Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

New food labels coming soon?

From the 6 December blog item at Public Health Perspective

A new labeling system proposed by the Institute of Medicine would make it easy for consumer to understand the nutrients in food. The front of food packages would feature a “stars system”, with zero to three stars for an item, based on the amount of trans fats, added sugars and sodium in the food.

IOM Proposed Label

December 7, 2011 Posted by | Nutrition | | Leave a comment

Releasing Inspection and Testing Data on Meat and Poultry Processing Facilities With Care Could Have “Substantial Benefits”

From the 30 November 2011 press release by the US National Academy of Sciences

WASHINGTON — Publicly posting enforcement and testing data corresponding to specific meat, poultry, and egg products’ processing plants on the Internet could have “substantial benefits,” including the potential to favorably impact public health, says a new report from the National Research Council.  The report adds that the release of such data could contribute to increased transparency and yield valuable insights that go beyond the regulatory uses for which the data are collected.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for ensuring that meat, poultry, and processed egg products are safe, wholesome, and properly labeled.  It collects voluminous amounts of data at thousands of processing facilities in support of its regulatory functions and is considering the release of two types of collected data on its website.  These include inspection and enforcement data and sampling and testing data — such as testing for the presence of food borne pathogens like salmonella, pathogenic E. coli, and listeria monocytogenes.  Some of this information is already available to the public via the Internet but is aggregated and does not contain names of specific processing facilities.  However, most of the data FSIS collects, with the exception of information that is considered proprietary, can currently be obtained by the public through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [Flahiff’s emphasis]..

…there are strong arguments supporting the public release of FSIS data that contains the names of processing facilities on the Internet, especially data that are subject to release under FOIA, unless there is compelling evidence that it is not in the public interest to release them.  Several potential benefits of releasing such data include enabling users to make more informed choices, motivating facilities to improve their performance, and allowing research studies of regulatory effectiveness and other performance-related issues.  [Flahiff’s emphasis]More specific benefits might include better understanding on the part of the public relative to the kinds of information that have been collected, such as a greater appreciation for the quality, complexity, and potential usability of the data for specific purposes.  Even if individual firms do not change their behavior in response to data posting, overall food safety could improve if information about performance leads consumers to favor high-performing facilities, effectively resulting in a shift in the composition of the market.

December 7, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health, Public Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

mHealth Moving Fast, Raising Hope, And Questions

mhealth summit logo

mHealth Moving Fast, Raising Hope, And Questions 

From the 6 December 2011 blog item by Elsevier Global Medical News

Hopes, ideas, and hundreds of apps, are floating in the hallways during the third annual mHealth [Mobile Health] Summit***, marking the beginnings of a field that is still in its infancy and carries with it more questions than answers.

The federal government is pushing mHealth, launching programs like theHealthy Apps Challenge, which Dr. Regina Benjamin, the U.S. Surgeon General, introduced in her keynote speech. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, introduced the SmokeFreeTXT program, a text messaging service that helps teens quit smoking. Ms. Sebelius has also established theText4Health Task Force last year to look at other uses of texting in promoting healthy behavior.

“As our phones get more powerful, they are becoming our primary tools for doing everything from getting directions to deciding where to eat, Ms. Sebelius said during her keynote speech on Monday.  “And increasingly, that includes using our phones to track, manage, and improve our health.  In the iTunes store alone, there are nearly 12,000 different apps related to health – a number that will probably have gone up by the time I finish speaking.”…

…we sometimes come away from a conference, such as this week’smHealth Summit, with the feeling that the only ones making a living with mHealth are conference organizers. Maybe it was the format…That being said, however, the mHealth Summit, now in its third year, is the best conference one can attend in the US if one wants to get the global pulse on all things mHealth.

That is not to say they are no advances occurring here in the US. One of the keynote speakers, cardiologist Eric Topol, gave several live demos during his talk of the mHealth tools he is already using including stating that he has not used a stethoscope in two years, instead preferring to use mobisante’s ultrasound wand and iPhone App.  Then there was our conversation with WellDoc’s CTO who informed us that they are currently being deployed at a number of institutions and hope to have a host of CPT codes that doctors can bill against in late 2012. And there was the small start-up we spoke with who has done the hard work of first identifying what the value proposition is for all stakeholders in a community (payers, providers and consumers) and then developed an extremely compelling solution (think analytics & automated quality reporting, tied to reimbursement, tied to consumer engagement) that has a lot of promise in a market where physicians’ pay will increasingly be based on outcomes and ability to meet pre-defined quality metrics…

…Addendum:
For a slightly different take, check out the post by VC firm Psilos’ Managing Partner Lisa Suennen’s. Well worth the read.

Read the entire news item with a link to a video interview

Press releases may be found here

mHealth Summit 2011 – Videos Available


Related Resources

  • Get Mobilized! An introduction to mobile resources and tools in health sciences libraries (Medical Library Association)

    Archived 2011 online class including “lecture notes”, resources, class discussions, and related slides/videos

  • Health Apps (in Health and Medical News and Resources selected by Janice Flahiff)
    a short list of information and tracking apps derived from the above Get Mobilized class

***”The largest event of its kind, the 3rd annual mHealth Summit brings together leaders in government, the private sector, industry, academia, providers and not-for-profit organizations from across the mHealth ecosystem to advance collaboration in the use of wireless technology to improve health outcomes in the United States and abroad.”

December 7, 2011 Posted by | health care | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

8 *BUSTED* Myths About Flu Vaccines — From The [Boston] Mayor’s Health Line Blog

8 *BUSTED* Myths About Flu Vaccines « The Mayor’s Health Line Blog

From the Boston Mayor’s Health Line Blog

There is a lot of information about flu vaccines and the effects it has on the human body.  Most of the information regarding flu vaccines is true and factual, and is often disseminated through publications and fact sheets authored by members of such organizations as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and the national office of Health and Human Services.

However, there are still misconceptions about the flu vaccine.  This post will offer another avenue for correct information that keeps Boston healthy and happy.

 

Myth 1: Flu shots can cause the flu

All vaccines contain an inactive sample of the virus it’s meant to fight. The same is true for the flu vaccine.  The body recognizes these inactive flu viruses and makes antibodies to destroy them.  When an active flu virus is present in the body, the body already has stored antibodies that can and will attack the flu virus.

 Myth 2: Flu shots can cause autism
This myth has gained considerable notoriety as GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann recited this misconception.  The flu vaccine contains thimerosal, a preservative that has mercury.  Thimerosal has been linked to many health problems, including autism.  However, health and medical professionals agree that a small exposure to thimerosal will cause no more harm than some minor red irritation at the injection area.

 Myth 3: Flu shots received late in the flu season are ineffective at preventing the flu

Some people believe that getting a flu shot after November is pointless.  However, it is never too late to start protecting yourself.  Although it is recommended that one gets a flu shot early in the season, for ample protection time.  The flu season typically lasts as long as the winter season.  Especially in Boston, residents can expect exposure to the flu until late February or even early March.

 Myth 4: Flu shots protect for many years

Unlike most vaccines, the flu shot should be given annually.  Every year the flu virus changes and new vaccines are needed so the body can continue to protect against the flu.

Myth 5: Babies should get flu shots

Although babies under the age of 6 months are at risk of catching the flu, it is not recommended that infants under 6 months get a flu shot.  Instead, parents and other members of the family should get vaccinated and lessen the risk of passing the flu to their infant children.

 Myth 6: Any and everyone should get a flu shot

Those who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs should not get the flu vaccine.  Also, those people who have allergies to any of the other substances in the vaccine should talk to a health professional about whether or not the vaccine is a healthy choice for them.   Those people who have had bad reactions to the vaccine in the past should forgo the vaccine now, too.

 Myth 7: One flu shot in the season is not enough

One flu shot per flu season is enough to protect an adult against the flu.  Only kids 6 months to eight years old who have no previous history of getting the flu shot, should get a second at least four weeks after the first dose.

Myth 8: The flu shot is the only option

There is also the nasal spray that protects against the flu virus.  The spray is for healthy people age 2-49 who are not pregnant.

  A lot of this information was pulled from CBS News and their article 12 Vaccination Myths Busted.

Related Blog item

         From Urban Update

Is city living good for your immune system?

This week is National Influenza Vaccination Week (is there a Hallmark card for that?), which got me wondering whether urban dwellers have better immune systems because they’re exposed to so many people–and germs. After all, a subway car is not too dissimilar to a daycare center: uncovered coughs, shoving, and issues with sharing abound. And we know that in the long term, kids in daycare have stronger immune systems.

Without spending too much time researching this question, I came across an interestingNational Geographic piece that illustrated the impact ancient cities have had on bolstering present-day immunity. At the same time, however, a quick glance at this Google Map tracking the spread of H1N1 reminds us that urban areas were particularly hard-hit.

Moral of the story? Get a flu shot! Find a vaccination location nearby athttp://www.flu.gov/whereyoulive/index.html.

December 7, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Acceptance is protection: How can parents support gender nonconforming and transgender children?

From the 6 December 2011 Eureka news alert

New approach supports families dealing with ‘normal diversity’ of gender identity and expression

How should parents respond when their four years old son insists on wearing girls’ clothes, or their daughter switches to using a male version of their name? These are the questions increasingly being asked of family therapist Jean Malpas who writes in Family Process about a new approach to support parents with gender nonconforming and transgender children.

Jean Malpas, the Director of the Gender and Family Project at the Ackerman Institute for the Family, explains how families of gender nonconforming and transgender children can benefit from a multi-dimensional approach to negotiating two understandings of gender: One being a traditional system of male or female which dominates mainstream society, which contrasts with a more flexible and fluid spectrum of gender being expressed by their children.

“Parents of gender nonconforming children often struggle with how to best protect their child from bullying and ostracism, while accepting and nurturing their child’s identity and expression.” said Jean Malpas. “This research shows how coaching, education, parent support group and family therapy can support everyone in the family in negotiating this dilemma.”

Jean Malpas’ clinical findings confirm that a normal diversity of gender expression exists among children and uses anonymous case studies to demonstrate the varied paths children take when developing their identity. Some nonconforming children will grow up to be transgender, others will eventually feel comfortable identifying with their biological sex, while others will continue to display gender nonconforming traits without requesting social or medical transition.

“Research on gender nonconformity also has implications for education policy,” said Malpas. “It is important that schools are aware and sensitive to the non-binary and non-biological aspects of gender, as it means gendered activities and segregation of students based on gender lines may no longer be appropriate if our children’s understanding of gender is expressed in more complex ways.”

Clinical approaches based on the non-pathologisation of gender diversity contrast with traditional psychiatric approaches, which have used cognitive-behavioral methods to extinguish atypical behaviours and reinforce traditional gender expression.

“Our clinical findings show that gender nonconformity in children is not a psychopathology but a normal display of diversity in gender expressions and identities,” concluded Malpas. “Providing multi-dimensional support to parents of gender nonconforming and transgender children allows them to accept and affirm their child’s identity while providing valuable protection at home, in school and out in the world.”

December 7, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health, Health News Items | , , | Leave a comment

As Bed Bug Populations Spread Throughout The US, Scientists Release New Research On Their Biology And Behavior

From the 7 December 2011 Medical News Today article

New research on the bed bug’s ability to withstand the genetic bottleneck of inbreeding, announced at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) annual meeting, provides new clues to explain the rapidly growing problem of bed bugs across the United States and globally. After mostly disappearing in the US in the 1950s, the common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) has reappeared with a vengeance over the past decade. These stubborn pests have developed a resistance to the insecticides, known as pyrethroids, commonly used against them.

[The article goes on to summarize findings about how they develop new infestations through inbreeding, insecticide resistance and building better detectors and traps]

December 7, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health, Public Health | | Leave a comment

TOXMAP: Learn about toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing & Update [Wyoming water wells very likely contaminated by fracking]

From the US National Library of Medicine Press Release of 30 November 2011

Hydraulic fracturing (also called hydrofracking or fracking) is a process in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to break apart rock in order to release oil and natural gas.

The US EPA Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program requires facilities in certain industries that manufacture, process, or use significant amounts of toxic chemicals, to report annually on their releases of these chemicals. Hydraulic fracturing is currently not a TRI-covered industry and so is not represented in TOXMAP.

EPA scientists are conducting a study of hydraulic fracturing to better understand any potential impacts on drinking water and groundwater. Congress has released a report on hydraulic fracturing (PDF, 156 KB) that lists 29 toxic chemicals used in fracturing (see Table 3 of this report). Click on the links in the table below for additional information on these chemicals:

Acetaldehyde Acetophenone Acrylamide
Benzene Benzyl chloride Copper
Cumene Di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate Diesel
Diethanolamine Dimethyl formamide Ethylbenzene
Ethylene glycol Ethylene oxide Formaldehyde
Hydrochloric acid Hydrofluoric acid Lead
Methanol Naphthalene Nitrilotriacetic acid
p-Xylene Phenol Phthalic anhydride
Propylene oxide Sulfuric acid Thiourea
Toluene Xylene

December 7, 2011 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

   

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