Talking to Your Baby

By Joanna Sax

In President Obama’s State of the Union address, he discussed creating affordable pre-school to all children.  Studies have shown that early childhood education is associated with academic success.  This is an important policy initiative; it’s also very expensive.

In an effort to reduce the disparity in the academic profiles of children, there may be some initiatives that can be started while the proposal for publicly funded early childhood education works its way through Congress.  One approach that is being tested is talking to your baby.

recent NY Times article described a scientific study concerning how talking to your baby is correlated with achievements in school.  It turns out, according to the article, that low-income parents of children speak fewer words to their babies compared to high-income parents and that by the time the children are of school-age, the children from poorer families have heard millions of fewer words.  This means that by the time the child is 3, they have heard 10s of millions of fewer words and the article suggests that this is correlated with IQ and academic success.

This is an issue that can be addressed!  Creative problem solving can be used to create programs to educate lower-income parents to talk more to their babies.  The increase in words alone might provide advantages to lower-income children that they didn’t have before.  This study provides a good example of the application of a scientific study to address social, health and economic issues.


Tobacco and Dietary Supplements – The Role of the FDA

By Joanna Sax

Thank you for inviting me to blog.  Later this week, I’ll be attending Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Annual Conference on the FDA in the 21st Century.  My paper/presentation addresses the role of the FDA in the regulation of dietary supplements.  By way of preview, my paper compares similarities between the dietary supplement industry and tobacco.  Both industries have successfully avoided heavy regulation by the FDA. 

A tension exists between the personal choice/autonomy to use a variety of dietary supplements with the actual or potential health danger.  With the current light-handed regulation, costs for dietary supplements are much lower than they would be if they had to be approved by the FDA prior to market.  Some consumers believe that if a product says it is ‘natural’ then it must be safe.  This, however, is not necessarily true.  Would you eat any wild plant or mushroom just because it is natural?  I hope not.  In recent years, a number of adverse events, including death, have been shown to be correlated or caused by use of dietary supplements. 

It seems that some of the tactics employed by the tobacco industry to avoid regulation are similar to tactics employed by the dietary supplement industry.  My paper/presentation addresses what lessons we can learn from the tobacco industry to analyze if the FDA should be granted the authority to increase the regulation of the dietary supplement industry.  I hope to see you all in Boston.

Introducing Joanna Sax

We’re excited to introduce and welcome Joanna Sax as a guest blogger for the month of May.

Joanna is an Associate Professor of Law at California Western School of Law.  She teaches Contracts, Trusts & Estates and a seminar entitled Law, Science & Medicine.  Her main area of research is biomedical policy; specifically, how to create incentives to advance scientific research and protect scientific integrity.  In this area, Joanna has recently focused on issues such as financial conflicts of interest and the relationship of politics and science.  Another area of interest is FDA regulation; Joanna will be presenting at the upcoming conference on the FDA in the 21st Century hosted by Petrie-Flom.  Prior to focusing her research interests on the intersection of law and science, she was a molecular biologist and spent years researching cancer.

Joanna attended the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where she earned a B.S.  After undergraduate school, she was a pre-doctoral fellow at the National Cancer Institute.  In 1999, following her fellowship, she began a PhD program in Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.  In 2003, after earning a PhD, she entered law school at the University of Pennsylvania.  After law school, she spent 2 and a half years as an attorney at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, LLP.  In 2009, Joanna joined the faculty at California Western School of Law.

Some of Joanna’s recent publications include:

Welcome, Joanna!