Archive for the ‘Health’ Category
Kevin Drum has a very interesting post at Mother Jones:
I missed this when it was first written—probably because it was only a week after Donald Trump won the election—but Robert Waldmann decided to check out a few of his predictions:
In April 2008, I predicted that the UK violent crime rate would peak some time around 2008. I just googled and found that it peaked in around 2006 or 2007.
Here’s the chart, courtesy of the Institute for Economics and Peace:
Note two things here. First, Britain’s violent crime rate peaked about 15 years after it did in the US. Second, it dropped a lot faster than it did in the US. Why?
Because, first, Britain adopted unleaded gasoline about 13 years after the US (1988 vs. 1975). And second, because it phased out leaded gasoline a lot faster than the US. Within four years Britain had cut lead emissions by two-thirds, which means there was a very sharp break between infants born in high-lead and low-lead environments. Likewise, this means there was a sharp break between 18-year-olds with and without brain damage. In 2006, nearly all 18-year-olds had grown up with lead poisoned brains. By 2010, that had dropped substantially, which accounts for the stunning 40 percent drop in violent crime in such a short time.1
This is one of the reasons the lead-crime hypothesis is so persuasive. Not only does recorded crime fit the predictions of the theory—both in timing and slope—but it does so in . . .
Note this, later in his post:
Anyway, I might as well take this opportunity to repeat my prediction that terrorism in the Middle East will begin to decline between 2020-30. You heard it here first.
It can get depressing. I do not see that polluting waterways improves the general welfare, though it surely improves the bottom line for coal companies.
Caitlin Dewey reports in the Washington Post:
In late 2015, Daniel Lubetzky learned of a federal rule that puzzled him: Salmon, avocados, olives, eggs and tree nuts aren’t “healthy,” according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Lubetzky, the chief executive of snack brand KIND, had just received a letter from the FDA warning him to stop putting the term on the packaging of his snack bars. The agency’s labeling regulations — dating back to the height of the anti-fat craze — prevented even “good” fats from calling themselves healthy, while allowing the label on some high-sugar products.
Learning about the origins of the rule — and, later, trying to change it — Lubetzky concluded that his industry had too much power in how food policy is decided. On Wednesday, he launched a new public advocacy organization, called Feed the Truth, designed to explore, expose and “counteract” that sort of influence. He is now giving $25 million to fund the organization–$5 million now and $20 million more over the next decade — though he says he won’t have any role in deciding the organization’s approach beyond choosing three nutrition experts to choose the group’s board.
“I don’t want to talk to them. I don’t want to know who they are. I’m not going to forward them articles,” Lubetzky said. “The announcement will be done by us. After that, we’re cutting the cord — the decisions will be made by board members I’ve never met.”
Experts generally agree that the food industry’s influence over public health has gone too far. Political contributions from food and beverage companies have more than doubled in the past 18 years, and the industry spends billions to fund complementary research, finance “shadow” groups to advance its local agendas, and lobby regulators.
Michael Jacobson, the president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest and one of three prominent nutrition experts who will choose Feed the Truth’s board, said the industry’s political activities are vast. (The other early advisers are Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, and Deborah Eschmeyer, the former executive director of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative.)
“Compared to that, [Feed the Truth] is a small organization,” Jacobson said. “$25 million is a nice chunk of dough. But no, it’s not $100 million.”
There are several major battlegrounds in this larger fight against food industry influence. One is labeling, Jacobson said, but not just of the sort encountered by KIND. Several powerful trade associations have also marshaled their lobbyists to fight front-of-package food labeling, which would more clearly identify less healthful foods, and the updated Nutrition Facts panel, which will explicitly call out added sugars.
The processed food lobby has also fought voluntary sodium reduction targets, which Jacobson says could save “tens of thousands of lives.” During a recent FDA comment period, dozens of public health departments and organizations urged the FDA to adopt the targets — while a number of well-funded trade groups, including the North American Meat Institute and the National Milk Producers Federation, opposed it.
“The industries with the most political clout and the deepest pockets tend to sway the way things go,” said Andy Bellatti, the strategic director of Dietitians for Professional Integrity, a professional group. . .
I highly recommend reading the entire article, though it’s depressing: the drive to maximize profits has been extraordinarily corrupting, as the article shows.
It’s depressing how difficult it is to implement changes that are obviously for the better, particularly when those changes are to improve things for children. One of the weaknesses of capitalism is that it has no moral sense.
The chart below is from a must-read article I have already blogged, but I just could not get this out of my mind:
I highly recommend reading the article itself, “Revenge of the Lunch Lady.” It’s depressing the degree to which the welfare of children counts for nothing in political calculus.
Jane Black has an article at Huffington Post, “Revenge of the Lunch Lady,” that is totally worth reading just for the personal drama and vindication of a government employee. Read the whole thing, but let me quote just one section. (The article is long, but fascinating.)
. . . To those unfamiliar with the absurdist theater of school lunch, it is puzzling, even maddening, that feeding kids nutritious food should be so hard. You buy good food. You cook it. You serve it to hungry kids.
Yet the National School Lunch Program, an $11.7 billion behemoth that feeds more than 31 million children each day, is a mess, and has been for years. Conflicts of interest were built into the program. It was pushed through Congress after World War II with the support of military leaders who wanted to ensure that there would be enough healthy young men to fight the next war, and of farmers who were looking for a place to unload their surplus corn, milk and meat. The result was that schools became the dumping ground for the cheap calories our modern agricultural system was designed to overproduce.
This tension has played out over and over again, with children usually ending up the losers. A case in point: In 1981, America was awash in surplus dairy. The government’s Inland Storage and Distribution Center—a network of tunnels beneath Kansas City, Missouri—was filled with 200 million pounds of cheese and butter, stacked “like frozen pillars and stretching over acres of gray stone floor,” according to The Associated Press. In an effort to ease the glut, the USDA purchased millions of pounds of dairy for schools. But, according to Janet Poppendieck, a professor at Hunter College who specializes in poverty and hunger, this encouraged dairy farmers to keep on milking. So in 1986 the government had to create a new program, the Whole Herd Buyout, which paid farmers to slaughter the dairy cows. The government then bought the beef, which was turned into hamburger, taco meat and so on for school lunch.
That flood of meat and dairy hiked the fat content of school meals just as the country was descending into an anti-fat frenzy. In 1990, the federal government issued new dietary guidelines, declaring that a healthy diet should contain no more than 30 percent fat, with a 10 percent cap on saturated fat. But cafeterias simply had too much of the wrong food to comply. In a USDA study of 544 schools conducted several years later, only 1 percent met the requirement for overall fat and just a single school had managed to keep saturated fat to a healthy level. The deeply conflicted nature of the program was showing itself once again.
Since the 1990s, the USDA has made many improvements—it now requires that canned vegetables have less salt and insists that ground beef be 95 percent lean. But school lunch is still a disgrace, and the timidity of Congress is largely to blame. In 2011, the USDA proposed limiting the amount of potatoes and other starchy vegetables permitted in school lunches so that cafeterias could make room for healthier options. But the Senate, led by members from two top potato producers, Maine and Colorado, killed the idea in a unanimous vote. Then there’s the pizza lobby. When the 2010 revision of nutrition standards increased the minimum amount of tomato paste required for pizza to count as a vegetable from two tablespoons—the typical amount found on a slice—to half a cup, the National Frozen Pizza Institute and other groups howled, and Congress opted for the status quo. The idea that pizza might not be considered a vegetable was, apparently, un-American.
What makes school lunch so contentious, though, isn’t just the question of what kids eat, but of which kids are doing the eating. As Poppendieck recounts in her book, Free for All: Fixing School Food in America, the original program provided schools with food and, later, cash to subsidize the cost of meals. But by the early 1960s, schools weren’t receiving enough to feed all their students, and many pulled out of the program. As a result, middle-class students, whose parents could cover the difference between the government subsidy and the actual cost of a meal, ended up benefiting the most from school lunch, while the truly needy went hungry. This moral failing became clear in 1968, when a landmark report called “Their Daily Bread” revealed that only one-third of the 6 million children living in poverty were receiving free or subsidized lunch. Schools’ ability to pay for food was so limited that one in Mississippi rotated 100 lunches among more than 400 students, while another in Alabama had just 15 meals for 1,000 needy kids. School lunch had its first official scandal.
In response, Congress, which had preferred to let schools decide who got to eat and who did not, established a three-tiered system. Students from families with incomes up to 25 percent above the federal poverty line—about $3,300 for a family of four, or around $24,000 in today’s dollars—were entitled to free meals. Those from families with incomes between 25 and 95 percent above the poverty line paid a reduced price, while everyone else paid the full price. (Just to make things extra confusing, schools also received a small subsidy for those meals as well). This system had the virtue of guaranteeing that the poorest children would be fed. But it also transformed school lunch from a program designed to feed all students into one for the poor.
Once school lunch was perceived as welfare, it became a target. President Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980 on a promise to slash domestic spending, attacked the program. It was one thing to help the genuinely needy, Reagan’s budget director David Stockman declared, but it was “wasteful” to support middle- and upper-class families who could afford to buy lunch. What he didn’t mention was that the cutoff for a free meal was nowhere near a middle-class income and excluded many kids who needed the help.
Still, Congress agreed to cut the small subsidy for full-price lunches by more than a third. The effect was quick and severe. Lunch prices rose, and in the space of just three years, more than a quarter of the kids in the full-price tier stopped buying school lunch. With fewer students participating and smaller reimbursements for each meal served, schools lost their (already limited) economies of scale. The ensuing budget crisis forced schools to seek out even cheaper food—the highly processed stuff, such as chicken nuggets and corn dogs, that they are now condemned for serving. And on it goes.
Not that any of these cautionary tales have diminished the Republicans’ desire to gut the program. In 2014, now-House Speaker Paul Ryan said that public assistance, including school lunch, offered a “full stomach and an empty soul” because it made kids reliant on government handouts. With the party now in control of Congress and the White House—and with Michelle Obama, the program’s greatest defender, gone—school lunch is as vulnerable as it’s ever been.
One Republican strategy to hobble school lunch involves changing an innocuous-sounding proposal called the Community Eligibility Provision. The formula for CEP is complex, but it essentially allows schools in high-poverty areas to provide free meals to all students. This alleviates the administrative burden of keeping track of who qualifies for which tier, and allows money that would normally be spent on administration to go toward paying cooks or buying better food instead.
Judging by its popularity among food service directors, CEP has been one of the most successful innovations in school-lunch policy in decades. Studies show the program reduces the long-standing stigma for kids getting free lunch and enables those who don’t qualify for subsidized meals, but who actually need them, to eat if they’re hungry. This prevents situations like the one that took place last fall, when a school cafeteria worker in Pennsylvania resigned after having to take away the lunch of a first-grader whose parents failed to pay their bill. Not surprisingly, CEP has been embraced in impoverished areas like North Dakota, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, where food-service directors have been forced to hire collection agencies to chase down parents who haven’t paid for their kids’ meals.
Conservatives insist that it’s not the taxpayers’ job to cover for negligent parents. Todd Rokita, an Indiana Republican who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees school food, called CEP “perverse,” alleging that it incentivizes schools to give free meals to students who either already pay or are capable of paying for school lunch. This despite the fact that schools, like most places in America, have become increasingly segregated by socioeconomics over the last two decades. So the throngs of coddled middle-class kids Rokita thinks are eating for free don’t actually exist.
Rhonda McCoy is emphatic that kids shouldn’t be punished for their families’ financial situations. “It’s not their fault that the parents didn’t pay the bill,” she said. Before CEP, she remembers getting calls, which she said “broke my heart,” about students who chose to go hungry rather than have an embarrassing conversation about money. But if Rokita wins this battle, more than 7,000 schools, feeding nearly 3.4 million kids, will once again have to start charging for some meals. In West Virginia, the new formula would exclude 327 schools, including all 26 in Cabell County. “This would all be over,” McCoy told me. “It would kill us.” . . .
Dakota Access Pipeline Approved a Week After Co-Owner’s Pipeline Spilled 600,000 Gallons of Oil in Texas
Steve Horn writes at Desmog Blog:
On January 30, 600,000 gallons (14,285 barrels) of oil spewed out of Enbridge’s Seaway Pipeline in Blue Ridge, Texas, the second spill since the pipeline opened for business in mid-2016.
Seaway is half owned by Enbridge and serves as the final leg of a pipeline system DeSmog has called the “Keystone XLClone,” which carries mostly tar sands extracted from Alberta, Canada, across the U.S. at a rate of 400,000 barrels per day down to the Gulf of Mexico. Enbridge is an equity co-owner of the Dakota Access pipeline, which received its final permit needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on February 7 to construct the pipeline across the Missouri River and construction has resumed.
The alignment of Native American tribes, environmentalists, and others involved in the fight against Dakota Access have called themselves “water protectors,” rather than “activists,” out of concern that a pipeline spill could contaminate their drinking water source, the Missouri River.
Brittany Clayton, who works at a nearby gas station in Blue Ridge, which is 50 miles from Dallas, Texas, was close to the scene of the spill when it occurred.
“You could just smell this oil smell. A customer walks in and says ‘nobody smoke.’ You could see it just spewing,” Clayton told KDFW–TV, the local Fox News affiliate in the area. “It was just super huge. It was like a big cloud. The fire marshal said, ‘This is like a danger zone. You guys have to evacuate immediately.’ I was totally freaked out. I kept texting the boss man.”
“The incident … resulted in no fire or injuries and the pipeline has been shut down and isolated,” the companies said. “Seaway has mobilized personnel and equipment to the site and is working closely with emergency responders, law enforcement and regulatory authorities to conduct clean-up operations and develop a plan to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible.”
According to KDFW, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intend to do water and environmental testing in the coming days. TxDOT also told the local National Public Radio affiliate, KETR–FM, that it would take “several weeks” to complete a full cleanup.
“It remains too early in the investigation to know where final blame lies for the accident,” wrote KETR, also noting that “it is also too early to tell how much the cleanup and loss of product will cost.” . . .
The EPA will be doing a lot less under Pruitt.
Congress clears measure scuttling Obama rule protecting streams from coal mining debris, sends it to President Trump
Everyone’s hoping to cash in during a time when regulations are thrown aside. Who benefits? Certainly not the public, whom the government’s duty is to protect (cf. preamble to the Constitution, a document currently in disfavor among Republicans).