Sunday, February 27, 2011

51% con't

This piece by the op/ed team at the New York Times says the same thing HealthTwisty did in the recent post 51%.

Keep moving that message on out.


Friday, February 25, 2011


Recently, I had the privilege of hearing a beautiful version of the 23rd Psalm, as arranged by Bobby McFerrin and sung by a talented choir. If you haven't heard it, you're in for a treat.

Don't worry - this post is not about religion. It's actually about religion, politics, AND abortion. I thought I'd do it all at once.

Anyway, back to Bobby McFerrin and his amazing song.

An interesting aspect of his version is that "The Lord" is referred to as "she" throughout the song. Now, we all know that G-d is neither male nor female, but in most religious writings, G-d is referred to as "him." The default to the masculine pronoun is probably due to the fact that most scribes throughout history have been men, and therefore they were more comfortable in assigning maleness to a deity. However, this song, this transcendent song, got me thinking about our new crop of elected officials, and how, even though they are elected to represent all individuals within their jurisdictions, their default seems to be "him." They look at the world through a lens of maleness, and even though they are sons and husbands of women and possibly fathers of daughters, they are crafting laws that are very, very "anti-her." compiled a list of some of the most egregious legislation against women bubbling up locally and nationally.

This list shows the sharpening stick that the Republicans, heady with their midterm victories, are pointing at women. It includes such gems as redefining rape (and thank you, home state of Georgia, for wanting to call victims of rape "accusers." How empathetic!) to draconian cuts to Head Start to the proposal to eliminate all federal funding for Planned Parenthood. What about making it legal to kill a doctor who performs abortions? Yup, South Dakota thinks that might be a good idea. Or a bill  that allows hospitals to let a woman die rather than perform an abortion that could save her life. I admit the MoveOn list is written with sometimes inflammatory language. However, if you look at the supporting documents, and keep clicking through those to the genesis of the summaries, you'll see that that list is accurate.

And frankly, if Jon Stewart is noticing this onslaught against women, it must be real.

For the past few weeks, I've been reading articles and commentary (in addition to that by Jon Stewart) on the Republicans' blitz against women. Some people see a conspiracy - a "keep 'em down and dumb" type of thing to ensure a class of cheap workers and a last-ditch effort to protect the riches of a fading aristocracy. I don't buy into the conspiracy theory, but what I do buy into is ignorance and insularity - these mostly male Republicans seem to be talking only to each other and to those living in similar circumstances to their own.  It's easy to say that children don't need Head Start because their moms should be home taking care of them when your wife stays home with the kids and you think that should be the norm. It is easy to deny funding for Planned Parenthood because you, your family, and most people you know have private health insurance through their jobs (especially that wonderful coverage members of Congress get) and don't need access to sliding-scale priced gynecologic exams, cancer check ups, contraceptives, and vasectomies, or to free reproductive counseling and education.

My main conclusion from all my reading is this: diversity is important in our elected officials. And it is now more important than ever. Here are the stats from the current Congress compiled by the Center for American Women and Politics:
  • 17 (17%) of the 100 US Senators are women
  • 72 (16.6%) of the 435 Congressional Representatives are women
  • 24 (27%) of the 89 women serving in the Congress are women of color

Reviewing the astonishing proposals to cut health care and erode reproductive rights that have come out of this House of Representatives over the past few weeks, I have been struck repeatedly that these lawmakers are proposing legislation that affects the majority of individuals in the United States. After all, the US census estimated that in 2009, 50.7% - which rounds to 51% - of the US population was female. And considering that children's health and welfare programs are often lumped in with women's health, the percentage of those affected without equal representation is much higher. Of course, not all women have the same political views. But if 51% of our lawmakers were women, the conversation might be very different than what we're hearing now. After all, all of the 51% would be working women. Most would have a spouse or partner who worked outside of the home as well. And because they are women, they would still be carrying the majority of the burden for child-related tasks and elder care. Perhaps if we had more women in office, the US would not have been singled out by Human Rights Watch (along with Swaziland and Papua New Guinea) for the punishing effects of lack of paid maternity leave.

Diversity is important.

Without the little diversity that we currently have, we would not have heard the other side of the story about second-trimester abortions. Kudos to Jackie Speier, Democrat from California, who was moved to unexpectedly recount her story of a second-trimester abortion after listening to one of her colleagues across the aisle boorishly read, from a book, a description of the procedure. She put a face to a medical procedure that no one ever really wants, but that is needed as part of a full portfolio of medical care.

Without the current diversity, we would not have heard the story of Wisconsin Democrat Gwen Moore, who responded to Georgia Republican Paul Broun's "concern" for black babies as a reason to de-fund Planned Parenthood:
 "I know a lot about having black babies. I've had three of them. And I had my first the ripe old age of 18. An unplanned pregnancy."

As an aside, shame on Mr. Broun for resurrecting an old racist conspiracy theory here in the south. By implying that there is a conspiracy to eliminate the African American race by preventing  black babies from being born, individuals like Mr. Broun are knowingly stirring a racial pot. But really, if congressional reps like Mr. Broun cared about black babies, they might want to rethink their opposition to funding social services - like Head Start - that can help all children in the United States get off to a good beginning.

And diversity is important within the individual parties. As reported in the Washington Post, abortion-rights opponent Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), spoke against the Pence amendment that would eliminate all federal funds for Planned Parenthood because he felt it would ultimately increase the number of abortions in the country.
"I don't have many friends in the Planned Parenthood community. They don't support me. I'm pro-life," Lynch said, adding that he supports the "good work" that the organization does in providing family planning advice."
Lynch, a Democrat, shows the value of intra-party diversity by opening a dialogue that indicates most tough issues are not as clear-cut as those who polarize the discussions would lead us to believe.

Throughout the years, I have, at various times, felt marginalized, patronized, and slighted for being a woman. But I have never been as worried as I am now for the health of women and children in the United States. It is undeniable that prevention services, whether contraception or early childhood education, help maximize an individual's potential and save money in the long run (it is estimated that Americans get back $9 for every $1 invested in Head Start). For Republicans to slice and dice the already fraying fabric of social programs under the guise of saving money is not only short sighted, it is false economy and they know it. So the call to action is this: For women and those who love women, get out there and vote. And advocate. And perhaps most importantly, run for office. What we are seeing is what happens when women are not equally represented, when the default is "him." And that is something that even Bobby McFerrin can't make  pretty.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

This is Genius

Too often, the news is bad regarding childhood nutrition.

In just the past few weeks, there have been reports of fake blueberries:

...fake meat...

And Chinese chickens.

“We had it [a large piece of chicken] tested and it was so full of steroids that we never could have given it to athletes. They all would have tested positive.”
Frank Puleo, a caterer from Staten Island who traveled to China to handle food-related issues for the US Olympic Team, as quoted in a 2008 New York Times article 

Yeah, those chickens.

That's why the announcement of Food Corps is so welcome. Finally, some good news for the kids.

Food Corps is one of those thump-yourself-on-the-forehead ideas that are greeted with "Of course! Why haven't we done this before?" It's modeled after the super-successful Teach for America (TFA) program, in which young college grads are placed in low-performing schools and use their recently minted degrees to combat educational inequity - the concept that where a child is born determines the quality of his or her education and therefore, the student's life prospects. TFA reaches more than 500,000 students annually. But it does more than have an immediate (and measurable, btw) impact on the classroom. TFA's experiences allow those young teachers to develop an up-close-and-personal understanding of the educational system, which then enables them - all 20,000 alums thus far - to play leadership roles in systemic, long-term change.

Enter Food Corps.

Instead of placing young, talented people in schools as teachers, Food Corps will take those eager beavers and place them in the food systems of schools where childhood obesity levels are significant. The Food Corps volunteers will work on farm-to-school food initiatives, build and maintain community gardens, and teach elementary-school aged kids about nutrition. The ultimate goal of the organization is to increase the health and prosperity of vulnerable children, while investing in the next generation of farmers and public health leaders. Like TFA, Food Corps is affiliated with AmeriCorps. It is currently a national planning grantee of AmeriCorps (TFA is a program of AmeriCorps) and is applying to AmeriCorps for funding.

Here's a video explaining Food Corps.

The program is beginning with 10 host sites, but the goal is for Food Corps eventually to be active in all 50 states. If you know of a young college soon-to-be-grad, this is a great opportunity to get involved early in what promises to be a sought-after opportunity for him or her and a life-changer for the communities in which they will serve.

See? Genius.


Monday, February 7, 2011


The note below was written in response to Things Can Change, Perhaps.

I know it was written by a staffer, but still. Happy Monday to me.


Dear Ms. Stone:
 Thank you so much for your kind words about my work in Congress. 
I appreciated reading your blog post, which mentioned my work on
 public health issues and tobacco use in particular. 

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in America, and I have spent 
my career in Congress working for legislation to reduce tobacco use and allow 
regulation of tobacco by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  After decades 
working to grant FDA oversight of one of the most lethal consumer products on the 
market, I am delighted that the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act 
was signed into law on June 22 (P.L. 111-31). 

 My legislation gives the FDA a comprehensive and flexible set of 
authorities to bring meaningful and long-overdue changes to the 
manufacture, promotion and sale of tobacco.  It will end the marketing 
of tobacco to kids, stop manufacturers from calling cigarettes "light" or 
"less dangerous" when they are not, and remove toxic ingredients such as
 formaldehyde, benzene, and radioactive elements from cigarettes.  
The FDA's new functions will be fully funded through user fees paid by the 
tobacco industry. 

 I hope you will visit 
bout P.L. 111-31 and other issues I'm working on. 

You can count on me to continue to work for the goals 
we share, and I look forward to staying in touch with you 
on issues of concern.

With kind regards, I am


                                                                                      HENRY A. WAXMAN
                                                                                      Member of Congress

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Yes, Diet Affects Attention. Really.

This past week CNN's health blog ran a post by Sonjay Gupta, MD called "Does ADHD Come From Food?" While it's great that CNN and its well-known doctor have given this important issue such a visible platform, it is more than a little disconcerting that the link between diet and attention is presented as a new and unproven concept. The link is fairly well documented in the scientific literature, including this landmark study in The Lancet that was the basis for the strict EU food labelling laws that I've written about previously. All in all, there is a lot of evidence that while not all attention issues are due to foods, some probably are. 

The Feingold Association, which has been around for decades, was one of the first groups to organize around this issue. I encourage you to poke around that organization's web site, look at the evidence and read the "real life" stories. I especially like the story called Taylor's Fuzzy Brained Mice, in which a kid trained four mice to run a maze, then gave two of the mice small amounts of yellow food dye in their water. The results are pretty astonishing - the rats with the dye in their water took longer to run the same maze that they previously completed with times similar to the mice who drank regular water. Further, this confusion was reversed once the colored water was switched back to normal.

Of course, individual stories (called anecdotal evidence in scientific parlance) do not true evidence make. Therefore, the Feignold site also lists many well-conducted scientific studies evaluating the effects of the Western diet on ADHD and other health concerns. It's pretty damning.

And it's not just artificial colorings, flavorings, and preservatives that are suspicious. Nutritionists and dietitians also speculate that the hydrogenated oils found in many processed foods compete with the good fats, like those found in fish and nuts, for valuable real estate in the body. In what is probably an oversimplification of complex brain chemistry, here is one possible scenario: the neurons in your brain are sheathed in fat, which allows electrical impulses to efficiently travel from one neuron to another, resulting in smoothly functioning nervous system. The substitution of hydrogenated oils for the good fatty acids creates a different type of coating of fats around those neurons - replacing the supple, conducive covering provided by good fats - thus interfering with clear thinking and focused attention. Nutritionist Kelly Dorfman explains it all here.

Unfortunately, what is emerging is that eating optimally is not as simple as choosing fruits and vegetables. An article published last year in the journal Pediatrics (the journal of the American Pediatric Association), showed that even moderate exposure to certain pesticides was associated with ADHD. Time magazine wrote about the article here. The authors of the article hastened to point out that eating conventionally grown fruits and vegetables is still preferable to eating junk food. But it does raise the issue of health equity: if organic produce is truly superior, a healthy diet is out of reach for many people for financial reasons. This pushes the issue from one of choice to one of social justice.

In the past few years there have been a slew of reliable studies on the effects of diet on behavior, learning, and attention. The only thing that's remarkable here is the slowness of the medical profession to get on board with this concept.  It's time to move past the endless debate of cause and effect (which is kept alive by the deep pockets of the food industry, its lobbying leverage, and consumers' appetites for poor-quality food) to actually doing something about it. There are many important avenues to explore: why some people are more susceptible to food impurities than others and how those individuals can be screened; what alternatives exist to current colorings, flavorings, stabilizers, etc; and of course, restricting the presence of those impurities in our foods. That's what the Center for Science in the Public Interest is trying to do by lobbying the US Congress to ban certain artificial colorings used in foods. But until then, consumers can do something on their own: make wise food choices. Voting with your checkbook is a time-tested way to bring about change.