Tag Archives: food

Nutritionism and the glycemic index


Let me begin by quoting a paragraph from Gyorgy Scrinis, a lecturer in food and nutrition politics and policy at the University of Melbourne. This is from a chapter called ‘Nutritionism and Functional Foods,’ which he contributed to the book The Philosophy of Food. Scrinis went on to publish an entire book on this subject, Nutritionism: The science & politics of dietary advice.

Just prior to the following paragraph, Scrinis has been discussing the dietary advice, from the 1960s to the 1990s, that it was better to eat margarine than butter. (Added emphasis in this and the following quotations is mine.)

The “mistake” of inadvertently promoting transfat-laden margarine is one of several mistakes, revisions, and backflips in scientific knowledge and dietary advice over the past century. Other cases include advice regarding dietary cholesterol, eggs, low-fat diets, and vitamin B. Yet these revisions do not seem to have tempered the sustained and confident discourse of precision and control that continues to pervade nutrition science, nor the willingness to translate limited and partial scientific insights into definitive population-wide dietary advice. I refer to this nutritional hubris as the myth of nutritional precision, as it involves an exaggerated representation of scientists’ understanding of the relationship between nutrients, foods, and the body and a failure to acknowledge the limits of the nutrient-level perspective. At the same time, the disagreements and uncertainties that exist within the scientific community with respect to particular nutritional theories tend to be concealed from, or misrepresented to, the lay public.

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Social history of medicine — August 2014

history-of veterinary-medicine

The August issue of Social History of Medicine contains eight original articles:

  • Late 19th/early 20th century food adulteration in an increasingly industrialized and globalized world and the search for safety standards
  • The shift in cancer education in the 1950s, no longer downplaying post-operative recovery
  • The 20th century shift in British veterinary medicine towards small animals (dogs, cats), as the need to attend to horses declined (open access)
  • How complaints about the quality of London drinking water in the 18th century reflected the new popularity of bathing for health and social attitudes towards bathers from the lower classes
  • A re-evaluation of the prevalence of venereal disease at the time of the World War I (open access)
  • How quacks preyed on people with hearing loss in mid-19th century Britain
  • How the 1975 TV play, ‘Through the Night,’ portraying what it was like to experience breast cancer treatment, registered with medical professionals and activists who complained of ‘the machinery of authoritarian care’ (open access)
  • Did Axel Holst and Theodor Frølich actually develop an animal model of experimental research?

There are also a large number of book reviews, including:

  • Writing History in the Age of Biomedicine by Roger Cooter with Claudia Stein
  • Emotions and Health, 1200–1700 by Elena Carrera (ed.)
  • The Age of Stress: Science and the Search for Stability by Mark Jackson
  • Before Bioethics: A History of American Medical Ethics from the Colonial Period to the Bioethics Revolution by Robert Baker

Read more


Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences – July 2014


In the July issue of Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences:

  • A comparison of 19th century public health measures and the contemporary approach to the AIDS pandemic
  • The conflict between the medical profession and religion in their attempts to portray habitual drunkenness
  • The understanding of dementia paralytica in the Netherlands at a time when psychiatry was attempting to establish itself as a medical profession
  • Adelle Davis’ role in creating the ideology of nutritionism.

There’s also a commentary on the Adelle Davis article, an ‘In Memoriam’ for Sherwin B. Nuland, and reviews of ten books (of which I’ve featured here only two).

Thanks to h-madness (a great blog) for bringing my attention to this new issue. Somatosphere (a most excellent blog — highly recommended) often covers this journal, but I haven’t yet seen the July issue there, so I’ll go ahead and post these abstracts. Note that all articles (other than their abstracts/extracts) are behind a paywall. (emphasis added in what follows) Read more


When healthy eating becomes unhealthy

healthy-eating-orthorexiaMeghan O’Rourke, poet and author (Halflife: Poems, Once: Poems, The Long Goodbye: A Year of Grieving), has written a wonderful piece for The New Yorker on living with a chronic illness. It’s called What’s Wrong with Me? I had an autoimmune disease. Then the disease had me.

For years O’Rourke experienced symptoms that she tried to attribute to her latest source of stress. Doctors were unable to offer a diagnosis, a situation that tends to suggest the suspicion that the symptoms may be all in your head.

She writes: “I was ill for a long time — at least half a dozen years – before any doctor I saw believed I had a disease.” Eventually, after she received a label for her symptoms (autoimmune thyroiditis or Hashimoto’s disease), she connected to the online community of chronic disease sufferers. There she found not only a great many individuals with similarly frustrating histories, but an abundance of home-grown advice for the relief of symptoms.

A more or less definitive diagnosis for a disease that is only vaguely understood may at least confer some legitimacy on one’s status as a patient (for an historical perspective on diseases that do not fall neatly into diagnostic categories, see Robert Aronowitz, Making Sense of Illness .) The individuals who suffer, however, are still very much on their own when it comes to recovery and the alleviation of symptoms. Thus the home-grown advice.

Orthorexia and healthism

What I’d like to focus on in this post is one small part of O’Rourke’s narrative: her attempts to alleviate her symptoms through a growing obsession with the selection and control of the food she ate. It’s not difficult to find media stories and blog posts that put a positive spin on (what amounts to) an excessive preoccupation with healthy eating. It’s rare, however, to find an experiential account that recognizes the obsessive pursuit of health as itself unhealthy.

A classic discussion of the latter is Steven Bratman’s Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa – the Health Food Eating Disorder. In O’Rourke’s case, of course, she was not simply eating to be healthy. She was seeking relief from very real and disturbing symptoms. That’s not quite the same thing as orthorexia, although both provide the health food consumer with an opportunity for reflection. Read more


Carbs are the new no-no

CarbohydratesWhat we’re hearing these days about carbohydrates – that we should blame them for the increase in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease – makes sense, but why did it take so long for this wisdom to prevail?

Part of the answer is political. The US Department of Agriculture has a big influence on what Americans eat. But where were the scientists? Unfortunately, much scientific research is funded by the government. If you want your grant renewed, you don’t threaten to bite the hand that feeds you.

So fat wasn’t the problem after all

The new wisdom about carbs is discussed in an LA Times story, “A reversal on carbs.” I was pleased to see clear acknowledgment that the advice to reduce fats in our diet resulted in increased carbohydrate consumption.

[T]he nation’s levels of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease have risen. “The country’s big low-fat message backfired,” says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. “The overemphasis on reducing fat caused the consumption of carbohydrates and sugar in our diets to soar. That shift may be linked to the biggest health problems in America today.”

The chairman of Hu’s department says: “The good news … is that based on what we know, almost everyone can avoid Type 2 diabetes. Avoiding unhealthy carbohydrates is an important part of that solution.”

Unfortunately, while we were loading up on carbs, neuroscience discovered that they’re addictive. Avoiding them is not that easy, especially when they’re ubiquitous and cheap. Read more


What we used to eat

FishingThe subtitle of Paul Greenberg’s wonderful book, Four Fish, is “The Future of the Last Wild Food.” In discussing the history and future of salmon, tuna, bass, and cod, the author also remarks on other wild foods our ancestors used to eat.

How did early humans choose the animals they were going to tame and eat? An examination of middens [a collection of waste products – like a garbage dump — that provides archaeologists with clues to everyday life] at Neolithic European dwellings reveals that humans used to eat from a fairly wide buffet of wild game. In varying amounts, the meats they consumed consisted of red deer, boar, cow, roe deer, horse, goat, antelope, elk, chamois, bison, reindeer, fox, badger, cat, marten, bear, wolf, dog, otter, lynx, weasel, mouse, rat, rabbit, beaver, and marmot.

That’s quite a variety.

This diet didn’t last, however. “By the time of Christ, we were down to four basic kinds of mammals in our fire pits: sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle.”

Greenberg goes on to list the variety of birds humans once consumed.

When it came to birds, there was a similarly broad choice available. Pigeon, snipe, woodcock, pheasant, grouse, dozens of different ducks, grebe, various wading birds, and many more.

What birds do we eat today? Chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese. Read more


Soft drinks and food stamps: From bad to worse

Pre-sweetened Kool-Aid

When it comes to legislation that controls the health of its residents, New York leads the pack.

  • In 2006 the New York City Board of Health passed a law that required certain restaurants to list calories on their menus.
  • In 2008 Governor Paterson proposed a tax on drinks that contain sugar: the soda tax.
  • This past January Mayor Bloomberg announced a national campaign to persuade food manufacturers and restaurant chains to reduce the salt in their products. (It has to be a national campaign to be financially viable for manufacturers.)
  • In March a Brooklyn assemblyman proposed a bill that would make it illegal for restaurants to use salt when they prepare food.
  • And now Mayor Bloomberg has proposed a law that would prevent the purchase of soft drinks with food stamps.

The salt issue is controversial, and not the main point I want to address here. I do recommend, however, an excellent article by Gary Taubes called “The (Political) Science of Salt,” in which he says: Read more


Lobbying against formula for babies

Baby drinking from bottleHere’s one small example of what lobbyists can accomplish in Washington.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides formula and food to low-income mothers of small children. Unlike food stamps, WIC is not an entitement. Congress grants WIC a finite amount of money. When that money runs out, the cupboard is bare.

Formula makers are increasingly adding “functional ingredients” – omega-3s, antioxidants, probiotics – to their products. This allows them to charge more. For WIC, that increased cost means formula will cost almost $100 million more.

The budget for WIC is already inadequate. In the past, there’s only been enough money for about half the number of eligible mothers and children. If the cost of infant formula increases, that budget will buy even less, which means even fewer mothers can participate.

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Century-old kerfuffle over the “syrup” in corn syrup

Pecan pie without corn syrupI see that the Corn Refiners Association is petitioning the FDA to change the name of their ingredient – as it appears on food labels — from corn “syrup” to corn “sugar.” There’s an amusing footnote to this story. A hundred years ago, Karo Corn Syrup – a product still on the market – was fighting to be listed as “syrup,” not glucose (a simple sugar), on its label.

To appreciate this story, I first need to explain a few things.

• Fructose is the sugar in fruits. Glucose is the sugar in corn, sugar beets, sugar cane, rice, and many other sources of starch. Dextrose is simply another name for naturally occurring glucose . (There’s another type of glucose that can be synthesized.)

• Corn syrup is what you get when you process corn with water. 100 years ago, the process involved hydrochloric acid, heat, and pressure. Today manufacturers use enzymes to break down the corn starch so it’s soluble. Corn syrup is glucose.

• High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is not the same as corn syrup. It’s produced by adding yet another enzyme to corn syrup, which changes most of the glucose to fructose. Manufacturers produce HFCS with different ratios of fructose to glucose. For example, 55 percent fructose and 42 percent glucose, which is about the same as the ratio in honey

• The Pure Food and Drug Act was passed in 1906. The skirmish in 1910 over Karo Corn Syrup’s label was an early example of the federal government’s regulation of food labels. Read more


Links of interest: Organic food

Organic vegetable gardenOrganic Foods Slideshow: To Buy or Not to Buy Organic (WebMD)

A slide show with advice on when to buy organic and when it’s OK to use conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Peaches, apples, peppers, strawberries, pears, grapes, broccoli, and more..

Organic: What it means on different products (Los Angeles Times)

Is the extra dollar worth it? Organic and conventional food may have similar nutritional value, but then there’s the environment to consider. “What we do to our environment, we are also doing to ourselves.” A good discussion of pesticides, dairy and meat, cosmetics and personal care products, processed food, cotton and coffee. Very informative.

Benefits of organic food questioned yet again (GMO Pundit)

Evidence from human studies suggests that children who consume organic fruits and vegetables and adults who consume organic cereal may significantly reduce their pesticide exposure compared with groups consuming conventional diets, although the levels of pesticide exposures in both groups is within accepted safety standards. There is no evidence of any other benefits of consuming organic food based on human dietary studies. Finally, although rates of bacterial contamination did not differ significantly between organic and conventionally grown meats, eggs, and milk, the antibiotic resistance of bacteria cultured from conventional meats, eggs, and milk was significantly greater than for organic products.

Is Organic Food Marketing Hype? (Newsweek)

Six experts disagree. “In eight countries which have looked at this issue, in every case they have concluded there is no health benefit of eating organic food compared with conventional food.” On the other hand: “Organic animals eat a diet free of excrement … [and] organic is free of antibiotics.”

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Obesity: Moving beyond willpower vs. the food-industrial complex

the Biggest Loser

Source: The Pilver

Marc Ambinder has written a terrific article on obesity for The Atlantic. It’s comprehensive and insightful, both objective and personal. Ambinder himself suffered from obesity until a year ago, when he went from 235 to 150 pounds following bariatric surgery. The operation immediately improved his severe diabetes, and within months it relieved years of suffering from sleep apnea.
The article includes explanations for the recent increase in obesity, observations on contempt for the obese (including “fat porn” TV shows), acknowledgement that weight loss is not simply a matter of will power, and an assessment of the political obstacles that make solving this important problem so difficult.

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Where were the melamine whistle blowers?

When Texas nurse Anne Mitchell accused a doctor of unethical conduct, she had no idea how much trouble was in store. First of all, her complaint was anonymous, and second, she believed she was doing the right thing. When she was accused of harassment and faced a ten-year prison term, her reaction, according to the New York Times, was: “It was surreal. … I said how can this be? You can’t go to prison for doing the right thing.”

The relationship between nurses – a predominantly female occupation – and doctors – still dominated by males in the more highly paid specialties – has not always been an easy one. Nurses have less power, not to mention fewer financial resources, which makes it less safe to blow the whistle.

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Whistle blowing: Nurse Anne Mitchell vs. Dr. Arafiles

Nurse Anne Mitchell

Source: TriCity Herald

It takes courage to blow the whistle on a fellow employee. The workplace is a social community. When we stand up and accuse someone of wrongdoing, we alienate ourselves from that community. The whistle blower, of course, also faces very concrete fears: job and income loss, the threat of retaliatory prosecution, and the expense of defending oneself against such retaliation.

In a recent case in Texas, a nurse, Anne Mitchell, was prosecuted after she submitted a complaint about the unethical conduct of a doctor at her hospital. The doctor claimed that Ms. Mitchell and a fellow nurse, Vickilyn Galle, were harassing him. The nurses’ complaint was submitted anonymously, but authorities searched Ms. Mitchell’s computer and found a copy of the letter. The two nurses, who had worked at the hospital for a total of 47 years, were fired last June and faced up to ten years in prison. The New York Times quotes Ms. Galle:

“It has derailed our careers, and we’re probably not going to be able to get them back on track again. … We’re just in disbelief that you could be arrested for doing something you had been told your whole career was an obligation.”

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The persistence of melamine

dali-the-persistence-of-memoryFollowing the 2008 discovery in China of melamine-laced milk – an event that left six babies dead, 300,000 sickened, and over 50,000 hospitalized — the Chinese government ordered all contaminated products to be burned or buried. The government was not directly involved in the destruction, however. That was left to those who had produced and distributed the tainted products.

Much of the contaminated milk was simply repackaged and shipped from the south (Guangdong province) to the northeastern part of the country. The government is aware of 170 tons of tainted milk powder, which were recalled earlier this week. The government also knows of another 100 tons that can’t be located. Melamine-tainted candy is still being sold to children.

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Melamine, cadmium, and Heidi Montag

Melamine in milk 2010

Source: Reuters

Melamine in milk is in the news again. Is this totally inexcusable or what?
Products from three Chinese companies were removed from shelves in southern China after they tested positive for melamine. Products included not just milk, but candy that used milk as an ingredient. Two of the companies had been cited in the last melamine scandal of 2008. That event was responsible for the deaths of six children and illness for 300,000 others.
It appears that milk contaminated with melamine in 2008 was not destroyed and was subsequently repackaged and sold. According to Reuters, “[H]ealth officials have continued to crack down on distributors who sell melamine-tainted milk to stores, but some distributors, wrongly assuming that the government has scaled back its crackdown, continue to sell it.”

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Daily Dose: Celebrity health; Livestock antibiotics; Transplants

The body as machine

Female robot companion

Source: The Daily Mail

Inventor spends Christmas with his perfect woman – a £30,000 custom-made fembot (The Daily Mail)
“Inventor Le Trung spent Christmas Day with the most important woman in his life – his robot Aiko. … Her touch sensitive body knows the difference between being stroked gently or tickled. … ‘Aiko is always helpful and never complains. She is the perfect woman to have around at Christmas.’ ”

Celebrity health advice

Celebrity markerting of pharmaceuticals

Source: PLoS Medicine

Are celebrities crossing the line on medical advice? (USA Today)
“Many doctors say they’re troubled by stars who cross the line from sharing their stories to championing questionable or even dangerous medical advice. … Actress Suzanne Somers– already well-known for her diet books and ThighMaster products — in October released her 18th book, Knockout, which experts describe as a catalogue of unproven or long-debunked alternative cancer ‘cures.’ … [Celebrities] ‘can spread misinformation much faster than the average person with a wacky theory. … Correcting that misinformation — even with a mountain of evidence — can be a challenge. … ‘It’s much easier to scare people than to unscare them.’ ”

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Daily Dose: Palliative sedation; E. coli in tenderized meat

There’s a long article in Sunday’s New York Times on palliative sedation. I’ve also listed some older stories on the subject and an educational site.

Aging, end-of-life, and death

David The death of marat

Source: The Why Files

Hard Choice for a Comfortable Death: Sedation, (The New York Times)
“Among those [end-of-life] choices is terminal sedation, a treatment that is already widely used, even as it vexes families and a profession whose paramount rule is to do no harm. Doctors who perform it say it is based on carefully thought-out ethical principles in which the goal is never to end someone’s life, but only to make the patient more comfortable.”

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Sin taxes: Financing health care with soda pop

Obamaon cover of Men's Health

Sourch: On the dash

Sugary soft drinks are under attack from obesity experts, health commissioners, nutritionists, Congress, and President Obama. And the soft drink industry is fighting back.
Health experts have proposed a tax on soft drinks of one cent per ounce. That’s an extra 12 cents on a 12-ounce bottle of Pepsi, which may not sound like much, but it adds up. If a two-liter (67.6 ounces) bottle of Coke sells for $1.35, the price would go up 50 percent.
Health experts claim the tax could cut consumption by 10 percent and, they hope, reduce obesity. Even if the tax had no impact on weight gain, there’s the appeal of generating $15 billion a year in revenues.
Congress likes the idea of a tax on soft drinks because they could use the money to finance health care. The Congressional Budget Office did an estimate last December on a less drastic federal excise tax — three cents for every 12 ounces — and came up with a projected income of $50 billion over ten years. Currently there’s no amendment taxing soft drinks in either the House or Senate versions of the health care reform bill. But that battle isn’t over yet.

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After health care reform, will Big Insurance be the enemy of Big Food?

Fast food

Source: eHow

Michael Pollan has a great editorial in today’s New York Times on Big Insurance and Big Food. Could health care reform motivate the insurance industry to lobby for healthier food? The argument goes like this.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three-quarters of health care dollars are spent on preventable chronic diseases. Smoking is an obvious culprit, but many (if not most) chronic diseases – diabetes, heart disease, cancer – have a connection to poor diet. We eat too few fruits and vegetables and too much sugar, salt, refined carbohydrates, and saturated fat.

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You want salt with that Moons Over My Hammy?

You already know Denny’s doesn’t exactly serve health food, so is it worth getting worked up over how much salt is in a typical Denny’s meal? The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) thinks so. They’ve initiated a lawsuit against Denny’s over the salt content of their meals.
Salt is 40% sodium, and it’s the sodium you want to limit in your diet, especially if you have high blood pressure. The recommended amount of sodium in the daily diet of a normal, healthy person is 2,300 mg. People with high blood pressure are advised to limit their sodium to 1,500 mg. The lawsuit claims that 75% of Denny’s meals contain more than 1,500 mg and that this puts the health of unsuspecting diners in jeopardy.
Not only is there too much salt at Denny’s, but it’s almost impossible to find out how much you’re eating. Some information is online, and if you’re very persistent, you may be able to get one of Denny’s little pamphlets with nutritional facts. According to the lawsuit (PDF), however, “the nutrition information available from Denny’s is so incomprehensible that calculation of each meal’s sodium content is impossible for the reasonable consumer to perform.”

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Health Culture Daily Dose #15

In today’s Dose:

Health care reform
(A public option plan emerges from HELP committee; Arguments for the public option from the Urban Institute; Obama stands Harry & Louise on their heads)

Health news
(Should Steve Jobs use his celebrity status for pancreatic cancer awareness and funding?)

Industrialized agriculture
(Labeling organic food: What can you believe?; Food, Inc. available in more theaters)

Health care reform

  • The latest health care reform proposal to emerge from the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) committee includes a public option. The plan is called the Community Health Insurance Option (CHIO). Here’s a one-page summary (PDF) of details from the website of Senator Chris Dodd.

The CHIO would be administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. It would follow the same rules that apply to private, for-profit insurance companies. Rates would be no more than local average private rates, but could be less. Doctor and other health care provider participation is optional. Physicians had been concerned that they would be required to participate. Now that this is clear, we’ll soon see if the medical profession gets behind this plan.

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Health Culture Daily Dose #11

In today’s Dose:

Health care reform
(Insurance industry practices; Maggie Mahar on insurance; Analysis of the public option’s status)

Health news
Mid-life migraines update)

The Medical profession
More on Dr. Arash Hejazi)

Foodborne illness

Health care reform

On the practice of rescission – cancelling insurance coverage if a policy holder has omitted a minor illness when applying for coverage – Klein comments:

And don’t be fooled: rescission is important to the business model. Last week, at a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, Rep. Bart Stupak, the committee chairman, asked three insurance industry executives if they would commit to ending rescission except in cases of intentional fraud. “No,” they each said.

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Health Culture Daily Dose #10

In today’s Dose:

The Medical profession
(Doctor’s firsthand account of the death of Neda Soltan)

Obesity politics
(Mediterranean diet, Weight-loss surgery and cancer)

The medical profession

  • There is an amazing firsthand account of the shooting and death of Neda Soltan, the young Iranian woman who became a focal point for protesters after the video of her death was posted online. It’s by Arash Hejazi, a doctor who happened to be nearby and attempted to assist her when she was shot. He immediately realized that she had been shot in the heart and that there was nothing he could do to save her.
    With his photo widely publicized, he feared he would not be able to leave the country, but he has returned to his home in Oxford, England. The article appears in The Times of London and is called “Doctor tells how Neda Soltan was shot dead by Ahmadinejad’s basij.”

Obesity politics

  • Research shows that you can lose weight by dieting, but it doesn’t last. You regain the weight and, over time, your weight increases. Dieting is a huge industry, however, so you don’t hear the scientific facts too often. Most people have heard that a pattern of yo-yo dieting — losing and gaining — is unhealthy, but there are so many encouragements to diet that we ignore that information. What gets lost in all the promotion of weight loss is the importance of eating healthy food, not simply losing weight.

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Health Culture Daily Dose #6

In today’s Dose:

Health care reform
(Congressionional Budget Office numbers; Why Maggie Mahar isn’t worried; Kevin MD, Daniel Callahan)

Foodborne illness
(Cookie dough)

Industrialized agriculture
(Food Inc.)

The risk society
(Jodi Picoult novels)

Health care reform

  • A recent Ezra Klein Klein column in the Washington Post discussed the bad news this week from the Congressional Budget Office. Health care reform will cost $1.6 trillion over 10 years, not the $1 trillion the Senate HELP committee was targeting, and that’s with one-third of the uninsured still without coverage.

[H]ealth reform has just gotten harder. The hope that we could expand the current system while holding costs down appears to have been just that: a hope. … The question now becomes whether we want health-care reform that achieves less of what we say the system needs, or more. Doing less would be cruel to those who have laid their hopes upon health reform. But doing more will be very, very hard.

I have always thought that reform would be very hard. I knew that conservatives and lobbyists would fight with every weapon at their disposal–and that they wouldn’t mind distorting the truth, which is what they have done by making a mountain out of CBO’s preliminary mark-up of the Senate’s rough draft. …
The headlines are correct in one sense: reform is not “inevitable.” This is not a Greek Drama where the final Act is written in the stars. As I have said all along, the battle will be fierce, and, in the end it will not be pretty.
Those who have been gouging the system will have to be gored. Imagine a slaughterhouse with gobs of fat and pools of blood on the floor. But the White House understands that the alternative is to pour billions of tax-payer dollars into a $1.6 trillion dollar medical-industrial complex that, too often, provides profits for the industry, but no benefits for patients. This administration is too smart to let that happen.

This is an excellent post, especially if you enjoy getting into the nitty-gritty of the economics and politics of health care reform. I came away from it with a sense that Obama and his White House advisors are on top of this issue and doing a good job. The post is followed by extensive comments.
Maggie Mahar has a first rate mind. I highly recommend her book, Money-Driven Medicine: The Real Reason Health Care Costs So Much and the recent documentary of the book, produced by Alex Gibney (director of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room).

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Health Culture Daily Dose #5

In today’s Dose:

Health care reform
(Health care reform won’t make us healthier)

The medical profession
(Does the AMA represent doctors?; Does the public trust doctors?)

Obesity politics
(The cost of healthy eating)

The doctor/patient relationship
(The effects of malpractice on doctors)

Graphic art
(Anatomically correct shoes)

(Sanjay Gupta)

Health care reform

  • Ezra Klein has an article in The American Prospect called “Wealth-Care Reform: Fixing our health-care system will make us more economically secure. It won’t make us much healthier.”

Health-care reform is, in practice, health-care-system-spending reform. Politicians promise that their plans will “bend the curve” and pursue “universal coverage.” They do not promise the plans will make everyone healthier, reduce infant mortality, or set targets for life expectancy. The health of the nation, as opposed to its ability to pay hospital bills, is hardly under consideration. …
“The irony is that we use health as a rhetorical trope a lot in the health-reform debate. … There’s a big payoff to pointing to health as a beneficial outcome from health reform. There’s not a big political payoff to advocating for enacting specific measures that would improve health.”
“Our agricultural policy is actually counterproductive for health. We subsidize everything that gives you diabetes and nothing that keeps you healthy. Every grain you can think of is subsidized, particularly corn, but are carrots subsidized? No. Is the advertising of carrots subsidized? No.”
“College graduates … can expect to live at least five years longer than Americans who have not completed high school. Poor Americans are more than three times as likely as Americans with upper-middle-class incomes to suffer physical limitations from a chronic illness. Upper-middle-class Americans can expect to live more than six years longer than poor Americans. People with middle incomes are less healthy and can expect to live shorter lives than those with higher incomes — even when they are insured.” … Our health is not determined by what happens inside a hospital ward or a doctor’s office. It is determined … by “where people live, learn, work and play.”
The question should not be how much health care we can buy. It should be how much health we can buy. Whether that health comes through a doctor’s office or a preschool is immaterial.

Right on! A great article.

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Health Culture Daily Dose #3

In today’s Dose: Health care reform (Gawande radio interview; Public option) Health news (Bayer and prostate cancer) Obesity politics (Michelle Obama) Social networking technology (Doctors on Twitter and email) Health care reform National Public Radio has an interview with Atul Gawande about his recent New Yorker article. It’s 30 minutes and covers much the same… Read more


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… Read more


What’s wrong with our food?

A 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… Read more


Is agriculture bad for your health?

Source: Dental Anthropology 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… Read more


The Pepsi challenge: How beliefs affect what you taste

Pepsi Challenge Britney SpearsTaste — essential to our survival — is complex. It’s influenced by our past experiences, the associations we make with specific foods, advertising, brand loyalties, cultural and ethnic preferences, and price. If we think of it as totally objective, determined exclusively by our taste buds, we’re underestimating it. This post describes studies that show food preferences are determined more by marketing promotions than by actual taste. Read more