UC Merced Connect: Professor studies how information consumption impacts health behaviors

People consume all kinds of information from television, online and other sources.

UC Merced public health professor A. Susana Ramirez wants to know how that influences people’s health decisions and behaviors. Often, misconceptions about leading a healthy life can have serious implications on a person’s overall health.

For example, one paper she led shows that people who got health information from the media made healthier choices, including exercising more and eating more fruits and vegetables. There may be several explanations for this finding, including that people who sought information resolved to be healthier, or that seeking information reinforced a commitment to engage in healthy behaviors.

Before coming to UC Merced in 2013, Ramirez was a postdoctoral research fellow at the National Cancer Institute, which is based in Bethesda, Md. She earned a master’s in public health from Harvard University and a doctorate in communications from the University of Pennsylvania.

Ramirez, who is particularly interested in Latino health, plans to work with San Joaquin Valley communities in her research and the findings to improve residents’ health.

“The San Joaquin Valley has a diverse Latino population, in terms of generation and language,” she said. “There’s a compelling case and need for the kind of research I’m doing.”

Several studies by Ramirez that came out last year looked at how cancer is viewed and understood by different Latino populations.

One study, published in the Journal of Cancer Education, showed that highly acculturated Latinas hold fatalistic beliefs about cancer and its prevention — that developing cancer is outside of one’s control and that death is the inevitable result of a diagnosis. For example, 1 in 5 Latinas agreed with the statement that “There’s not much you can do to lower your chances of getting cancer.”

“For health education and communications practitioners, knowing that some fatalistic beliefs continue to be relevant for this population is useful information for understanding how to do ‘cultural’ or ‘ethnicity-based’ tailoring beyond the surface level,” Ramirez wrote.

Campus blood donations on the rise

UC Merced prides itself on its commitment to community service and helping others. Students, staff and faculty members spend countless hours working in homeless shelters and food pantries, participating in clothing and toy drives, and much more.

Now, you could say giving back is in their blood.

In September, the UC Merced community potentially saved the lives of 696 people in the San Joaquin Valley and beyond by donating blood to BloodSource. The campus surpassed its record by registering 302 blood donors and collecting 232 donations, a huge accomplishment, say BloodSource officials.

“Our first UC Merced drive at the old Castle Air Force Base in Atwater, and we registered 10 donors and collected 10 donations,” said BloodSource account manager Jaime Suarez. “This was pretty exciting at the time, as we knew this drive would only get larger over the years.”

The campus was equally pleased with the turnout for its Dec. 9 blood drive.

According to Suarez, UC Merced is and will likely continue to be its largest blood drive in Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. UC Davis and California State University, Sacramento, are the largest schools within BloodSource’s 25-county area in Northern California. To put UC Merced’s numbers into perspective, UC Davis has a student enrollment of 33,000 and recently collected 968 donations over two days. Sacramento State, with 28,500 students, collected 1,289 donations in two days.

Suarez said it won’t take UC Merced long to reach those numbers.

“Since 2002, the campus community has contributed 4,227 donations, helping more than 12,600 patients in need since each donation can be separated into three blood components (platelets, plasma and red cells),” Suarez said. “For a relatively young campus, that number is impressive.”