Sunday, November 23, 2008

McDonald's Moms Marketing Madness

What alliteration! My new not-so-cuss word for how livid I am about this new marketing maneuver by McDonald's (...there I go again). I can't believe I did not see it coming. I'm sure other advocates did. 

So here is how it went down...
I was quitely watching CNN the other night, tucked under my blanket, homework in hand, when all of a sudden "moms declare McDonald's FRENCH FRIES healthy..." I think I stopped breathing. Of all things, the french fries are healthy?! And of all people, moms are now voluntary public media advocates for McDonald's?! 

This is clever, very clever. 

Honestly there is not much I can say about this. Later clips on CNN suggest that many moms won't be fooled. While I am all for a big mac (well maybe a chicken sandwich...) every once in a while, I cannot imagine anyone saying that McDonald's main offerings are healthy. Though, I will give the salads some credit. Perhaps, McDonald's is healthy if you are comparing french fries and double bacon cheeseburgers to...umm...cheez whiz and ding dongs? 

Many don't believe that big macs, chicken nuggets, and french fries harm health. I beg to differ (call me crazy or rent Super Size Me). Do you know that years ago (perhaps still today) people & their kids ate McDonald's food thinking that it was perfectly "healthy." There can be no debate that fast food corporations have done everything within their power to prevent nutrition information from effectively reaching consumers. Furthermore, even if fast food does harm health, no one can prove that disease had anything to do with diet. Maybe lack of exercise, but For more on Big Food "wellness" tactics check out Michele Simon's Book: Appetite for Profit.

I digress. There are fervent believers on both sides of the issue. I know this post leans to the left. Feel free to comment either way. I need to know what you think -- my future public health career may depend on it!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Google Gets Public Health

Flu season is almost upon us. Google "flu" or "flu symptoms" and you are likely to have been picked up by the new Google surveillance system that aims to become an early warning system for regional flu outbreaks and trends across the United States. The New York Times recently reported (and blogged) about the web tool, called Google Flu Trends, which may be able to save lives.

There are no doubt questions about how well this tool will can reliably predict flu outbreak before people visit the doctor. But it is exciting to hear yet another way that Google is attempting to provide some public health improvements and innovation.

We all know that our Internet use is not exactly private knowledge. But does this surveillance cross the line? I would argue, no. I see little to no harm in Google relaying aggregate data of flu symptom searches from its site to public health organizations. But, would people feel differently if it was monitoring searches for "HIV symptoms" or "HPV symptoms"?

Mobile technology, the internet, and Web 2.0  is increasing in use by people of all ages and incomes. This provides public health practitioners with new opportunities to target outreach and education activities more effectively and to harness the power and creativity of people to change social norms and improve social support. I look forward to seeing where the intersection of internet technology and public health meet next. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Comparing Apples to Apples: The Organic Debate

Check out my review of a recent Boston Globe article discussing the potential harms and benefits of eating conventional vs. organic produce.

I think it might be of interest to the VeritasHealth readership.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Defining "Risk": Statins and Heart Disease

The front page of today read "Study: Cholesterol drugs can help low-risk patients." This is a perfect example of the medicalization of health. Rather than advocating high-risk prevention strategies for those at higher risk of developing disease, we now have "medical creep"  -- where even moderate risk of heart disease makes someone a good candidate for medical intervention. 

Dr. W. Douglas Weaver, president of the American College of Cardiology was quoted as saying, "This takes prevention to a whole new level, because it applies to patients who we now wouldn't have any evidence to treat." 

This is great news for Big Pharma -- not mainstream America. Note: cholesterol lowering drugs like AstraZeneca's Crestor (used in the study cited and funder of the research) or Lipitor by Pfizer are laden with awful side effects: headache, diarrhea, muscle pain and even depression, insomnia, and ulcers. Who needs that?

What is the alternative to pharmaceutical intervention? Hmmm...let me think...a healthier diet, regular exercise, and quitting smoking. And the side effects of such a drastic lifestyle change?  Side effects may include lowered risk of diabetes, stroke, cancer, and depression. 

While the choice of pill or persistence may seem obvious to me, the barriers to sustainable lifestyle change are great. Choosing persistence may seem more expensive or too restrictive (who is to say I can't eat another slice of mom's apple pie?). But the truth is we all have the power to make change in our life that will improve our health. The result may be 10 more years of healthy life or 10 more days. How do you measure the worth of your days and years?

My choice: a healthier lifestyle.  I will leave the statins for those who truly need them.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Girl Effect

Adam directed me to a YouTube video called "The Girl Effect". It is a well-made "awareness" spot on the potential world-changing implications of improving  the opportunities, and hence lives, of young girls.

There is certainly a good deal of evidence that suggests maternal education is a strong predictor of children's health. I think this video is particularly insightful in that it does not stop with educating of girls, but insists on conditions in which women can prosper from that education: start a business, make money, have a political voice, influence social norms. Thus, reaching out to girls can have long-lasting effects on not only her family, but also the society in which she lives. 

What do the men think of all this?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Candidates Health Plans: Revisted

The NY Times just ran a series of letters to the editor that critiqued the candidates' so-called "solutions" to our health care woes. Below is one that sums up many of the readers' positions quite well. 

Most letters are written by physicians and lawyers -- I hope that public health professionals continue to be an active voice in the debate. We bring the perspective that access to health care is only a part of the solution -- prevention of poor health and improving peoples' built and social environment is essential to improving our nation's health.

NY Times: Letter to the Editor published November 1, 2008

“The Candidates’ Health Plans” (editorial, Oct. 28) reveals the critical flaw in both candidates’ proposals. Both merely redistribute the cost of health care; neither actually lowers the cost. Their common flaw: continued dependence on insurance companies.

Here’s a better plan: a single national nongovernment not-for-profit health insurance company financed by a payroll tax. By eliminating the profit margin and cost of marketing, we can reduce the cost of health insurance, and thus health care, dramatically.

Glenn Alan Cheney
Hanover, Conn., Oct. 28, 2008