Monthly Archives: May 2009

Whatever you say, Phillip Morris

call-for-philip-morrisI noted in a previous post (The Altria Earnings Protection Act) that Philip Morris, the major player in the U.S. tobacco industry, was fully supportive of the upcoming Congressional bill that will give the FDA control over tobacco. At the time it seemed to make sense that “Altria,” the newly sanitized name for the same company we used to call Philip Morris, would support the bill, since it gave them an economic advantage against their competitors, who oppose it.

The bill has now emerged from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). In the final rancorous days of disagreement among committee members, the ranking Republican Senator, Mike Enzi, revealed that Philip Morris was not only involved in negotiating the bill, but was actually a co-author. “We need to fight the war on tobacco head on, not sign a peace treaty with Philip Morris, one of the authors and strongest supporters of this bill.” This was not a casual comment where the Senator might have been speaking figuratively. This was in an official post on the HELP Committee website.

Enzi proposed placing tobacco regulation under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where decisions would be made using “science, not politics.” He believed the FDA, concerned with restoring health and keeping the nation’s food supply safe, was not the appropriate organization. Said Enzi: “[The] FDA approves cures, not poisons.”
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Flu news overdose

Child Kising Pig

Source: SeniorArk

Newsweek has a feature where you can compete for the best six-word tweet on the cover story. The winners for the swine flu cover story: “Over estimated, over reported, over it” and “Blah, blah, swine flu, blah, blah.”
The public health establishments, such as the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, have disseminated a great deal of information on what they want the public to know and how they want us to behave. But what goes on backstage, behind the public front? For example, what are doctors being advised, and what are they saying to each other about the current flu epidemic? They’re on the front lines. Are they worried or optimistic?

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Health care reform: Navigating the maze

Health Care Reform

Source: Marty Nemko

If you need help keeping track of current Congressional efforts to reform health care, check out this website: Side-by-Side Comparison of Major Health Care Reform Proposals. The content is provided by the Kaiser Family Foundation, an independent, highly respected organization that studies major health care issues and provides information to policymakers, the health care community, and the media. Both the Foundation and the HMO Kaiser Permanente trace their financial roots back to the original Henry J. Kaiser, but other than that, they’re not related.
The site makes great use of the web as an interactive medium. You can select from seven different proposals for health care reform, such as the eight principles that President Obama outlined in February or the national health insurance program that Representative John Dingell has been proposing since 1957. You can simultaneously view as many proposals as you wish.

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The imminent collapse of Social Security and Medicare: Truth or propaganda?

Robert Reich with President Obama

Robert Reich, center, with President Obama

Source: Zimbio

Predictions of the imminent collapse of Social Security and Medicare are so common that the messengers risk being seen as boys who cry wolf. Evidently the media doesn’t worry about this, since they proceed to raise our collective anxiety level on this issue at every opportunity.
On May 12, the Social Security and Medicare trustees released their annual forecast. The latest projections, revised to allow for the current economic downturn, estimate that Medicare’s trust money will be gone two years sooner than expected (2017), and the Society Security trust fund will expire in 2037, four years sooner than the previous forecast. The most common headline was: “Medicare and Social Security Face Insolvency.”
For a level-headed take on the latest predictions, I recommend a post by Robert Reich, The Truth behind the Social Security and Medicare Alarm Bells. Reich was Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton and a member of President Obama’s Transition Economic Advisory Board. He points out that the latest predictions are based on conservative assumptions about the economy’s rate of growth. If you look back over the last 150 years, including the Great Depression and the serious depressions of the late 19th century, the average annual growth rate has been 3 percent. If you assume 3 percent growth, Social Security can hang on for another 75 years.

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Is it safe to eat yet?

In an earlier post, I asked whether foodborne illnesses were on the rise. (Not just peanut butter: What’s happening to our food supply?) A recent story in The New York Times addresses that same question.

Heather Whybrew, a college student in Washington State, became gravely ill after eating a salad in her school cafeteria. Carl Ours, of Ohio, was temporarily paralyzed after eating chili dogs and drinking beer. Mari Tardiff, of California, spent three months on life support after she drank unpasteurized milk. … Is it becoming more dangerous to eat?

foodborne-illnessIn 1996, the CDC improved its method of collecting information on foodborne illnesses. The Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) began monitoring seven foodborne diseases in clinical laboratories throughout the U.S. Although this change makes it difficult to compare historical information before and after 1996, public health officials believe food is definitely safer now than it was a century ago, before refrigeration, pasteurization, and municipal sewer systems.

It’s probably safer now than it was 10 years ago, although there’s still plenty to worry about. According to Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “The trends clearly show that consumers should be more worried about the food supply because the hazards are becoming more pronounced.”

Whenever there appears to be an increase in an illness, one of the first questions is whether there’s really an increase or if it’s simply that more cases are being reported. This is as much an issue for foodborne illnesses as it is, say, for the apparent increase in attention deficit disorder diagnoses. If food is now safer, why are there more contamination scares and more recalls? Read more

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What’s wrong with our food?

food-incA new movie, Food, Inc., will be in theaters starting June 12. The film documents how industrialized agriculture has changed the food we eat and explores the impact of this change on health, food safety, and the environment. In the movie’s trailer (see below), a woman eyeing vegetables in a grocery store says “Sometimes you look at a vegetable and say, well, we can get two hamburgers for the same price.” That about sums up the problem with the American diet, a problem directly related to a decrease in health (diabetes, heart disease) and an increase in weight (the so-called “obesity epidemic”).

Here’s the official description of the film:

In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, insecticide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won’t go bad, but we also have new strains of E. coli–the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults. … Food, Inc. reveals surprising–and often shocking truths–about what we eat, how it’s produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here.

Kenner, the producer/director, and Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, started talking about a documentary of Fast Food six or seven years ago. By the time the film was funded, both Kenner and Schlosser were heavily influenced by the ideas of Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food .

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Children as puppets

Here are two images from Italian photographers Winkler + Noah. The exhibit includes 30 photos of children, retouched to suggest puppets.

Puppet Boy

Puppet Girl

From the artists’ statement:

How can we forget the scent of dolls? … They talk, laugh, dance and joke … like children. Because that’s what they are.
Children we ask too much of, to be perfect, like dolls.
Children who have become sons and daughters of perfection, pretence and image, manipulated by the media and the social context and who are inevitably losing their naturalness.
An exhibit which becomes a starting point for reflection, sociological research and introspection, to better understand ourselves and the world around us. And to understand that the best present we can give to children is to let them be children.

“I hope I die before I get old”

There was an interesting piece in Newsweek recently on the use of cosmetics and other beauty enhancements by children.

[T]his, my friends, is the new normal: a generation that primps and dyes and pulls and shapes, younger and with more vigor. Girls today are salon vets before they enter elementary school. Forget having mom trim your bangs, fourth graders are in the market for lush $50 haircuts; by the time they hit high school, $150 highlights are standard. Five-year-olds have spa days and pedicure parties. And instead of shaving their legs the old-fashioned way–with a 99-cent drugstore razor–teens get laser hair removal, the most common cosmetic procedure of that age group.
[B]y the time your 10-year-old is 50, she’ll have spent nearly $300,000 on just her hair and face. It’s not that women haven’t always been slaves to their appearance …. But today’s girls are getting caught up in the beauty maintenance game at ages when they should be learning how to read–and long before their beauty needs enhancing.

 Toddlers and Tiaras

Two-year-old backstage at Toddlers & Tiaras

Source: flickr

Related posts:
Is it OK to eat and drink during labor?
Babies are individuals: Don’t fret the milestones
Things that make you go “Oooohhhh!” Why we can’t resist babies
Are married people happier? Are parents?
Padded bikini bras for seven-year-olds

Sources:

The Puppet Show by Winkler + Noah
Jessica Bennett, Generation Diva. How our obsession with beauty is changing our kids. Newsweek, March 30, 2009

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Is agriculture bad for your health?

By studying the fossilized bones of long-dead humans, physical anthropologists can determine the course of our species’ evolution. But those fossils, which often include bones deformed by lesions and distinctly unhealthy teeth, also allow anthropologists to speculate on the health and the lifestyles of our distant ancestors.
Individual anthropologists have long speculated that health declined with the invention of agriculture, but that was based on examining remains from isolated locations such as burial sites. A research project called A History of Health in Europe over the Past 10,000 Years has been computerizing a large collection of data from 72 researchers.
Contrary to what we would intuitively expect, fossil evidence confirms the conjecture that human health went into a serious decline with the advent of agriculture. Health continued to decline through the Middle Ages, and it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that it started to improve. By studying these patterns, which are often related to changes in diet, anthropologists hope to apply what they’re learning to the future of human health.

What do fossil remains tell us about the health and daily lives of our ancestors?

Skeletal remains provide a number of clues about human health. Physical trauma and dental health are pretty easy to observe. Variations in height can indicate whether food was adequate for growth during childhood. By analyzing bone specimens, scientists can even determine what people ate. Bones also reveal degenerative joint disease, and some bone changes indicate anemia.
Fossils and other archaeological findings also allow anthropologists to speculate on the number of people living in a settlement as well as the main source of their food and their social and economic status. This provides clues to lifestyle: Were these people rich or poor, urban or rural, and did they engage in farming or hunter-gathering.

Lifestyles of the Dead and Fossilized

Bruegel landscape

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” 1555

Source: Galeria

Pulling together the evidence collected so far, anthropologists observe a marked decline in health about 3000 years ago, at a time when agriculture became widely adopted throughout Europe. (The cultivation of crops was actually “invented” several times and goes back at least 10,000 years.) Evidence includes an increase in skeletal lesions from tuberculosis and leprosy, probably caused by living in close quarters with domesticated livestock and being exposed to the accumulated waste products present in human settlements. When people live close to animals and close to each other, conditions are ideal for contagious diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms. Most ancient cities were periodically devastated by epidemics.

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