Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Magazine Article] Can the Defense Budget Shrink Without Risking National Security? (and yes, this is a public health issue)

Why is this related to public health? Because wasteful and duplicate military spending is a drain on the economy.  Some of the duplicate spending could be spent in areas affecting public health as public transportation, basic health care, and education.

From the 8 November 2013 article in The Atlantic

Of all the services that critics complain the Pentagon needlessly duplicates—from schools and rec centers to scientific research and grocery stores—the most expensive is health care. Ten percent of the Pentagon’s non-war budget—$53 billion—goes to health care. As with civilian health care, savings are achievable here but face implacable opposition from military retirees. But as no less a military enthusiast than John McCain said last year on the Senate floor, “We are going to have to get serious about entitlements for the military just as we are going to have to get serious about entitlements for nonmilitary.”

Fortunately, there are ways to cut defense spending without hurting military capabilities. Besides maintaining its war-fighting capability, DoD, like any entity, maintains a back-office bureaucracy to oversee its business functions. That overhead accounts for roughly 40 percent of its budget. It’s hard to compare different industries, or even government agencies, but one examination of 25 industries showed average overhead rates ranging from 13 to 50 percent, with the average across all industries being 25 percent. A RAND study of overhead and administration costs among defense contractors found them to be “tremendous drivers” of weapon costs at 35 percent. The largest domestic programs—Social Security and Medicare—get by with costs in the single-digits.

Cutting Pentagon overhead to the average would save roughly $80 billion a year. Looked at another way, the department employs 800,000 civilians. Not only is that more than the population of four states, it’s not quite half of all civilian federal employees, more than twice as many as the next-largest agency (Veterans Affairs), four times the number of civilian employees at the Department of Homeland Security and basically the size of all the remaining federal agencies combined. Think there might be some savings possible there?

 

 

November 10, 2013 Posted by | Public Health | , , , | Leave a comment

[Magazine Article] The Trans-Fat Ban as a Model of Slow Health Policy

Poster from New York City's board of health en...

Poster from New York City’s board of health encouraging consumers to limit trans fat consumption (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

From the 8th November 2013 article in The Atlantic

 

..Taking trans fats off the GRAS list won’t remove them from the food supply. Manufacturers can still petition the FDA for exceptions. But it goes a long way toward getting them out.

what the announcement really shows is how public health works: slowly, based on mounting scientific evidence, against constant and mounting headwinds of public ridicule and, much more important, industry lobbying and advertising.

..Companies seldom change unless they have to, which they say means unless consumers ask them to. If you don’t want trans fats or gluten or genetically modified organisms, fine with us! Just tell us with your food dollars! This is of course a way of saying that they don’t want government telling them what to do, and gives them a chance to shape the public opinion they say they simply obey, with millions of dollars in ad campaigns and lobbying.

..

The lesson, though, is not that the public shouldn’t trust science, because one year’s saturated-fats-are-evil message will eventually become next year’s hey-butter-is-great-when-you-look-at-Crisco. The road to strong public recommendations isn’t clear, as scientific research is slow and zigzags. Both food makers and scientists can be guilty of jumping the gun, depending on what they think they can sell or who they can get to fund big studies and endowed chairs.

..

The analogy I’m building toward is, of course, sugar-sweetened drinks. Scientific consensus has built to practically the bursting point that sodas make kids fat. Soda makers deride the officials who try to do something about it, and work as hard as they can to cast doubt on science. Mayor Bloomberg, though fairly trim, was their fattest target, in the Mrs. Doubtfire costume they dressed him up in when he tried to impost a portion limit on sodas in restaurants and movie theaters. Now that he’s leaving, they’ll find another target.

But opinion will change, national bodies start to fall into line as they did on trans fats and are doing with sugary drinks. The most outspoken enemies of sugar, like Robert Lustig, are trying to take it off the GRAS list–something that CSPI petitioned the FDA to do last February, asking it to study and determine safe levels of high-fructose corn syrup. The chance of an FDA announcement of that in six years seems pretty unlikely now. But soda makers already have more than dozens of low-sugar and sugar-free drinks: they have scores and scores of them. They’ve quietly been working to solve the problem, while spending (often literally) untold sums not to risk their core products. The advocates against trans fats who seemed so crazy even six years ago, when the New York trans fat ban went into effect, are seeming a lot less crazy today.

 

Read the entire article here

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 10, 2013 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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