On the heels of his failed effort to combat rising rates of obesity by banning the sale of large sugary drinks, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is tackling a new public health initiative: dissuading Americans, and especially youth, from purchasing tobacco products.
Bloomberg is pushing a proposal that would ban stores from displaying cigarettes, which would make New York the first city in the nation to attempt to curb smoking by keeping tobacco products out of sight. The initiative wouldn’t prevent stores from advertising cigarettes or displaying the prices of their products — but it could significantly change the atmosphere in the city’s small corner stores. As the New York Times puts it, “In many of these stores, cigarettes are like wallpaper, the backdrop that every customer sees when going to the register to pay.”
But, considering the fact that tobacco kills an estimated 7,000 New Yorkers each year, Bloomberg doesn’t want customers to be exposed to that backdrop any longer. “Young people are targets of marketing, and the availability of cigarettes and this legislation will help prevent another generation from the ill health and shorter life expectancy that comes with smoking,” the mayor explained at a press briefing to unveil his new proposal.
Bloomberg has been a big proponent of anti-smoking initiatives, including public awareness campaigns and increased cigarette taxes, during his time in office. Those efforts have paid off. Smoking rates in the city have plummeted from 21.5 percent in 2002 to 14.8 percent in 2011. Despite the model that New York City provides for the rest of the nation, however, other states haven’t followed suit — austerity policies have led states across the country to slash funding for their smoking cessation programs over the past decade, even when those programs have proved to be effective.
Two former Louisiana state Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) secretaries have a message for Gov. Bobby Jindal (R): accept federal funding for taking part in Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, or see taxpayer money go to funding other states’ expansions while low-income Louisianans suffer.
Fred Cerise and David Hood, the latter of whom is a Republican who actually succeeded Jindal — a former DHH head himself — after Jindal left to become president of the University of Louisiana public schools system in 1998, urged the governor to join the growing ranks of Republican state officials who have embraced Medicaid expansion in a Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper ad. The advertisement states, “Medicaid expansion offers a path to regular access to health care for working adults.”
The ad goes on to note that forgoing the expansion won’t just deprive low-income Louisiana residents of crucial health coverage, but is fiscally irresponsible, too: “If Louisiana refuses to participate, our share of the money that pays for this program will be used to support the Medicaid expansion in other states and our low-income residents will continue to lack access to care.” Multiple studies, including a comprehensive Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, have shown that states expanding Medicaid will receive massive federal funding for very little state input.
Jindal has a decidedly poor record when it comes to safety net health care entitlements, instituting massive cuts to state programs that assist vulnerable groups such as poor first-time moms and low-income HIV patients. Jindal has also been a staunch Obamacare critic and has so far explicitly ruled out expanding Medicaid — however, there have been recent reports that he and other skeptical GOP state leaders might be open to a modified expansion along the lines of the unique deal struck between Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe (D) and the Obama Administration.
Advocates for the poor and hospital associations have been pressing Republican leaders to accept unusually generous federal funding to expand Medicaid, warning officials that providers might buckle under the weight of uncompensated care costs without a larger pool of insured low-income Americans who can actually afford to pay their medical bills. Expanding Medicaid faces an uphill battle even in states where GOP governors have embraced it, as they must still convince skeptical lawmakers in their own party to go along with the plan.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I-NY) may have lost this round of sparring over his proposed limits on sugary drinks, but another of his public health initiatives, requiring chain restaurants to post nutritional information on menus, seems promising. According to a new study in the research journal Appetite, people are most affected by menus listing not only calorie content of a menu item but also how long they would have to walk in order to burn it off.
An online survey presented 802 people with one of four menus: some saw just the calorie count, some were given the calories and the amount of time it would take to burn off the meal, others saw the calories and the distance needed to walk it off, and some were given no nutritional information at all. People who received no nutritional information ordered the most caloric meals, while people who saw the distance they needed to walk to burn it off ordered meals that were 200 calories lighter:
People who viewed the menu without nutritional information ordered a meal totaling 1,020 calories, on average, significantly more than the average 826 calories ordered by those who viewed menus that included information about walking-distance. Study participants ordered meals adding up to averages of 927 calories and 916 calories from menus with only calorie information or calorie information plus minutes walking, respectively, although the differences between these two totals were not statistically significant.
Other studies on menu labeling have proven inconclusive, though some evidence indicates restaurants modify recipes and portion sizes in order to post a lower calorie count. This new study, however, suggests that the problem is not necessarily customers’ apathy to their health but lack of context in which to read calorie counts on menus. A menu that directly translates calories into physical activity may be the key to changing eating habits.
A more detailed menu labeling rule could have a huge impact on the national obesity crisis. The average American eats restaurant food 5.8 times per week, ingesting a third of their daily calories from eating out.
Since fall 2011, New Yorkers have already been exposed to posters warning they would need to walk 3 miles to burn off the calories in a 20-ounce soda as part of a public health campaign. Restaurants are already required to post the calories of each dish by 21 state and local laws. As part of the Affordable Care Act, the rest of the nation should soon start seeing calorie counts at restaurants with 20 or more chains. While the restaurant industry vehemently opposed New York’s original menu labeling law in 2006, they have since come around to support a national menu labeling standard. The FDA, however, has dragged its feet on releasing the rules.
Citing the constitutional supremacy of federal laws over state-level legislation, U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig has struck down a 2012 Missouri law that “required insurers to issue policies without contraception coverage if individuals or employers objected because of religious or moral beliefs.”
The law was meant to effectively nullify Obamacare provisions requiring all employers to provide contraceptive coverage without an additional co-pay. It was passed after the Missouri state legislature overrode Gov. Jay Nixon’s (D) veto of the measure.
In an effort to mollify concerns from conservative critics of the contraception mandate, the Obama Administration recently issued clarifying rules on which employers — specifically, religious organizations — will be exempt from the Obamacare provision. Still, that hasn’t stopped for-profit companies like the crafts chain Hobby Lobby from bending over backwards to avoid complying with the law and providing their workers with affordable birth control.
Legally speaking, however, such companies are reaching when they claim that the Obamacare mandate is invalid under current law, and judicial decisions that claim otherwise are simply incorrect. In fact, a Bush-appointed judge rejected a legal challenge to the reform law’s contraception requirement from a Missouri-based Catholic business owner late last year, writing that, federal religious freedom law “is a shield, not a sword” that “is not a means to force one’s religious practices upon others.” Ultimately, the issue will likely be settled by the Supreme Court.
In an act of serious journalistic negligence, Fox News this morning ran tape of the Steubenville rape trial in which one of the rapists named the victim.
Typically in sexual assault cases, the major news media’s policy is not to name a victim. This is doubly true in the Steubenville case, where the victim is also a minor. But Fox News, in what seems to be an editing mistake, ran a clip from the court room where Mays said the victim’s name:
I would truly like to apologize to [redacted], her family, my family and the community. No picture should have been sent around, let alone even taken.
Out of respect for the victim, ThinkProgress will not publish the name, or the video.
In an earlier piece on Fox’s news website, the organization did manage to censor out the names of the two rapists, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond. Their names, however, have been published by news outlets because the boys’ lawyers have openly identified them in court. The victim’s has not, until this point.
Media have clearly struggled with how to represent the case, and earlier coverage from Fox actually bucked a trend of victim-blaming that was prevalent in other news outlets. Still, the negligence in failing to redact the girl’s name is a serious journalistic failure.
Fox News did not immediately return a request for comment.
MSNBC and CNN also ran the clip with the girl’s name, on Sunday. Those networks did not immediately return requests for comment.
Prominent global health groups — the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria — are warning that they need “significant funding” to combat the deadly strains of drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) that are spreading around the world.
In a joint statement, the two agencies explained that global health experts “urgently” need another $1.6 billion in annual support to help them track down and treat resistant forms of tuberculosis in developing nations, where millions of people still fall ill from TB every year:
“We are treading water at a time when we desperately need to scale up our response to multi drug-resistant TB,” said Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director general.
TB is often seen as a disease of the past — but the emergence of strains that can not be treated by various drugs has turned it into one of the world’s most pressing health problems over the past decade. Of all infectious diseases, only HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS) kills more people.
In 2011, 8.7 million people fell ill with TB and 1.4 million died of the disease. The WHO says as many as 2 million people may be suffering from drug-resistant strains by 2015. [...]
The WHO and the Global Fund said they had found an anticipated gap of $1.6 billion in annual international support for the fight against TB in 118 low and middle income countries. If this gap were filled, it could mean 17 million patients with TB and multi drug-resistant TB could be fully treated, saving about 6 million lives between 2014 and 2016, they said.
Treating TB is already complicated and costly, since patients need to take a cocktail of several antibiotics for a six-month period. Many patients don’t complete the full six-month treatment course — which has fueled the rise of deadly TB strains that are resistant to the drugs typically used against it, since the improper administration of antibiotics can render them less effective.
The WHO and its partner health agencies also recommended an additional $1.3 billion in funding to bolster TB research and encourage the development of new vaccines that will be more effective against the bacterial infection. Since it’s less profitable for the pharmaceutical industry to invest in developing new drugs, scientific innovation in this area often lags behind. But there’s still much work to be done when it comes to researching new TB treatments. Last month, a highly-anticipated TB vaccine trial, which scientists hoped could signal promise for the first new tuberculosis vaccine in 90 years, failed to achieve its desired results.
Unfortunately, tuberculosis isn’t the only global health threat of its kind. The treatments for common infections like gonorrhea, E. coli, and penicillin are also losing their effectiveness — and since new drugs aren’t being developed quickly enough to replace them, public health experts warn that an impending “antibiotic apocalypse” could eventually make them incurable.
In a new state-by-state study of price reporting provisions for medical services in America, over half of all U.S. states receive a failing grade. The report, which was compiled by two major American health care consulting firms, judges states based on both their price reporting laws and the availability of that information to the public — for instance, a state that requires providers to report the costs of every inpatient and outpatient procedure on a public website would get high marks. But as the following figure from the report shows, only New Hampshire and Massachusetts have any semblance of strong price reporting laws on their books, and the vast majority of states don’t even meet minimal standards:
In a letter at the beginning of the report, Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute Executive Director Francois de Brantes notes that as employers increasingly shift the cost of health care onto their workers by offering coverage through high-deductible health plans, “it is only fair and logical to ensure that consumers have the necessary quality and price information to make informed decisions about where to seek health care.”
Unfortunately, this transparency simply does not exist in the American health care industry, allowing providers to price gouge and leaving patients in the dark about why their care costs what it does. A recent Time investigation into price opacity in U.S. medical services revealed that a lack of strong public reporting provisions and consumer protections allows providers to charge their patients arbitrary and staggeringly inflated prices for their medical services, contributing heavily to rising health care costs.
Even though medical professionals encourage parents to get their children vaccinated for the human papillomavirus (HPV), a preventative measure that can help safeguard against some types of cancer, the country’s rates of HPV vaccination are still much too low. And parents are increasingly citing safety concerns as their justification for failing to get their children their HPV shots — despite the fact that there’s no evidence that the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, is actually unsafe.
According to a new study, 16 percent of the parents who didn’t choose to vaccinate their daughters in 2010 cited fears about the vaccine’s side effects and safety. That’s up from just 5 percent in 2008. And the number of parents who reported they had no plans to vaccinate their daughters in the future also rose — from 40 percent in 2008 to 44 percent in 2010 — even though pediatrician groups have made a concerted effort in recent years to educate parents about the importance of the HPV vaccine.
Gregory Zimet, a professor of pediatrics and clinical psychology at Indiana University School of Medicine, told USA Today that more work needs to be done to make sure that parents are better educated about the real nature of the HPV vaccine. “It’s particularly concerning that parental worries about safety have increased, given that evidence for the safety of HPV vaccination has increased over the same time period,” Zimet said. “In fact, the evidence is overwhelmingly persuasive that HPV vaccines are quite safe.”
Most tellingly, parents didn’t exhibit the same increasing concerns over other adolescent vaccines like tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis — suggesting that there’s something different about HPV vaccinations. Traditionally, the HPV vaccine has been set apart because HPV is a sexually transmitted infection, and conservative fearmongering about “sexual promiscuity” has led some Americans to believe that vaccinating their daughters will somehow give young girls license to become sexually active. Obviously, that’s not the case at all. But the myths about Gardasil have become so pervasive that there have even been scientific studies debunking the imaginary link between the HPV vaccine and increased promiscuity.
For the past several years, federal officials have been recommending that girls receive the vaccination beginning at age 11 as an important preventative health measure, and that guideline was recently expanded to include young boys as well. According to the CDC, however, Americans aren’t following through. Just 30 percent of women between the ages of 19 and 26 had received one or more doses of the three-round HPV vaccine — even though federal guidelines recommend that every women complete her Gardasil doses by the time she reaches 26 years old. The low rates of vaccination are especially troubling considering the fact that cancers related to HPV are on the rise.
The media's coverage focused on the rapists' emotions, instead of the the victim's.
When the guilty verdict was announced in the Steubenville rape case on Sunday, journalists had to figure out how they would frame the story. Perhaps because of the lack of details about the unnamed 16-year-old “Jane Doe” victim, the collective media narrative became centered on her assailants.
Stories about the case relied far too heavily on the public details about the defendants, 17-year-old Trent Mays and 16-year-old Ma’lik Richmond, to set up a sympathetic portrayal of two bright young football stars whose lives have been ruined by the criminal justice system. By emphasizing the boys’ good grades and bright futures, as well as by describing the victim as “drunk” without clarifying that the defendants were also drinking, many mainstream media outlets became active participants in furthering victim-blaming rape culture:
1. CNN discusses how the boys were “promising students.” The cable channel came under fire on Sunday after focusing their coverage on the two defendants as “young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students” and emphasizing the emotional atmosphere in the courtroom when the boys were convicted and felt “their lives fall apart.” Anchor Candy Crowley even interviewed a legal expert about the lasting ramifications that being convicted of rape will have on the young, vulnerable boys — noting that registering as sex offenders will “haunt them for the rest of their lives.”
2. ABC News makes excuses for the rapist. ABC ran a profile of Ma’lik Richmond, one of the two assailants, leading up to the trial. Its portrayal was quite positive; it began with an array of excuses for Richmond’s behavior, including that “he was in a celebratory mood” the night of the assault, and talks extensively about Richmond’s promising football career. Another article opened by describing the criminal proceedings as “every parent’s nightmare and a cautionary tale for teenagers living in today’s digital world” — though the actual problem was the crime of rape, not that it was caught on video.
3. NBC News laments the boys’ “promising football careers.” Reporter Ron Allen opened up the NBC nightly news coverage of the Steubenville verdict by pointing out that the boys, “must now register as sex offenders.” It then went on to lament that “both boys had promising football careers, Mays a the quarterback, Richmond the receiver, on the beloved high school team and dreams of college. In court their lawyers and parents plead with the judge not to impose a harsh sentence.”
4. The Associated Press and USA Today stress that the victim was drunk. The first sentence of the AP’s story about the verdict identifies the victim as a “drunken 16-year-old girl,” and describes the defendants as “two members of the high school football team that is the pride of Steubenville.” The breaking news tweet did, too. Meanwhile, the first sentence of USA Today’s coverage also describes the victim as “drunken” and mentions that the assault took place at “an all-night party.”
5. Yahoo News says the victim has forced the town into an emotional situation. As the trial unfolded in the small town of Steubenville, OH, over the past several weeks, Yahoo News set up a clear narrative: The town is being torn apart from the pain over the fact that the boys might be punished, not from the outrage over the crime they committed. Yahoo’s story on the verdict was more of the same, describing the courtroom as “filled with sobbing and exhausting emotion” and the victim as “an intoxicated 16-year-old girl” in the first paragraph.
It’s worth noting that, since the two defendants could have been tried as adults, they received relatively lenient sentences. The two boys were each sentenced to at least one year in a juvenile detention facility and could remain imprisoned until they turn 21. “These are serious offenses,” the judge who handed down the verdict pointed out. “If they were convicted in an adult court of these charges, they would be spending many years in prison.”