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   from the issue of February 16, 2006

Project explores health issues from Nebraska to China


Ask Ian Newman what is important to public health, and he will not say medicine. He will say prevention.

ON TOP - Ian Newman showcases a number of items related to his research in his office. A New Zealander by...
 ON TOP - Ian Newman showcases a number of items related to his research in his office. A New Zealander by birth, Newman's office includes a map (center) that he says has the proper world order, placing New Zealand on top.

“Great advances in medicine came from treating people who already were sick,” Newman said. “Great advances in public health came from prevention, preventing people from getting sick.”

And it is the public with which Newman is concerned, including behavior, influences, motivations, expectations and results.

“Prevention is not a high priority,” he said. “We are such a medically oriented society, that we think first of treating the person.”

That may be society’s approach, but it is not Newman’s.

For more than four decades, he has explored and addressed public health issues here and in China. He came to Nebraska in 1974 after two years with the World Health Organization’s Southeast Asia Regional Office in India.

As The Wesley C. Meierhenry Professor in the university’s Department of Educational Psychology and director of Nebraska Prevention Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Newman still focuses on alcohol in society — both societies.

“There is a great deal you learn by being in another society that gives you new insight about your own society,” Newman said.

For decades, he has watched western behavior affect the Chinese as they become westernized. For the past 15 years, he has worked collaboratively in China and Thailand, working effectively with the government of the Semi-Autonomous Region of Inner Mongolia to establish an annual health education, promotion and behavior workshop now in its ninth year.

Newman developed Nebraska’s first alcohol and other drug education curriculum, first tobacco curriculum and established the first state-level clearinghouse for alcohol and drug information in the United States — one that served as a model for other states.

“My latest Nebraska-based research involved learning the expectancies that Nebraska students have about smokeless tobacco,” Newman said.

The results of that 2001 study were used to develop a three- or four-unit smokeless tobacco education module that can fit into a school’s regular health education, he said, and data collection will continue until May.

Next month, he will make a trip to China as he has four times each year for several years.

He will gather data from schools in Wuhan, China, where he and colleagues implemented an educational program with the potential to reduce health problems related to alcohol use among Chinese adolescents.

Newman and colleagues gathered data, spent time understanding young people and their behavior associated with alcohol use, and shaped that information into the program. Implementation required extensive collaboration with Chinese officials.

He looks forward to information and insight from students and the teachers implementing the program.

“It’s a very small step, but it was not an easy one to make,” he said.

It was particularly difficult since “in the main, alcohol use is not viewed as a societal problem,” Newman said.

He points to peer pressure, parental pressure and traditional Chinese teachings as factors reducing alcohol problems.

“That is a lesson to all of us who dismiss peer pressure as a bad thing,” Newman said. “It can be the reverse as it has been in China.”

Newman said parental pressure is particularly effective when parents are direct. When told how to behave, children are many times more likely to behave accordingly.

“Why aren’t we telling parents to be more direct?” Newman asked.

"Public Health Issues of China in the Context of Social Change"
Presented by Ian Newman
7 p.m. Feb. 9
Unitarian Church, 6300 A St.
The lecture - part of the 2006 Winter Lecture Series - is free and open to the public.



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