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Impressions of SBM 2017 in San Diego

By: James F. Sallis, PhD | Published: April 13, 2017

It seemed carefully planned to have the Society of Behavioral Medicine Annual Meeting in San Diego during my Presidential year. However, it was not planned or pre-ordained at all. Nevertheless it was a great experience to "host" the Annual Meeting in my hometown of 34 years. If you want an unbiased review of the meeting, then you will have to look elsewhere because I thought it was wonderful and uplifting.

My main roles in planning the meeting were to select the Program Chair and invite the Keynote Speakers and two of the Master Lecturers. I had a great experience working with Program Chair David Marquez at University of Illinois, Chicago. I got to know David when he was Chair of the Physical Activity SIG (Special Interest Group). In addition to creating a great scientific conference, we agreed on the goal of making SBM a more active meeting, which was implemented by having standing sections in the session rooms and encouraging standing ovations, or active applause. There were always people standing in the sessions I attended, but the active applause was mainly adopted in the physical activity sessions. In my experience people really enjoy standing up after talks, because it is invigorating. However, I'm going to recommend that for 2018 we ask all session chairs to specifically encourage attendees to give active applause at each session. It is an interesting case study in changing behavior and culture.

James F. Sallis Jr., PhD and David Marques, PhD
James Sallis, Phd; and David X. Marques, PhD


I was gratified that all of my top choices for Keynote Speakers agreed, and I was thrilled with the effects of their talks on the attendees. Robert Ross, CEO of The California Endowment, electrified and inspired the 2000 people at the opening plenary with his story of how he dedicated his career to improving health equity. We were all fascinated by what the Endowment has learned through their deep engagement with 14 disadvantaged communities around California. They are breaking new ground in public health through their 10-year commitment to creating healthy and equitable communities. Ana Diez-Roux, Dean of Public Health at Drexel University in Philadelphia, showed how she is using advanced epidemiologic methods to work toward health equity. She was a great example of a distinguished scientist being very involved in communicating her research so it makes a difference in people's lives. Harold Goldstein, founder of Public Health Advocates in Sacramento, was a different kind of speaker for SBM. His stories of using evidence to change state policy were inspiring because of all the successes he could point to, particularly with food and beverage policies. He is a great example of a "knowledge broker" who knows how to take evidence and use it effectively in the policy making process. Tracy Neal-Walden works in the Office of the Surgeon General for the US Air Force. I asked her to inform SBM attendees about the great work being done to improve the health of military and veterans communities, including their families. She discussed how health professionals are collaborating across the services, using evidence-based strategies, evaluating outcomes, and serving millions of people. She and her colleagues are having great impact, and she said there were opportunities to collaborate on both research and practice.

I was able to select two Master Lecturers for the 2017 Annual Meeting. Frank Penedo from Northwestern University spoke on precision cancer care delivery. His talk was closely tied to genomics research, which has been addressed throughout the year by SBM's Genomics Working Group. Marjorie Kagawa-Singer from UCLA presented on culture and health, mainly using examples from her work with Asian Americans. Her talk was a great opportunity to learn about advances being made with one of the least-studied and most diverse racial-ethnic-cultural groupings. I again express my thanks to all the Keynotes and Master Lecturers who helped make the conference great.

There were way too many Annual Meeting highlights to list, but I want to comment on just a few. I was pleased to be part of the Team Science symposium organized by Kara Hall and Amanda Vogel of NCI. Bill Riley of OBSSR led an informative panel on the OBSSR Strategic Plan, and I was honored to contribute to the session. Please get familiar with, and support, OBSSR's Strategic Plan. It was notable that several sessions dealt with the Precision Medicine Initiative, aka the "All of Us" study. There are many opportunities for behavioral researchers to get involved in this enormous research project. I encourage SBM members to be assertive in contacting site investigators and identifying ways behavioral scientists can contribute to this study. Though I was not able to attend, I want to express my appreciation to Colleen McBride for leading the Genomics Presidential Working Group and the sessions they held during the conference.

It was a thrill for me to symbolically pass the gavel to Gary Bennett, who became the new SBM President. It was a thrill, not because I am tired of being President, but because I know Gary will be a  visionary and effective leader for the Society. At the Business Meeting on Saturday morning Gary laid out his vision to "Extend the Reach" of SBM. That made it clear he is continuing the efforts of all recent presidents to increase the impact of our research. I encourage all members to get involved in communicating your (and "our" collective) research to practitioners, knowledge brokers, and policy makers who can put it into practice.

There is no doubt the coming years will be challenging for science in general and behavioral scientists in particular. SBM 2017 started ominously with news the administration proposed an immediate $1.2 Billion cut in NIH's budget this year! That is another unprecedented proposal on top of the requested 20% reduction to NIH for 2018. This is part of a broad "war on science" that goes beyond cuts in virtually all science-based federal agencies to attacks on evidence and facts. Thus, I invite you to review the slides of my President's Lecture that are posted on my website ( and get personally involved in advocating for protecting science in the US and speaking up for using evidence to guide policies. The April 22, 2017 March for Science is an opportunity to take action. I recommend you read and act on SBM President-Elect Sherry Pagoto's article in Chronicle of Higher Education. She advises us how we can use this march to create a positive impression of science and scientists on the American public.

Here is a photo of the SBM leadership team for the 2017-2018 year, with the past, current, and future SBM presidents, along with Mary Dean, our Executive Director. Each of us understands the stakes are higher than ever, and we are energized to advocate for SBM, defend science, and stand up for evidence. You will be hearing from us throughout the year, and I'm sure we will be making requests of the members. It will be a busy year.

James Sallis, Phd; Gary Bennett, PhD; Sherry Pagoto, PhD; and Mary Dean, JD, CAE

James F Sallis PhD

Distinguished Professor Emeritus

Department of Family Medicine and Public Health

University of California, San Diego

Now Is the Time for Scientists to Speak Up in Defense of Science

By: James F. Sallis, PhD | Published: March 22, 2017

As a member of the National Academy of Medicine I have pledged to "advise the nation." Political discussions have raised doubts about the continued relevance of science, and as a health scientist I feel a responsibility to provide my input and advice to the public discussion. Science is the systematic search for facts and truth. Health science is the application of facts and truth to improving health.

We do not live in a "post-truth" world. Truth is an eternal value, and we de-value truth at our peril. Assertion of "alternative facts" does not make them true. Denying the scientific fact of climate change does not stop its consequences, and there is strong consensus climate change is already having negative health consequences. Attacking science to justify delaying the transition from dependence on fossil fuels to cleaner energy will increase mortality and morbidity.

The current enthusiasm to reduce regulations on business appears to ignore the health effects that were the justifications for many regulations in the first place. As a high-profile example, regulating the burning of coal was meant to reduce lung disease, other chronic diseases, harm to plants, and carbon emissions. But regulation of many chemicals, foods, automobiles, and other products were designed to prevent health problems, so removing or weakening those regulations is likely to increase mortality and morbidity.

The current proposal to reshape the health insurance system that will likely force an estimated 24 million people out of the insurance system is an unethical act that I believe health professionals have reason to oppose. That opposition should include educating decision makers and voters about the likely consequences of proposed actions.

Facts are not immutable, and scientific progress will update facts with better evidence. But we are better off making decisions based on the best facts we have at the moment rather than ignoring, denying, or using alternative facts that are often championed by those with specific economic interests. Given the expected health consequences of current government actions and proposals, we scientists have an opportunity to raise our voices to educate, and persuade when possible, in support of science-based decisions. If we believe in evidence, we must act to defend science. To be silent is to be complicit.

James F Sallis PhD

Distinguished Professor Emeritus

Department of Family Medicine and Public Health

University of California, San Diego


As Aid-in-Dying Bills Become Law, What is the Role of Health Decision Making?

By: Marie Chesaniuk & Lisa Henderson
Published: April 13, 2017

Are E-Cigarettes Friend or Foe?

By: Gina Kruse MD, MS, MPH, and Jamie S. Ostroff, PhD
Published: April 10, 2015

FDA Regulation and Digital Health Research: What You Need to Know

By: Emily G. Lattie, MS, SBM Digital Health Council member
Published: March 27, 2015