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UM-Dearborn Media Release

CONTACT: Terry Gallagher
PHONE: (313) 593-5518
DATE: July 29, 2002

UM-Dearborn professor is the author of new textbook on health psychology

DEARBORN---"Just 25 years ago, health and psychology were separate disciplines, each aware of the other but unable to connect in any meaningful way," according to University of Michigan-Dearborn psychology Prof. Richard Straub.

"Since then, the field has grown steadily," he said. "From the earliest research linking Type A behavior to increased risk of cardiovascular disease to the most current discoveries regarding the behavioral epidemiology of HIV and brain-immune connections, the early years of the field have been a time of great accomplishment."

Partly as a result of the growth in the research, and partly in response to rising interest from students and new courses at the college level, Straub has written a new textbook on the subject. "Health Psychology" was published by Worth Publishers earlier this year.

Straub, who is the chair of the Department of Behavior Sciences at UM-Dearborn, took the lead in developing the campus's new master's degree program in health psychology that was approved by the U-M Regents last month.

Health psychology has become more important over the last century, as the major causes of death have changed from injury, infection or diseases that have been eliminated through vaccination or reduced contamination factors. As people live longer, they now suffer more often from "lifestyle diseases," like heart disease or cancer, that are by and large preventable, he says.

Throughout his book, Straub has taken pains to emphasize the connections between mind and body, and how they influence health and well being.

"In the research, what is more important than individual findings has been the ongoing refinement of the 'biopsychosocial (mind-body) model' for the study of health issues," Straub said. "Increasingly, researchers are able to pinpoint the physiological mechanisms by which anger, loneliness and other psychosocial factors adversely affect health and by which optimism, interconnectedness and a strong sense of self-empowerment exert their beneficial effects."

He has also concentrated on presenting information on cultural and gender diversity and the consequences for health and illness.

"For example, many differences in health-related behaviors are the product of restrictive social stereotypes and norms, economic forces and other factors connected to ethnicity or gender," Straub says. "Whenever possible, the textbook considers the origins of these behaviors and their implications for health treatments and interventions."

In a separate chapter, Straub covers forms of what are known as "complementary" or "alternative" medicine. "According to a recent report, four out of 10 Americans use acupuncture, massage therapy, naturopathy, or some other form of non-traditional medicine," he said. "So it is important to examine whether these are valid new ways to health or merely snake oil."

The book covers a range of other issues including stress and health; nutrition, obesity and eating disorders; how patients respond to treatment from health care providers; and the role of psychology in cases of chronic or life-threatening illnesses.

"My goal has been to write an introduction to health psychology that presents an up-to-date summary of the main ideas in the field, the evidence that supports these ideas, and how these ideas relate to students' interests and experiences in a manner that reveals the field to be the exciting and vitally important discipline that I myself find it to be," he said.

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