Diabetes patients have to monitor their diet’s glucose levels closely to avoid serious health complications. While some tools exist to help manage this challenging disease, one that accurately pre-evaluates diabetes patients’ meals and allows for on-the-spot portion adjustments is lacking.
To fill this industry gap and improve the lives of diabetes patients, three Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) engineering alumni connected with TMU biomedical engineering professor Naimul Khan to develop machine-learning algorithms capable of analyzing 2D food images for 3D depth in real-time. This innovation allows users to snap a photo of their meal and have the carbohydrates counted while they wait, allowing them to adjust their portions or food choices to maintain ideal glucose levels.
Alumni Liam Bell (biomedical), Osama Muhammad (mechanical) and Muhammed Ashad Khan (electrical) are using these algorithms to further develop their smartphone app and accompanying wearable device, Glucose Vision. This technology has the potential to significantly reduce future health issues and the cost burden of diabetes on the Canadian health care system.
Funding for this project provided by Mitacs. To learn more about how Mitacs supports groundbreaking research and innovation, visit the Mitacs website.
Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) researchers Reza Eslami and Hadis Zarrin have developed non-invasive sensors powered by movement that can determine the blood sugar levels of diabetes patients from their sweat. The researchers aim to revolutionize diabetes management by creating a user-friendly, continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system that integrates these sensors into clothing and accessories, allowing diabetes patients to self-monitor their glucose levels 24/7.
Self-powered CGM smart wearables could significantly improve diabetes patients’ quality of life by enabling them to regulate their overall blood sugar level and meet glucose targets consistently. In addition, CGMs could play an essential role in predicting the risk of diabetes development before onset.
Zarrin, the principal investigator at TMU-based Nanoengineering Laboratory for Energy and Environmental Technologies (NLEET) and a chemical engineering professor, collaborates with Eslami, a chemical engineering PhD candidate and his start-up, Sensofine, to make this technology widely available. They use machine learning and input from fashion designers to develop smart wearables made of high-performing materials and consider various factors in their design, including accessibility, culture, gender and age.
Funding for this project provided by Mitacs. To learn more about how Mitacs supports groundbreaking research and innovation, visit the Mitacs website.
Written by Ethan Pancer, St. Mary’s University, Matthew Philp, Toronto Metropolitan University and Theo Noseworthy, York University. Originally published in The Conversation.
Social media posts featuring unhealthy foods get more likes and engagement. But there are ways to change that. Photo credit: Borzoo Moazami, Unsplash.
In today’s world, our diets are often packed with fats and sugars. Our ancient instinct to crave calorie-rich foods, which once helped us survive, now leads to harmful health side-effects.
To counteract this, food content creators on social media have been trying to push healthy eating and healthy eating content.
But here’s the kicker — this content doesn’t get much engagement. Instead, posts that show unhealthy, high-calorie foods get more likes, shares and comments. This popularity of junk food online may tempt content creators and algorithms to show more of the same, tilting our view of “normal” eating habits towards unhealthy choices. In the long run, this could fuel the obesity epidemic.
So, the challenge is clear: How do we make healthy foods as click-worthy as their unhealthy counterparts?
In a recent paper published in the European Journal of Marketing, we wanted to see if we could change people’s natural tendency to avoid healthy food content. How? By tweaking the way they think. Could getting people to think more carefully before they see food posts make them engage more with healthy food on social media?
Food marketing on social media
Social media has become a billboard for food advertising. Food companies are everywhere online, but their focus is usually on calorie-packed products. They make these foods seem fun and shareable, even though many of us would be better off seeing more healthier options.
This mismatch between what food companies promote and what is good for consumers is glaring. Posts with unhealthy food get more love and are remembered, seen and shared more than posts featuring healthier foods.
This online popularity of junk food can then shape our ideas of what’s “normal” to eat and can sway our eating habits, especially in groups that are easily influenced by peers. So, if we can figure out why this happens, we could use that knowledge to make healthy foods shine on social media.
Today, this means we naturally feel good and get excited when seeing calorie-packed foods. This same excitement simply does not occur when exposed to low-calorie alternatives, which we often see as less tasty, not as enjoyable and likely not satiating.
What if we could switch our minds to avoid the biased decisions we make when we rely on our feelings? The idea of using a more thoughtful mindset is a strategy that’s been shown to work on other food habits.
The potential here is huge: thinking more thoughtfully and analytically could reduce our biases for relying more on our feelings to make decisions, and this can make healthier, lower-calorie foods more attractive, leading to more likes and shares on social media.
In our research, we took a look at how people react to social media content about food. We found that people are usually less interested in posts about healthier, lower-calorie food, something that’s been shown in previous studies.
We used videos from Tasty, a popular food network, for our experiment.
In our experiment, people were more likely to engage with a video about making a burger than a salad. But when people take the time to think about what food they’re actually engaging with, they can appreciate the benefits of lower-calorie foods, potentially leading them to choose healthier options.
Actions for a healthier social media
As prior research has demonstrated, people are naturally drawn to social media posts of unhealthy food, leaving healthier options in the dust. The more engagement these calorie-packed posts get, the more similar content floods our feeds, creating a cycle that can potentially negatively affect our real-life eating habits.
Short mindfulness exercises from programs like Noom or WeightWatchers can also help us pause and think before we eat.
Our research can inspire dietitians, health advocates, policymakers and content creators to use this mindset magic when they’re designing their products, services or social media posts. This could lead to more engagement with healthier food content on social media, making these healthier messages travel further.
Through construction and operational activities, buildings are one of Canada’s highest greenhouse gas contributors. Deep energy retrofits, especially those that focus on reducing the use of fossil fuels, could lower buildings’ carbon emissions substantially. As more government agencies recognize the importance of energy-efficient retrofitting, research that leads to optimal building performance and decreased environmental impact is essential.
To assess and identify the best retrofit practices for residential buildings regarding carbon emissions, Toronto Metropolitan Univerisity’s (TMU) Department of Architectural Science chair and professor Mark Gorgolewski and TMU graduate student Fatma Osman partnered with Michael Singleton, executive director of Sustainable Buildings Canada (SBC). Their research examines commonly used retrofit strategies in Ontario using building Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to identify low-carbon material selections and optimal retrofit approaches.
This research benefits the construction industry by providing designers with academic insights into low-carbon strategies to help in project planning and design. It will also allow SBC and other organizations to support the development of appropriate policies and procedures that result in low-carbon built environments.
Funding for this project by Mitacs. To learn more about how Mitacs supports groundbreaking research and innovation, visit the Mitacs website.
As a midwife who has worked in Toronto for over 20 years, largely with uninsured populations, and an associate professor who has focused my research and activism on this issue, I am acutely aware of how these cuts will impact pregnant people and ultimately all Canadians.
Increasingly, people may spend years with precarious immigration status, all the while building a life here and eagerly waiting for applications to come through. For example, a student applying for a work permit may fall out of status while one application expires and another comes through.
While hospitals are not going to turn people away in emergencies, many pregnant people need access to hospital-based care before there is an emergency, and in fact to avoid an emergency. For example, someone who needs a caesarean section because labour would be too risky, may be required to pay $6,000 or even more before they can access a provider.
For some people, this could mean deciding between rent, feeding their children or getting basic health care.
It is inevitable that many people will not have access to prenatal care and will wind up in an emergency department, where the hospital will be ethically required to provide care anyway. Hospitals requiring advance payment does not make people less pregnant, less high-risk or less in need of a caesarean. It means people going without care and coming to the hospital in need of emergency surgery, which has the highest cost and risks of any birth.
Putting all the pieces together, discontinuing expanded health-care funding means higher numbers of already marginalized people having less prenatal care, more preterm births and low birth weight babies, and more emergency caesarean sections for delivery — all of which result in worse outcomes, more cost on the system and more moral distress on health care providers. How is this a good idea from any angle?
A study released just one week before these cuts were announced showed the many benefits of having the expanded funding in place, including improved access to prenatal care. It also demonstrated the relief health-care providers felt at not having the moral distress of having to decide who was able to access necessary care.
The expanded funding put in place during COVID-19 revealed a few things.
First, the fact that it was implemented is an acknowledgement that it was needed. If we have universal health coverage for all who live here, why did we need the program in the first place?
The decision to discontinue extended care is going to cost us. Not just in terms of health-care dollars — it is always better to treat high blood pressure than manage a stroke — but in terms of our ethics.
Several decades ago, we decided as a country that everyone — rich or poor — deserves access to health care. Canadians have taken pride in this and it is part of our national identity. Until everyone is covered, we need to acknowledge that we do not, in fact, have universal health care, and decide what this means to us as a country.
This article was co-authored by Shezeen Suleman of Toronto Metropolitan University, and Rachel Spitzer, AJ Mata and Jenny Yang Klimis of University of Toronto.
Written by Alison Derry, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Miguel Cañedo-Argüelles, Universitat de Barcelona & Stephanie J Melles, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: Author provided. Originally published in The Conversation.
Roads require de-icing strategies in northern regions, but this practice has negative effects on aquatic biodiversity.
As a result, salts enter waterways. But as bad news never comes alone, the salts are often accompanied by a toxic cocktail of other pollutants, whose combined toxicological effects are largely unknown.
Scientists around the world are working together to understand the ecological impacts of increasing salinization on aquatic biodiversity and food webs. Our ultimate goal? To examine the adequacy of water quality toxicity thresholds for the protection of aquatic life.
Salinization, a major problem
Canada is home to a majority of the world’s freshwater resources, mostly concentrated in the provinces of Ontario and Québec, where close to 5 million tons of road salt are applied annually to de-ice roads.
Combined with climate change and increasing frequency and duration of drought in many regions of the world, the problem is getting worse. This is a major concern. Why? Because the availability of freshwater resources will become a critical factor for humanity over the next 50 years.
Researchers from around the world mobilized
We recently presented a series of articles in a special issue on freshwater salinization in the journal Limnology and Oceanography Letters, published last February.
In this special issue, we focus on sodium chloride (NaCl), the same molecule found in table salt, as a key agent of freshwater salinization. We highlight a series of co-ordinated field experiments, conducted by researchers in North America and Europe, that have addressed the impacts of freshwater salinization on zooplankton (microscopic crustaceans) at a regional scale.
Zooplankton are an ecologically critical group in aquatic food webs and are often used as indicators to detect environmental change due to their sensitive ecological tolerances.
The main conclusions of these experiments are as follows:
Water quality guidelines in Canada and the United States (standards) do not adequately protect freshwater zooplankton, which could lead to an increase in the abundance of algae, which the zooplankton feed on. This is because when zooplankton abundance decreases, especially for large grazers such as Daphnia, phytoplankton can proliferate under conditions of reduced predation;
Salinization of freshwater systematically leads to a loss of abundance and diversity of zooplankton in all regions; and
Individuals of the same zooplankton species do not all exhibit the same tolerance to salinity. Thus, this variation may interfere with our ability to predict community-level responses. Water quality guidelines may therefore need to be adjusted to become more region-specific.
A matter of regulation
Many questions remain unanswered. However, what we do now know is that long-term water quality guidelines (Canada: 120 mg Cl⁻¹L⁻¹; United States: 230 mg Cl⁻¹L⁻¹) and in the short term (Canada: 640 mg Cl⁻¹L⁻¹; United States: 860 mg Cl⁻¹L⁻¹) for chloride concentrations are too high to protect aquatic life in Canada and in the United States. For reference, a pinch of salt in a pot of water corresponds to approximately 0.3 g of Cl⁻¹/L⁻¹. In other words, adverse effects are observed at much lower concentrations. Regulations in Canada and the United States should therefore be reviewed. In Europe, the water quality standards for salinity for the protection of aquatic life in freshwater ecosystems are mostly absent.
The importance of taking concrete action
Water quality guidelines for the protection of aquatic life are generally established using laboratory tests (called toxicological tests) on a single species.
Research stories highlighted in Rooms with a view: Opening doors to new health care approaches include:
“Reducing harm through innovation”, featuring research by Alex Boukin and Ari Forman. By creating a device that can analyze the chemical makeup of unregulated drugs, TMU alumnus Alex Boukin and business partner Ari Forman are developing technology that supports harm reduction efforts.
“Increasing vaccination rates among older adults”, featuring research from the National Institute on Ageing (NIA). More than 90 per cent of Canadians aged 60-plus rolled up their sleeves for a COVID-19 vaccine. Can the lessons from COVID-19 be applied to protecting older adults from other preventable diseases?
“Improving the odds for cancer treatment”, featuring research by Kathleen Wilkie. Why do cancer treatments work for some patients and not others? Researchers use mathematical modelling and computer-aided simulations to help find the answer and guide patients to personalized treatment options.
“Sole Expression: A trauma-informed dance intervention program”, featuring research by Jennifer Lapum and Jennifer Martin. Movement, like dance, can help the body release stress and emotion. Combining dance programs with clinical therapy services for youth enables them to access support services in new ways while reducing symptoms of trauma.
Obesity is not the only diet-related illness to be concerned about — diabetes is just as prevalent. When it comes to such diseases, diet and physical activity help reduce the chance of being diagnosed. In fact, when it comes to Type 2 diabetes, diet and physical activity can prevent 50 per cent of it.
Consider the average supermarket, where there can be upwards of 60,000 different products in a store. With so much competition, food marketers need to grab the attention of consumers so they buy their products, not a competitor’s. This is why product packaging is so important.
Food marketing uses a variety of tactics, like using bright, bold colours and eye-popping visuals, to try and persuade consumers to buy certain products. They also change the size of food images shown on products — the size of the chip on Dorito’s packaging or the size of the bread on a jar of peanut butter, for example.
Bigger is better
Our recent research looked at how something seemingly innocuous, like the size of food images on product packaging, can impact how likely it is that someone buys a product. While the size of this image might appear to be harmless, our research found that it can increase the food’s appeal to consumers: the larger the image, the better tasting consumers believe the food will be, which increases the chance of them purchasing the product.
The reason for this is a concept called mental imagery, which suggests that the way people visualize a product in their minds can make them think a product is better, higher quality or, in our case, tastier.
This has implications when it comes to food choice. When thinking about what foods are most appealing, junk foods, such as chips, popcorn and candy, come to mind. These kinds of products often have large, exaggerated images of food on their packaging. Since the size of the food image on these products are bigger, it makes consumers psychologically salivate more, persuading them into buying and eating these unhealthier foods.
When it comes to colours, red significantly increases a food’s perceived taste, while green increases the food’s perceived healthiness. Food images that are located higher on the package suggest that the food is “light” and therefore “healthy,” making it more likely for a consumer to purchase the product.
Knowing and understanding how appearance impacts food desirability is crucial for marketers and has resulted in a special visual language among consumers and products. This allows, for example, people with diabetes and hypertension to quickly locate foods that are appropriate for their needs in a grocery store. However, it also makes some consumers vulnerable to marketing ploys when they aren’t aware of how advertisers are manipulating them.
Healthy shopping strategies
There are some strategies consumers can use when shopping to help maintain healthy habits. Instead of focusing on the images of food on packaging, we recommend that consumers focus more on the nutritional needs and requirements.
Consumers should read the entire nutritional label front and back to try to make the best informed decision possible and try not to be swayed by what the image on a package looks like.
Don’t let the size of the food image tempt you: some Pringles or gummy bears is fine as a little indulgence, but if you’re tempted by these food products every time you step into your local grocery, it can have serious consequences for your heath.
Food product packaging doesn’t just have implications for consumers, but for policymakers as well. Most governments, including Canada’s, focus on nutrition labels and how food marketers advertise to consumers of all ages, such as rules limiting junk food ads during Saturday morning cartoons. But regulation should start even more fundamentally with the packaging itself.
While it might seem extreme to regulate the size of a scoop of ice cream on a box of Chapman’s, food image size is especially relevant when it comes to junk food. If we want to reduce the prevalence of diet-related health issues, like obesity and diabetes, regulating the size of images, which is what we see first and foremost in the grocery aisle, on food products might just be what’s needed.
Written by Sarah Elton, Toronto Metropolitan University and Donald C. Cole, University of Toronto. Photo credit THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn. Originally published in The Conversation.
Community vegetable gardens, such as this one in Pickering, Ont., support health and should be seen as part of the city’s food system.
It’s garden season, which means gardeners are beginning to enjoy their homegrown vegetables. However, for those who live in cities, urban life can reinforce the idea that gardens are a bonus, maybe a hobby, but not a necessity of life.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, supermarkets were kept open because of the key role they play in feeding us. But the Ontario government originally shut down community gardens, ignoring that gardens also feed us. The gardens were only opened again after public pressure.
As public health researchers with a longstanding interest in food systems and health, we’ve found that, contrary to the idea of gardening as a hobby, gardens are essential to life.
We came to this conclusion based on interviews with diverse gardeners in Toronto, a survey of more than 100 people and extensive participant observation — which in this case meant gardening together. Study participants included yard gardeners, community plot gardeners, rooftop gardeners and even people tending to food-producing plants inside their apartment. Our findings are published in the peer-reviewed journal, Food, Culture & Society.
Growing food in the city
To grow food, you have to be committed. There’s the weeding and watering, and dealing with squirrels and raccoons who might get to the food first.
You must invest in seeds and equipment and there could be a fee paid to the city for access to an allotment plot if you don’t have space of your own. If the garden you tend isn’t near where you live, you also must consider transportation time. And after all that, the crop might fail.
Although prices are rising, produce is ample in grocery stores. So to better understand the role of gardening in the city, we asked why do people do it in the first place?
The most common response was that gardening was perceived to boost health. One retired worker summed it up well:
“In wintertime, it’s necessary to do more workouts. But summertime, if I miss the gym, I don’t feel bad because I am doing more.”
Others noticed that gardening supported their mental health. They felt calm with the plants, their mind alert. In some cases, the gardens gave participants a reason to wake up in the morning at times when they were experiencing mental health problems.
To several people, the plants were even seen to provide companionship. “I’m living a healthy life because of my garden,” said one participant. Gardening contributed to their happiness.
Food and food security
Another reason why people told us they gardened was, not surprisingly, for food. Most gardeners grew a wide selection of food-producing plants, with 31 per cent of respondents to the survey reporting that they grew as many as 10 to 20 different kinds.
Importantly, several of the gardeners who provided interviews and who also identified as low-income, stressed the importance of gardening to their food security. One gardener, who has a small plot on church-owned land, told us she grew so much food that she didn’t have to go to the supermarket in the summer, and that helped with her family’s finances.
Another gardener said he was able to make a significant contribution to his family by producing enough vegetables on his allotment plot to not only eat in the summer but to freeze for winter. And one woman grew the organic food she couldn’t afford at the store.
People not only kept this food for themselves, but they shared it with friends and family.
For gardeners who have cultural ties to other countries, some of whom are newer immigrants, growing their own food is a way to ensure access to the kinds of vegetables they grew up eating.
“We left but we still want the taste,” one man said of why he grows a kind of spinach from South Asia. At the store, these vegetables — if they are available — are expensive and aren’t as fresh.
So if growing food in gardens in the city is central to health, food security and culture, how might policymakers think about gardening differently?
We argue that gardens should be considered essential parts of our food system. Gardens are important to the people who tend to them — and also to the many people whose names are on waiting lists for space to grow food in the city, who may not have space of their own.
In our survey, people who owned their homes were more likely to report that they’d been growing food for more than 10 years. Homeownership often includes outdoor space in the form of a yard or balcony, which others may not have access to. The pandemic reminded us how many of our eco-social systems are inequitable and fragile, and other researchers have documented how people turned to gardens at this time.
Various levels of government and other institutions with jurisdiction over land (such as those that oversee hydro corridors as well as schools, religious institutions, apartment and condo land owners) must take action to broaden secure access to garden space, in particular for people who don’t have a backyard.
We should be investing more in publicly accessible gardens as an essential part of our food system.
As researchers whose work looks at travel and tourism, we were curious about the impact of COVID-19 briefings and the way media reported them on the industry. We think it’s time to put fear into perspective for the traveller.
These varying messages and subsequent reporting aren’t a total surprise. Especially considering how at the start of the pandemic, we faced an unknown virus, with minimal knowledge. Tests, treatments and prevention strategies have evolved, but different phases of the pandemic — and health-related messaging and media coverage — highlight how risk changed and evolved over time.
Politicians shamed Canadians who chose to travel whether it was early in the pandemic (before any travel restrictions were in place), or later when tourism-related businesses advertised cheap domestic flights and trips.
When the government banned flights to “sun destinations” in January 2021, many Canadians took it to heart and stayed home. Just four months later, messaging from the travel and tourism sector surfaced about it being up to Canadians to save summer tourism.
The Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable — a group of Canadian tourism and travel businesses hoping to “reopen the economy” — recently called on the government to remove “non-science-based obstacles to international travel, such as expensive pre-departure PCR tests for fully vaccinated travellers, that disproportionately impact average Canadian families.”
A columnist in the Toronto Sun, called Canadians out for being “unjustifiably afraid” of travel. Travelling and flying always present a risk, but that risk is low if mitigation measures and infection prevention are observed.
The risk of getting COVID-19 will not be zero, it will likely never be zero. People must continue to assess risk based on science, wear masks in public and pay attention in crowded areas. When vaccinated, Canadians should feel more comfortable travelling because travel professionals are working to keep us safe, there is life after vaccination.
Despite it being important to respect countries’ travel advisories to prevent the spread of COVID-19, avoiding leisure travel for the past 18 months has led to a significant impact on our mental well-being and a loss of jobs across the tourism industry.
Plants are more than background foliage in our busy lives. Our relationship with plants supports human health and well-being in many ways.
During the height of the pandemic, people flocked to the park near my home. For those of us who live in neighbourhoods where there is access to greenspace, parks allowed us to lounge on the grass and in the shade of the trees, admire flowers, enjoy a walk in the fresh air, or even grow food in a community garden.
These moments offered a health boost and made visible just one of the ways that human health and well-being is supported by our relationships with plants. It’s part of what I call relational health — a term that speaks to the ways health is produced through relationships. From a relational health perspective, health is a constantly unfolding process that is produced by encounters between humans and various aspects of non-human nature.
Sometimes the encounters are not good — we only need to think of emerging infectious diseases to be reminded of this. But mostly, interactions between humans and non-human nature are positive, health-producing and sustaining. Our relationships with plants offer a good example.
Euro-western culture largely ignores the many roles that plants play in society. It’s been called “plant blindness,” an “inability to see or notice plants in one’s environment.” Plants are not much more than background foliage in our busy lives — or worse, expendable.
Plants can be considered to be social participants and players in society. So I look at the ways that plants support our health, not only in terms of the food they provide us or the oxygen and shade they offer, but the ways that our relationships with plants facilitate political decisions and actions that support health in the city.
That non-human nature is part of society is foreign to Euro-western thought. Ever since the Enlightenment, the dominant Euro-western worldview has seen the human as the supreme species, leaving the rest of the world as resources to exploit, as writer and philosopher Silvia Wynter explores in her work.
So what does it look like when plants are social participants? Plants are evidently not like us — they don’t act with intent. Rather, their agency as health actors emerges from relationships.
I conducted fieldwork in the Regent Park neighbourhood of Toronto that is being redeveloped from a social housing community to a mixed-income area. The redevelopment has involved building on land where residents have grown food for decades. Locals did not want to lose their growing space, so they advocated for gardens in the new neighbourhood. They wanted continued access to homegrown vegetables, and the mental peace and exercise that gardening provided them. They didn’t want to lose their relationships with plants.
Very simply, the relationships between people and plants facilitated the advocacy, and residents were able to secure at least some space for gardens in the new design.
At first glance, it might look like humans did the advocacy. They are the ones who spoke up and asked that plants be included in the design. But if you recognize the agency of non-human nature, it shifts the analysis.
If you consider plants as participants in society, then the plants’ agency in the advocacy becomes visible. Their agency arises from the relationships they have with humans. When their needs are considered by humans in decision-making, they play a role. The plants partner with the people and their physical presence in gardens stakes a claim to the land. This shift in worldview opens up many possibilities in better understanding the role of non-human nature in contemporary society.
This scenario also sheds light on how health is produced through relationships between humans and non-human nature in the city. Health is not something that one possesses in one’s body, but rather for the gardeners who depend on the garden for food and well-being, health is produced in part by their relationships with the plants in their gardens.
To promote human health during this time of climate change and global pandemic requires scrutiny of the relationships we have with non-human nature in ways that may not be familiar to the Euro-western worldview.
Scholars have resorted to the solution aversion model to account for the growing political division around vaccination. According to this model, individuals with divergent political ideologies perceive social issues differently because of their inherent aversion to specific solutions. In the case of vaccine passports, its implementation depends on stringent government regulations, which are deeply unpopular among many far-right individuals.
Additionally, our fragmented media environment further fosters solution aversion by promoting motivated reasoning. With today’s media audiences being trapped in algorithm-based digital echo chambers, it is increasingly typical for individuals to interact exclusively with like-minded media sources and other internet users, resulting in biased information absorption.
Fixing the broken public sphere
Admittedly, reconciling the divided public opinions on COVID-19 vaccination policies is not a simple task. As long as social media platforms continue to not bat an eye at misinformation out of concern for their click-through rates, and governments continue to ignore structural injustices driving political radicalization, it is unlikely that vaccine resistance will be reduced without increasing polarization.
The anti-vax movement, like many other issues that have emerged during the pandemic, serves as a stark reminder that our society’s public sphere is fundamentally broken. The long yet essential process of fixing it will require all of us, as responsible citizens and media users, to work collaboratively on restoring public conversation mechanisms.