Wednesday, March 24, 2010

All hail health care reform

First of all - I've been slacking off with posting. I was going to blame it on being left speechless by the healthcare reform bill, or maybe blame it on the cold I got despite abusing Vitamins D and C for the past few months, or blame it on my PC crashing, but the crux of it is, I was too lazy to be eloquent. I have a lot of opinions, but making something coherent out of them with the keyboard is often too much trouble.

Excuses aside, all is right with the world now that the President has signed the healthcare bill.

I suppose I should be happy for the some of the changes. After all, the insurance companies will be slipping their necks into tight little nooses that should keep them under a bit more control than they've had in the past. And now:

approval will extend coverage to 32 million Americans who lack it

Why does this sound suspiciously like 32 million Americans will just be ‘given’ health insurance, when clearly that's not the case?

The bill will ban insurers from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions

It’s about time, but what punishment will insurers think up to make up for having to comply with this rule?

For the first time, most Americans would be required to purchase insurance, and face penalties if they refused.

There you go – punishment – that’s the way to care for the people. Punish them if they don’t pay for something you want them to pay for. And ‘most’ – that means there are still people who won’t be required to buy health insurance. Will they be the super-rich, the super-poor or just people with the right connections?

health care for all Americans

This is not what the legislation is about. It’s about getting everyone to buy health insurance

[Insurance companies] would be forbidden from placing lifetime dollar limits on policies, from denying coverage to children because of pre-existing conditions and from canceling policies when a policyholder becomes ill.

This all sounds great – but as we’ve seen with the credit card industry, it’s just a matter of time before insurance companies come up with ways to punish their customers for every new law they have to obey

Parents would be able to keep children up to age 26 on their family insurance plans, three years longer than is now the case.

This is a step forward, and will help millions of young adults maintain health converage, but remember, it still won't be free.

$900 billion in tax increases and Medicare cuts combined

Ah – there you go! Cut healthcare costs by taking coverage away from the elderly and charging taxpayers. I just don't understand why Congress didn't think of that sooner.

So weigh in - do you think the healthcare reform will actually help the majority of Americans, or will it ultimately cause more problems than it cures?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Soon there will be a drug for that

Today I was helping my son with his health homework. His teacher wants the students to bring in articles having to do with health topics and then to write short summaries of the articles. Since I'm always reading about health topcis, I sort of enjoy the fact-finding part of the assignment, I just have to remember not to get too controversial. I don't want to end up being hauled into health class to explain my radical ideas about doctors, drugs and food.

Today's assignment was fairly easy. My son and I went searching on line and found this no-brainer [pun intended] which I thought would make an excellent topic for a junior high school health class.

Apparently researchers have finally discovered what parents have known for centuries. Teenagers are dumb. {Or more accurately, they don't have the same capacity to learn that younger children do.}

Something happens when children hit their teenage years, {let's call it 'puberty'} that seriously impacts their ability to learn.

Well. Duh.

What do we do? We shove a driver's license in their hands and try to teach them to operate 2,000-pound vehicles on overcrowded roads at a time in their lives when they'd be hard pressed to find the cheese at the end of a wooden maze. So who's really dumber, I ask you?

I digress. The real issue with the article isn't the big surprise that the distractions of puberty make learning more difficult during the teen years but the closing sentence:

...and scientists could develop drugs to manipulate how easily kids learn.

That's the ticket right there. The take home message of this study isn't something sensible, like let's redesign the type of things we teach adolscents and play to their strengths or accept that they can't learn too much between the ages of 13 and 19 and concentrate on reinforcing things they learned before that. No. The take home message is: let's make some new drugs! Then being adolescent can be classed as a disease that requires treatment. I'm sure the pharmacutical companies are already salivating over how much money they can make on 'the learning pill.'

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Risk vs. benefit - what's worth it?

Yesterday's post was sidelined by computer problems.

Today I'm up an running on a laptop and surfing the web for more imponderables. Today's question - is the benefit really worth the risk?

Apparently the FDA has approved another new diabetes drug called Victoza despite some evidence that the drug may cause a rare form of thyroid cancer. {The Victoza website includes the cancer warning as the first line under Important Safety Information}.

I'm sorry, but I just don't get why someone would feel the risk of getting cancer is better than trying some other drug to control diabetes. The instance of cancer may be small [and so far seems only to have occurred in laboratory rats], but nevertheless, why should a patient accept the prospect of a debilitiating [at best] and deadly [at worst] disease in order to fight another debilitating and often deadly disease? What really is the trade off?

Sure it's fine if you're not one of the unlucky few to develop cancer as a side effect of your treatment, but what if you are? Then was the risk worth it?

I think the real issue here is, the cost of defending the pharmaceutical company against lawsuits should someone develop cancer as a result of taking the drug, is minimal compared to the profit the company will make by selling the drug and having their reps convince doctors the drug is safe and effective in most cases.

Let's call a spade a spade here. The financial benefit outweighs the financial risk and the cost of human life has nothing to do with the equation.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A better lesson in eating

The Sunday newspaper had a small sidebar article about how studies have shown that kids who brown bag lunch to school have a lower incidence of obesity than those who eat school lunch.

I can't say this is really a surprise - considering the average school still offers grease soaked pizza squares and chicken nuggets with french fries as a typical meal choice. The salads are tiny, the fresh fruit is usually bruised and unappetizing and cookies and sugary juices can be purchased on the snack line which is often a lot shorter than the queue to get the day's hot meal. Is it any wonder the kids who eat cafeteria food are heavier than those toting balogna sandwiches from home?

It's another failure of a well-meaning system that can't get out of its own way. I recently read about how some school systems are banning home made treats from bake sales - partly to limit their own legal exposure in cases of allergic reactions, and partly [and more publicly] to make a stand for healthier snacks. Pop-tarts and bagged Doritos made the list of 'approved' items to be sold at bake sales while Mom's cupcakes and brownies are out.

It makes a sick kind of sense, not because kids are better off eating Pop-tarts and Doritos, but because an angry parent can sue Kelloggs or Frito-Lay if their child has a bad reaction to a pre-packaged snack, but if their child doesn't know any better than to scarf down Mrs. Johnson's walnut brownies when they have a severe nut allergy, the school coffers are at risk. I imagine this is why a lot more school food is also prepackaged. Mrs. Field's cookies and Domino's Pizza have built-in liabitility insurance, don't they?

I wonder how these studies fit into the national past time of blaming parents for their kids' obesity? If it becomes widely known that school lunch makes kids fat, will Boards of Education all over the country start making bottled water less expensive than whole milk and cutting off the endless cookie supply at the snack line or will they simply brow beat parents to go back to packing lunches so they can't be sued for contributing to Junior's weight problem?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Defensive medicine may be offensive

This Associated Press article caught my eye today. It discusses the over-abundance of medical testing used as a form of disease prevention and opines whether or not such testing is really beneficial or just wasteful.

In a time when health care costs are out of control, we have to examine the real reason behind the inflated costs. We don’t spend too much on health care because we’re sick, we spend too much on healthcare because healthcare is overpriced and we have embraced the idea that in order to be truly healthy we have to be tested constantly for disease. We’ve been conditioned to believe that early detection is the key to our survival, that palliative medications will give us a longer life and incessant doctor visits will improve the quality of our lives.

Suddenly, this isn’t the case. Now the speculation is we are over-testing, over-medicating and maybe even over-worrying. I tend to agree – the old adage ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ holds some weight. Good health used to be measured by how little you needed medical care, now it’s measured by how often you go for health screenings, vaccinations and renewals of your prescriptions.

On the other hand, I do find it odd that now when health care costs are completely out of control, the worm turns toward encouraging people to use less healthcare. Is it really common sense finally taking over, or is it a subtle way to lower costs?

Do you believe in routine preventive health screenings or do you think we place too much emphasis on being tested for everything all the time? Sure people have survived for thousands of years without ever having mammograms or colonoscopies, but then again – people have been dying for thousands of years too. Are we really at the next stage of our evolution where constant medical care will keep us healthy and living longer, or are we beginning to devolve into a race that can’t survive unless we are fully medicated and irradiated at every turn of the calendar?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Girl Scouts hijacked my diet

Not that I'm actually on a 'diet'. I don't use that word anymore, but I've been working hard at changing the way I eat.

Yesterday I started off with Greek yogurt, red grapes, a banana and a granola bar. Okay, lunch was a grilled cheese [lovingly prepared by my husband] and an apple followed by a walk around the block, believe it or not. Dinner was a salad, baked chicken, another apple [organic] and some fresh Italian bread. Sounds like a red letter day and it would have been except for the half a sleeve of Girl Scout Thin Mints I ate while making dinner.

They're like chocolate covered crack. All these weeks of teaching myself how to avoid eating processed snack foods went right out the window when confronted with these deadly little disks of yummy. The worst part is, there's another sleeve in the box and I'll be home all by myself this afternoon.

I may need to duct tape my mouth shut.

So tell me, what's your food vice? What's the thing you can't resist no matter hard you try? I can walk away from an Oreo but Thin Mints are my Waterloo.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Do you juice?

I've been trying to figure out if juicing is a good idea or not. I've looked at juicing machines [and they're not cheap] and read a lot about the benefits of making your own juice from fresh fruits and vegetables.

Every source I've found agrees that commercial fruit juices are BAD with a capital BAD. They have too much sugar - many are supplemented with high fructose corn syrup and actually contain very little real juice. Making your own juice seems like the answer to getting all the nutrients from these foods in an easier way, plus you get something to drink besides water or green tea [unsweetened tea is my staple drink but even that gets boring now and then].

I've been making some of my own citrus juice - grapefruit and orange and to me it tastes just as sweet as anything I can buy, but I've also read that juicing removes some of the benefit of the fruit. You need the fiber of the fruit to counteract the sugar in the juice otherwise you're just wasting your time.

I'm beginning to think maybe juicing is something to do for fun once in a while when you want a treat, but it may not be a daily staple of a good diet.

Any juicers out there? What do you think? Has juicing helped your health or your waistline or is it just a good way to increase your produce bill?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The dreaded obesogen

Yeah, they’ve coined a new term. Now, in addition to carcinogens which can be found almost everywhere including the air we breathe, we now have to worry about obesogens – toxic chemicals present in food, food packaging and pesticides that cause weight gain.

So it may not be that burger and fries that’s making you fat – it could be the plastic in your water bottle or the essence of bug spray that lingers in the skin of the apple you just ate. Eating healthy may not be so healthy after all.

This article at gives the scoop on obesogens and cites them as yet another reason why diets don’t work for so many people. You can’t lose weight if your body is trying to be fat against all odds. The article advocates eating organic foods as one way to combat the abundance of obesogens in the environment.

The article makes a very scary point – especially about commercially produced meat. Inject a cow with growth hormones, make a hamburger out of it then blame the person who eats the hamburger for their weight gain.

If you need me, I’ll be at the organic food store.

Monday, March 8, 2010

To fish or cut bait?

Since I’ve started researching nutrition, I’ve come across tons of information about the benefits of fish oil. Book after book and website after website tout the role of fish oil in heart health as well as its efficacy in helping to treat high cholesterol, depression, anxiety, AHDH, low immunity, cancer, diabetes, inflammation, arthritis, IBD, AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, eye disorders, macular degeneration and ulcers.

It sounds like a wonder drug – well, not actually a drug. Let’s call it a wonder-substance since it can be had over the counter without a prescription.

The supermarket vitamin aisle is overflowing with fish oil – in fact this past week my local store had an entire endcap devoted to large, colorful jars of the enormous amber capsules. They were on sale so the price was right – the only thing stopping me, aside from the sheer size of the pills [I could probably find a whole fish smaller than some of the capsules] was of course that I recently read information discounting everything that’s out there about the benefit of fish oil.

Insert a big sigh here.

I'd just picked up the book Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman, MD which for the most part enforces a lot of what I’ve been learning about the subterfuge practiced on us by the food industry. Dr. Fuhrman advocates a diet rich in fruits and vegetables which makes sense, but on pg. 127 he opines that fish oil can actually ‘decrease the activity of the immune system’ and may have a role in liver dysfunction, citing that much of the oil in those jewel-like amber capsules may in fact be rancid.

He also believes eating fish in general [another health tip promoted heavily everywhere else] isn’t as good for us as we’ve been lead to believe thanks to elevated mercury content.

Once again, information overload wins the day. I’m not saying I believe Dr. Fuhrman over everyone else, but it’s interesting and disheartening to find yet more contradictory health information. If everything we eat is bad for us – then why not just eat anything we want?

I suppose that’s exactly what the food industry is hoping we will do.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Get ready for the McDiet

I just came across this glimpse into the absurd – apparently Weight Watchers is planning on teaming up with McDonald’s to promo some of the fast food giant’s menu options as being health conscious.

Fortunately this is taking place so far only in New Zealand where the Weight Watchers logo will premiere on some selected menu items including Chicken McNuggets.

This one definitely has me perplexed. Weight Watchers certainly does advertise that you can successfully eat out and still lose weight, which I have to respect, since in the real world, you can’t [and don’t want to] always cook at home. Sometimes you need to go out, sit back, relax and let someone else serve you and clean up after you...but it does boggle my mind a bit that a company dedicated to teaching people how to eat right in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight would endorse any type of deep fried fast food.

It’s not just calorie and fat content that govern whether a food is healthy or not – and anyone who’s seen Super Size Me in which a man literally endangers his life by eating nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days knows there’s a lot more stuff in chicken nuggets than just chicken.

Granted McDonald’s has been jumping through hoops trying to convince the public that its food isn’t all bad, and that there are healthy options on the menu for those who know how to choose their meals carefully, but this just seems like a sell out on Weight Watchers’ part. Maybe things are different in New Zealand, but the battle of the bulge is fought daily here in the states and McD’s is a general in that war. In the world of healthy eating this strikes me as a bit treasonous.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Read the label, but don't believe it

I was thumbing through the March 18th issue of People magazine this weekend [not an authoritative source for much of anything, I know] and I came across two legal notices round about page 124.

Both notices were about class action lawsuits being brought against major food companies for essentially false advertising. Apparently Dannon is being sued for claims made about their Activia and DanActive yogurt products – the ones hawked by Jamie Lee Curtis as being good for your digestive health by helping with irregularity. Similarly Tyson is being sued for claims about their chicken products that supposedly were raised without certain types of antibiotics.

As a consumer [not of either of these products though] I have to wonder how many other foods are out there making claims that will later be questioned, or in fact proven false. It seems like every packaged food out there is making some kind of promise these days. It’s not enough just to taste good, it has to be good for you in some way...which is wonderful, if in fact the products are actually good for you. But these law suits are telling me that a lot of the hype we see on packages at the supermarket is just that. Hype.

We’re told to read food labels and study nutrition information as part of a healthier lifestyle but how healthy can we really be if we can’t trust what we read?

For more information on these settlements you can check out these websites. I’d love to hear from anyone who is going to participate in the suits.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Bored by chocolate

Yes, you read that right. I’m official bored with chocolate and I’ll tell you why.

I read too much about it.

A couple weeks ago I ordered The Healing Powers of Chocolate by Cal Orey. I thought it would be fun and informative and give me lots of good excuses to eat my favorite food. I had visions of curing all my common ailments with a Hershey Bar or pound or two of good ‘ol Jersey Shore fudge.

As it turns out, according to the author, who also penned The Healing Powers of Vinegar and The Healing Powers of Olive Oil, chocolate can cure a host of complaints from acne to weight gain. You could probably convince me that chocolate is not responsible for pimples [who doesn’t want to believe that?] and that chocolate in moderation will not make you fat, but the extensive list of ills found in the chapter titled ‘Home Remedies’ also includes much less believable items such as Economic Stress and Universal Emergency. When an author has to reach for stuff like this to fill up a list, her credibility hits the skids as far as I’m concerned.

Overall the book is a lighthearted look at how awesome chocolate is. I can’t argue with that, and yes, I certainly agree it’s not the root of all evil as so many diets would have us believe. But after slogging through the first 200 pages, I’m pretty much done with my journey through chocolate’s healing powers. I should have given up on page 71 in the middle of the list of herbs that can be added to chocolate. The author includes Marshmallow [the plant Althaea officianalis] for its ability to sooth a sore throat or an upset stomach. That’s cool. But she lists dark chocolate topped with marshmallows as a way to get this healing effect. Um...marshmallow may be a plant with curative powers, but marshmallows are made of SUGAR. They might make you feel better because they’re yummy, but they’re not herbal.

My take home message from the book is something I already knew: Chocolate is not bad for you. My life without chocolate would be much less happy and much less healthy, so I’m not ever giving it up...but I can do without the book, thanks.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

My kingdom for a boot

Or actually a pair of boots.

It’s silly, I know – wanting to buy a pair of boots in the middle of the winter. I must be insane. The retail machine tells me so, but I have a hard time accepting that I can’t get a decent pair of boots in late February in the North east.

Here’s the dilemma. My son needed a pair of winter boots because the pair we had sequestered in his room back in the fall mysteriously disappeared. Well, one boot did. We assume it was thrown out. He claims they didn’t even fit him, but they did when he tried them on. Details, details. The long and the short of it was that with massive amounts of snow and slush on the ground, the kid needed some decent boots.

So Friday night, after the storming stopped, we went out in search of a good pair. I figured while I was at it, I’d pick myself up a new pair too, just because mine aren’t all that comfortable and I’ve had to wear them an awful lot lately.

Both the show store [Payless] and the department store [Wal*Mart] were not on board with this idea. You see, it’s time for sandals and shorts in retail land. No one is buying boots in February. That’s just nuts. It’s time to prepare for summer vacation. Apparently, if you want boots, you had to do your shopping well before Christmas. [I don’t mean December either, I mean retail-Christmas which now begins shortly before Halloween.] We were out of luck in the snow boot department.

We ended up solving the problem by going with a relatively expensive pair of all-weather work boots which are both water and oil resistant. Hopefully he won’t be in a situation where his footwear has to repel large amounts of oil, but if he is, he’s ready.

I now understand why so many stores are going out of business and the country is still in the grips of a recession. It’s because the stores insist on selling people things they don’t need when they don’t need them. Who’s buying shorts and sandals in February? Anybody? It’s sad to think of all those retail execs sitting around scratching their heads trying to figure out why they’re not making any profit on bathing suits and lawn chairs between New Years and Easter. Maybe if they worked a little harder on inducing global warming, they’d capture the summer attire market in the middle of winter. One can only hope they figure it out soon.

In the mean time, I could still use a new pair of boots. I guess I’ll have to mark my calendar start looking for boots in September.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Eating may be hazardous to your health

I came across this article put out by the Associated Press discussing the need for more warnings on food labels. Pediatricians are apparently spearheading the movement in response to the alarming number of choking deaths of children.

As a mother of children who were once small, I’m all about fear of choking. I can vividly recall several incidents of having to jam my finger into a tiny mouth and pull out something dangerous that should not have gone in there in the first place and I can also recall those missed heartbeats any time one of my kids got that ‘I can’t swallow this’ look in their eyes.

It’s terrifying to say the least and it’s one of the hundreds of job hazards that come with being a parent. Constant vigilance over what goes in your child’s mouth is…well…constant.

However, I have to ask myself how many warning labels are really necessary before we can deem our children completely safe. When does it end? The article cites hot dogs as a particularly dangerous food and mentions a parent by name who lost her child in this horrible way. Just like hot dogs, grapes, raisins, lollipops, beans, berries, even peanut butter can pose a risk – not only for children but adults as well. Bread, bagels, hard candy, meat of any kind, apples, carrots…anything that doesn’t melt quickly at body temperature has the potential to cause a choking hazard. Do all these foods really need labels stating that?

I have no desire to blame the victim or cast aspersions on a grieving parent, but the line in the first paragraph of article that states his anguished mother never dreamed that the popular kids' food could be so dangerous is a head/desk moment for me. Kids are born knowing how to swallow, but they’re not born knowing how to chew. Any food you put in your kid’s mouth has the potential to be dangerous. If you’ve never dreamed something could choke your child, you’re sleeping a little too soundly to be a parent.

It occurs to me also that putting these warnings on foods, though they’re meant to spare parents the agony of losing a child, may in fact cause more problems than they solve. If, after reading the warning label on a package of hot dogs, a parent gives their child a hot dog anyway and the child does choke, is that parent now guilty of child abuse or even worse, negligent homicide? After all, a family services agent could certainly ask – ‘If you knew this food posed a choking hazard, why did you give it to your child?’ Imagine the horror of having your child choke to death being compounded by guilt that you didn’t heed a warning label.

Instead of putting warnings on every single food product on the market, since they all could potentially cause a choking hazard if you have to put them in your mouth, maybe children should now come stamped with a universal warning: Small objects, if inserted into an orifice, can cause damage. This includes ALL foods. Proceed with caution.