HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Interesting New Study - HOT Tea Drinkers Beware

The LATimes reports on a new study in the British Medical Journal concerning the link between hot tea and cancer (who knew).  According to the study,hot tea (and they mean hot) is not so great for you.  Karen Kaplan writes,

Residents of Golestan province in northern Iran have one of the highest rates of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma in the world. They don't drink alcohol or smoke -- the two primary risk factors for the disease in the West -- but they do consume tea. Lots of it. Nearly 1.2 liters per day, on average. So local researchers set out looking for a connection. . . .

Teaming up with investigators from the U.S., England, France and Sweden, the researchers calculated that people who said they drank "hot" tea (149 to 156 degrees Fahrenheit) were more than twice as likely to develop esophageal cancer as people who said they drank the beverage "warm" or "lukewarm" (less than 140 degrees). Those who said they took their tea "very hot" (at least 158 degrees) were more than eight times as likely to get esophageal cancer, according to the study, published online Thursday in BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal.

The researchers also asked people how long they waited to drink their tea after pouring it. Those who said they waited two to three minutes were nearly 2.5 times more likely to develop the cancer compared with people who said they waited at least four minutes. Impatient tea drinkers who waited less than two minutes were 5.4 times as likely to be diagnosed with esophageal cancer, the study found.

The study didn't assess the mechanism linking hot tea to esophageal cancer, but the researchers said the temperature of the liquid was almost certainly to blame rather than the compounds in the tea itself. . . .

March 31, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Cigarette Tax Increase

The Associated Press provides details on the cigarette tax increase that takes place today.  The AP reports,

Tobacco companies and public health advocates, longtime foes in the nicotine battles, are trying to turn the situation to their advantage. The major cigarette makers raised prices a couple of weeks ago, partly to offset any drop in profits once the per-pack tax climbs from 39 cents to $1.01. Medical groups see a tax increase right in the middle of a recession as a great incentive to help persuade smokers to quit.

Tobacco taxes are soaring to finance a major expansion of health insurance for children. President Barack Obama signed that health initiative soon after taking office.  Other tobacco products, from cigars to pipes and smokeless, will see similarly large tax increases, too. For example, the tax on chewing tobacco will go up from 19.5 cents per pound to 50 cents. The total expected to be raised over the 4 1/2 year-long health insurance expansion is nearly $33 billion. . . .

The tax increase is only the first move in a recharged anti-smoking campaign. Congress also is considering legislation to empower the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco. That could lead to reformulated cigarettes. Obama, who has agonized over his own cigarette habit, said he would sign such a bill. . . .

About one in five adults in the United States smokes cigarettes. That's a gradually dwindling share, though it isn't shrinking fast enough for public health advocates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says cigarette smoking results in an estimated 443,000 premature deaths each year, and costs the economy $193 billion in health care expenses and lost time from work. Smoking is a major contributor to heart disease, cancer and lung disease. . . . .

Philip Morris USA, the largest tobacco company and maker of Marlboro, is forecasting a drop, but spokesman Bill Phelps said he cannot predict how big. Philip Morris raised Marlboro prices by 71 cents a pack early this month, and prices on smaller brands by 81 cents a pack. Other major companies followed suit.  The pricing moves raised eyebrows. "That's nothing more than greed," said Kevin Altman, an industry consultant who advises small tobacco companies. "They weren't required to charge that until April 1. They are just putting that into their pockets."  Responded Phelps: "We raised our prices in direct response to the federal excise tax increase, and people who are upset about that should find out how their member of Congress voted, and contact him or her."

Some policy analysts have questioned the wisdom of boosting tobacco taxes to finance health care for children. They argue that the fate of such a broad program should not depend on revenues derived from a minority of the adult population, many of whom have low incomes and are hooked on a habit. The tobacco industry is also warning that the steep increase will lead to tax evasion through old-fashioned smuggling or by Internet purchase from abroad. . . .

March 31, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Frontline: Sick Around America

PBS's Frontline will be airing Sick Around America on March 31, 2009.  I really enjoy most Frontline episodes and have used some excerpts from those relating to health issues in my health law classes  The PBS website generally has useful information on the guests who appear in the program and additional readings that may be of interest. Here is a brief overview:

As the worsening economy leads to massive job losses—potentially increasing the ranks of the tens of millions of Americans without health insurance—FRONTLINE travels the country examining the nation’s broken health care system and exploring the need for a fundamental overhaul. The scale of the problem now facing the Obama administration, FRONTLINE finds, is staggering, as lay-offs, major illness and other unexpected life changes leave more and more Americans uninsured, underinsured or uninsurable. FRONTLINE also goes inside insurance companies to question executives on their policies, programs and priorities and examines the problems in one state’s attempts at health care reform.

March 31, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Splitting the FDA provides information on the recent talk about splitting the FDA into two separate agencies with one focusing on food and another focusing on medical products.  The site reports,

Some drug industry executives think a split FDA might result in faster product approvals because the agency would not "be distracted by high-profile food-safety breakdowns," according to the AP/Chronicle. FDA this year will spend 73 cents on food safety for each dollar that it will spend on medical product regulation, according to the Institute of Medicine. . . .

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) has introduced legislation (HR 875) to move FDA's food safety responsibilities to a separate entity that would have additional responsibilities to order product recalls and increase food inspections. DeLauro said that she supports a newly created federal food safety task force, but added that the task force must not be "merely a cosmetic bureaucratic endeavor" and should "produce definitive recommendations that result in the modernization of our food safety regulatory structure." . .

Peter Pitts, a former FDA associate commissioner for external affairs and co-founder of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, said that President Obama's recent nomination of two public health specialists for the top FDA slots indicates that the president favors splitting up the agency. Pitts said, "[Commissioner-nominee Margaret] Hamburg is a safety and security expert, and it seems pretty clear she would become administrator of the food agency," while "[Deputy Commissioner-nominee] Josh Sharfstein would then slide over" to lead the drug agency. . .

March 30, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Caregivers and Alzheimer's Disease - Talk of the Nation

National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation had an interesting and informative discussion with Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Surgeon General David Satcher concerning new ways to address Alzheimer's disease.  All three serve on a task force that discusses new medicines and new ways to treat Alzheimer's disease and help caregivers. 

March 29, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fun Website

Here is a great website -   

Lots of lectures by great scholars  Keep Learning!

March 28, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Shortage of Primary Care Physicians

On the Daily Beast's website, Dr. Abraham Verghese writes about the problem of a shortage of primary care physicians.

President Obama’s proposal to solve the nation’s health-care woes includes a plan to commit billions of dollars to “digitizing” medical records. Incredibly, there is much more money flagged for that goal than for easing the critical shortage of primary-care physicians. That suggests to me thatthere’s a voice not being heard in this debate. It’s not the voice of Medicare or insurance companies or organized medicine--it’s the patient’s voice.If health-care reform puts billions of dollars into programs that add more computer screens and create more iPatients, but does nothing for the true care of the patient, things will only get worse.

The patient’s voice, alas, is difficult to hear even in our hospitals, because the patient in the bed is overshadowed by machines and activity; the anxious soul under the covers has become a mere icon for the “real” patient in the computer. Indeed, the “iPatient” (my term for this virtual patient entity) has never been better cared for: buffed up and polished, with pop-up flags telling physicians when to feed and bleed and send postcards to bring them back to the office. And if health-care reform puts billions of dollars into programs that add more computer screens and create more iPatients, but does nothing for the true care of the patient, things will only get worse.

Real patients will tell you they want real, live physicians. Most diagnoses can be found in the patient’s history, in the story the patient has to tell. But you can’t hear it if you aren’t listening, and you can’t listen if you’re staring at the computer screen. You have to be with the patient to hear their story; the telling is important. Real patients want someone whose examining skills, when combined with common sense and sound judgment, can spare us the costly, blind, shotgun, ‘tick-all-the-boxes” kind of testing and imaging that has come to be the American brand of medicine. We want a doctor who orders tests judiciously, who calls in specialists sparingly, and who rides herd on them and weighs and translates what they say. What we want, in other words, is a primary-care physician.

A bank collapse, an auto-industry collapse, hurts the pocketbook and is easily measured. But the dwindling numbers of primary-care physicians is just as devastating and will cost us even more in the health of our nation. That‘s the crisis we are facing. Instead of pouring money into “digitizing the medical records,” we need to rescue primary care. . . .

March 27, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Cost-Shifting: New Report

The Center for American Progress details the cost of the uninsured in a new report.  The report details the $1100 cost-shifting from the uninsured to the insured under our current health care system.  The report by Ben Furnas and Peter Harbage provides,

America’s patchy health care system is leaving millions of people without continuous,
affordable, and effective health insurance, and we’re all paying the price.

The Center for American Progress has updated a 2005 analysis by Kenneth Thorpe
for Families USA and found that, on average, 8 percent of families’ 2009 health care
premiums—approximately $1,100 a year—is due to our broken system that fails to
cover the uninsured.

The best way to address this burden on health insurance is to create a more efficient system
that offers continuous, quality coverage for all. We can’t afford our broken system any more. . .

Approximately 87 million people—one in three Americans—went without health insurance
for some period during 2007 and 2008,1 while rising unemployment and job losses
caused an estimated 14,000 people to lose their health insurance every day in December
2008 and January 2009 alone.2

Some mistakenly believe that the plight of the uninsured, and America’s failure to provide
continuous quality health insurance for everyone, only affects those who are unable to find
health insurance. But this is wrong.

The uninsured pay more for care—and get less—than those with insurance. But when the
uninsured cannot pay, health care providers shift those costs to those who can pay—those
who have insurance coverage. 3 This leads to higher premiums for those who buy their
insurance on the individual market, as well as workers who get insurance for themselves
and their families through their job.

March 27, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Suicide Gene?

THe Daily Beast website has a brief story about the possibility of a suicide gene.  Casey Schwartz writes,

The news on Monday that Sylvia Plath’s son, Nicholas Hughes, had killed himself, reopened a macabre chapter of literary history. Obituaries revealed spare and suggestive details. Hughes, the son of the poet Ted Hughes, lived in Alaska and worked as a biologist, studying the travel patterns of fish. Recently, however, he had left his job to focus on pottery making. Hughes was still an infant when his mother committed suicide in 1963 by putting her head in a gas oven; he was seven when his father’s second wife, Assia Wevill, killed herself (and her four-year-old daughter) by exactly the same means. And 40 years later, on March 16, 2009, Hughes took his own life, hanging himself in his Alaska home . . . .

There is more than just anecdotal evidence behind the claim that the suicide of one family member increases the chance that other family members will attempt suicide, or successfully carry it out. A study in the Archives of General Psychiatry published in 2002 found that children whose parents had attempted suicide were six times as likely to try taking their own lives. Twin and adoption studies have revealed that a disposition toward suicidal behavior is partially heritable. Researchers have scrutinized the phenomenon, struggling to untangle the psychological factors from the genetic. . . .

“We grow up and we learn how to be by either imitating or negating our parents,” says Dr. T. Byram Karasu, university chairman and professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University. “So if you identify with one parent who happened to be suicidal, you may end up having suicidal ideation even though you’re not depressed. It becomes like a norm.” . . .

Within this thicket of factors, researchers are searching for genetic clues. The idea that a handful of genes could ever be confidently singled out in explaining the act of suicide—in all of its complexities and variations—is deeply improbable. But a group of researchers led by Columbia University psychiatrist John Mann published a study earlier this year that directly grapples with the issue. The researchers attempted to break down suicidal behavior into individual characteristics that can be more closely identified with specific genes. Their approach focused on what is known in the genetics world as “endophenotypes"—heritable traits that are associated with both the gene and the illness, but not synonymous with either—and which include impulsivity, major depressive disorder, and natural stress hormone response.

There is no one reason for why someone would choose to end their own life, but the suicide of any public figure seems to ignite a reflexive need to speculate. In the case of Nicholas Hughes, it might seem self-evident to point to the tragic luster of his family. But for now, the explanation eludes us.

March 26, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Waiving Your Right to Review

Yesterday's Talk of the Nation has a panel discussion concerning reviews of doctor performance appearing on websites and some doctors who are asking patients to sign waivers that they will not post items on websites without approval.  The brief write-up is below and the podcast is here

You can find Web reviews of just about anything these days, and some sites are making it easy to find and broadcast and opinions and complaints about doctors — offering no recourse if a doctor is unfairly maligned. Some physicians are asking patients to sign a legal document waiving their right to post an unauthorized online review. Dr. Jeffrey Segal, CEO and founder of Medical Justice, talks about leading the organization that is behind the waiver.

March 25, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

FDA Must Reconsider Plan B Rules For Young Women

The Washington Post has a good story on the federal district court decision on the morning-after pill and the FDA's decision in 2006 to refuse to permit young women below the age of 18 access to it.  Rob Stein writes,

A federal judge ordered the Food and Drug Administration yesterday to reconsider its 2006 decision to deny girls younger than 18 access to the morning-after pill Plan B without a prescription. U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman in New York instructed the agency to make Plan B available to 17-year-olds within 30 days and to review whether to make the emergency contraceptive available to all ages without a doctor's order.

In his 52-page decision, Korman repeatedly criticized the FDA's handling of the issue, agreeing with allegations in a lawsuit that the decision was "arbitrary and capricious" and influenced by "political and ideological" considerations imposed by the Bush administration."These political considerations, delays and implausible justifications for decision-making are not the only evidence of a lack of good faith and reasoned agency decision-making," he wrote. "Indeed, the record is clear that the FDA's course of conduct regarding Plan B departed in significant ways from the agency's normal procedures regarding similar applications to switch a drug from prescription to non-prescription use."  FDA lawyers are reviewing the decision, said Rita Chappelle, an agency spokeswoman, who declined to comment further.

Critics of the FDA's decision hailed the ruling. "We're very excited," said Suzanne Novak, a senior staff lawyer for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the lawsuit. "The message is clear: The FDA has to put science first and leave politics at the door."

Opponents of Plan B condemned the judge's order. "This ruling puts politics above women's health, and intrudes into parents' ability to protect their minor daughters," said Wendy Wright of the group Concerned Women for America. She also questioned the drug's effectiveness. . . .

In his ruling, Korman detailed repeated interference by "political actors" in the agency's handling of Plan B, including the long delay in approving the drug and the ultimate decision to act only after some senators tried to apply pressure by blocking confirmation of acting FDA commissioners. The agency's justification for its final decision "lacks all credibility," Korman said. . . . 

Susan F. Wood of George Washington University, who resigned from the FDA because of the agency's delays, noted that several officials involved in the decision are either still at the agency or in other key government positions, including Janet Woodcock, who heads the FDA's drug approval office, and Steven Galson, now acting surgeon general and assistant secretary of health. But Wood and others said they are confident that the new leadership at the agency will make Plan B widely available after reviewing the case.

"I think FDA is now in a position where it can make a fair decision because of the change in leadership and the commitment by everyone involved to make science-based decisions," Wood said. "This is a chance for the agency to demonstrate it is back on track."

President Obama recently announced plans to name former New York City health commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg as FDA commissioner and Baltimore Health Commissioner Joshua M. Sharfstein as her deputy. He also issued an order he said was designed to insulate scientific decisions throughout the government from political influence. . . .

March 25, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Swedish Medical Students and Criminals too

The New York Times has an interesting article on some recent difficulties Swedish medical schools have had with criminals applying and being accepted at their schools.  Dr. Lawrence Altman writes,

In contrast with the United States, Swedish laws and customs are sympathetic to released offenders, saying that once they have served their time they should be treated like ordinary citizens. But the cases raise questions about protecting the rights of patients and fellow medical students and health care workers.

Entry to Swedish medical schools is highly competitive. At Uppsala, for example, a spokeswoman said there were 2,603 applicants for the spring semester and just 100 admissions. They include Mr. Svensson, who is taking up a taxpayer-financed slot that could have gone to another student.

Indeed, the Uppsala County Council, which runs all government health facilities in the area, says it will not allow Mr. Svensson to do any clinical work, which is a critical and mandatory part of medical school training. That raises questions about how he will complete a degree even if he does attend classes.

Mr. Svensson, who has not responded to numerous attempts to reach him over the last year, was convicted in the 1999 hate murder of a trade union worker and was paroled after serving 6 ½ years of an 11-year sentence — a typical penalty for murder in Sweden. He entered Karolinska in fall 2007 while still on probation; he had earned credits for medical school while in prison. . . .

The disclosures about his past proved deeply embarrassing to the institute. Among other things, two senior faculty members on the admissions committee that interviewed him failed to ask for an explanation of the six-and-a-half-year gap in his résumé, the period he was in prison.

Swedish universities are legally prohibited from conducting background checks on applicants. To complicate matters, Mr. Svensson legally changed his surname from Hellekant after his conviction.

In the United States, the chances of a convicted criminal’s being admitted to medical school were reduced in 2002, when the Association of American Medical Colleges’ standard application form began requiring answers to questions about felony convictions. In 2008, questions were also added about military discharge history and misdemeanor convictions. . . .

The Swedish medical licensing agency said that it would not allow Mr. Svensson to practice even if he earned his medical degree. But because the agency’s jurisdiction excludes universities, questions arose about whether and how medical school officials should inform patients examined by Mr. Svensson about his criminal past, and what the patients’ responses would be. . . .

Last year, Karolinska officials, acting in part on a committee’s recommendation, exhorted the Swedish parliament to enact legislation to allow medical schools a freer hand in admitting and dismissing students in cases where they would have patient contact.  But little has happened.  . . .

March 24, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Time for Health Reform

Today's Diane Rehm Show discusses the Obama Administration health reform effort and whether this is the time to initiate such major changes.  Here is the lineup:

10:00   The Politics of Health Care Reform

Some argue health care is central to any meaningful economic recovery in this country. How the current economic downturn and massive budget deficit projections are affecting political resolve for healthcare reform.


Laura Meckler, is a reporter for "The Wall Street Journal." She covers the White House with a focus on domestic policy and health care.

Joseph Antos, is Wilson H. Taylor Scholar in Health Care and Retirement Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

Ron Pollack, is Executive Director of Families USA, a national non-profit organization for health care consumers.

March 24, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Drug Reps No Longer Quite So Popular reports on the changing relationship between doctors and representatives from pharmaceutical companies.  Kevin O'Reilly writes,

Pharmaceutical companies -- battered by a sluggish drug pipeline, the looming loss of blockbuster patented drugs, an economy in recession and scrutiny of their relationships with physicians -- are re-examining the value of sending drug reps into doctors' offices. Detailers are struggling to grab a shrinking slice of physicians' valuable time and attention while adjusting to new drug industry rules banning freebies such as pens and notepads. . . .

The time squeeze and the new drug industry rules are "changing the landscape quite dramatically," Nalen said. Another troubling sign for drugmakers: More than a third of medical schools require drug reps to have appointments before seeing physicians or residents, according to the American Medical Student Assn.'s 2008 PharmFree Scorecard. The Assn. of American Medical Colleges recommended the by-appointment-only policy in May 2008. . . .

About one in four physicians works in a practice that refuses to see drug reps. Of doctors who do see reps, about 40% will meet with detailers only with scheduled appointments. The by-appointment-only figure jumped 23% during the last six months of 2008, according to a survey of more than 227,000 medical practices representing 640,000 physicians that was released in February.

The survey, conducted by the doctor-profiling firm SK&A Information Services Inc., did not seek to determine why some physicians are giving drug reps the cold shoulder. But physicians and pharmaceutical industry consultants say doctors have felt besieged by the number of reps visiting their offices and taking up precious time in an era of declining payment. . . .

Here is the chart attached to the article showing the different ways that physicians deal with various drug representatives.

to see
Practice size
1 to 2 doctors14.3%32.5%
3 to 516.7%36.1%
6 to 1023.1%45.0%
More than 1044.0%45.5%
Practice ownership
Non-health system22.3%37.5%
Health system34.7%52.0%

Source: "Physician Access: U.S. Physicians' Availability to See Drug and Device Sales Reps," SK&A Information Services Inc., released February

March 23, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

David Blumenthal and HIT (Health Information Technology)

The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog provides some insight into David Blumenthal, President Obama s choice to be in charge of health information technology.  Sarah Rubenstein writes,

The Obama administration has tapped Harvard’s David Blumenthal to be its guru in charge of rolling out its big expansion of health IT.

As national coordinator of health information technology, Blumenthal will have at his disposal the $19.5 billion dedicated to health IT in the recent economic-stimulus package. He has headed the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital/Partners HealthCare System in Boston.

We took a look at a New England Journal of Medicine article he penned in 2007 with Jonathan Glaser, CIO at Partners HealthCare, called “Information Technology Comes to Medicine.”

The idea of health IT transports some enthusiasts “to almost a dreamlike world of health care perfection in which the work of doctors and the care of patients proceed with barely imaginable quality and efficiency,” they wrote. But for many doctors, especially those in solo or small practices, it “conjures a very different image — that of a waiting room full to bursting, a crashed computer, and a frantic clinician on hold with IT support in Bangalore.” . . .

March 23, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Facebook and Kids

I am sure that many of your students are on facebook - perhaps even during your class.   Apparently students start on facebook at quite young ages and some doctors are considering whether there are some downsides.  Kari Henley at Huffingtonpost writes,

For over 25 million youth, Facebook is replacing email as "the" way to communicate, and parents are often left in the dust and wondering is it safe? What age can kids safely have a Facebook page? Should they insist to be their "Friend" and monitor their endless chatter? . . . .

One day, a call came from the principal informing Jill and her husband, their middle daughter was being given in-school suspension for creating a Facebook group used to make fun of another student. Called something like, "Eric is a Hairy Beast," the group quickly filled with loads of kids making fun of a quiet Armenian boy, uploading cell phone pictures of him and becoming more brazen by the day.

These kids are "A" students, and far from brats; but most are not cognitively developed enough to recognize their behavior is hurtful to others. According to Lisa Ott, the Youth Empowerment Coordinator at the Women and Family Life Center, this is on target with research in adolescent brain development.

Kids get into trouble with sites like Facebook and MySpace because they are too self-centered in their overall development to understand the impact of what they are doing, she said. Middle school age children are the most susceptible to cyber bullying, and high school students most likely to use poor judgment in giving out information.

Dr. Jay Giedd is the chief of brain imaging in the child psychiatry branch at the National Institute of Mental Health, and an expert in adolescent brain development. His research shows the brain is not fully developed at age 12 as was believed, but reaches full maturity in our mid-twenties. Adolescence is a time of profound brain development, surpassing that of toddlers. The area of the pre-frontal cortex develops last, which is in charge of higher reasoning and understanding consequences. The emotional centers of the brain that control happiness, fear, anger and sadness often over-compensate, and can be 50% stronger during adolescence.

I set about interviewing scores of parents with children from elementary to high school, asking their opinions about Facebook and kids. While most felt it was a relatively safe place for kids to connect to each other, many expressed concern over the obsessive nature of these sites. Designed to be "sticky;" a site is deemed successful the longer it entices you to stay on, yet these hours are replacing other activities critical for healthy development.

A child's brain reaches its full size at age six and the gray matter is actually the thickest around age 12. Remember how the world was full of possibilities at that age? Because it truly is. After this stage, the brain begins to prune back gray matter and the phrase "use it or lose it" becomes key as certain brain cells die forever. The skills your child learns during adolescence; like sports, dancing, music or academics become hard wired. Other skills that are not being used will fall away. . . . .

Most kid's today don't have a local bowling alley or soda shop to hang out, like the baby boomer generations had. They also aren't allowed to play outside until the street lights come on as recent generations enjoyed. Hours of skipping rope, climbing trees and building forts is replaced with the tap tapping of tiny keyboards. The cyber playground has replaced the physical one, for better or worse. It is our job as parents to make sure their developing brains know how to do more than move a mouse around a keyboard and encourage more face to face social time. . . .

March 22, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Genetically Modified Foods

CrooksandLiars has an interesting post about the new food safety law, the Food Safety Modernization Act, now pending in Congress and some of its implications for the future of genetically modified foods.  The author notes,

There’s been quite a bit of contention erupt over a bill being proposed in the House, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, HR 875: This bill is purportedly to establish a ‘Food Safety Administration’ within the DHHS to regulate food safety, labelling, and regulating the processing, storing, and transport of food from ‘food establishments’, promote food safety research by academic and State institutions. On the face of it, after the recent poison peanut fiasco, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, does it…?

… Except there’s a few problems, as it is a very rare bill that can ever be accepted ‘on the face of it’. The first problem with this bill was that is was introduced by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D – CT), whose husband, Stanley Greenburg, works for Monsanto. This may not violate any specific legalities (or maybe it does) but this is the kind of ethical conflict of interest that stinks like a three day old dead genetically modified mackerel. That alone has been enough to raise hackles and suspicions, generating accusations that this bill would in effect criminalize seed banking, impose prison sentences and fines on farmers, require GPS tracking of animals, warrantless government entry onto farm easements, and even allegations of a massive police state plot to incorporate farmland into the hands of industrial giants like Monsanto in a planned elimination of independent farmers altogether.. . .

But beyond the accusations that Monsanto is manoeuvring to impose ‘standardized’ agricultural practices that would allow Monsanto and other GM agribusinesses to control and regulate seeds, pesticides and fertilizer that would, in effect, prohibit organic farming and open the way for unregulated GM food production, there is an underlying question:

Why are we so afraid of genetic modification? We on the left all cheered wildly when Obama lifted the Bush ban on embryonic stem cell research, and genetic modification in medicine has already offered thousands of patients genuine hope for treatment and cures for a variety of deadly illnesses. So just what is it about the science of genetically modified food that makes us so wary? Why is one ‘good science’ and the other ‘bad science’?

It isn’t as if humans haven’t been practicing genetic modification for centuries – farm animals themselves are largely the most obvious result of ‘natural’ selection for certain traits. A domestic pig bears as much resemblance to the wild boar it descended from as a Chihuahua resembles a wolf. Is it ethical to breed pigs that put on meat weight so quickly that they must be slaughtered at eighteen months because beyond that age their bones simply aren’t strong enough to support their own weight and they end up crippled? That has nothing to do with scientists artificially slicing DNA in a test tube somewhere – it’s been going on for the past 9,000 years, all quite ‘naturally’.. . .

When I started researching for this post, I contacted Jill Richardson, founder of La Vida Locavore, and author of the upcoming Recipe for America: Why Our Food System is Broken and How We Can Fix It for some background material. Instead of offering a bit of cursory advice, she was kind enough to send me the following detailed and erudite email, which is enough in itself as a post on its own . . .  .

March 21, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Just for Fun: Sheep

S-EXTREME-SHEEP-ART-large From the,

"BaaaStuds," a group of men who seem to have been contracted by Samsung, "took to the hills of Wales armed to the teeth with sheep, LEDs and a camera, to create a huge amazing LED display."

They strapped the LEDs to the sheep and created expansive works of glowing sheep art by speeding up the footage. This approach helped them make a giant sheep out of many tiny sheep and sheep fireworks.  There's some debate over whether or not the video has been faked. . . .  (the video is at the above link and is quite fun).

March 20, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

What You Pay for Food and Your Weight

An article in Science Daily discusses a recent study appearing in the Milbank Quarterly that concluded that prices of food can impact obesity and lends support to those public policy folks who wish to tax or raise the price of various unhealthy foods. 

Raising the prices of less healthy foods (e.g., fast foods and sugary products) and lowering the prices of healthier foods (e.g., fruits and vegetables) are associated with lower body weight and lesser likelihood of obesity. Children and adolescents, the poor, and those already at a higher weight are most responsive to these changes in prices.

Small taxes on unhealthy food items or small subsidies for healthy foods are not likely to produce substantial changes in BMI or obesity prevalence while nontrivial pricing interventions may have a measurable effect on Americans’ weight outcomes.

“This review provides evidence about the potential effectiveness of using food pricing policies to affect weight outcomes, including the potential impact of excise and other taxes on less healthy products and of subsidies for more healthy products,” the authors conclude. . . .

March 20, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Media Consortium on Health Care Topics

Lindsay Beyerstein provides a great review of the recent health topics making the news.  She writes,

Single-payer health insurance was a hot topic for independent media this week. The private health insurance industry has failed to contain costs and cover the majority of Americans. The strain of the employer-funded health insurance system is crippling American competitiveness and leaving consumers unsatisfied. Universal, publicly-funded health insurance would be a better and cheaper alternative, explains Ramón Castellblanch in the Progressive. Castellblanch, an associate professor of health education at California State University, says that single-payer is simply a government-administered insurance program for everyone, not government-administered healthcare.

There’s also broad consensus that fixing the healthcare system must involve more than providing health insurance. Insurance is a tool for spreading risk and sharing cost, but it won’t fix the deeper problems that made healthcare unaffordable in the first place. In Salon, Rahul K. Parikh, M.D. describes the carrots and sticks built into Obama’s plan to motivate doctors to practice evidence-based medicine more efficiently. Evidence-based medicine means treatment supported by the best scientific research. It has been estimated that up to one third of medical treatment is unnecessary and ineffective. Some reformers believe, therefore, that making medicine more evidence-based will improve quality and cut costs . . . .

The whole webpage provides interesting information.

March 19, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)