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Archive for the ‘Health Morality’ Category

Looks like Governor (and Democratic Presidential Candidate) Bill Richardson is going through all the motions necessary to implement a state sponsored medical marijuana program without actually doing it. 

Gov. Bill Richardson ordered the state Health Department on Friday to resume planning of a medical marijuana program despite the agency’s worries about possible federal prosecution.

However, the governor stopped short of committing to implement a state-licensed production and distribution system for the drug if the potential for federal prosecution remains unchanged.

The department announced earlier this week that it would not implement the law’s provisions for the agency to oversee the production and distribution of marijuana to eligible patients. That decision came after Attorney General Gary King warned that the department and its employees could face federal prosecution for implementing the law, which took effect in July.

Even if Governor Richardson decided to implement the program he is planning, it seems like a smart move to keep that close to his chest for now.  He can control the story at this point and possibly put the Democratic congress and President Bush on the spot. 

Also Friday, Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate, sent a letter to President Bush urging the federal government to allow states like New Mexico to implement medical marijuana programs without fear of federal prosecution.

Such as exception would require Congress to approve legislation changing the law, Gallegos said.

Last month, the U.S. House rejected a proposal _ on a 165-262 vote _ that would have blocked the Justice Department from taking action against state medical marijuana programs, including New Mexico’s.

Personally, if a doctor wants to prescribe marijuana and a patient wants to take the prescription and states want to allow it, I’m not entirely sure why Bush believes he’s got anything to say about it. 

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The L.A. Times has an excellent article about the practice of inducing labor, which has been on the rise for the last twenty or so years.  Apparently, for a variety of reasons, some hospitals have been trying to control this trend. 

Some hospitals and healthcare organizations across the nation share her concerns. Several have barred elective labor induction under certain circumstances, such as before 39 weeks of gestation (one week before the due date) or when there isn’t clear evidence that the mother’s cervix is primed for childbirth.

“There is renewed interest in these seemingly benign medical interventions,” says Dr. William Grobman, an assistant professor of maternal-fetal medicine at Northwestern University. “But the topic is somewhat hazy. We don’t have all the information we’d like to have about risks and benefits.”

The move appears to be a push back against the trend in recent decades to medically manage childbirth. Fewer than 10% of women underwent induction in 1990, but more than 21% did so in 2004, according to federal government statistics. No one knows how many of those inductions were prompted by legitimate medical concerns. But various studies have put the number of inductions for convenience at 15% to 55% of the total number.

At the same time, rates of caesarean sections increased to more than 29% in 2004, up from 23% in 1990, with many women requesting elective C-sections — surgical births without any medical justification. That trend too has generated debate about whether patients are undertaking unnecessary risks.

Labor induction is frequently, and legitimately, recommended when health problems complicate a pregnancy or when pregnancies are more than two weeks past the due date, obstetricians and gynecologists say. But sometimes the procedure is done solely for convenience. In a busy society, doctors and patients have grown increasingly comfortable with this practice.

“People want to schedule their birth like they schedule their nail appointments,” says Janie Wilson, director of nursing operations for women and newborns at Intermountain Healthcare, a Salt Lake City-based chain of hospitals that has tried to reduce the rate of labor inductions.

In my opinion, there are two underlying issues here.  One is money and the other is the notion that some people are treating childbirth as a medical procedure rather than a spiritual and philosophical process by which babies come into the world. 

There is little scientific evidence that labor induction causes any long-lasting harm to mother or baby. But even short-term medical problems are significant given the nation’s healthcare economics crisis, Wilson says. According to Intermountain’s data, healthy deliveries in the 39th week (and women whose cervixes were fully prepared) incur the lowest costs.

“It could be contributing to the double-digit premium increases you pay each year,” she says of elective labor induction’s effect on insurance rates. “Cost is the icing on the cake. But it’s not the main reason we should be doing this. We should do it because it’s safer.”

The argument that natural labor is safer, though, is in much dispute.  The article does a pretty good job surveying the two sides.  But here are a couple choice quotes about the lifestyle implications of inducing labor which seems to be offending some people. 

Hospital administrators no longer see sudden spikes in deliveries before major holidays, three-day weekends and Jazz basketball playoff games.

“This is another study saying to women, ‘You can’t survive without us making things better; nature is completely off-track,’ ” says [Dr. Michael C. Klein, emeritus professor of family practice and pediatrics at the University of British Columbia.] “And there is a huge reservoir of practitioners out there who want to hear this message.”

“I’m not sure consumers think about the risks. They think, ‘Gosh, I want elective induction at 38 weeks because I’m tired of being pregnant,’ ” she says. “Hopefully, educating them up front and setting expectations will make it easier.”

Doctors who want the convenience to schedule daytime deliveries may be the biggest force for elective labor induction, says Lisa Sherwood, a certified nurse midwife and women’s healthcare nurse-practitioner based in San Clemente. Women who “haven’t slept well in weeks, have swollen ankles and sore backs” are vulnerable to the suggestion of elective induction. “People look at the doctor as the expert and will do whatever he or she suggests.”

So it’s not just the women who want to schedule child-birth at convenient times.  Some doctors seem to be pushing for labor induction too. 

Still this is not a simple issue.  There are a confluence of factors that seem to be informing people’s views:  money, safety, and lifestyles.  The least important part of that, in my mind, is money.  Sure something rubs me the wrong way about a doctor who would prefer to schedule a labor induction procedure around his playoff basketball watching schedule but one would assume informed consent of the patient is still required, right? 

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A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that terminally ill patients whose only chance of survival lies in investigational medicines should, essentially, suck it up and wait it out ’til the FDA rules that the drugs are 100 percent without risk.

That makes sense. I mean, if terminally ill patients take some drug without the FDA’s permission, it could be dangerous. They could die. Oh, wait …

Two judges dissented, pointing out the injustice of this situation:

The two dissenters said the ruling ignored the Constitution’s protection for individuals and their right to life, and instead bowed to “a dangerous brand of paternalism” that put the government’s interest first.

The majority, however, says people don’t have the right to “assume risk” that may save their lives unless a regulatory body says they can:

Judge Thomas B. Griffith, writing for the majority, said a right to experimental drugs was not deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition. Judge Griffith said the right of self-defense “cannot justify creating a constitutional right to assume any level of risk without regard to the scientific and medical judgment expressed through the clinical testing process.”

Sorry you’re dying, but we have rules and procedures, mind you This is no time for attempts at self-preservation, we have a bureaucracy to run here!

But perhaps I’m making this out to be more clear-cut than it is. The group filed the suit under a 5th Amendment claim, saying that not allowing patients these drugs deprived them their right to life. Perhaps the judges were not so much ruling on whether or not dying patients should be allowed to take test drugs but whether or not they have a constitutional right to do so. One of the judges in the majority noted that this is perhaps a matter better left to Congress than the courts. If these judges in the majority are truly constitutional purists, so be it. I think there are major merits to originalist interpretations. But as one of the dissenters notes:

“In the end, it is startling,” Rogers wrote, that the Constitution has been read to include unnamed “fundamental rights” to marry, to control a child’s education, to have sex in private and to have an abortion, “but the right to save one’s life is left out.”

The group who brought the suit, the Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs, said they’ll appeal to the Supreme Court.

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A 50% cut in health insurance premiums would only reduce the number of uninsured Americans by 3%, estimates a Rand study out Monday, which suggests that incentives and government tax cuts won’t lead to universal coverage.

The study, published online Monday in the journal Health Services Research, says cost is just one obstacle to health coverage, with many uninsured citing other barriers, such as the hassle factor of buying insurance, the desire to spend money on other things or a belief that coverage is not necessary.

“A lot of people aren’t willing to pay for insurance; they have other things they feel are a priority,” Marquis says.

Hmm, people have other things that take priority over spending on health insurance. That makes sense. Some of them don’t feel it’s worth the hassle it takes to do so, some of them need their money for other things, and some of them are just pretty healthy and don’t think they need the coverage. Yep, yep, these all seem like pretty reasonable and rational reasons for choosing not to get health insurance. Cool.

Oh, wait … did we just determine that people are making reasonable and rational decisions based on their own indivudal economic status, health status, cost/benefit and risk/benefit analyses? Shit, man, we can’t have that! Cue government intervention!

A federal requirement that all people have insurance may be the only way to achieve (universal coverage), says study author Susan Marquis, an economist at Rand, a think tank.

Bleh. I don’t have a lot of opinions about health insurance, but this universal requirement business is the one plan I find absolutely infuriatingly awful. I think I’d rather have complete government-funded healthcare than this. Government-funded healthcare might be anathema to conservatives/libertarians for a lot of reasons, but at least it’s more onerous on the government than on the people, and not as infringing on people’s ability to make their own decisions. You wanna give me health insurance? Fine. Just don’t tell me I absolutely must buy it myself. It’s just raising the bar once again on what it takes to be a proper and law-abiding citizen …

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Via WSJ:

Anti tobacco groups also have been advocating a higher tobacco tax, which also appears to be getting attention in the House. Recently, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids presented to House Democratic aides a survey it funded that showed substantial support – even among smokers — for raising tobacco taxes.

So I was skeptical of this statement, but I looked at the survey and results memo, though and the question seems pretty straightforward.

Would you favor or oppose a 75 cent per pack increase in the federal cigarette tax,
with the revenue dedicated to the program that provides health care coverage to uninsured children?

And apparently 51 percent of “current or occasional smokers” favor the tax increase. I suppose these could all be the “the-government-should-save-me-from-myself” contingent. There could also be some desirability bias at work here, though. Not many people really want to be perceived as saying, “No, I don’t want to help save poor children if it’s going to cost me an extra 75 cents!” (which isn’t exactly the issue, but you know, it can sound that way).

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I think we should start taxing people based on their weight. Weight tax, if you will. Healthy weight? Then you don’t have to get weight taxed. Overweight? Well, then you get taxed. And the taxes increase incrementally for every 5 pounds over healthy weight you are. Maybe if you don’t like it you’ll stop eating so much. In fact, maybe if everyone gets too burdened by the weight tax, fast food and other high-calorie crap will be eradicated all together. McDonalds will go out of business. It’ll be awesome. We can use that money we raise from your love handles to provide health insurance for orphans. What does one have to do with the other? Who cares??? This is America – you make an unhealthy lifestyle choice, the government should have the right to tax you exorbitantly for it.

Oh … wait. What? You think that’s unfair? Yeah, well, I think this is unfair:

Representatives from health advocacy groups Tuesday announced that a poll of 1000 likely voters showing widespread support for increasing the federal tobacco tax to reauthorize and expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). According to the survey, 67 percent of voters “strongly support” a 75-cent increase in the federal cigarette tax to fund health care coverage for uninsured children.

(from a CQ.com article that I can’t link to)

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There’s an article in Salon today that I don’t quite know what to make of. In MeMe Roth style, the article’s author, Debra Dickerson, takes on some woman known as “Buffie the Body,” who apparently regularly appear in magazines aimed at black male audiences. Dickerson is appalled that this large woman is being held up as a sex symbol. Although she begins her op-ed by mocking Roth for her “won’t-someone-please-think-of-the-children” posturing, she 180’s in the very next paragraph:

“(Roth) does help lead the way to a worthy point: the culturally accepted high level of obesity among black women and its related health problems. But Jordin Sparks isn’t the poster girl for this issue. Buffie the Body is. Buffie, with a 45-inch ass, is the reigning queen of this scene and her popularity speaks to blacks’ normalization of a very un-p.c. fatness.”

Won’t someone please think of the poor fat-black-women?

Bleh. Dickerson goes on to point out that “pre-kids” she was a “hardcore gym rat” who harassed co-workers “over the contents of their lunch sacks.” Why do we keep letting people with obvious body issues themselves appear in media to tell everyone what kinds of bodies should and should not be allowed in the media?

Yeah, people in this country should lose weight. But making sure NO FAT PEOPLE APPEAR IN THE MEDIA EVER!!!! isn’t really going to help things. Not to mention the people like Dickerson and Roth are condescending and operating under the theory that fat-people-don’t-know-they’re fat and certainly don’t realize it’s unhealthy to be fat and thus need to be told so by skinny people at every available opportunity. Besides, prime-time married-with-children sitcoms are filled with nothing but overweight fathers and husbands; where is the hand wringing for the bad example this sets for all the fat white middle-class males in society, eh?

EDIT: More about the race aspect of all this here.

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Oh, wow. I was pretty excited about the existence of the Big Donor Show, an alleged Dutch reality show in which patients compete for a kidney from organ donor “Lisa,” a 37-year old terminally ill woman. The show was criticized for being “tasteless” and disgusting, but the show’s creators said the program was intended to raise awareness about the shortage of organs available for transplant.

You probably already know this, but it turns out the show was a hoax.

At the last moment, presenter Patrick Lodiers of the “Big Donor Show” said the woman known as “Lisa” was an actress, not actually dying of a brain tumor as claimed. The entire exercise was intended to pressure the government into reforming its organ donation laws and raise public awareness of the need for organs, he said.

I applaud their effort to get people to focus on the issue of organ shortages. Should’ve kept it up longer, though. Gotten people emotionally invested in the patients (all of whom were real patients, but were in on the hoax) waiting for organs over a period of time or something. Brought it to the US with Paula Abdul and Ty Bennington as hosts (Extreme Makeover: Internal Organs Edition).

Apparently the rules governing organ donation in Holland are quite strict; you have to be a family member or friend of the recipient in order to donate. While the purpose of the show was to critique Holland’s strict donor stipulations, much of the press over here has focused on the general shortage of kidneys for patients who need them. According to all the news reports, about 200 people per year die while waiting for a kidney in Holland alone. The number is around 4,000 per year in the US.

What’s been entirely unsurprising about the controversy/coverage of this alleged show in the mainstream press here is the exclusive focus on the need for more people to become organ donors as the solution-to-the-problem. It’s the kind of individualizing frame that entirely negates any need for societal/government intervention, like revising our own laws governing kidney donation and providing people with some financial incentive to donate. I recently learned the dismal fact that the only place with legal financial markets in human kidneys is Iran (although, as Seamus McCauley points out, “Shi’a muslims in a country that’s banned alcohol probably have the best kidneys in the world,” so if there is only going to be one country where one can buy a kidney, better it be there than, say, Ireland).

In a moment of financial desperation a few weeks ago (I was between school-year job and summer internship with rent due-date fast approaching), I began perusing the Washington Post Express clinical trial ads. I even looked up/called about a few of them, but in the end it all seemed to risky. Sure, there’s only a 1 percent chance that that experimental anthrax vaccine will make me immediately fall on the floor in convulsions, but, you know, I’m not so down with even that 1 percent chance. Comparing the other options I had with the option of that whole convulsing business, I decided clinical trials weren’t for me. I imagine that someone in more dire financial circumstances (or just less risk-averse) than I, however, may have weighed that risk with the financial benefit and decided to go for it. I thought about this this week when I read arguments (not in the MSM, of course, who didn’t even broach the kidney markets topic, but in blogs) that markets in human organs are wrong, which usually involve some sort of outcry about how they will disproportionately influence the poor to sell their kidneys. No shit. The poor do a lot of risky things in disproportionate amount to the wealthy – get experimental anthrax vaccines, join the army, work in coal mines. If these things are legal – if someone can perfectly legally gamble their health testing out experimental drugs or participating in sleep deprivation studies or running on a treadmill while smoking or any of the other clinical trials listed every day in the back of WaPo express and I imagine, you know, hundreds of other newspapers around the country – then why can’t they sell their damn kidney?

P.S. Do not technorati “big donor” unless you want to come up with a lot of spam porn.

*I absolutely could not think of a title for this post, so I stole it from a post at Virtual Economics.

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Apparently a study announced by researchers at Johns Hopkins last week found evidence that oral sex leads to increased chances of getting throat cancer.

If you and your girlfriend have had more than five oral-sex partners in your lives … you are both 250 percent more likely to develop throat cancer than some sad asshole who’s never had oral sex. “Researchers believe,” reports New Scientist, “[that] oral sex may transmit human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus implicated in the majority of cervical cancers,” and the virus lodges in the throat, where it can cause cancer. Study subjects infected with HPV were 32 times more likely to develop throat cancer; folks who tested positive for one highly aggressive strain of the virus, HPV-16, were 58 times more likely to develop throat cancer. Smoking, previously believed to be the culprit behind most throat cancers, only triples a person’s risk.

While this will probably be heralded by at least a few ultra-religous wingnuts as evidence that, see, missionary procreative sex is the only god-sanctioned non-throat-cancer-giving way to do it, Savage points out that the news that men can get cancer from HPV is probably the best thing that can happen as far as the HPV vaccine is concerned:

There’s a vaccine that offers 100 percent protection against the strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer in women and, it now appears, throat cancer in men and women. Religious conservatives believe that the HPV vaccine undermines abstinence education by making sex less risky. Never mind that numerous studies have shown that abstinence education does not work, HPV vaccine or no HPV vaccine. The right would rather see 4,000 American women die of cervical cancer every year than call off the idiotic, ineffective fraud that is abstinence education. And up to now the mainstream media have refrained from calling the right’s opposition to the HPV vaccine what it is—delusional, psychotic, homicidal—because up to now only women’s lives were at stake.

That’s about to change. Here’s the headline from my morning paper: “HPV Factors in Throat Cancer: Study Could Shift Debate About Vaccine.” You bet it will. Up to now, the HPV vaccine—which, again, has proven 100 percent effective against the cancer-causing strains of the virus—could merely prevent 10,000 cases of cervical cancer in American women every year, along with 4,000 deaths. But now the debate could shift—it will shift, it already has shifted—because it’s no longer “just” the lives of 4,000 American women that are on the line, but the sex lives of 150 million American men.

“If men got pregnant,” goes the bumper sticker, “abortion would be a sacrament.” Now that straight men can get cancer from eating pussy, the HPV vaccine is going to go from controversial to sacramental faster than you can say, “Suck my dick.”

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Via Erin, students at Hunter College have created Guerilla Nutrition Labels to “inform the public about the harmful processed ingredients in foods like partially hydrogenated oil (trans fat), high fructose corn syrup and sodium benzoate” and encourage consumers to print the labels themselves and “surreptitiously plant them on products in stores or even private homes.” {can you imagine what kind of person would go around in all seriousness putting these labels on food in their friends’ homes?} At risk of sounding like some sort of shill for the trans fat industry here (you can’t please me by banning them, you can’t please me with these “awareness” stickers, I know, I know), this is just kind of silly. Not to mention contains really bad word play.

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Via Michael Siegel at The Rest of the Story, an op-ed in The Australian by Simon Chapman, a professor of public health, about the ethics of public health policy, and tobacco policy in particular.

Apparently, Australia has enacted some pretty intense smoking bans lately: ban on smoking in cars with children, ban on smoking in parks, and a potential ban on smoking in all outdoor restaurants.

Chapman suggests that “children exposed to smoking in private cars first tested the public-private policy boundaries on smoking.” This is one of those issues that tends to really aggravate me, because you’ll get a lot of anti-smoking advocates all “Oh, so you think parents should smoke in cars with small children around?” (more…)

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Jesse Walker at Reason on the various sides of the HPV vaccine debate:

Which leads to the next question: Even if the vaccination isn’t compulsory now, should it be obligatory sometime down the road? The knee-jerk libertarian reaction is to say no, and at least one of my knees is a confirmed libertarian. But there are circumstances under which it makes sense to require a vaccine. When a deadly disease can be spread through casual contact, a school would arguably be negligent not to require students to be inoculated against it, just as it would be negligent not to ensure that its roof won’t collapse on the children beneath it. The more people are vaccinated, the less likely it is that any of them will transmit the illness. This is especially important when some of the parties present are medically ineligible for the vaccine, as some children inevitably are.

But you don’t transmit these strains of HPV by breathing on a playmate or by leaving some spittle on a water fountain. You transmit them through intimate contact. It isn’t entirely true, as some opponents of the mandates have carelessly claimed, that HPV is “100 percent avoidable” — not unless they mean avoiding sex your entire life. But it is 100 percent avoidable in the activities you’re supposed to perform in the course of a school day. A person with HPV is not a clear and present danger the way a person with measles or whooping cough is.

Blasphemychallenge.com vs. ChallengeBlasphemy.com : videomakers debate the existence of God via YouTube.

What the world needs now is irony sweet irony: the failed promise of 9/11 to usher in an age of sincerity.

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Disco Blood Bath

What would James St. James say?

But research has not proved that moderate or low doses of ecstasy are particularly dangerous. And avant-garde psychiatrists have long argued that in a controlled clinical setting, low amounts can play a role by reducing fear, without sedation, and so encourage openness and emotional insight.

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The New York Times has an interesting piece today on obesity report cards.

The practice of reporting students’ body mass scores to parents originated a few years ago as just one tactic in a war on childhood obesity that would be fought with fresh, low-fat cafeteria offerings and expanded physical education. Now, inspired by impressive results in a few well-financed programs, states including Delaware, South Carolina and Tennessee have jumped on the B.M.I. bandwagon, turning the reports — in casual parlance, obesity report cards — into a new rite of childhood.

The article provides anecdotes about a 6-year old who is now loathe to eat because she was at the top of the normal-weight-percentile and thinks her teachers will be mad at her if she goes above that; an 8-year old who has begun daily weigh-ins and boasting about her low-weight status like one would boast about an A on a regular report card; and the size-20 homecoming queen who the author uses as a symbol of Pennsylvania’s apparently different-from-the-rest-of-the-US weight standards (oh yeah, tell me this teenage girl really doesn’t care at all that she’s a size 20).

The thing about the obesity report card is it’s operating under that age-old patronizing assumption that fat people (or in this case, fat kids or the parents of fat kids) don’t realize that they’re fat and need to have it pointed out to them at every opportunity, without really addressing causes or solutions.

Here, in the rural Southern Tioga School District, the schools distribute the state-mandated reports even as they continue to serve funnel cakes and pizza for breakfast.

Which, to be fair, I imagine it’s pretty likely the school doesn’t just offer pizza and funnel cakes for breakfast. It would be silly to imagine it doesn’t also offer things like apples and cereal and granola bars. It’s not the school’s job to see that kids reach for these options instead of a pepperoni slice. It’s also not the school’s job to tell children and their parents that they are fat, as if they’ve just failed to notice, or as if they’re aren’t doctors to handle that task.

I have such conflicting views on the so-called “obesity epidemic” in the US. On the one hand, yes, rising obesity rates are, well, bad. No one can argue against that. But it seems that every solution that anyone ever proposes to combat this does nothing but increase our collective societal schizophrenia about weight.

Part of me wants to say that American’s fatness speaks to a general state of over-consumption and parental refusal to set limits for their children and disgraceful national shift away from physical past-times to sedentary ones, and I take this very negative viewpoint towards it. Then I remember that I was raised on gushers and potato chips and pizza lunchables, that I do not exercise, I spent most of my childhood sitting and reading and most of my adult life in front of a computer, and the only reason I myself remain thin, I think, is through a blessing of good genes and metabolism.

Sometimes I find myself getting caught up in those think-about-your-health arguments for why people should lose weight. Other times I get disgusted by the perceived moral superiority of thin-ness and using health as a ruse for moral projections. If people damn well don’t want to lose weight, then why should they? There’s no inherent moral obligation to be healthy. I smoke a pack-a-day of cigarettes, which is probably a hell of a lot worse for me than an extra 20 pounds would be. And I have no desire to quit, because I like smoking, and … and somehow, I’ve gotten far, far off topic … reasons for smoking is another blog post entirely ….

Pandagon had a really awesome post and discussion about weight/morality way back in the day….

… our society treats being overweight as a sign of immorality. The only other privilege even remotely like thinness in this sense is wealth, in the assumption that the wealthy/thin have earned their privilege through hard work. The problem is that it’s horse shit, utter horse shit. Most thin people will tell you straight up, if we’re honest, that we don’t “work” at it. High metabolism is a genetic trait, and to a degree it might just be a habit of sorts …

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The Washington Post has published an earth-shattering revelation today: extensively reading diet articles can be unhealthy for teen girls!

Teenage girls who frequently read magazine articles about dieting were more likely five years later to practice extreme weight-loss measures such as vomiting than girls who never read such articles, the University of Minnesota study found.

The study adds to evidence that girls’ attitudes toward their bodies are shaped by popular culture.

Seriously, who funds these studies? Could there really have been any question that teen girls who frequently read teen magazines, with all the accompanying diet and beauty articles, photos of models and general emphasis on fulfillment through consumption and physical perfection, are more concerned with weightloss than those who don’t? Next there are going to be studies revealing that people who read tech magazines purchase more gadgets, and those who read car magazines are more interested in cars! Geez.

Ronald Bailey predicts that Center for Science in the Public Interest is going to get behind this:

It won’t be long before the food and nutrition busybodies conclude that since information is toxic that we need to suspend the First Amendment. Of course, they’ll do it “for the children.”

Eh, possibly. But I’m more inclined to think people like the folks at CSPI are pretty much all about encouraging eating disorders. When Margot Wootan, CSPI’s director of nutritional policy, came to speak to one of my classes this past fall, she was quick to take inventory of everything that me and my classmates were eating and admonish us for exactly how many calories we were consuming. She seriously went around the room, gleefully divulging calorie information for someone’s soft drink, for my bag of chips, etc.

CSPI is currently advocating for calorie and fat content being displayed next to price in all restaurant menus and on fast food menu boards. I have mixed reactions to this. I’m opposed to the idea of government mandating this sort of thing, but I can at least see the virtues of the argument that people cannot make informed nutritional decisions without all the information, so there’s a potential basis for this kind of labeling, much like nutritional labeling on packaged foods.

Mostly, though, I just don’t think it would make a damn bit of difference. People don’t order a McDonald’s cheeseburger and fries and not realize that it’s not going to be awesome for them. But they order the cheeseburger and fries because they’ve decided that they’re going to allow themselves to consume that food at that time, for whatever reason, so putting the calorie content up there isn’t really going to stop them. It’s kind of a risk/benefits analysis thing: sure, that sandwich might have 675 calories, but what are the chances you’re going to drop dead of a heart attack right there and then after eating it? Very slim. So you’re probably going to eat the damn sandwich anyway, even if you know exactly how many calories it has.
Some people might make some healthier choices at restaurants if they knew the calorie content – if they’re trying to decide between a burger and a chicken sandwich and they see one is nutritionally better for them, that might tip their decision in one direction or another. Then again, the nutritional information is out there, and the kind of people who are worried about it are probably the kind of people who are going to look that stuff up beforehand on the restaurant’s Web site or sites like calorieking.com anyway.

Really, an intense focus on calorie labeling of restaurant foods would probably only serve to make us collectively more neurotic as a society about what we eat. Increase feelings of guilt without significantly altering the way anybody eats.

But I’m getting wayyyy off topic here. What I really wanted to get at was the whole “do it for the children” argument. Because it seems that a lot of the time these advocates are not, in fact, doing it for the children. They’ve just found that, like so many times before, the children are a very convenient hook on which to hang any number of prohibitive matters.

My professor, the one who brought in CSPI lady to talk to us, repeatedly admitted as much. Her organization was one of the integral forces behind getting all those TV-14 and whatever ratings on TV in the 90s. This was not really the goal for which the organization she worked with was created, she said, but when they saw the way the Clinton administration responded to do-it-for-the-children style pleas, they decided to play up that angle, essentially to keep themselves in business. Which leads me to believe a lot of advocacy groups don’t really give a damn about what they’re advocating, so long as their advocating something in order to continue getting funding. That’s not a revelation of any sort, I know, it was just interesting to hear someone involved pretty much say so directly.

Plus, after having them crammed down my throat in class all last semester, I just really like to rant about CSPI. Insult my chip-eating habits will you Margot Wootan….

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