January 2012 Issue • Volume 40 • Issue 1

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Science Policy

NIH Launches First Online Genetics Course for Social and Behavioral Scientists

science policy

A new genetics educational program will provide social and behavioral scientists with sufficient genetics background to allow them to engage effectively in interdisciplinary research with genetics researchers. The Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), partnered with the National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics to create the free, web-based project. Increasingly, scientific outcomes are not fully explained by genetic, environmental, or social factors alone. Instead, public health advances and scientific breakthroughs tend to rely on transdisciplinary teams of social scientists and genetic researchers. This creates a greater need among social and behavioral scientists for an understanding of the complexity of the genetic contribution to health, disease, and behaviors. The overarching goal of the course, Genetics and Social Science: Expanding Transdisciplinary Research, is to improve these scientists’ genetics literacy in several key areas—conversation, imagination, evaluation, and integration. The online course, Genetics and Social Science: Expanding Transdisciplinary Research, will provide sufficient knowledge to support the integration of genetics concepts in the behavioral or social scientist’s own research and will allow for collaborative studies with geneticists. The course will provide users with the ability to conceive of progressive but feasible studies. Scientists will develop the skills necessary to assess genetics research for validity and utility. For more information, see www.nchpeg.org/bssr/.

New Report Stresses Role of Behavioral and Social Sciences in Medical Education

Understanding how lifestyle, behavior, and economic status affect health and applying this knowledge to medical practice is vital for future physicians, according to a new report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).  The report, “Behavioral and Social Science Foundations for Future Physicians,” is designed to help medical educators understand which behavioral and social sciences to include in their curricula, and it provides a framework to help prepare future physicians to address complex social challenges and unhealthy behaviors that can lead to premature death, chronic disease, and health care disparities. Behaviors and the social determinants of health such as smoking, diet, exercise, and socioeconomic status account for more than 50 percent of premature disease and death in the nation, according to the report. Behavioral and social sciences can assist physicians in developing the right questions and identifying concepts from these disciplines that will provide insight into the many influences on health.  Developed by an expert panel of physicians, scientists, and educators, the report draws from earlier publications that identified key behavioral and social science domains, professional roles for physicians, and supporting competencies. The report can be accessed here.

Nearly 1 in 3 Working Families in the United States Struggle
to Meet Basic Needs

The slow recovery from the recession has taken a great toll on America’s working poor families, increasing their numbers by 125,000 in 2010 to more than 10 million families, according to a new analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. The share of working families who are low-income (below 200 percent of the official poverty threshold) increased from 28 percent to 31 percent, according to a policy brief published by the Working Poor Families Project, titled “Overlooked and Underpaid: Low-Income Working Families Increases to 10.2 Million.” The Working Poor Families Project, a national initiative supported by the Annie E. Casey, Ford, Joyce, and C.S. Mott foundations, has analyzed the conditions of American working families for the past decade. This latest analysis shows that the 18-month recession that began in December 2007 has dramatically exacerbated the problem, creating even greater challenges for working families striving for economic mobility and security. The brief reports that 46 million people, including 23 million children, lived in low-income working families in 2010—an increase of 1.6 million people from the previous year, and minority families are far more likely to be low-income. The analysis, among other things, recommends that state and federal policymakers expand the number of working adults who enroll and succeed in education and skills development programs, and calls for an improvement in wages, benefits and supports for low-income working families. For more information, see www.prb.org/Articles/2012/US-working-families.aspx.

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