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Doctor who has lost over 100 patients to covid says some deny virus from their deathbeds: ‘I don’t believe you’

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For reassurance, read again the earlier post in which Steven Pinker talks about rationality. Andrea Salcedo reports in the Washington Post (gift article: no paywall):

Matthew Trunsky is used to people being angry at him.

As a pulmonologist and director of the palliative care unit at a Beaumont Health hospital in southeastern Michigan, Trunsky sees some of the facility’s sickest patients and is often the bearer of bad news.

He gets it. No one is prepared to hear a loved one is dying.

But when a well-regarded intensive care unit nurse told him during a recent shift that the wife of an unvaccinated covid patient had berated her when she informed the woman of her husband’s deteriorating condition, Trunsky, who has lost more than 100 patients to the coronavirus, reached his breaking point.

When he got home that evening, he made himself a sandwich and opened Facebook.

Still sporting his black scrubs, he began to vent. He wrote about a critically ill patient who disputed his covid-19 diagnosis. Another threatened to call his lawyer if he wasn’t given ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug that is not approved for treating covid. A third, Trunsky wrote, told the doctor they would rather die than take one of the vaccines.

One demanded a different doctor. “I don’t believe you,” he told the physician.

The physician added: “Of course the answer was to have been vaccinated — but they were not and now they’re angry at the medical community for their failure.”

Trunsky’s post detailing his interactions with eight covid patients and their relatives highlights the resistance and mistreatment some health-care workers across the United States face while caring for patients who have put off or declined getting vaccinated. Trunsky estimates that 9 out of every 10 covid patients he treats are unvaccinated.

His post — a plea for people to get vaccinated — also reveals the physical and emotional toll the pandemic has had on health-care workers, who have been on the front lines for over a year and a half. Roughly 3 out of 10 have considered leaving the profession, according to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll, and about 6 in 10 say stress from the pandemic has harmed their mental health.

Some doctors are refusing to treat unvaccinated patients. Last month,  . . .

Continue reading. No paywall.

What’s odd is that people will refuse to get a thoroughly tested and proven effective covid-19 vaccine as recommended by medical professionals, but will jump at the chance to take a horse medicine because they read something about it on Facebook. (Maybe some have rationality antibodies.)

I saw a cartoon wondering how it was that parents who could not do their kid’s 6th-grade math homework six months ago are now infectious-disease experts.

Written by Leisureguy

24 September 2021 at 2:02 pm

Best mask technique

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No one wants to get Covid. Tara Parker-Pope has an excellent article in the NY Times on a technique that greatly improves the efficacy of a mask. It’s a a gift article, so no paywall.

As new, more contagious variants of the novel coronavirus spread around the world, public health officials are advising us to upgrade our mask protection. One of the easiest ways to do that is to wear two masks at the same time. Here are answers to common questions about the dos and don’ts of double masking.

New variants of the coronavirus are more contagious. It may be that an infected person sheds greater quantities of virus, or it may be that it takes fewer viral particles to make you sick. Either way, a more contagious virus means we need to wear masks that do a better job of trapping infectious particles. Double-masking can improve the fit of your mask by closing gaps around the edges, and it creates multiple layers of protection against droplets coming in or out.

Wearing two disposable surgical masks together is not recommended. A standard surgical mask is a blue, rectangle-shaped mask made of paper-like material. While surgical masks are great filters against viral droplets, they tend to fit poorly, leaving gaps on the sides, which reduces their efficiency. Wearing two at the same time doesn’t solve the fit problem. Adding a cloth mask on top of a surgical mask helps close the gaps and creates a more snug fit. For help choosing a cloth mask, the team at Wirecutter, which is owned by The New York Times, has some recommendations. (The mask in the video is the Graf Lantz Zenbu Organic Cotton Face Mask.)

The N95 mask is the gold standard for medical masks, and the KN95, made in China, is similar. When worn correctly, both masks will filter 95 percent of the hardest-to-trap particles. If you have access to a genuine N95 or KN95 and it fits well, you don’t need to double mask. The problem is that the N95 and KN95 masks still are hard to come by, and the supply chain is loaded with counterfeits. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend double-masking with an N95 or KN95, you need to be sure you have the real thing. If you’re not sure, or it doesn’t fit well, covering it with a cloth mask could help. (Another highly effective medical mask is the KF94, made in Korea. Counterfeits typically are not a problem with KF94s, and if it fits you well, you don’t need to double mask.)

The best way to double mask is to wear a surgical mask as the first layer and cover it with a cloth mask. Tightening your surgical mask is not required, but if it fits poorly, knotting the ear loops and tucking in the corners can improve its filtering efficiency by as much as 20 percent. For a longer demonstration on adjusting the fit of your surgical mask, you can watch this video from UNC Health.

\Do look at the link — there’s a good video of the technique.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2021 at 7:35 pm

Free Resource for Evidence-Based Nutrition

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Dr. Michael Greger blogs at NutritionFacts.org:

Are you a medical professional interested in sharing resources on healthy eating with your patients or clients? To support your important efforts, we invite you to apply to receive free copies of our Evidence-Based Eating Guide by completing this form.

The Evidence-Based Eating Guide: A Healthy Living Resource from Dr. Greger & NutritionFacts.org is a tool designed to help make the switch to a healthier lifestyle even more simple. It’s easy to understand and filled with information on eating healthier, including a breakdown of Dr. Greger’s Traffic Light Eating, tips for using his Daily Dozen checklist, sample menus, and more.

We hope the guide will help you help your patients or clients improve the length and quality of their lives. (Note: This application is open to health professionals and organizations, but individuals can get the guide for free here.)

Continue reading. There’s more. Emphasis added to note that non-professionals can get a free copy of the guide from this page.

Written by Leisureguy

23 September 2021 at 9:54 am

Inside the Conservative Fever Swamp

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Michael A. Cohen (aka, the other Michael Cohen) has a good post on his site. It begins:

As a general rule, I usually don’t read the right-wing website, Breitbart. It is one of the by-products of having a functioning brain.

But I’m making an exception today because a recent piece on the site offers useful insight into the workings of the conservative mind — and the debilitating ideology of modern conservatism.

Last week Breitbart Editor-at-Large John Nolte penned a piece lamenting that conservatives are not getting vaccinated against COVID-19. He also touted the benefits of getting a shot. These days that kind of language on a right-wing website is to be applauded. But Nolte took his argument in a strange direction: he claims that Republicans are not getting vaccinated because of liberals.

According to Nolte, “leftists like (Howard) Stern and CNNLOL and Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi and Anthony Fauci are deliberately looking to manipulate Trump supporters into not getting vaccinated.”

How are they doing this?

“If I wanted to use reverse psychology to convince people not to get a life-saving vaccination, I would do exactly what Stern and the left are doing… I would bully and taunt and mock and ridicule you for not getting vaccinated, knowing the human response would be, Hey, fuck you, I’m never getting vaccinated!” “And why is that a perfectly human response? Because no one ever wants to feel like they are being bullied or ridiculed or mocked or pushed into doing anything.

It’s a helluva thing when a conservative writer takes the position that his fellow ideologues are like immature children who are so super sensitive and insecure that they will refuse to get a life-saving vaccine simply because their political opponents think they should. But that is Nolte’s argument.

It is, in fact, not a 100 percent normal human response to refuse vaccination in this circumstance — particularly if the alternative is death. Less normal is believing that Anthony Fauci, Nancy Pelosi, or Joe Biden are bullying, mocking, or ridiculing conservatives to purposely hasten their deaths. Far less normal is giving a rat’s ass about anything Howard Stern says. Nolte criticizes Stern for mocking anti-vaxxer conservative radio hosts who have died from COVID-19 — and rightfully so. It’s gross. But honestly, who cares? And who in their right mind makes a health care decision based on something that Howard Stern said? According to Nolte, conservatives do.

“No one wants to cave to a piece of shit like that, or a scumbag like Fauci, or any of the scumbags at CNNLOL, so we don’t. And what’s the result? They’re all vaccinated, and we’re not! And when you look at the numbers, the only numbers that matter, which is who’s dying, it’s overwhelmingly the unvaccinated who are dying, and they have just manipulated millions of their political enemies into the unvaccinated camp …

In another column this week, Nolte went a step further and argued that  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

The crazy never stops, and the stupid sinks ever lower.

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2021 at 5:36 pm

Salty Diet Helps Gut Bugs Fight Cancer in Mice

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A while back I cut way back on my salt intake — and I overdid it, which resulted in woozy spells. Salt is in fact a necessary nutrient, but like many nutrients, too little and too much are both bad news (cf. iodine, zinc, iron, vitamin A, and so on). So I resumed a moderate salt intake. I still buy no-salt-added canned tomatoes, vegetable stock, and canned beans, and I don’t eat highly processed foods or bread or cheese, all of which are high in salt. But I do add a modest amount of salt in cooking, and that has worked.

Sophie Fessl has an interesting article in The Scientist on some unexpected benefits of salt in the diet:

In mice, a diet high in salt suppresses tumor growth—but only when gut microbes are there to stimulate immune cells, a September 10 study in Science Advances reports. The findings raise tantalizing questions about the role of diet and gut microbes in human cancers, and may point to new avenues for therapeutic development.

While the study isn’t the first to connect a high-salt diet to shrinking tumors, “[the authors] have shown a unique mechanistic role of high salt induced gut microbiome changes as the central phenomenon behind their observed anti-cancer effect,” writes Venkataswarup Tiriveedhi, a biologist at Tennessee State University who has studied the effect of salt on cancer progression but was not involved in the study, in an email to The Scientist.

Amit Awasthi, an immunologist with the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute in India and corresponding author of the study, says he and his colleagues pursued this line of inquiry because previous research had linked high salt intake with autoimmune diseases, suggesting that increased salt stimulates immune cells. Meanwhile, tumors are well known to grow in immune-suppressive environments. Awasthi recalls wondering with his team: “If we put salt in the mice’s diet, maybe [the immune system in] the tumor environment becomes activated,” suppressing cancerous growth.

Indeed, a 2019 Frontiers in Immunology study from a European team led by Hasselt University immunologist Markus Kleinewietfeld reported that high-salt diets inhibited tumor growth in mice. When Awasthi and his colleagues carried out similar experiments, implanting mice with B16F10 skin melanoma cells and then feeding the tumor transplant mice diets with different salt levels, they got similar results: tumors grew slower in mice who were fed a high-salt diet.

That led to what Awasthi calls an “obvious question”: How does the immune system respond to dietary salt? To answer that, the team dissected the tumor sites and found that immune cells known as natural killer (NK) cells were enriched in the mice fed the high-salt diet compared with mice fed diets with normal or slightly elevated salt levels. When the NK cells were removed, the high-salt diet no longer led to tumor regression—an effect that wasn’t seen after depleting both T and B cells.

To drill into why salt had this effect on NK cells, Awasthi and his colleagues looked in the literature and found studies reporting that high-salt diets alter the gut microbiome, as well as others that found the gut microbiome modulates patients’ response to cancer immunotherapy. To test for a role of the resident gut bacteria in the effects of a high-salt diet on cancer growth, the researchers gave the mice antibiotics before feeding them the different diets. Sure enough, a high-salt diet no longer suppressed tumor growth. But that wasn’t all: when the team transplanted fecal material from mice fed a high-salt diet into microbe-free mice, they were surprised to find that tumors shrank, Awasthi recalls.

See “Does the Microbiome Help the Body Fight Cancer?”

The researchers looked at the diversity of species in the mice’s gut and saw an increased abundance of Bifidobacterium species in mice fed a high-salt diet. Moreover, the tumors of these mice showed a sixfold increase in Bifidobacterium abundance compared with the tumors of mice on a normal diet. According to Awasthi, that suggests “Bifidobacterium is leaking out from the gut and actually reaching the tumor site,” likely the result of salt-induced gut permeability.

In mice fed a normal diet, injection of Bifidobacterium into tumors led to tumor regression, an effect that disappeared if the researchers removed the animals’ NK cells, they reported. Awasthi says that might mean there’s a way to capitalize on the tumor-fighting qualities of a high-salt diet while avoiding the potential downsides, such as autoimmune issues or hypertension: “we can replace the salt with the Bifidobacterium.

Kleinewietfeld says the new study is in line with  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 September 2021 at 6:23 pm

New Evidence of Corruption at Epa Chemicals Division

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Sharon Lerner reports in the Intercept:

Scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency have provided The Intercept with new information showing that senior staff have made chemicals appear safer — sometimes dodging restrictions on their use — by minimizing the estimates of how much is released into the environment.

The EPA gauges the potential risk posed by a chemical using two measures: how toxic the agency considers it and how much of the substance the public will likely be exposed to. Whistleblowers from the EPA’s New Chemicals Division have already provided The Intercept with evidence that managers and other officials were pressuring them to assess chemicals to be less toxic than they actually are — and sometimes removing references to their harms from chemical assessments.

Now new documents, including meeting summaries, internal emails, and screenshots from the EPA’s computer system, along with interviews with whistleblowers and other EPA scientists, show that the agency’s New Chemicals Division has avoided calculating the exposure to — and thus the risk posed by — hundreds of chemicals and have repeatedly resisted calls to change that policy even after scientists have shown that it puts the public at risk.

Call It “Negligible”

Since 1995, the EPA has operated under the assumption that chemicals emitted below certain cutoff levels are safe. Whether a toxic chemical is emitted through the smokestacks of an industrial plant, via leaks in its machinery, or from a leaky landfill into groundwater, the agency requires scientists to quantify the precise risk posed by the chemical only if the release (and thus likely human exposure) reaches certain thresholds. If the releases from both smokestacks and leaks are below the thresholds, the chemical is given a pass. In recent years, however, scientists have shown that some of the chemicals allowed onto the market using this loophole do in fact present a danger, particularly to the people living in “fence-line communities” near industrial plants.

In 2018, several EPA scientists became worried that the use of these exposure thresholds could leave the public vulnerable to health risks. Their concern was heightened by an email that a manager in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics sent in October of that year, instructing the scientists to change the language they used to classify chemicals that were exempted from risk calculation because they were deemed to have low exposure levels. Up to that point, they had described them in reports as “below modeling thresholds.” From then on, the manager explained, the scientists were to include the words “expects to be negligible” — a phrase that implies there’s no reason for concern.

Several scientists who worked on calculating chemical risks believed that there was in fact reason for concern and that the use of the thresholds leaves the public vulnerable to health effects, including cancer. And after being instructed to refer to exposures they hadn’t actually measured or modeled as “negligible,” the scientists proposed dropping or lowering the cutoffs and running the calculations for each individual chemical — a task that would add only minutes to the assessment process. But the managers refused to heed their request, which would have not only changed how chemicals were assessed moving forward but would have also had implications for hundreds of assessments in the past.

“They told us that the use of the thresholds was a policy decision and, as such, we could not simply stop applying them,” one of the scientists who worked in the office explained to The Intercept.

The issue resurfaced in May 2020 when a scientist presented the case of a single chemical the agency was then considering allowing onto the market. Although it fell into the “negligible” category using the cutoffs that had been set decades previously, when the scientists calculated the exposure levels using an alternate EPA model, which is designed to gauge the risk of airborne chemicals, it became clear that the chemical did pose a risk of damaging the human nervous system. The chemical is still going through the approval process.

In February, a small group of scientists reviewed the safety thresholds set by the EPA for all of the 368 new chemicals submitted to the agency in 2020. They found that more than half could pose risks even in cases in which the agency had already described exposure as “negligible” and thus had not calculated specific risk. Again, the scientists brought the exposure threshold issue to the attention of managers in the New Chemicals Division, briefing them on their analysis and requesting that the use of the outdated cutoffs be stopped. But they received no response to their proposal. Seven months later, the thresholds remain in use and the risk posed by chemicals deemed to have low exposure levels is still not being calculated and included in chemical assessments, according to EPA scientists who spoke with The Intercept.

The internal struggles over exposure present yet another example of managers and senior staff working to undermine the agency’s mission, according to the EPA scientists. “Our work on new chemicals often felt like an exercise in finding ways to approve new chemicals rather than reviewing them for approval,” said one of two scientists who filed new disclosures to the EPA inspector general on August 31 about the issue. The detailed account of corruption within the New Chemicals Division that four whistleblowers previously submitted to members of Congress, the EPA inspector general, and The Intercept also included information on the ongoing problems caused by the use of the exposure thresholds.”

“It all comes down to money,” said Kyla Bennett, director of science policy for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, the organization representing the whistleblowers, who pointed out that risk values above the agency’s accepted cutoffs require the EPA to impose limits that may make a chemical harder to use — and sell. “Companies don’t want warning labels, they don’t want restrictions.”

It’s unclear why some senior staff and managers within the EPA’s New Chemicals Division seem to feel an obligation not to burden the companies they regulate with restrictions. “That’s the $64,000 question,” said Bennett, who pointed out that EPA staffers may enhance their post-agency job prospects within the industry if they stay in the good graces of chemical companies. She also noted that managers’ performance within the division is assessed partly based on how many chemicals they approve. “The bean counting is driving their actions,” said Bennett. “The performance metrics should be, how many chemicals did you prevent from going onto the market, rather than how many did you get onto the market.”

In response to questions about this story, the EPA  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

19 September 2021 at 4:42 pm

When Wall Street came to coal country: how a big-money gamble scarred Appalachia

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Mountaintop-removal coal mining in West Virginia

Evan Osnos reports in the Guardian:

Once or twice a generation, Americans rediscover Appalachia. Sometimes, they come to it through caricature – the cartoon strip Li’l Abner or the child beauty pageant star Honey Boo Boo or, more recently, Buckwild, a reality show about West Virginia teenagers, which MTV broadcast with subtitles. Occasionally, the encounter is more compassionate. In 1962, the social critic Michael Harrington published The Other America, which called attention to what he described as a “vicious circle of poverty” that “twists and deforms the spirit”.

Around the turn of this century, hedge funds in New York and its environs took a growing interest in coalmines. Coal never had huge appeal to Wall Street investors – mines were dirty, old-fashioned and bound up by union contracts that made them difficult to buy and sell. But in the late 1990s, the growing economies of Asia began to consume more and more energy, which investors predicted would drive up demand halfway around the world, in Appalachia. In 1997, the Hobet mine, a 25-year-old operation in rural West Virginia, was acquired for the first time by a public company, Arch Coal. It embarked on a major expansion, dynamiting mountaintops and dumping the debris into rivers and streams. As the Hobet mine grew, it consumed the ridges and communities around it. Seen from the air, the mine came to resemble a giant grey amoeba – 22 miles from end to end – eating its way across the mountains.

Up close, the effects were far more intimate. When Wall Street came to coal country, it triggered a cascade of repercussions that were largely invisible to the outside world but of existential importance to people nearby.

Down a hillside from the Hobet mine, the Caudill family had lived and hunted and farmed for a century. Their homeplace, as they called it, was 30 hectares (75 acres) of woods and water. The Caudills were hardly critics of mining; many were miners themselves. John Caudill was an explosives expert until one day, in the 30s, a blast went off early and left him blind. His mining days were over, but his land was abundant, and John and his wife went on to have 10 children. They grew potatoes, corn, lettuce, tomatoes, beets and beans; they hunted game in the forests and foraged for berries and ginseng. Behind the house, a hill was dense with hemlocks, ferns and peach trees.

One by one, the Caudill kids grew up and left for school and work. They settled into the surrounding towns, but stayed close enough to return to the homeplace on weekends. John’s grandson, Jerry Thompson, grew up a half-hour down a dirt road. “I could probably count on one hand the number of Sundays I missed,” he said. His grandmother’s menu never changed: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn and cake. “You’d just wander the property for hours. I would have a lot of cousins there, and we would ramble through the barns and climb up the mountains and wade in the creek and hunt for crawdads.”

Before long, the Hobet mine surrounded the land on three sides, and Arch Coal wanted to buy the Caudills out. Some were eager to sell. “We’re not wealthy people, and some of us are better off than others,” Thompson said. One cousin told him, “I’ve got two boys I got to put through college. I can’t pass this up because I’ll never see $50,000 again.” He thought, “He’s right; it was a good decision for him.”

In the end, nine family members agreed to sell, but six refused, and Jerry was one of them. Arch sued all of them, arguing that storing coalmine debris constituted, in legal terms, “the highest and best use of the property”. The case reached the West Virginia supreme court, where a justice asked, sceptically, “The highest and best use of the land is dumping?”

Phil Melick, a lawyer for the company, replied: “It has become that.” He added: “The use of land changes over time. The value of land changes over time.”

Surely, the justice said, the family’s value of the property was not simply economic? It was, Melick maintained. “It has to be measured economically,” he said, “or it can’t be measured at all.”


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To their surprise, the Caudills won their case, after a fashion. They could keep 10 hectares – but the victory was fleeting. Beneath their feet, the land was becoming unrecognisable. Chemicals produced by the mountaintop mine were redrawing the landscape in a bizarre tableau. In streams, the leaves and sticks developed a thick copper crust from the buildup of carbonate, and rocks turned an inky black from deposits of manganese. In the Mud River, which ran beside the Caudills’ property, a US Forest Service biologist collected fish larvae with two eyes on one side of the head. He traced the disfigurements to selenium, a byproduct of mining, and warned, in a report, of an ecosystem “on the brink of a major toxic event”. (In 2010, the journal Science published a study of 78 West Virginia streams near mountaintop-removal mines, which found that nearly all of them had elevated levels of selenium.)

This was more than just the usual tradeoff between profit and pollution, another turn in the cycle of industry and cleanup. Mountaintop removal was, fundamentally, a more destructive realm of technology. It had barely existed until the 90s, and it took some time before scientists could measure the effects on the land and the people. For ecologists, the southern Appalachians was a singular domain – one of the most productive, diverse temperate hardwood forests on the planet. For aeons, the hills had contained more species of salamander than anywhere else, and a lush canopy that attracts neotropical migratory birds across thousands of miles to hatch their next generation. But a mountaintop mine altered the land from top to bottom: after blasting off the peaks – which miners call the “overburden” – bulldozers pushed the debris down the hillsides, where it blanketed the streams and rivers. Rainwater filtered down through a strange human-made stew of metal, pyrite, sulphur, silica, salts and coal, exposed to the air for the first time. The rain mingled with the chemicals and percolated down the hills, funnelling into the brooks and streams and, finally, into the rivers on the valley floor, which sustained the people of southern West Virginia. 

Emily Bernhardt, a Duke University biologist, who spent years tracking the effects of the Hobet mine, told me: “The aquatic insects coming out of these streams are loaded with selenium, and then the spiders that are eating them become loaded with selenium, and it causes deformities in fish and birds.” The effects distorted the food chain. Normally, tiny insects hatched in the water would fly into the woods, sustaining toads, turtles and birds. But downstream, scientists discovered that some species had been replaced by flies usually found in wastewater treatment plants. By 2009, the damage was impossible to ignore. In a typical study, biologists tracking a migratory bird called the cerulean warbler found that its population had fallen by 82% in 40 years. The 2010 report in Science concluded that the impacts of mountaintop-removal mining on water, biodiversity and forest productivity were “pervasive and irreversible”. Mountaintop mines had buried more than 1,000 miles of streams across Appalachia, and, according to the EPA, altered 2,200 sq miles of land – an area bigger than Delaware.

Before long, scientists discovered impacts on the people, too. Each explosion at the top of a mountain released elements usually kept underground – lead, arsenic, selenium, manganese. The dust floated down on to the drinking water, the back-yard furniture, and through the open windows. Researchers led by Michael Hendryx, a professor of public health at West Virginia University, published startling links between mountaintop mines and health problems of those in proximity to it, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and birth defects. Between 1979 and 2005, the 70 Appalachian counties that relied most on mining had recorded, on average, more than 2,000 excess deaths each year. Viewed one way, those deaths were the cost of progress, the price of prosperity that coal could bring. But Hendryx also debunked that argument: the deaths cost $41bn a year in expenses and lost income, which was $18bn more than coal had earned the counties in salaries, tax revenue and other economic benefits. Even in the pure economic terms that the companies used, Hendryx observed, mountaintop mining had been a terrible deal for the people who lived there.


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O
ne afternoon, I hiked up through the woods behind the Caudills’ house to see the changes in the land. By law, mines are required to “remediate” their terrain, returning it to an approximation of its former condition. But, far from the public eye, the standards can be comically lax. After climbing through the trees for a while, I emerged into a sun-drenched bowl of . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

18 September 2021 at 11:26 am

Old Rockin’ Chair’s Got Me … and it does a world of good.

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A reader reminded me (thanks, Joanne!) that rocking chairs have significant health benefits. And those are not all — there are more. And specifically for elderly women. (Some overlap will be seen. You can find more with a search.)

Moreover, rocking chairs can be not only comfortable and healthful but also beautiful (example at right from Brian Boggs Handmade Furniture, profiled in Craftsmanship magazine).

At one time, every front porch — remember those — had at least one rocking chair, and the front porch at the general store would have a line of them. There’s no doubt that they are relaxing — a grateful pause in the hurly-burly of daily life — and they they actually carry serious health benefits when used consistently over time is a big bonus. (I found it reassuring that inthe first article linked above it was stated that dementia patients improved by having less agitation and greater calmness after using a rocking chair for six weeks. That time span — not an instant change, but a gradual change, at the speed of growth — makes intuitive sense, whereas a claim of instant improvement would arouse suspicion as being contrary to the nature of rocking-chair time.)

At any rate, the season of gifts is not far off, and it occurs to me that a good rocking chair would be an excellent gift to oneself or even to another. 

Written by Leisureguy

17 September 2021 at 12:36 pm

A Boy Went to a COVID-Swamped ER. He Waited for Hours. Then His Appendix Burst.

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Those who refuse to get the COVID vaccine and refuse to wear masks are putting not just themselves at risk but others as well. Refusing to heed public health measures is an aggressive act against society that is also a danger to self.

Jenny Deam reports in ProPublica:

What first struck Nathaniel Osborn when he and his wife took their son, Seth, to the emergency room this summer was how packed the waiting room was for a Wednesday at 1 p.m.

The Florida hospital’s emergency room was so crowded there weren’t enough chairs for the family to all sit as they waited. And waited.

Hours passed and 12-year-old Seth’s condition worsened, his body quivering from the pain shooting across his lower belly. Osborn said his wife asked why it was taking so long to be seen. A nurse rolled her eyes and muttered, “COVID.”

Seth was finally diagnosed with appendicitis more than six hours after arriving at Cleveland Clinic Martin Health North Hospital in late July. Around midnight, he was taken by ambulance to a sister hospital about a half-hour away that was better equipped to perform pediatric emergency surgery, his father said.

But by the time the doctor operated in the early morning hours, Seth’s appendix had burst — a potentially fatal complication.

As the nation’s hospitals fill and emergency rooms overflow with critically ill COVID-19 patients, it is the non-COVID-19 patients, like Seth, who have become collateral damage. They, too, need emergency care, but the sheer number of COVID-19 cases is crowding them out. Treatment has often been delayed as ERs scramble to find a bed that may be hundreds of miles away.

Some health officials now worry about looming ethical decisions. Last week, Idaho activated a “crisis standard of care,” which one official described as a “last resort.” It allows overwhelmed hospitals to ration care, including “in rare cases, ventilator (breathing machines) or intensive care unit (ICU) beds may need to be used for those who are most likely to survive, while patients who are not likely to survive may not be able to receive one,” the state’s website said.

The federal government’s latest data shows Alabama is at 100% of its intensive care unit capacity, with Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and Arkansas at more than 90% ICU capacity. Florida is just under 90%.

It’s the COVID-19 cases that are dominating. In Georgia, 62% of the ICU beds are now filled with just COVID-19 patients. In Texas, the percentage is nearly half.

To have so many ICU beds pressed into service for a single diagnosis is “unheard of,” said Dr. Hasan Kakli, an emergency room physician at Bellville Medical Center in Bellville, Texas, about an hour from Houston. “It’s approaching apocalyptic.”

In Texas, state data released Monday showed there were only 319 adult and 104 pediatric staffed ICU beds available across a state of 29 million people.

Hospitals need to hold some ICU beds for other patients, such as those recovering from major surgery or other critical conditions such as stroke, trauma or heart failure.

“This is not just a COVID issue,” said Dr. Normaliz Rodriguez, pediatric emergency physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. “This is an everyone issue.”

While the latest hospital crisis echoes previous pandemic spikes, there are troubling differences this time around.

Before, localized COVID-19 hot spots led to bed shortages, but there were usually hospitals in the region not as affected that could accept a transfer.

Now, as the highly contagious delta variant envelops swaths of low-vaccination states all at once, it becomes harder to find nearby hospitals that are not slammed.

“Wait times can now be measured in days,” said Darrell Pile, CEO of the SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council, which helps coordinate patient transfers across a 25-county region.

Recently, Dr. Cedric Dark, a Houston emergency physician and assistant professor of emergency medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said he saw a critically ill COVID-19 patient waiting in the emergency room for an ICU bed to open. The doctor worked eight hours, went home and came in the next day. The patient was still waiting. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and no paywall.

And from another report:

Enyart is at least the fifth conservative radio talk-show host to have died of covid-19 in the last six weeks after speaking out against vaccination and masking. The others are Marc Bernier, 65, a longtime host in Florida; Phil Valentine, 61, a popular host in Tennessee; Jimmy DeYoung, 81, a nationally syndicated Christian preacher also based in Tennessee; and Dick Farrel, 65, who had worked for stations in Miami and Palm Beach, Fla., as well as for the conservative Newsmax TV channel.

Written by Leisureguy

15 September 2021 at 1:27 pm

How indoor air quality affects human health and cognition

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Douglas Starr writes in Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS):

Joseph Allen runs a major public health research project at Harvard University, probing how indoor air quality affects human health and cognition. He consults with companies on ventilation and air filtration, and during the pandemic he became a prominent voice on public health, writing dozens of op-eds criticizing early guidance from health authorities and debunking misconceptions about how the virus spreads. But none of it would have happened if he hadn’t washed out as an FBI recruit.

The son of a New York City homicide detective who opened his own investigative agency, Allen spent his teens and 20s helping with the family business. He did surveillance, undercover work, computer forensics, and skiptrace—tracking down people who left town to avoid alimony. Eventually he took over the agency, leading investigations and supervising eight agents.

“I enjoyed the work and thought it was challenging,” Allen recalls. But part of him always wanted to be a scientist. He majored in environmental science at Boston College, and in his late 20s, still torn, he began to apply to graduate school even as he started the process to become an FBI agent. After 2 years of interviews and testing, the last step was a routine polygraph test. He failed the first round—the trick questions he was asked were so obvious that he could not take them seriously. So FBI flew in one of its toughest examiners from Iraq—a hulking, jackbooted guy who got right in Allen’s face, screaming that he knew he was lying. But Allen kept cool, and after a while, the interrogator stormed out and slammed the door.

“I thought he would come back in the room and say, ‘Congratulations,’ cause I’m thinking I’m crushing it,” Allen recalls. “But they failed me because they said I employed countermeasures.” FBI apparently didn’t want an agent who couldn’t be unnerved by a polygraph test. And that solved Allen’s career dilemma. “I guarantee I’m the only public health student ever to fail an FBI lie detector polygraph in the morning and start graduate school a few hours later,” Allen says. But his investigative instincts never left him.

A tall, athletic-looking man with a bald head and stylish stubble, Allen directs the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where he studies the effects of toxic gases emitted from furniture, carpets, and paints; stale air; and high levels of carbon dioxide. Years of studies by Allen and others have shown poorly circulated air in buildings impairs our ability to think clearly and creatively. Considering that we spend more than 90% of our lifetimes indoors, those findings have implications for personal well-being—and for businesses concerned about their bottom line.

“Joe has always had a unique understanding of this range of domains—from how buildings work, to environmental exposure assessment, to making connections with health outcomes,” says Brent Stephens, chair of the Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology. “There’s not a tremendous number of people in this world that have worked on that whole spectrum.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, the previously esoteric field of indoor air quality suddenly became the focus of widespread concern. Like many of his colleagues, Allen jumped into the fray, advising school systems, police departments, entertainment companies, the Boston Symphony, and a host of other entities on how to make their indoor air healthier, during the pandemic and afterward.

“COVID really changed the conversation,” says Matt Murray, vice president of leasing at Boston Properties, the largest publicly traded developer in the United States and one of Allen’s consulting clients. Before the pandemic, the company would have to explain to bored executives why they should pay attention to indoor air. “Now, the CEOs are all saying, ‘What filters do you use? How you process the air you bring into the workspace?’” Murray says. “And we’re ready for those conversations because we’ve been working with Joe.”

AFTER HE FAILED his FBI exam, Allen became a different kind of sleuth. For his doctoral thesis at the Boston University School of Public Health, he investigated toxic flame-retardant chemicals released into the air by furniture, and found they were nearly ubiquitous. (The chemicals were later banned.) After graduation he got a job with a consulting firm, where he investigated problems such as toxic emissions from drywall and outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease, which is caused by bacteria that grow in plumbing and become aerosolized by ventilation systems, showers, or even flushed toilets. Those investigations introduced him to “sick building syndrome,” a problem first identified in the 1970s in which the occupants experience fatigue, itchy eyes, headaches, and other symptoms. Exactly what causes these ailments isn’t clear, but exposure to contaminated air is a likely culprit. Allen became convinced that the building you work in can have more impact on your health than your doctor.

In 2014, Allen accepted a position at Harvard, where he soon turned his attention to how the indoor environment can affect people’s cognitive abilities. Many of us have struggled to pay attention during a long staff meeting in a stuffy conference room. Research by Allen and others suggests that lassitude may not be due solely to boredom, but also to the carbon dioxide (CO2)-rich conference room air.

Ever since the energy shocks of the 1970s, buildings in the United States have been made as airtight and energy-efficient as possible. The result was a buildup of toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and exhaled CO2. “Green building standards” introduced in the late ’90s focused on reducing toxic materials and making buildings healthier as well as more sustainable, but they didn’t prioritize indoor air quality and ultimately did little to improve it.

In a multiyear series of experiments, Allen and his team have investigated the consequences. In the first study, published in 2015, they had 24 white-collar volunteers spend six working days in environmentally controlled office spaces at Syracuse University’s Total Indoor Environmental Quality Laboratory. On various days the experimenters would alter ventilation rates and levels of CO2 and VOCs. Each afternoon the volunteers were tested on their ability to think analytically and react to a crisis. (One test, for example put the volunteer in the role of a small-town mayor trying to react to an emergency.) All tests were double-blind: Neither the volunteers nor the study personnel knew that day’s environmental conditions.

The results were dramatic. When  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — and it’s important.

The Clean Air Act should be extended to indoor air quality in businesses — and in some instances, OSHA also should be involved. Or, of course, we could just trust businesses to take seriously the health and well-being of their employees and customers. (Just joking — good one, eh?)

Written by Leisureguy

15 September 2021 at 11:15 am

It’s Not Just Us: Even American Animals Are Getting Fatter

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David Epstein had an interesting article back in October 2013. I came across it this morning. It begins:

Everyone knows Americans are fat and getting fatter, and everyone thinks they know why: more eating and less moving.

But the “big two” factors may not be the whole story. Consider this: Animals have been getting fatter too. The National Pet Obesity Survey recently reported that more than 50 percent of cats and dogs—that’s more than 80 million pets—are overweight or obese. Pets have gotten so plump that there’s now a National Pet Obesity Awareness Day. (It was Wednesday.) Lap dogs and comatose cats aren’t alone in the fat animal kingdom. Animals in strictly controlled research laboratories that have enforced the same diet and lifestyle for decades are also ballooning.

In 2010, an international team of scientists published findings that two dozen animal populations—all cared for by or living near humans—had been rapidly fattening in recent decades. “Canaries in the Coal Mine,” they titled the paper, and the “canaries” most closely genetically related to humans—chimps—showed the most troubling trend. Between 1985 and 2005, the male and female chimps studied experienced 33.2 and 37.2 percent weight gains, respectively. Their odds of obesity increased more than 10-fold.

To be sure, some of the chimp obesity crisis may be caused by the big two. According to Joseph Kemnitz, director of the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, animal welfare laws passed in recent decades have led caretakers to strive to make animals happier, often employing a method known to any parent of a toddler: plying them with sugary food. “All animals love to eat, and you can make them happy by giving them food,” Kemnitz said. “We have to be careful how much of that kind of enrichment we give them. They might be happier, but not healthier.”

And because they don’t have to forage for the food, non-human primates get less exercise. Orangutans, who Kemnitz says are rather indolent even in their native habitats in Borneo and Sumatra, have in captivity developed the physique of spreading batter.

Still, in “Canaries in the Coal Mine,” the scientists write that, more recently, the chimps studied were “living in highly controlled environments with nearly constant living conditions and diets,” so their continued fattening in stable circumstances was a surprise. The same goes for lab rats, which have been living and eating the same way for thirty years.

The potential causes of animal obesity are legion: ranging from increased rates of certain infections to stress from captivity. Antibiotics might increase obesity by killing off beneficial bacteria. “Some bacteria in our intestines are associated with weight gain,” Kemnitz said. “Others might provide a protective effect.”

But feral rats studied around Baltimore have gotten fatter, and they don’t suffer the stress of captivity, nor have they received antibiotics. Increasingly, scientists are turning their attention toward factors that humans and the wild and captive animals that live around them have in common: air, soil, and water, and the hormone-altering chemicals that pollute them.

Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers, released by a particular gland or organ but capable of affecting cells all over the body. While hormones such as testosterone and estrogen help make men masculine and women feminine, they and other hormones are involved in a vast array of functions. Altering or impeding hormones can cause systemic effects, such as weight gain.

More than a decade ago, Paula Baille-Hamilton, a visiting fellow at Stirling University in Scotland who studies toxicology and human metabolism, started perusing scientific literature for chemicals that might promote obesity. She turned up so many papers containing evidence of chemical-induced obesity in animals (often, she says, passed off by study authors as a fluke in their work) that it took her three years to organize evidence for the aptly titled 2002 review paper: “Chemical Toxins: A Hypothesis to Explain the Global Obesity Epidemic.” “I found evidence of chemicals that affect every aspect of our metabolism,” Baille-Hamilton said. Carbamates, which are used in insecticides and fungicides, can suppress the level of physical activity in mice. Phthalates are used to give flexibility to plastics and are found in a wide array of scented products, from perfume to shampoo. In people, they alter metabolism and have been found in higher concentrations in heavier men and women.

In men, phthalates interfere with the normal action of testosterone, an important hormone for maintaining healthy body composition. Phthalate exposure in males has been associated with a suite of traits symptomatic of low testosterone, from lower sperm count to greater heft. (Interference with testosterone may also explain why baby boys of mothers with higher phthalate levels have shorter anogenital distances, that is, the distance between the rectum and the scrotum. Call it what you want, fellas, but if you have a ruler handy and find that your AGD is shorter than two inches, you probably have a smaller penis volume and a markedly higher risk of infertility.)

Baille-Hamilton’s work highlights evidence that weight gain can be influenced by endocrine disruptors, chemicals that mimic and can interfere with the natural hormone system.

A variety of flame retardants have been implicated in endocrine disruption, and one chemical originally developed as a flame retardant—brominated vegetable oil, or BVO—is banned in Europe and Japan but is prevalent in citrusy soft drinks in the U.S. Earlier this year, Gatorade ditched BVO, but it’s still in Mountain Dew and other drinks made by Gatorade’s parent company, PepsiCo. (Many doctors would argue that for weight gain, the sugar in those drinks is the primary concern.) PepsiCo did not respond to a request for comment, but shortly after the Gatorade decision was made a company spokeswoman said it was because “some consumers have a negative perception of BVO in Gatorade.”

And then there are the newly found zombie chemicals, which share a nasty habit—rising from the dead at night—with their eponymous horror flick villains. The anabolic steroid trenbolone acetate is used as a growth promoter in cattle in the U.S., and its endocrine disrupting metabolites—which wind up in agricultural run-off water—were thought to degrade quickly upon exposure to sunlight. Until last month, when researchers published results in Science showing that the metabolites reconstitute themselves in the dark. . .

Continue reading. Endocrine disruptors — for example, the microscopic plastic particles now commonly found in seafood — are very bad because their effect is amplified by natural bodily processes: a tiny amount can have a large effect.

Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2021 at 1:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Diet may affect risk and severity of COVID-19

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Tracy Hampton writes in The Harvard Gazette:

Although metabolic conditions such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes have been linked to an increased risk of COVID-19, as well as an increased risk of experiencing serious symptoms once infected, the impact of diet on these risks is unknown. In a recent study led by researchers at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and published in Gut, people whose diets were based on healthy plant-based foods had lower risks on both counts. The beneficial effects of diet on COVID-19 risk seemed especially relevant in individuals living in areas of high socioeconomic deprivation.

“Previous reports suggest that poor nutrition is a common feature among groups disproportionately affected by the pandemic, but data on the association between diet and COVID-19 risk and severity are lacking,” says lead author Jordi Merino, a research associate at the Diabetes Unit and Center for Genomic Medicine at MGH and an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

For the study, Merino and his colleagues examined data on 592,571 participants of the smartphone-based COVID-19 Symptom Study. Participants lived in the U.K. and the U.S., and they were recruited from March 24, 2020 and followed until Dec. 2, 2020. At the start of the study, participants completed a questionnaire that asked about their dietary habits before the pandemic. Diet quality was assessed using a healthful Plant-Based Diet Score that emphasizes healthy plant foods such as fruits and vegetables.

During follow-up, 31,831 participants developed COVID-19. Compared with individuals in the lowest quartile of the diet score, those in the highest quartile had a 9 percent lower risk of developing COVID-19 and a 41 percent lower risk of developing severe COVID-19. “These findings were consistent across a range of sensitivity analysis accounting for other healthy behaviors, social determinants of health and community virus transmission rates,” says Merino.

“Although we cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in crowded indoor settings, our study suggests that individuals can also potentially reduce their risk of getting COVID-19 or having poor outcomes by paying attention to their diet,” says co-senior author Andrew Chan, a gastroenterologist and chief of the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit at MGH.

The researchers also found a synergistic relationship between poor diet and increased socioeconomic deprivation with COVID-19 risk that was higher than the sum of the risk associated with each factor alone.

“Our models estimate that nearly a third of COVID-19 cases would have been prevented if one of two exposures — diet or deprivation — were not present,” says Merino.

The results also suggest that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2021 at 4:52 pm

Plant-Based Diet Tied to Better Urological Health in Men

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The subtitle of this article will also be of interest to many men:

Eat more plants for your prostate and your erections

Mike Bassett, Staff Writer, writes in MedPage Today:

Men interested in preserving their urological health may benefit from eating more vegetables and fruits, researchers reported.

A trio of studies presented at the American Urological Association (AUA) virtual meeting suggested that plant-based diets were associated with a decreased risk of erectile dysfunction (ED), lower PSA rates, and possibly a lower rate of total and fatal prostate cancer among younger men.

“We can summarize this session succinctly,” said AUA press conference moderator Stacy Loeb, MD, of NYU Langone Health in New York City, who also presented one of the studies.

“Eat more plants for your prostate and your erections,” she advised.

Plant-Based Protection

Investigators at the University of Miami (UMiami) Miller School of Medicine used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to evaluate the association between a plant-based diet and PSA levels. Using Food Frequency Questionnaire dietary data they calculated a plant-based diet index (PDI) and healthful plant-based diet index (hPDI).

Ali Mouzannar, MD, reported that in a cohort of 1,399 men, those with a higher consumption of healthy plant-based diet (high hPDI scores) had a decreased probability of having an elevated PSA (OR 0.47, 95% CI 0.24-0.95).

“It seems plant-based diets have protective effects against prostate cancer,” Mouzannar said during the press session. “We still need more insight and more clinical trials to establish the causative effect, but there have been multiple associations between lower risk of prostate cancer, lower risk of elevated PSA with a plant-based diet.”

He added that “it also works the other way around — meat has been shown to be associated with a high rate of aggressive prostate cancer, and high risk of recurrence.”

In a second UMiami-based study, Ruben Blachman-Braun, MD, Ranjith Ramasany, MD, and colleagues used NHANES data base to evaluate 2,549 men, 57.4% of whom had some degree of ED. He reported that risk factors, such as increased age, BMI, hypertension, diabetes, and history of stroke, were all strongly associated with the risk of ED.

“However, increasing plant-based consumption was associated with a decreased risk of erectile dysfunction,” Blachman-Braun pointed out (OR 0.98, 95% CI 0.96 0.99).

Loeb and colleagues conducted a prospective study involving 27,243 men, who were followed up to 28 years, in the Health Follow-up study.

They found that in men ages ≤65 at diagnosis, greater overall consumption of plant-based diet was associated with a lower risk of advanced prostate cancer (HR 0.68, 95% CI 0.42-1.10). Among younger men, greater consumption of a healthful plant-based diet was associated with lower risks of total prostate cancer (HR 0.81 95% CI 0.70-0.95), and fatal disease (HR 0.53, 95% CI 0.32-0.90).

“This is really encouraging given the many health and environmental benefits of plant-based diets,” Loeb said. “And we believe they should be recommended for men who are concerned about the risks of prostate cancer.”

‘A Win-Win’

On the issue of the environmental impact of following plant-based diets, Mouzannar noted that higher meat consumption is associated with greenhouse gas emissions, water issues, decreased biodiversity. “There is a significant effect in following plant-based diets,” he said. “Whether that’s in individuals by promoting a healthy lifestyle and decreasing the risk of multiple cancers — in addition to prostate cancer, specifically — or the environmental effects.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2021 at 4:06 pm

The role meat may play in triggering Parkinson’s disease, and the role fiber may play in protecting against it.

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Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2021 at 3:02 pm

Why Americans Die So Much

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Derek Thompson writes in the Atlantic:

America has a death problem.

No, I’m not just talking about the past year and a half, during which COVID-19 deaths per capita in the United States outpaced those in similarly rich countries, such as Canada, Japan, and France. And I’m not just talking about the past decade, during which drug overdoses skyrocketed in the U.S., creating a social epidemic of what are often called “deaths of despair.”

I’m talking about the past 30 years. Before the 1990s, average life expectancy in the U.S. was not much different than it was in Germany, the United Kingdom, or France. But since the 1990s, American life spans started falling significantly behind those in similarly wealthy European countries.

According to a new working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Americans now die earlier than their European counterparts, no matter what age you’re looking at. Compared with Europeans, American babies are more likely to die before they turn 5, American teens are more likely to die before they turn 20, and American adults are more likely to die before they turn 65. At every age, living in the United States carries a higher risk of mortality. This is America’s unsung death penalty, and it adds up. Average life expectancy surged above 80 years old in just about every Western European country in the 2010s, including Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, the U.K., Denmark, and Switzerland. In the U.S., by contrast, the average life span has never exceeded 79—and now it’s just taken a historic tumble.

Why is the U.S. so much worse than other developed countries at performing the most basic function of civilization: keeping people alive?

“Europe has better life outcomes than the United States across the board, for white and Black people, in high-poverty areas and low-poverty areas,” Hannes Schwandt, a Northwestern University professor who co-wrote the paper, told me. “It’s important that we collect this data, so that people can ask the right questions, but the data alone does not tell us what the cause of this longevity gap is.”

Finding a straightforward explanation is hard, because there are so many differences between life in the U.S. and Europe. Americans are more likely to kill one another with guns, in large part because Americans have more guns than residents of other countries do. Americans die more from car accidents, not because our fatality rate per mile driven is unusually high but because we simply drive so much more than people in other countries. Americans also have higher rates of death from infectious disease and pregnancy complications. But what has that got to do with guns, or commuting?

By collecting data on American life spans by ethnicity and by income at the county level—and by comparing them with those of European countries, locality by locality—Schwandt and the other researchers made three important findings.

First, Europe’s mortality rates are shockingly similar between rich and poor communities. Residents of the poorest parts of France live about as long as people in the rich areas around Paris do. “Health improvements among infants, children, and youth have been disseminated within European countries in a way that includes even the poorest areas,” the paper’s authors write.

But in the U.S., which has the highest poverty and inequality of just about any country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, where you live is much more likely to determine when you’ll die. Infants in the U.S. are considerably more likely to die in the poorest counties than in the richest counties, and this is true for both Black and white babies. Black teenagers in the poorest U.S. areas are roughly twice as likely to die before they turn 20, compared with those in the richest U.S. counties. In Europe, by contrast, the mortality rate for teenagers in the richest and poorest areas is exactly the same—12 deaths per 100,000. In America, the problem is not just that poverty is higher; it’s that the effect of poverty on longevity is greater too.

Second, even rich Europeans are outliving rich Americans. “There is an American view that egalitarian societies have more equality, but it’s all one big mediocre middle, whereas the best outcomes in the U.S. are the best outcomes in the world,” Schwandt said. But this just doesn’t seem to be the case for longevity. White Americans living in the richest 5 percent of counties still die earlier than Europeans in similarly low-poverty areas; life spans for Black Americans were shorter still. (The study did not examine other American racial groups.) “It says something negative about the overall health system of the United States that even after we grouped counties by poverty and looked at the richest 10th percentile, and even the richest fifth percentile, we still saw this longevity gap between Americans and Europeans,” he added. In fact, Europeans in extremely impoverished areas seem to live longer than Black or white Americans in the richest 10 percent of counties.

Third,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, including this interesting factoid:

Air pollution has declined more than 70 percent since the 1970s, according to the EPA, and most of that decline happened during the 30-year period of this mortality research.

Related, via a post this morning by Kevin Drum:

Drum notes:

The US death rate from COVID-19 is no longer skyrocketing, but it’s still going up. Our mortality rate is 150% above Britain and more than 1000% higher than Germany.

I imagine the primary causes are widespread refusal (especially in Red states) to wear masks, to avoid crowds, and to be vaccinated, all obvious steps that significantly reduce the likelihood of infection and thus reduce the likelihood of death.

Note this headline in the NY Times this morning: “The U.S. is falling to the lowest vaccination rates of the world’s wealthiest democracies.” From that article:

. . . Canada leads the G7 countries in vaccination rates, with almost three-quarters of its population at least partially vaccinated as of Thursday, according to Our World in Data. France, Italy and Britain follow, with percentages between 70 and 73. Germany’s rate is just ahead of Japan’s, at around 65 percent.

The U.S. vaccination curve has leveled dramatically since an initial surge in the first half of this year, when the vaccine first became widely available. In a push to vaccinate the roughly 80 million Americans who are eligible for shots but have not gotten them, President Biden on Thursday mandated that two-thirds of American workers, including health care workers and the vast majority of federal employees, be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2021 at 1:11 pm

How the energy industry tricked Americans into loving a dangerous appliance.

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Rebecca Leber has a long article in Mother Jones that’s well worth reading. It begins:

Early last year in the Fox Hills neighborhood of Culver City, California, a man named Wilson Truong posted an item on the Nextdoor social media platform—where users can interact with their neighbors—warning that city leaders were considering stronger building codes that would discourage the use of natural gas in new homes and businesses. In a message titled “Culver City banning gas stoves?” he wrote, “First time I heard about it I thought it was bogus, but I received a newsletter from the city about public hearings to discuss it…Will it pass???!!! I used an electric stove but it never cooked as well as a gas stove so I ended up switching back.”

Truong’s post ignited a debate. One neighbor, Chris, defended electric induction stoves. “Easy to clean,” he wrote of these glass stovetops, which use a magnetic field to heat pans. [Induction is definitely best of all. – LG] Another neighbor, Laura, expressed skepticism. “No way,” she wrote. “I am staying with gas. I hope you can too.”

Unbeknownst to both, Truong wasn’t their neighbor at all, but an account manager for Imprenta Communications Group. Among the public relations firm’s clients was Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions, a front for the nation’s largest gas utility, SoCalGas, which aims to thwart state and local initiatives restricting the use of fossil fuels in new buildings. c4bes had tasked Imprenta with exploring how platforms such as Nextdoor could be used to engineer community support for natural gas. Imprenta assured me that Truong’s post was an isolated affair, but c4bes displays it alongside two other anonymous Nextdoor comments on its website as evidence of its advocacy in action.

Microtargeting Nextdoor groups is part of the newest front in the gas industry’s war to bolster public support for its product. For decades the American public was largely sold on the notion that “natural” gas was relatively clean, and when used in the kitchen, even classy. But that was before climate change moved from distant worry to proximate danger. Burning natural gas in commercial and residential buildings accounts for more than 10 percent of US emissions, so moving toward homes and apartments powered by wind and solar electricity instead could make a real dent. Gas stoves and ovens also produce far worse indoor air pollution than most people realize; running a gas stove and oven for just an hour can produce unsafe pollutant levels throughout your house all day. These concerns have prompted moves by 42 municipalities to phase out gas in new buildings. Washington state lawmakers intend to end all use of natural gas by 2050. California has passed aggressive standards, including a plan to reduce commercial and residential emissions to 60 percent of 1990 levels by 2030. During his campaign, President Biden called for stricter standards for appliances and new construction. Were more stringent federal rules to come to pass, it could motivate builders to ditch gas hookups for good.

Gas utilities have responded to this existential threat to their livelihood by launching local anti-electrification campaigns. To ward off a municipal vote in San Luis Obispo, California, a union representing gas utility workers threatened to bus in “hundreds” of protesters during the pandemic with “no social distancing in place.” In Santa Barbara, residents have received robotexts warning that a gas ban would dramatically increase their bills. The Pacific Northwest group Partnership for Energy Progress, funded in part by Washington state’s largest gas utility, Puget Sound Energy, has spent at least $1 million opposing electrification mandates in Bellingham and Seattle, including $91,000 on bus ads showing a happy family cooking with gas next to the slogan “Reliable. Affordable. Natural Gas. Here for You.”

The industry group American Gas Association has a website dedicated to promoting cooking with gas.

The gas industry also has worked aggressively with legislatures in seven states to enact laws—at least 14 more have bills—that would prevent cities from passing cleaner building codes. This past spring, according to a HuffPost investigation, gas and construction interests managed to block cities from pushing for the stricter energy efficiency codes favored by local officials. In a potential blow to the Biden administration’s climate ambitions, two big trade groups convinced the International Code Council—the notoriously industry-friendly gatekeeper of default construction codes—to cut local officials out of the decision-making process entirely.

Beyond applying political pressure, the gas industry has identified a clever way to capture the public imagination. Surveys showed that most people had no preference for gas water heaters and furnaces over electric ones. So the gas companies found a different appliance to focus on. For decades, sleek industry campaigns have portrayed gas stoves—like granite countertops, farm sinks, and stainless-steel refrigerators—as a coveted symbol of class and sophistication, not to mention a selling point for builders and real estate agents.

The strategy has been remarkably successful in boosting sales of natural gas, but as the tides turn against fossil fuels, defending gas stoves has become a rear guard action. While stoves were once crucial to expanding the industry’s empire, now they are a last-ditch attempt to defend its shrinking borders.

Over the last hundred years, gas companies have engaged an all-out campaign to convince Americans that cooking with a gas flame is superior to using electric heat. At the same time, they’ve urged us not to think too hard—if at all—about what it means to combust a fossil fuel in our homes.

In the 1930s, the industry embraced the term “natural gas,” which gave the impression that its product was cleaner than any other fossil fuel: “The discovery of Natural Gas brought to man the greater and most efficient heating fuel which the world has ever known,” bragged one 1934 ad. “Justly is it called—nature’s perfect fuel.”

It was also during the 1930s that the industry first adopted the slogan “cooking with gas”; a gas executive saw to it that the phrase worked its way into Bob Hope bits and Disney cartoons. By the 1950s the industry was targeting housewives with star-studded commercials that featured matinee idols scheming about how to get their husbands to renovate their kitchens. In one 1964 newspaper advertisement from the Pennsylvania People’s Natural Gas Company, the star Marlene Dietrich professed, “Every recipe I give is closely related to cooking with gas. If forced, I can cook on an electric stove but it is not a happy union.” (Around the same time, General Electric waged an advertising campaign starring Ronald Reagan that depicted an all-electric house as a Jetsons-like future.) During the 1980s, the gas industry debuted a cringeworthy rap: “I cook with gas cause the cost is much less / Than ’lectricity. Do you want to take a guess?” and “I cook with gas cause broiling’s so clean / The flame consumes the smoke and grease.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including serious and fact-based arguments against using gas ranges. No paywall.

Later in the article:

Beginning in the 1990s, the industry faced a new challenge: mounting evidence that burning gas indoors can contribute to serious health problems. Gas stoves emit a host of dangerous pollutants, including particulate matter, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides. One 2014 simulation by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that cooking with gas for one hour without ventilation adds up to 3,000 parts per billion of carbon monoxide to the air—raising indoor concentrations by up to 30 percent in the average home. Carbon monoxide can kill; it binds tightly to the hemoglobin molecules in your blood so they can no longer carry oxygen. What’s more, new research shows that the typical home carbon monoxide alarms often fail to detect potentially dangerous levels of the gas. Nitrogen oxides, which are not regulated indoors, have been linked to an increased risk of heart attack, along with asthma and other respiratory diseases. Homes with gas stoves have anywhere between 50 and 400 percent higher concentrations of nitrogen dioxide than homes without, according to EPA research. Children are at especially high risk from nitrogen oxides, according to a study by UCLA Fielding School of Public Health commissioned by the Sierra Club. The paper included a meta-analysis of existing epidemiological studies, one of which estimated that kids in homes with gas stoves are 42 percent more likely to have asthma than children whose families use electric.

From my own direct experience I know that cooking on an induction burner is by far the best — I’ve cooked with gas and with electric coil burners, and induction beats them hands down.

Written by Leisureguy

12 September 2021 at 9:26 am

Change in walk goals

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I changed my approach to Nordic walking, having decided (and observed) that a more moderate goal results in more frequent walking. The 8000-step, 4.1-mile, 1 hr 10-15 minute goal was achievable, but tiring, and the prospect of the walk did not gladden my heart. When we remember experiences we’ve had, we tend to weight more heavily the things toward the end (see: Peak-End Theory), which is why one should design vacations to end with something special and why performers leave the stage at a climax, with the audience clamoring for more.

So when the day came when I couldn’t walk because of weather, it was easy to skip the next day as well, and before I knew it, a week had passed.

I figured I should not ignore the event, so I decided to cut my goal from 8000 steps to 5000 steps, and I used for my walk route the short-cut toward the end that I had previously used when I felt too tired to finish. That walk turns out to be 56-58 minutes (so far — the time might improve) and 6300-6400 steps. According to Plotaroute.com, it is 3.3 miles, which is a respectable distance. With the Nordic-walking 20% boost to the normal Cooper aerobic points for that distance and time, I get 6.7 points per day, which for 6 days results in 40.2 points, comfortably above Cooper’s recommended minimum requirement (35 points per week for men, 27 for women, the points accumulated over at least 4 exercise sessions per week and at most 6).

I’ve had a couple of days at the new planned distance, and my internal resistance to the walk is noticeably lessened — it’s a short enough walk to be pleasant, and I don’t hit a point — as I did for the longer distance — of dreading how much farther I have to go. Before I notice it, the walk is done.

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2021 at 4:13 pm

A somewhat comforting thought: A large proportion of Americans have always experienced difficulty in thinking clearly

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A group of people observing a doctor as he vaccinates a man in an 1870s illustration called “Vaccinating the Poor,” by Solomon Eytinge Jr. via National Library of Medicine

Maggie Astor writes in the NY Times:

As disease and death reigned around them, some Americans declared that they would never get vaccinated and raged at government efforts to compel them. Anti-vaccination groups spread propaganda about terrible side effects and corrupt doctors. State officials tried to ban mandates, and people made fake vaccination certificates to evade inoculation rules already in place.

The years were 1898 to 1903, and the disease was smallpox. News articles and health board reports describe crowds of parents marching to schoolhouses to demand that their unvaccinated children be allowed in, said Michael Willrich, a professor of history at Brandeis University, with some even burning their own arms with nitric acid to mimic the characteristic scar left by the smallpox vaccine.

“People went to some pretty extraordinary lengths not to comply,” said Professor Willrich, who wrote “Pox: An American History,” a book about the civil liberties battles prompted by the epidemic.

If it all sounds familiar, well, there is nothing new under the sun: not years that feel like centuries, not the wailing and gnashing of teeth over masks, and not vaccine mandates either.

As the coronavirus overwhelms hospitals across the South and more than 650,000 Americans — an increasing number of them children — lie dead, the same pattern is emerging. On Thursday, President Biden announced that he would move to require most federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated and, more sweepingly, that all employers with 100 or more employees would have to mandate vaccines or weekly testing. Colleges, businesses and local governments have enacted mandates at a steady pace, and conservative anger has built accordingly.

On Monday, Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, tweeted that vaccine mandates were “un-American.” In reality, they are a time-honored American tradition.

But to be fair, so is public fury over them.

“We’re really seeing a lot of echoes of the smallpox era,” said Elena Conis, an associate professor and historian of medicine at the University of California, Berkeley. “Mandates elicit resistance. They always have.”

The roots of U.S. vaccine mandates predate both the U.S. and vaccines. The colonies sought to prevent disease outbreaks by quarantining ships from Europe and sometimes, in the case of smallpox, requiring inoculations: a crude and much riskier predecessor to vaccinations in which doctors rubbed live smallpox virus into broken skin to induce a relatively mild infection that would guard against severe infection later. They were a source of enormous fear and anger.

In January 1777, George Washington mandated inoculations for the soldiers under his command in the Continental Army, writing that if smallpox were to break out, “we should have more to dread from it, than from the Sword of the Enemy.” Notably, it was in large part the soldiers’ desires that overcame his resistance to a mandate.

“They were the ones calling for it,” said Andrew Wehrman, an associate professor of history at Central Michigan University who studies the politics of medicine in the colonial and revolutionary eras. “There’s no record that I have seen — and I’ve looked — of any soldier turning it down, protesting it.”

Buoyed by the success of the mandate, Washington wrote to his brother in June 1777 that he was upset by a Virginia law restricting inoculations. “I would rather move for a Law to compell the Masters of Families to inoculate every Child born within a certain limitted time under severe Penalties,” he wrote.

Over the next century, many local governments did exactly that. Professor Wehrman this week tweeted an example of what, in an interview, he said was a “ubiquitous” phenomenon: The health board in Urbana, Ohio, Jordan’s hometown, enacted a requirement in 1867 that in any future epidemic, “the heads of families must see that all the members of their families have been vaccinated.”

But by the end of the 1800s, opposition was louder and more widespread. Some states, particularly in the West, introduced laws prohibiting vaccine mandates. Others narrowly passed mandates after intense debate.

The reasons for resistance were myriad: Some Americans opposed mandates on the grounds of personal liberty; some because they believed lawmakers were in cahoots with vaccine makers; and some because of safety concerns that were, to be fair, more grounded in reality than the modern equivalent. Vaccines then were not regulated the way they are now, and there were documented cases of doses contaminated with tetanus.

The government’s response resembled what, today, are wild conspiracy theories. Contrary to the assertions of some on the far right, the Biden administration has never suggested going door to door to force people to take coronavirus vaccines. But in the 1890s and 1900s, that actually happened: Squads of men would enter people’s homes in the middle of the night, breaking down doors if necessary, to inject people with smallpox vaccines. 

Legally speaking, the Supreme Court . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

I’ll point out that the deadly scourge of smallpox, which killed millions upon millions, was ended by vaccines. Smallpox is now an extinct disease — no thanks to anti-vaxxers.

Written by Leisureguy

9 September 2021 at 4:49 pm

John Mulaney tells Seth Meyers about his eventful year

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I found this absorbing.

Written by Leisureguy

8 September 2021 at 4:36 pm

A Step Ahead of Illness: Walking daily may boost healthy aging

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The Harvard School of Public Health has a post worth considering:

Studies have shown that a regular walking habit can promote weight control, but it may also provide additional health benefits for body and mind as people age.

An Eat This, Not That! article published August 25, 2021 cited studies from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers who found that walking every day may help people live longer lives and stave off depression.

Research led by I-Min Lee, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, found that older women who walked at least 4,400 steps each day had greater longevity than those who walked less.

A separate study linked regular walking to improved mental health. “We saw a 26% decrease in odds for becoming depressed for each major increase in objectively measured physical activity,” first author Karmel Choi, research advisor on resilience at the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness, said in the Eat This, Not That! article. “This increase in physical activity is what you might see on your activity tracker if you replaced 15 minutes of sitting with 15 minutes of running, or one hour of sitting with one hour of moderate activity like brisk walking.”

Other benefits that a daily walking habit may provide as people age include reduced risk of dementia,  stroke, and heart disease, and strengthened muscles and bones, according to other researchers cited in the Eat This, Not That! article.

Read the Eat This, Not That! here: What a Daily Walking Habit Does to Your Body After 60, Says Science

Written by Leisureguy

8 September 2021 at 3:23 pm

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