Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: public health

Tell the FDA how you want the bad news delivered on your fave restaurant food

July 7, 2010 |  7:27 pm

It's been just over three months since the landmark healthcare reform bill was signed into law, and the federal government is now drafting the regulations that will bring some of the law's key anti-obesity initiatives to a restaurant or fast-food counter near you.

Specifically, the bill made it the law of the land that restaurants that are part of a chain of more than 20 stores must post for consumers the calorie content of their offerings. Consumers must be able to get, in writing and on the spot, a lot of additional details about the nutritional content of the food served, including its total fat, saturated fat, sodium, fiber, total carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fiber and total protein.

Now, several states and local jurisdictions beat the federal government to the punch on this. But the federal law will impose greater consistency on what is a patchwork of nutritional-posting requirements. 

For patients with diabetes, those who tote their points with Weight Watchers, or watch their carbs on one of the many low-carb diets, for consumers concerned about sodium's impact on their blood pressure or seeking to banish saturated fat from their plate, the way in which of all this information is presented can make it easier or harder to follow an eating plan. So here's your chance to tell the FDA how you would have restaurants, delicatessens, fast-food-joints, shops brewing coffee or scooping ice cream -- even movie theaters -- organize and provide nutritional information for consumers like you.

Here's the link to give the FDA a piece of your mind. (After choosing "submit a comment," you'll need to supply the following "Docket number": FDA-2010-N-0298 and hit "search.")

The site for comments opened midday Thursday and will stay open for 60 days.

Still wondering how healthcare reform will affect you? Here's the government's comprehensive site.

--Melissa Healy

Black and Latino males twice as likely to have poor health

June 30, 2010 |  8:17 am

Black Latino Men health Given the inequality in healthcare in the United States, it's no surprise that some groups of people suffer far worse health outcomes than people with better resources. But if there is one group that has been especially overlooked in this equation, it's black and Latino boys. The major factor in their poor health, according to a new report by the California Endowment, is where they live. Growing up in poor and stressful neighborhoods with limited healthcare resources leads to poor health.

According to the findings in the report:

  • The odds of poor health outcomes for boys and men of color are more than two times higher than for white boys and men in California.
  • Latino boys are 4.1 times more likely than white boys to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • African-American boys are 2.5 times more likely.
  • Latinos are 3.1 times more likely to have limited access to health care and 4.8 times more likely to lack health insurance.
  • Asthma disproportionately affects children who live in poorer neighborhoods.
    Black young men have a homicide rate 16 times greater than that of young white men.
  • African-American and Latino children are 3.5 times more likely to grow up in poverty compared to whites.

Poorer neighborhoods mean less access to stores selling health foods, fewer parks and safe places to run and play in and fewer social networks to promote health and safety.

The California Endowment has launched a 10-year initiative, called Building Healthy Communities, to improve the health of men and boys of color by making strategic improvements in the communities and neighborhoods in which they live. In the report, the group identifies a handful of successful programs to improve the lives of men of color already in place in the state that could be applied on a larger scale -- and why implementing these programs statewide cannot wait.
-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Carlos Chavez  /  Los Angeles Times

Obesity rate tops 25% in two-thirds of states; this should be shocking, but ...

June 29, 2010 |  4:10 pm

Weight Overall, Americans in 28 states are still gaining weight, but not residents of the nation's capital. They bucked the national trend, a new report has found, actually lowering their obesity rate. The former should be more surprising, more noteworthy than the latter; by this point, it might not be.

The latest numbers come from the annual obesity assessment offered by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and it's a goldmine of data, individual findings and broad overviews. Can't get enough of those "which state is fatter" comparisons? This analysis is for you.

Not only does the report rank states and the District of Columbia by their obesity rates, showing the trends over time, it compares ethnic groups within those states as well. It also includes a nice synopsis of what states are doing, in terms of legislation, to combat the seemingly unstoppable gain. Then there are various other comparisons -- breast-feeding rates, physical activity rates and the like. This doesn't imply causation, of course (so no need to e-mail us about it!) but the correlation is interesting: D.C. also has the highest rate of fruit and vegetable consumption.

In any case, Mississippi has the highest rate of adult obesity; 33.8% of its residents are obese. Colorado is the relative slimmest; only 19.1% of its residents are obese. California ranked fairly well as such things go, with 24.4% of its residents characterized as obese. (We have to point out, that's an increase over last year.)

As for obesity rates by ethnic groups, those numbers paint their own picture. Wisconsin has the highest rate of obesity among black residents; 44% are obese. Nevada, at 25.8%, has the lowest rate. Tennessee claims that distinction for Latinos; 39.5% of Latinos there are considered obese. D.C., at 20.6%, has the lowest rate.

By this point, the individual numbers are likely to garner quiet dismay more than the disbelief they warrant. Obesity rates now top 25% -- repeat, 25% -- in two-thirds of the states; that should be shocking, it should. But, somehow, it isn't.

If there's a bright side (other than D.C.), the trends, the ethnic differences -- all are useful in assessing where to go from here. The report offers its authors' thoughts, all policy-oriented, on that matter.

Here's the full report, "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2010." It can also be found at either organization's website, or, should you be interested in checking out the organizations.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: If states were people, two-thirds would now be considering -- if not actually undertaking -- a diet.

Credit: Los Angeles Times

Smoking ban in public housing would be good for public health, advocates say

June 16, 2010 |  4:32 pm

Generally speaking, the federal government is in the business of protecting public health. It works hard to ensure that medicines are safe before they can be sold to the public. It issues recalls when toys pose choking dangers to small children. Last year, it got expanded power to regulate the tobacco industry so it could do more to discourage smoking, especially among kids.

Cigarette So why not protect the 7 million people who live in public housing by banning smoking in those complexes?

That’s the question posed by a pediatrician and two lawyers who focus on the public health consequences of smoking. Writing in Thursday’s edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, they urge the Department of Housing and Urban Development to make use of a new federal policy that gives public housing authorities the power to make smoking verboten in the apartments they rent to low-income people.

This proposal is sure to be unpopular with many people, not the least being smokers who live in publicly owned or publicly subsidized housing. Many people take it on faith that the rights to liberty and privacy protect people who want to smoke in their homes.

But that’s not necessarily true, the authors write. Courts have ruled that smoking restrictions do not violate the U.S. Constitution and that the government can implement a ban if it has a “reasonable basis” for doing so (such as protecting the health of children). They note that the federal Fair Housing Act does not include a right to smoke.

That doesn’t mean that smoking privileges should be removed lightly. The only ethical way to deal with public housing residents who are already addicted to tobacco is to offer them places in smoking cessation programs and give them time to adjust, the authors write.

In any event, their burden would be more than outweighed by the benefits to nonsmoking residents, the authors argue. Forty-one percent of public housing units are occupied by families with children and 32% include an elderly person – two groups that are particularly vulnerable to tobacco smoke. As we all know, exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, asthma and other health problems. A 2006 report from the surgeon general says that “there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.”

Without an outright ban, it would be difficult or impossible for low-income people to live in a smoke-free environment. They can’t simply “vote with their feet” and move to another building if they can’t afford to pay higher rent, the authors write.

There’s reason to think a smoking ban would actually be popular. Thousands of landlords from Chicago to Oregon have made their apartment buildings smoke-free, and have so far kept from going out of business.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Cigarettes should be banned in public housing apartments, antismoking advocates say. Credit: Karen Bleier / AFP/Getty Images

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