Minorities, especially African-Americans in metropolitan areas, are being infected with and dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than their white counterparts.
This phenomenon is occurring in many large cities like New York, Detroit, and New Orleans. This piece focuses on Chicago — arguably the most segregated city in all of America. Comparing two zip codes within Chicago city limits with similar population sizes but divergent racial composition, the disparities are striking.
On May 7, a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) relating to nutrition-labeling requirements finally went into effect, following three extensions to its compliance date by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In brief, under the requirements, most chain restaurants must now display calorie counts per serving on their menus. You may have already noticed that some of your favorite establishments have been ahead of the curve for awhile.
As I outline below, I broadly agree with the direction of the nutrition-labeling requirements, but highlight weaknesses and offer a way forward.
In November Serena Williams, indisputably one of the greatest – if not the greatest – tennis player in history gave birth to her daughter by emergency Caesarean section. After the surgery, Williams reported to an attending nurse that she was experiencing shortness of breath and immediately assumed she was experiencing pulmonary embolism. The star athlete has a history of blood clots and had discontinued blood thinners before the surgical delivery. Contrary to William’s requests for a CT scan and blood thinners, medical staff assumed that pain medication had made her confused. A later CT scan confirmed Williams’ self-diagnosis. Stripping out the fact of Williams’ identity turns this near-miss into a terrifyingly common story in US maternal care, albeit one with a happier ending than many. The global trend in maternal death rates – the rate of women dying in childbirth and post-childbirth – has rapidly decreased over the past 15 years. At the same time, the US, despite recording one of the highest per capita income levels in the world, has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world.
This week we talked with George J. Annas, Chairman of the Bioethics & Human Rights Department, and William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor, at Boston University. George’s work is legendary among health policy experts; a 1998 tribute from Jay Katz gives some sense of its breadth and depth. Having reviewed numerous works, Katz states:”I have barely conveyed the richness of George Annas’ observations on the ambiguities in motivations and actions that persist in current research practices. The many recommendations he makes, should be of valuable assistance to those interested in reforming current rules governing research on humans. Plagued by Dreams…reveal[s] another facet of George Annas’ personality: His commitment to public advocacy. He values scholarship but he also wants it to have an impact on shaping institutions and health care policies…In the many settings in which I have encountered George Annas over the years, I have admired his boldness, intellect, compassion and moral vigor.” Our conversation had the theme “paternalism & its critics,” based on articles George had recently authored (or co-authored with last week’s guest, Wendy Mariner) on informed consent, genomics, and sugary drinks.
The Week in Health Law Podcast from Frank Pasquale and Nicolas Terry is a commuting-length discussion about some of the more thorny issues in Health Law & Policy. Subscribe at iTunes, listen at Stitcher Radio, Tunein and Podbean, or search for The Week in Health Law in your favorite podcast app. Show notes and more are at TWIHL.com. If you have comments, an idea for a show or a topic to discuss you can find us on twitter @nicolasterry @FrankPasquale @WeekInHealthLaw
A slew of organizations, including most notably the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, are talking about creating a “culture of health” as a new way forward in US health policy. The underlying thinking assumes that legislative fixes, including the Affordable Care Act, will continue to be vehemently fought if attitudes towards health do not in some ways fundamentally change. Inherent in the idea of building a culture is incorporating unconventional actors and voices into discussions about how to improve outcomes at a local level. This has led public health strategists to ask new questions about who to involve in community health building efforts with an eye towards employers, small businesses, social service organizations and community institutions.
With this in mind, I recently spoke with Peter Doliber, Executive Director of the Alliance of Massachusetts YMCA about how he sees the Ys fitting into a plan to create health. His background is in public health and hospital administration, having worked in a range of communities to develop programs that increase access to health care, improve health outcomes and create a return on investment. Here’s an abbreviated version of our conversation.
A remarkable new “sting” of the “diet research-media complex” was just revealed. It tells us little we didn’t already know and has potentially caused a fair amount of damage, spread across millions of people. It does, however, offer an opportunity to explore the importance of prospective group review of non-consensual human subjects research—and the limits of IRBs applying the Common Rule in serving that function in contexts like this.
Journalist John Bohannon, two German reporters, a doctor and a statistician recruited 16 German subjects through Facebook into a three-week randomized controlled trial of diet and weight loss. One-third were told to follow a low-carb diet, one-third were told to cut carbs but add 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate (about 230 calories) per day, and one-third served as control subjects and were told to make no changes to their current diet. They were all given questionnaires and blood tests in advance to ensure they didn’t have diabetes, eating disorders, or other conditions that would make the study dangerous for them, and these tests were repeated after the study. They were each paid 150 Euros (~$163) for their trouble.
But it turns out that Bohannon, the good doctor (who had written a book about dietary pseudoscience), and their colleagues were not at all interested in studying diet. Instead, they wanted to show how easy it is for bad science to be published and reported by the media. The design of the diet trial was deliberately poor. It involved only a handful of subjects, had a poor balance of age and of men and women, and so on. But, through the magic of p-hacking, they managed several statistically significant results: eating chocolate accelerates weight loss and leads to healthier cholesterol levels and increased well-being. Read More
How bad is the obesity epidemic among kids in America?
Bad enough that 69 percent of young adults in Minnesota cannot serve in the military due to obesity-related health problems, according to a recent report “Too Fat, Frail and Out-of-Breath to Fight,” from a group of retired generals.
And how is one public official responding to the child obesity crisis? With a call for more fried foods in school. The Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Sid Miller, says he wants to restore deep-fat fryers in Texas school cafeterias. In his mind, this “isn’t about french fries, it’s about freedom.”
The freedom to develop cardiovascular disease?
School cafeterias are the front line on the battleground for childhood obesity prevention. They serve as test kitchens for interventions designed to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables and decrease the intake of processed and fried foods. In 2012 the USDA and First Lady Michelle Obama announced standards for more nutritious school food. As part of the rules, schools are expected to serve fruits, vegetables and whole grains daily, and limit calories in servings. […]
In National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius, 132 S. Ct. 2566 (2012), the Court famously struck down the “individual mandate” of the ACA under the Commerce Clause. The Chief Justice noted that the Government’s argument for regulation under the Commerce Clause — that individuals were participating in interstate commerce by not purchasing health insurance and were thereby subject to regulation — “would justify a mandatory purchase to solve almost any problem.” He continued, “To consider a different example in the health care market, many Americans do not eat a balanced diet. [The] failure of that group to have a healthy diet increases health care costs, to a greater extent than the failure of the uninsured to purchase insurance . . . Under the Government’s theory, Congress could address the diet problem by ordering everyone to buy vegetables.”
This hypothetical was raised as an example of a potential absurd result of accepting the Government’s line of reasoning in this case. It was provided as an extreme outcome to catch the reader’s attention. Justice Ginsburg even responded to this “broccoli horrible” hypothetical by stating that the Court would have to accept a lengthy chain of inferences, something that the Court has refused to do in the past, to find that a vegetable-purchase mandate would affect health-care costs. Some of those inferences included accepting that individuals would eat the vegetables rather than throw them away once purchased, that they would cut back on other unhealthy foods, and that the healthy diet would not be offset by an individual’s lack of exercise. In addition to this piling of inferences, Justice Ginsburg noted that the democratic process would serve as a “formidable check” to prevent a situation such as the broccoli horrible. Discussions about this broccoli mandate outside the courtroom were framed similarly. One article from 2012 stated that Congress would need to be “crazy” to pass such legislation and that “absurd bills like a broccoli mandate are likely to fail other constitutional tests.”
Yet, here we are, just a couple years later, and it seems that some of the weakest and most vulnerable in our population have indeed found themselves in the midst of the broccoli horrible. Read More
An important new study shows that a child will most likely be healthier throughout her childhood if a tax on cigarettes is in place when her mother is pregnant. Economist David Simon (who, full disclosure, is my cousin) at the University of Connecticut has extended the findings that the health of infants can be improved by a policy intervention that improves the in-utero environment, and has provided strong evidence that cigarette taxes can improve the health of children into their teen years.
It is well established that smoking during pregnancy can harm a developing fetus. In his paper, Simon cites studies that demonstrate the negative effects of taxes on cigarette smoking, and in a second paper, he collects and reviews the literature that shows that pregnant women are responsive to cigarette taxes. Simon uses a restricted-use version of the National Health Interview Survey, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has used since 1957 to collect data on the health of the U.S. population, to examine medium-term childhood health outcomes for individuals exposed to a cigarette tax in-utero. Read More