week. But I've discovered that isn't always the smartest idea. As great as my intentions and motivation are I don't always get through everything on my list. Sometimes a life event happens, other times I just get burnt out. The best thing for me is to do the upcoming work first and then go back to the stuff I am behind on. If I start at the beginning of my list and don't get through it all I finish the marathon weekend still behind and my stress levels never change. If I at least have this week's work done then I don't spend the week stressing about where to fit it in before class, I just look for spaces to catch up on the back stuff.

    And I try to keep it fresh throughout the weekend as well. Here's what helps me.

    • I work in shorter chunks and in different places (coffee shops, Hardin, nooks in the hospital). 
    • Lots of diet coke and coffee (deserving of their own food group)
    • Breaks with some fun things like a run with the dog
    And what do I avoid?

    • TV. Seriously, who can watch just one episode of Family Guy?
    • Naps. They're addictive.
    • Spending all day in my pajamas. It makes it really hard to seriously work. 
    • Starting without a plan. If I finish one item and don't have the next one planned, it becomes really easy to while away an hour or two.
    • Internet surfing. We all know this one.
    Wish me luck and I'll be back on Monday!

    09 February 2011

    From the Old to the Young

    In a similar vein as my recent post about the 91-year-old athlete and the benefits of more intensive exercise for the elderly, I saw this article looking at the benefits of weight training for children. It is generally recommended that children and adolescents don't participate in weight-training. The initial reasoning was that child-laborers in Japan had stunted growth and it was assumed that heavy lifting was the cause, but new research suggests that this may not be the case. In fact, new studies show that weight-lifting can be incredibly beneficial for youth. Unlike adults, who generally gain muscle with strength training, children reap neurological advantages. Their muscles and neurons begin to interact much more efficiently.

    In the distant past children had built-in weight training with farm chores, but very few children these days have that option. (I was fortunate to grow up carrying 5-gallon buckets filled with feed and water and wrestling lambs)

    Should we change our recommendations?

    07 February 2011

    Scientific support for the love of my life

    ...the furry, four-legged one that is.

    If you've read many of my posts and noticed my [mild] obsession with my dog, Zephyr, you probably expect that I get really excited when I come across scientific studies regarding the benefits of pets!

    On a purely anecdotal level, my dog has huge benefits for me. He forces me to get out and exercise every day;  not just moderate exercise, either. To control his energy level I get the full-out very vigorous label. And to keep up with all his exercise needs I have to keep myself well-nourished. I can't spend all day asleep in bed, Zef is bouncing atop me by 10 a.m. (it used to be 6, so we're making progress).

    And it's hard to have a bad mood around him. He loves life from the moment he wakes up; everything (even nail trimming) is turned into some type of game. Making a bed? He hides under blankets. Drying his feet? the towel become a tug rope. Throwing anything in the air? It's a game of fetch! (true story, one time I was tossing a rolled-up pair of socks and he caught them and swallowed them). I've also learned to "go with the flow" and that most "emergencies" aren't really things to get stressed about. In addition to the socks he has eaten a bar of soap, a highlighter, hairties, a sharpie, a plastic frisbee (yep, actually swallowed the pieces), he licked a razor blade, sliced his foot on a piece of tin roofing, and has broken a front tooth.

    To get an idea of what his personality is like, check out the video below. 

    Of course, he's no therapist. And it's not to say he's without stresses (finding a place for him to stay when I travel, food, vet bills [fortunately my mother's a vet], training, and other time/financial investments). Many people told me I should wait to get a dog. Do I wish I had paid more attention to their advice? Some days. Would it change my decision? No. I'm not saying that everyone should get a dog. I really think each individual needs to closely examine how much effort and stress they're willing to take for a pet, but in my case I can never be fully happy without a dog. And there is no way in the world I would give me dog up.

    And I try not to get too freaked out by studies that show therapy dogs may spread MRSA and CDiff. Or the medical and training controversies fueled by pets sleeping in the bed (you better believe that Zephyr owns my queen-size bed). Or the ridiculous amount of vacuuming I do every week. Or the amount of money I spend on tennis balls and frisbees.

    But how can you look at this face and continue to worry about all that?
    Or even just see that silly little bob-tail.


    04 February 2011

    The "D" word


    What is it? Is it something you do for a couple weeks or a month to "get healthy"? Or is it a way of eating over a lifetime?

    I always use it with the second definition. Mostly because there's no other word to use that easily describes what a person eats day in and day out. Vegetarians/Vegans have it easy: I'm a vegetarian, I eat a vegan diet. But what about the majority of the population? "I eat mostly foods based on plant leaves and lean meats, trying to minimize my intake of cereal grains and saturated fats." That just sounds pompous.

    And I think that it was originally intended for such purpose. It is only recently that we have begun to try all sorts of strange, short-lived methods to lose weight. The atkins diet, south beach diet, cabbage soup diet, weight watchers diet, cottage cheese diet are all recent inventions. Although I suppose something similar to the cabbage soup diet could have occurred in history during famines, I'm guessing weight loss was not the reason. ["I've got it; we'll kill off our corn plants and eat cabbage soup for the winter! Think how great we'll all look for planting in the spring!]

    I think it's ridiculous that people honestly believe they can eat differently for two weeks, lose weight, go back to the way they had been eating, and not gain the weight. And if I run an ultramarathon tomorrow do I not need any more exercise this month? Any pattern of eating that a person cannot sustain over a long period of time is counterproductive.

    I could continue this rant for a few more paragraphs, but I'll stop here. (though I might mention that any "diet" that doesn't include rice krispy bars of epic proportions like in my previous post is not a diet worth eating). 

    And it's time for the weekend! (one filled with work for me) and the Super Bowl (I really hope the packers win simply for my boyfriend's sanity), and some warmer days ahead. Other than that I will be filling my time with homework, reading, cleaning, running, flute practice, and probably some yoga too because my hamstrings are killing me. 


    02 February 2011


    13 inches of it! It is rare that a university has a snow day, but we did today. As an undergrad we always referred to them as "once in a lifetime" events. But I have now had a snow day for two consecutive years. [can you say global weirding?]

    I wish I could tell people considering Iowa that this is very unusual, but it seems to be happening more and more often (please refer to global weirding comment above). I will say that one (sort of) nice thing about Iowa is that the snow typically melts on and off during the winter. It's not like more northern states where it just piles on top of itself until Minnesota just disappears. It snows, then melts down a few inches, then gets cold and freezes again, then snows (repeat ad nauseum). And snow is manageable. Unfortunately Iowa also gets ice from time to time. Ice is tricky stuff: impossible to drive on and nearly impossible to remove from the roads. It also brings down power lines and trees.

    It does end, though, and summer comes. Eventually.

    But back to today. I did what any self-respecting college student does with some free time:

    Sleep! (Yes, I really do wear a hat in the house. For me to be warm the thermostat has to be set at least at 80, and there is no way I am paying that much for heat. And yes, Zephyr insists on sleeping on top of me quite frequently.)

    I also played in the snow with Zef

    And I watched the Biggest Loser and Cupcake Wars, read the latest Runner's World, painted a closet, put up double-track shelving in the closet, and pestered the dog.

    Elsewhere in recent news...I chopped off my hair.

    And ate an enormously large rice krispy bar. The picture below is after I had devoured half of it. (I might also add that I was in class designing an obesity intervention with a group....oh the irony)

    Hope everyone was able to enjoy the snow in some small way, even if you're like me and hate everything related to winter.

    So this post basically mirrors my day: random, fun, and full of photos.

    Have a great evening all! I'll leave you with a nice reminder that sunny days are ahead....even if it is still a long way off.