News & Events

Health Tips from
Professor Lawrence Gostin

Each month, we will bring you a new health tip from O'Neill Institute Faculty Director and Professor, Lawrence O. Gostin. Professor Gostin holds the Founding O'Neill Chair in Global Health Law. For more information about Professor Gostin, please click here.

Group Photo

April 2016

“On April 21st my father celebrated his 100th birthday. In his speech (yes he gave a long speech without notes on his 100th birthday), he said, “Many people have asked about the secret to a long life. In truth, there is no secret, I just lived.” 

At the end of the speech, he attributed his long life to something simple but so important. It was not sweaty exercise (he never did it), or sports (he played a bit of handball against a concrete wall in New York City, that is all), or even good nutritious food (he and I eat chocolate cream pies and malted milks). All these things are indeed important. But for him, it was the simple act of walking. On his exact 100th birthday he walked three miles, in the local Queens park and visited some new neighborhoods as well. On the way home he stopped by the supermarket to pick up a few things, and the New York Times, which he devoured when he got home. And he wrote a letter to the NY Daily News about the virtues of walking over the scenic bridges in Manhattan.  

Yes, walking is the secret to a good life. We need other things for sure: good nutrition, cardiovascular exercise, strength training, sleep... But walking, being present with nature, the trees, flowers, animal life. Yes, walking and being vibrant and alive go hand and hand. I should have mentioned that on his 90th birthday he biked 20 miles through the park, nice and slow. He can’t ride a bike now, can’t run or swim. But he can walk!”  

Professor Gostin’s father’s speech can be found here:

March 2016

“March was National Nutrition Month, so shall we talk about diet and nutrition? My first and foremost piece of advice is: do not go on a diet! Most diets are futile or counterproductive, lacking a sound scientific base. This is true of programs such as the paleontology diet, high fat/high protein diets, and low carb diets. Diets also are for the most part transient, with the large proportion of “dieters” giving up after a short while. If the diet resulted in some weight loss, the vast majority of people put the weight back on, and more. What we need to aim for is changing
our lifelong eating habits.

The best approach is to aim for Mediterranean foods, such as fish, beans, nuts, vegetables, fruits, low fat dairy, and healthy oils (e.g., olive oil). Your plates should be balanced, brightly colored, and very low on added sugars, processed foods, and refined carbohydrates. No particular need to count calories, but just don’t overdo it; no need to read the latest fad diet books (they lack quality evidence); no need to overreact to news stories of this or that new finding (most are wrong or exaggerated). Just follow the simple rules above and don’t stray. Remember, foods that we are taught are healthy really are not, such as flavored yogurts (too much sugar), chocolate (ditto), and granola (too much fat). Follow these simple rules and your life and energy will explode. Food for thought.”

February 2016

“As we are in the midst of a Washington winter, mosquitoes are the last thing on our minds– that is, until we hear about the Zika epidemic sweeping the Americas. Will it hit the United States? Probably, especially because the Aedes species mosquito is present in the southern U.S., the Gulf Coast, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. During peak summer months the Aedes mosquito is found all the way up to Washington, DC.  It is also likely that the Rio Olympics will be an amplifying event as travelers return to the US during the peak summer months. 

The risk for most people is very low, but for women of child bearing age and particularly pregnant women there is a link between Zika and microcephaly in infants. This means that women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant should consider postponing travel to Zika-affected countries. In all cases — whether in Latin America or the Caribbean, or in the United States where the Aedes mosquito is present, there are simple precautions to take: wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks; use effective insect repellants (e.g., containing Deet); remove mosquito habitats, such as standing water; and use screens and air conditioning when indoors (or sleep under a bed net). Also, remember that these mosquitoes bite both during the day and night. 

Bottom line message: don’t panic or be fearful but do use common sense precautions to protect against mosquito bites.”

November/December 2015

“The worst thing you can do is to “go on a diet” especially if it is a fad and not evidence based. “Low fat” diets tend to be high in sugar, while “low sugar” diets can be high in trans and saturated fats. “Low carbs” diets may substitute with highly processed or cured meats. The “Paleo Diet” is particularly egregious—it’s heavy on meat and asks dieters to avoid healthy options such as legumes, low fat dairy, and whole grains. The best “diets” is the Mediterranean diet or the Dean Ornish diet, which ensure balanced nutrition including lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy oils. 

My advice? Each day, make sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as your mainstay; don’t skimp on lean protein from fish, chicken, soy, legumes, and low fat plain yogurt; and you can eat moderate amounts of whole grains and olive or canola oil. Avoid trans and saturated fat and added sugars from any source (including honey and other so-called healthy sugars). If you like alcohol, drink it sparingly, but the evidence is that overall alcohol is not part of a healthy diet. Now, do you think this kind of food is boring? Well, that’s where you're wrong. It’s so delicious and nutritious. You will see your health and energy soar!”

October 2015

“Public Health England published a report on 22 October 2015 documenting the devastating effects of sugar on our diet. Did you know that a 1.75 l bottle of coke contains 46 sugar cubes worth of sugar and a Mars Bar is nearly 60% sugar? And did you know that food companies sneak sugar into almost everything you eat, including the products you think are healthy—baked beans, soy milk, yogurt, and bread? Public Health England recommends: a 10-20% sugar tax, advertising curbs, bans on special pricing or offers on sugary foods, and reformulated products with less sugar? 

Public Health England concludes, “Over the last 30-40 years there have been profound changes in our relationship with food – how we shop, where we eat, as well as the foods available and how they are produced. Food is now more readily available, more heavily promoted, marketed, and advertised, and, in real terms, much cheaper than ever before. All of these nudge us toward over-consumption. The changes have crept up on us... it is time to do something about it.”

Whether government does anything about it is debatable as the food and beverage industry is mightily powerful. But YOU can change your relationship with food. Avoid all added sugars.”

September 2015

“Welcome to a new semester at the O’Neill Institute. You come from nearly every region on earth, all with its own unique and special culture and traditions. As you prepare for a rigorous year of learning and growing in your careers, remember to take time for your physical health and mental well-being. Here are the essentials of a happy, healthy life and to bring all parts of your lives into good balance: sleep so you are well rested; eat foods that are nutritious, and not too much; and be physically active. Sleeping is a key ingredient. Don’t think you can skimp on sleep or that you have too much work to sleep a full 8 hours. The truth is that with less sleep you are less productive. Eat lots of healthy fruits and vegetables, and avoid sugar, saturated or trans fats, and salt. And be active, go for walks, walk the stairs, go to the gym, dance, laugh. By following living by these simple truths you will be the best person you can be. Welcome to Georgetown Law.”

July 2015

“Each year, 75,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with and 10,000 die from melanoma. The origins of this disease arise in carelessness about sun exposure. There are several simple steps you can take to prevent skin cancer.

  1. Stay out of the mid-day sun (early morning to late evening) and always wear protective clothing including hats and proper sunglasses.
  2. Use sunscreens with high SPF protection, 30 or above. Sadly, the FDA has not approved broad-spectrum sunscreens that reliably protect against both UVA and UVB radiation. Unlike countries in Europe, the FDA does not thoroughly regulate sunscreens and misleading claims confuse the public.
  3. Do routine checks of your skin to see if you have the signs of early cancers.

Enjoy the summer, but be safe!”

May 2015

“To our dear graduating students,

As you leave our classrooms and continue on your professional journey, I want you to know that you are now part of an important movement—one that is critical to bettering the lives of many and one that must grow. It is a young field but yet, even when it didn't have a name, the importance of law to public health has always existed. By joining our program, you have recognized it and now are part of the movement. 

Please remember that we welcomed each of you to the program because you showed enormous potential for furthering what we consider an important task that we all have at hand. It is an honor to have you as our graduates. We are so proud of what you have accomplished during your time here and all that you will accomplish in your lives. 

On behalf of our program, the O’Neill Institute, and Georgetown Law, a heart-felt congratulations on your success and all that is to come! The O’Neill Institute, and me personally, will always be here to support your career. I hope to see you and hear from you often as you build a wonderful career and life.

With my warm wishes, Larry.”

April 2015

“A new WHO guideline recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits. The WHO guideline does not refer to the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables, and sugars naturally present in milk. Beware of hidden sugars in processed foods. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams and a single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40 grams. In truth, I try to eliminate added sugars entirely although it often isn’t possible. So, to lose weight or not put weight on, to be healthy, and to avoid dental disease, get rid of added sugar in your diets.”

February 2015

“When we think about our health, we tend to think about the physical: diet, physical activity, flexibility, and strength. But our mental health — our levels of wellbeing — are just as important, and maybe more so. More and more, we learn about the close links between our mental health and our physical one. Among the most important parts of our wellbeing is restful sleep and stress reduction, but how can we do this with so much work to do and so many responsibilities. For sleep, make sure you have as much asleep as your body needs — about a full 8 hours of restful sleep. Many people say or think they can do with less, but the data show that isn’t true. We think that we don’t have time to sleep because there is too much to do, but the truth is exactly the opposite. Without sleep we perform our tasks much less efficiently. Sleep actually makes us perform better, much better. So, have a cup of herbal tea before bed, no computers, smart phones, or tablets, and free your mind. Have a look here: NatGeo documentary: "Sleepless in America". Sleep well my lovely students and do well in your lives. Next time, stress relief.”

December 2014

“In thinking about our health we often don’t consider injuries. As with so much in public health the best form of injury protection is to design the environment and consumer products in ways the ensure safe use, such as designing cars and roads to be safe. But there is also a behavioral element, so avoid high risk activities and when you do always ameliorate the risk through good preparation, such as helmets, lights, and reflective gear, as well as due care, when biking. Staying safe from injuries is essential for a life full of vigor.” 

October 2014

"As we witness the self-interested US response to three domestic Ebola cases, we should reflect on the real humanitarian crisis in West Africa, which has endured unbelievable, and avoidable, suffering and death. Sometimes when we think about health, we need to dwell on others, with particular attention to the most disadvantaged. And that is my health tip for this month—our shared humanity."

September 2014

"As the semester is just beginning, now is the time to bring our lives into balance. There are three essentials to good health and wellbeing: sleep well, eat well, and get plenty of physical activity. Often we think that we can do with less sleep, eat unhealthy snacks, or skip our walk or workout when the pressure of study gets intense. But the reverse is true. Without keeping all three parts of life in balance we actually work less effectively. I should know. I have tried everything in my many years of life, and there is no substitute for good health and wellbeing. In fact, it brings greater concentration and productivity, not less. Pass it on.”

April 2014

"Every one knows that exercise is good for your heart health, and the growing evidence shows that high intensity workouts are very effective and take less time. But it is less commonly known that even high intensity exercise won’t compensate for an otherwise sedentary lifestyle. That is why regular physical activity every day is so important. There are lots of ways to do this: walking (aim for 10,000 steps daily), use the stairs not elevator (both down and up), and try this—a standing desk. Studies show that among the worst things for our health is sitting down, whether at work or at home watching television. So, try standing more, including using a standing desk. I recently went to Stockholm and everyone at the Institute for Public Health was standing. And the Institute actually bought everyone a standing desk. (Not to mention the free ample fruit and veggie snacks for employees.) So stand up, walk, and get active!"

March 2014

Resistance bearing exercise (weight training) is an important part of fitness, especially as you get older (so get into the habit now). Don’t use those little weights, but something that will tax your muscles. And remember to eat good quality protein very soon after weight training. Be strong.

February 2014

Recent meta analysis found that sugar intake was highly correlated to overweight and obesity, with higher risks of cardiovascular disease. Remember, sugar is hidden in so many foods (e.g., processed foods, bread, yogurt). Stay healthy. Avoid sugar, particularly the hidden ingredients. And also remember, sugar is sugar: doesn't matter if it is brown or white, high fructose corn syrup… sugar is sugar in all its various forms.

January 2014

Most people don't realize it but sleep is vital for health and wellbeing. You may think you don't need a full 8 hours, but you do. Stay restful and relaxed.

December 2013

Do you get enough physical activity? Remember to walk, climb the stairs, bicycle, dance, or whatever makes you fit and active. Next month, I will tell you about the goals of physical exercise (the more intense form of activity, with its three elements).

October 2013

When you buy foods, scrutinize the labels for hidden fats, sugars, and sodium.

August 2013

This month, Prof. Gostin explores, "Is Sugar Toxic?": Think before you put sugar in your mouth — whether in sugary drinks, in coffee, or tea, and especially hidden in processed foods. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg recently proposed a controversial portion restriction that would limit the portion of high-sugar beverages to a maximum 16-oz size.

You can read more about Mayor Bloomberg's soda portion ban on the O'Neill Institute blog and here.