Text into Eric Buhi’s newest project and the first reply you’ll receive asks, “Are you having sex RIGHT now?” Most will accurately reply no, to which they’ll receive, “Good! That makes it MUCH easier to text.”
The playful tone of the messages is exactly what Buhi, assistant professor in the college of public health, hopes for.
Buhi began the Beyond the Condom mobile phone campaign this September after receiving a grant from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
“It’s just really fun,” Buhi said of his project, which aims at educating young women on the variety of birth control methods, specifically the lesser-known long-action reversible contraceptives such as the ring and the patch.
Buhi has been focusing on the connections between the Internet, technology, social media and sexual relationships and health information for young people for much of his career.
“It isn’t something I just willy-nilly decided to do,” Buhi said,“I began to see what youths weren’t getting in terms of sex ed; there’s so much information that’s out there that they could be getting but they’re not.”
Buhi is a Florida native, born in Miami and raised in north central Florida. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida and a master’s in public health from Indiana University.
For approximately five years after his master’s degree Buhi worked various jobs. One was in Washington D.C. tracking the $50 million for abstinence-only education that came from the Federal Welfare Reform bill in 1997.
“I tracked, at that time, which states were taking the money,” Buhi said. “What were their plans for that money? Were they going to give it to school districts or community agencies to do abstinence education?”
When Buhi decided to do his doctoral work, he chose Texas A&M so that he could be a part of a research team that evaluated statewide abstinence programs being taught in schools.
“One of my interest areas is evaluation and understanding how programs work,” Buhi said. “Are they doing what they’re supposed to be doing, what unintended consequences or effects do those programs have on the participants?”
In addition to Beyond the Condom, Buhi is beginning another project. Working with the Pinellas County Health Department, he is surveying teens 13-19, who come into a clinic, about their relationships and how they met their partners.
Buhi’s bottom line for the first part of this new project is whether the Internet is a risk environment for young people.
“I think if you ask any parent, educator, policy maker what they think of the Internet and relationships or sex, they’re going to think it’s this inherently dangerous place,” Buhi said. “But we can’t really say that because we don’t know that for sure.”
Buhi does not go unrecognized for his hard work and passion. In September 2011 he was awarded the Guttmacher Institute’s Darroch Award for Excellence in Sexual and Reproductive Health Research. He is the first male recipient of the award.
One major part of the criteria for the Darroch award was having a focus on educating students, faculty and other researchers.
One graduate student, who works on the Beyond the Condom campaign with Buhi said her favorite part of work was educating others.
“It promotes health education in a new way,” Cheryl Pravetz said. “Women need information on the methods BTC promotes, and this project gives them that information without boring them with pamphlets and lectures.”
For George Head, riding his bike across the entire country was just another fun way to stay healthy.
“I really try to stay active, whether it is kayaking, sailing or biking.”
But he hasn’t always lived this action packed life. Thirty-six years ago, Head was diagnosed with diabetes, causing him to reevaluate his lifestyle and take control of his health.
Head is not alone among men who are at risk for the disease. The percentage of males developing diabetes is increasing faster than that of women.
A Scottish study published this September in the journal Diabetologia concludes that men are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes at a lower Body Mass Index than women are.
“Diabetes, by definition, is the body’s inability to properly use the food we eat for energy and regulate blood sugar, “ Craig Bobik, administrative coordinator for the USF Diabetes Center said.
“Type 2 usually affects adults and children who tend to be overweight and have low activity levels,” Bobik said. “The increased obesity causes the cells to be resistant to the insulin, which carries sugar from the blood into cells.”
The Centers for Disease Control tracks the start of the male-diabetes trend to 1999.
“From 1980 to 1998, the age–adjusted percentage of diagnosed diabetes for men and women was similar,” the CDC website said. “However, in 1999, the percentage for males began to increase at a faster rate than that of females. From 1980 to 2009, the age–adjusted percentage of diagnosed diabetes increased 144 percent for men and 103 percent for women.” The cause for this increased rate of male diabetes is not understood and is being researched. The Scottish study believes that men tend to carry more abdominal fat, but women are more prone to safer fat stored just under the skin.
Bobik sees how this could be linked to male diabetics.
“Studies have shown that people who are ‘apple’ shaped are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes than those who are ‘pear’ shaped,” Bobik said. “Unfortunately, men tend to store fat in the abdominal areas leading to that dreaded ‘apple’ shape.”
But Bobik also thinks that using only an individual’s BMI can be misleading in situations, so he suggests also looking at waist circumference.
Another expert on diabetes, Kendra Vehik, wants society to focus on this disease because “diabetes is a burden associated with considerable morbidity and mortality that contributes to extensive personal and societal costs.”
Vehik is an assistant professor in the USF Pediatrics Epidemiology Center.
“A person can expect to increase interaction with their physician with regular checkups and visits to an eye care specialist,” Vehik said. “They will need to adopt a healthy diet and begin an exercise regime to reduce the long-term complications associated with the disease.”
Head was sure to follow his doctor’s advice after he was diagnosed.
“I immediately became a healthy eater and an active person,” Head said. “I was only 20 when my mother was diagnosed with diabetes, and it was three years later that I was diagnosed.”
Although diabetes is trending towards the male population, it is still an issue everyone should recognize.
“Diabetes is the number 1 health problem the nation is facing,” Bobik said. “It leads to so many complications, heart attacks and strokes. The cost to our country is incredibly high.”
Experts say as the number of new diabetics and pre-diabetics rise, it is important to take preventative measures, especially if you’re a part of a higher risk group.
“Get active Bobik said, “Walk whenever you can. Park a little further away. Take the stairs. Wear a pedometer and try to reach 10,000 steps per day.
“Do this at a minimum and then try to increase your regular exercise,” Bobik urged.
Some parents are choosing to not follow the recommended vaccinations for their children, causing a rift between the rights of a parent and their responsibility to their community.
According to a study published this month in the online journal Pediatrics, one in 10 parents with children younger than six are choosing to follow an alternative to vaccinations.
Erin Montera, a Tampa mother of two, is one of those choosing not to participate in public vaccination programs.
“Vaccines have the disease in them, and if your immune system is weak you could have a terrible reaction or get autism or cancer,” Erin Montera said.
But experts like Dr. Jorge Lujan-Zilbermann, think that parents like Montera are making a mistake.
“Your child can develop immunity to this vaccine and prevent an illness which in some cases can lead to death, like what happened earlier this year with an outbreak of pertussis in California,” Lujan-Zilbermann an associate professor of pediatrics in the division of infectious diseases, a part of the USF College of Medicine said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has a recommended 11 vaccines for children less than age six, parents are able to find exemptions.
Registered nurse Jessica Guzman works as the school nurse at Cypress Elementary School and sees parents exempt out of vaccinations all the time.
Children who have an allergic reaction to the first vaccine in a series can sign papers to option out of the rest of the vaccine process, Guzman said.
There are three types of exemptions: medical, religious, and philosophical. All states allow a medical exemption for weakened immune systems or allergies and 47 states allow religious exemptions.
In 18 states, including California and Michigan, philosophical exemptions are allowed if the parents have any personal beliefs about vaccinations. In many of these states parents must object to all vaccines to use the exemption, rather than a single vaccine.
Guzman warns that children can easily get the preventable diseases that the vaccines protect them from when they are not immunized or when those around them are not.
Because most of the diseases prevented through these vaccinations have not been relevant in our society for a long time, the general public lacks a fear of the disease. More often, parents fear the possible consequences of vaccinations over the actual disease.
“I’m worried about the serious lifelong health problems or death due to bad reactions to a vaccine,” Montera said.
A study published in the Lancet medical journal in 1998 by Dr. Andrew Wakefield fueled the wave of vaccination fear. The study claimed that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination, one of the CDC recommended shots, could be linked to autism in children.
In early 2010, the journal that published the study officially retracting its results, saying that the study was unreliable and false.
The effects of this study being published, however, remain clear and drastic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, during 2008, more measles cases were reported than in any other year since 1997. More than 90 percent of those infected had not been vaccinated, or their vaccination status was unknown.
“Implanting fear is very easy and dismissing it is very hard,” Lujan-Zilbermann said. “When the hypothesis between vaccines and autism came out it was highly publicized. However when all the different disclaimers and studies showing that this link was not true came out, the media did not provide the same degree of coverage so the majority of the public are not aware of this information.”
“Your health, your family, your choice,” is the headline of the National Vaccine Information Center’s website. Their mission is to educate the public on the prevention of vaccination injuries and deaths.
Montera believes in her choice and her right to be allowed to make that choice. “The other children that are vaccinated are immune.”
Brittany Marrs, a sophomore at the University of South Florida majoring in nursing, hopes to be a pediatric nurse someday and supports the public health vaccinations.
“I would definitely encourage my future patients to vaccinate their babies, as there are developing diseases that could likely harm them or they can pass on to others,” Marrs said.
Concerned for the well being of their kids, parents are doing more of their own research now, reading medical journals and websites such as the National Vaccine Information Center.
Guzman thinks that although parents are researching, they are still poorly educated on the diseases these vaccinations are preventing.
“Everyone, doctors and patients need to focus on learning and researching vaccines and symptoms,” Guzman said.