Archive for the ‘Race & Ethnicity’ Category

April 20, 2009

Double Dose: Bed Commercial Draws Praise from Home Birth Activists; Meet Disney’s New Princess; $10 million if You Can Transform Health Care; Quiverfull Movement Takes Root …

You Know You’re Not in the U.S. Anymore When …: posted an incredible video of a Barcelona couple’s at-home birth — a video made all the more amazing because it’s a commercial for a Spanish mattress company. The tagline: “Your bed, the most important place in the world.” Swoon.

Snow White, She’s Not: Almost three quarters of a century after the debut of Snow White, Disney is about to release a film starring its first black princess, Tiana. Neely Tucker writes in the Washington Post:

Her appearance this holiday season, coming on the heels of Michelle Obama’s emergence as the nation’s first lady, the Obama girls in the White House and the first line of Barbie dolls modeled on black women (“So in Style” debuts this summer), will crown an extraordinary year of visibility for African American women.

But fairy tales and folklore are the stories that cultures tell their children about the world around them, and considering Disney’s pervasive influence with (and marketing to) young girls, Princess Tiana might well become the symbol of a culture-changing standard of feminine beauty.

“If this figure takes off, you’re looking at 30 or 40 years of repetition and resonance,” says Tricia Rose, a Brown University professor who teaches both popular culture and African American studies, citing the enduring popularity of Disney princesses at the company’s theme parks, on Web sites and in videos.

Not only that, but Tiana learns that she needs love and a career to find happiness. Finally, my wish has come true.


Fan Club for Non First Lady Fans: “A first lady whose entire bearing says, “Here I am!” and who by all appearances is living comfortably in her own body is a compelling symbol of female agency,” writes Rhea Hirshman in the New Haven Register. “Even as she is being made into a fashion icon, Michelle Obama is subverting the status quo, thus pulling off the neatest trick of all.”

Plus: More on Michelle Obama from Patricia Williams.

Deadly Silicone: A 43-year-old woman died a day after receiving silicone injections from an unlicensed practitioner. The New York City Health Department is concerned that illegal use of silicone as an alternative to cosmetic surgery is on the rise, reports The New York Times.

Drugmakers Spend Less on Advertising in 2008: “Drug makers cut their spending on consumer advertising of prescription drugs by 8% in 2008 to $4.4 billion, the first pullback since at least the late 1990s,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

Pharmaceutical-ad experts blame last year’s spendng decline on fewer new-drug introductions and heightened congressional scrutiny of drug marketing. Critics say the ads, which are permitted in few other countries, inflate health-care costs by prompting patients to request brand-name medicines, rather than cheaper generic alternatives. The industry’s trade group, however, cites a 2003 statement from the Federal Trade Commission that argues that the ads educate consumers about drug options and haven’t been shown to lead to higher prices.

In the U.S., ads aimed at consumers typically account for only about 40% of the total marketing budget for prescription drugs, according to the pharmaceutical industry. The majority of manufacturers’ promotional efforts are directed at doctors.

Spending on drug ads peaked in 2007 at $4.8 billion, according to IMS Health. The market researcher last month reported that annual U.S. prescription sales grew 1.3 percent in 2008, to $291 billion.

Plus: FDA rules designed to clarify pharmaceutical companies’ online ads — such as paid Google ads — and provide more consumer information are causing more confusion than before, say industry officials. How do you list side effects in 95 words or less?

Plus 2: The AP reports that drug makers “spent more than $2.9 million on Vermont’s doctors, hospitals and universities to market their products in the last fiscal year, according to a report issued Wednesday by the state attorney general’s office.” The reports’ findings note that 25 doctors and nurses each got more than $20,000 in cash or benefits from the companies; 10 got more than $50,000; and one psychiatrist received $112,000.

$10 Million if You CanTransform Health Care: The X Prize Foundation is offering $10 million to the winner of a contest that aims to transform healthcare in a small U.S. community:

The Grand Challenge for the Healthcare X PRIZE is to create an optimal health paradigm that empowers and engages individuals and communities in a way that dramatically improves health value. The proposed prize is designed to improve health value by more than 50 percent in a 10,000 person community during a three year trial. In order to effectively compete for this prize, teams will need to fundamentally change health financing, care delivery, and create new incentives that will result in achieving the required improvements in health value for both individuals and communities.

Reuters has more.

“Be Fruitful and Multiply”: NPR’s “Morning Edition” reports on the small but growing Quiverfull movement. These conservative Christians shun birth control and advocate for large families. The agenda is political as well as religious.

“They speak about, ‘If everyone starts having eight children or 12 children, imagine in three generations what we’ll be able to do,’” said Kathryn Joyce, author of the new book “Quiverfull: Inside The Christian Patriarchy Movement. “”We’ll be able to take over both halls of Congress, we’ll be able to reclaim sinful cities like San Francisco for the faithful, and we’ll be able to wage very effective massive boycotts against companies that are going against God’s will.’”

Eight-Year-Old Denied Divorce: From Akimbo: “Earlier this week, a judge in Saudi Arabia refused for the second time to annul the marriage between an eight year-old girl and a 47 year-old man. The girl’s father promised her hand in marriage to a friend as payment for financial debts. The girl’s mother brought the case in an attempt to free her daughter from the forced marriage. While this disturbing case has made headlines, it is not uncommon.”

Read the full post for steps advocates and governments should take to eliminate early and forced marriage.

March 24, 2009

Webcast on Health Care in Communities of Color

kff_health_disparitiesOn Wednesday, March 25, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. (EST), the Kaiser Family Foundation will hold a live, interactive webcast to examine the economic downturn’s impact on health care in communities of color.

The discussion, part of its “Today’s Topics In Health Disparities” series, will be moderated by Cara James, KFF senior policy analyst on race, ethnicity and health care. The panelists are:

* JudyAnn Bigby, MD, secretary of health and human services, Massachusetts
* Adrienne Hahn, senior attorney and program manager, Consumers Union
* William Spriggs, PhD, professor and chair, Department of Economics, Howard University

The panel will take your questions via email. Submit questions before or during the show to:

March 23, 2009

Double Dose: Economy Affects Family Planning; Health Care System Failing Immigrants; SEIU and CNA Agree to Work Together on Unionizing; Common Ground on Abortion Is Closer Than You Think …

Economy Puts Focus on Family Planning: Women’s health centers are seeing an uptick in the number of patients seeking family planning services and health care, and the increase is tied to the economy, reports NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

Providers say the increased cost of contraceptives is part of the problem leading to unplanned pregnancies. Women pay up to $60 for a single month’s supply of birth control pills. As a result, many can’t afford them. Transportation is also an issue, especially in rural areas, according to Susan Wicklund, a doctor and owner of the Mountain Country Women’s Clinic in Livingston, Mont.

“One of the biggest hurdles that women are having … is trying to find money for gas, trying to find transportation, in some way, shape or form to get here,” Wicklund says.

Standing on Common Ground: Looking for common ground on abortion? It’s right in front of us, argues Jodi Jacobson in a well-researched and well-written article detailing efforts on all sides to reduce the number of abortions.

Cutting Care: Several recent articles and reports address how the U.S. health system fails immigrants: Detained immigrants across the country are not receiving basic medical care, and 90 detainees have died in custody in the past four years, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

The Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center issued a report, “Dying for Decent Care” (pdf), that notes health care for detainees held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement “is deteriorating, and many officials responsible for that care are alarmed.”

A Human Rights Watch report, “Detained and Dismissed,” focuses on women’s struggles to obtain health care in immigration facilities. The report documents dozens of cases in which the immigration agency’s medical staff either failed to respond to health problems or responded only after considerable delays.

Plus: Faced with budget cutbacks, local governments are cutting non-emergency health services to undocumented immigrants, reports the Associated Press. And USA Today covers a health fair aimed at recent immigrants, age 19-25.

SEIU and CNA Agree to Work Together: “Two of the nation’s fastest-growing labor unions — the Service Employees International Union and the California Nurses Association — ended a bitter yearlong dispute on Wednesday by agreeing to work together to unionize hospital workers and push for universal health coverage,” writes Steven Greenhouse in The New York Times.

“We have buried the hatchet,” said Rose Ann DeMoro, president of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee. [...]

For years there have been tensions between the two unions, which have competed to unionize registered nurses. The 1.8-million-member service employees’ union represents 80,000 nurses, while the California association represents 85,000 nurses. But the California association will soon become the largest nurses’ union in American history, with 150,000 members, when it merges with United American Nurses and the Massachusetts Nurses Union.

As part of their agreement, the service employees and the California nurses say they will seek to unionize many hospitals around the country, concentrating on the nation’s largest hospital systems. Nurses from those hospitals would generally join the nurses’ union while the other employees would join the S.E.I.U. In Florida the two will create a joint union of registered nurses.

Sorry, Pope: Marriage Isn’t A Condom: In this excellent NPR commentary, Nancy Goldstein takes on Pope Benedict XVI’s assertion that condoms increase the problem of HIV infection. “People aren’t going to stop having sex. Access to condoms won’t make them have more sex. And denying people access to condoms, or to accurate sexual information, won’t make them have less sex,” said Goldstein. NPR also has international reaction (via AP).

Plus: The Washington Post weighs in with an editorial on “condom sense.”

The Cost of Being Born at Home: Miriam Perez, who writes at Feministing and Radical Doula, has a piece at RH Reality Check that tackles the class and race complexities surrounding advocacy of home births, along with the economic, cultural and political barriers to low-income women giving birth outside a hospital.

Don’t miss the comments, including this one pointing to several community-based organizations that welcome low-income women, such as the D.C. Developing Families Centers.

Public Deliberations: Paul Levy, president and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, published a memo to staff that offers some insight into how one hospital is trying to avoid massive layoffs to meet large budget shortfalls. The budget imbalance is due to “reductions in state funding, a slowdown in research spending, and because the number of people we have on staff is not proportionate to our expected level of patient volume.”

IWD Around the World: Feminist Peace Network provided a great run-up of events tied to International Women’s Health Day. Now the blog features reports from some of those events. All IWD posts are filed here.

March 15, 2009

Double Dose: Congress Moves to Ban BPA; Kansas Abortion Doctor on Trial; Pregnant Inmates Denied Abortion Access; Racial Disparities and Breast Cancer; Targeting Craigslist Over Prostitution; Health Data State by State …

Congress Considers Ban on BPA: Senate and House leaders on Friday said they would introduce bills establishing a federal ban on the chemical bisphenol A in all food and beverage containers. Meg Kissinger of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes:

The move comes a day after Sunoco, the gas and chemical company, sent word to investors that it was now refusing to sell bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, to companies for use in food and water containers for children younger than 3. Sunoco told investors it could not be certain of the compound’s safety. Last week, six baby bottle manufacturers, including Playtex and Gerber, announced that they would stop using BPA.

The bills would immediately outlaw the sale of all food and drink containers made with BPA. Anything on store shelves would have to be removed. It would suspend the manufacture of food packaged in containers that contain the chemical, but items already made could be sold.

For more information, check out the Journal Sentinel’s ongoing BPA investigation “Chemical Fallout,” at Great reporting.

Tiller Trial Starts Monday: The L.A. Times previews the trial of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, who faces charges stemming from late-term procedures, and the politics surrounding his prosecution.

Pregnant Inmates Denied Abortion Access: Writing at Feministing, Diana Kasdan, staff attorney for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, discusses the limited access pregnant inmates have to abortion.

A new study, “Incarcerated Women and Abortion Provision: A Survey of Correctional Health Providers,” found that only 68 percent of respondents indicated that women in their facilities can obtain “elective” abortions. And a recent investigative piece in the Texas Observer reported, “For pregnant women in immigration detention facilities, it is virtually impossible to obtain an abortion.”

Racial Disparities and Breast Cancer: An article in the International Journal of Cancer points to high blood pressure as a cause for some of the disproportionately higher mortality rates among African American women with breast cancer compared with white women, reports Reuters. Hypertension explained 30.3 percent of racial disparity in “all-cause survival,’ as well as 20 percent of the racial disparity in breast cancer-specific survival. The study abstract is available online.

Dannon Goes rBGH-Free: As we reported earlier, General Mills, which makes Yoplait, agreed to stop using milk treated with artificial growth hormones in its yogurt. Now Dannon has followed suit. The decision makes economic sense: More than 200 hospitals around the country recently pledged to serve rBGH-free products to their patients, staff and visitors.

Writing about the move by both companies, Patty Fisher of the Mercury News notes that Yoplait never acknowledged any concern over rBGH and women’s health, despite promoting breast cancer awareness through yogurt sales. “The ‘rBGH-free’ label will be on the carton because it will sell yogurt. I guess that’s why the pink ribbon is there, too.

New State Numbers: recently added new and updated data on Demographics and the Economy, Medicaid & CHIP, Medicare, Managed Care & Health Insurance, Providers & Service Use, Health Status and HIV/AIDS.

A list of all recent updates is available here. is part of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Plus: Utah, Hawaii and Wyoming top the nation in well-being in an analysis of more than 350,000 interviews conducted in 2008. Southern states West Virginia, Kentucky and Mississippi have the lowest well-being ratings, according to a new Gallup survey.

The Well-Being Index score for the nation and for each state is an average of six sub-indexes: life evaluation, healthy behaviors, work environment, physical health, emotional health and access to basic necessities.

National Women & Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day: March 10th was National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Here’s a great post by Veronica explaining why women and girls need to be the focus of an education and awareness effort.

Reproductive Health in Africa: North Carolina Public Radio reports on the high maternal mortality rate in Zambia, where the number of women who die during pregnancy or childbirth is 60 to 70 times higher than it is in the United States. As part of the series North Carolina Voices, Global Health Connections, Rose Hoban traveled to the Zambian capitol of Lusaka to spend time with health care workers who work with Ipas, a global nonprofit organization based in Chapel Hill that helps women get access to the full range of reproductive services.

Targeting Craigslist Over Prostitution: Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart filed a federal lawsuit against Craigslist, asking the website to remove its “erotic services” section, calling it a public nuisance that knowingly facilitates prostitution.

“At a news conference, the sheriff said his office has made hundreds of prostitution arrests, many of them based on ads found on Craigslist,” reports the Chicago Tribune. “But the sex-for-sale ads still proliferate on the site five months after Craigslist promised new safeguards to settle a nationwide lawsuit by the top state prosecutors from Illinois and 39 other states.”

Where Are the Female Coaches in Youth Sports?: University of Southern California sociologist Michael Messner has written a new book about the persistent gender divisions in youth sports, especially at the coaching level. He expands on his findings at Moms Team and shares tips from women coaches.

January 17, 2009

Double Dose: Mass. Mothers Get Breastfeeding Protection; NABJ Conference on Health Disparities; A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Clinic; The Cutting Edge of Opera; Studies on IVF, Fosamax …

Who Decides? A State-by-State Analysis: NARAL Pro-Choice America has released its 18th edition of “Who Decides? The Status of Women’s Reproductive Rights in the United States.” The report summarizes the state of women’s access to reproductive healthcare nationwide, including legislation considered and enacted in 2008. This year’s edition also examines attacks on choice in the states and in the courts and highlights pro-choice legislative and non-legislative victories, including NARAL’s Prevention First initiative.

Trading in “Barefoot and Pregnant” for Economic and Reproductive Justice: “The relevance of barefoot and pregnant remains central to an inclusive and just America,” writes Gloria Feldt. “Economic parity and reproductive justice are still intertwined, not only in the lives of individual women; they are indivisibly connected to our economic recovery as well.”

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Clinic …: That’s the title of an essay in Exhale’s latest issue of its bilingual abortion zine, “Our Truths/Nuestras Verdades” (download the pdf). Yes, it’s the humor issue. As Exhale founder Aspen Baker writes in the intro to the issue:

Abortion is a serious personal issue that is hotly debated in public while real women have abortions in private, often in secret, and with little social support or understanding.

What could possibly be funny about that?

In this issue of Our Truths, we aim to find out. We witness funny women who use humor to get through tough times, truth-tellers who bust ridiculous myths about women who have abortions, and discover laughter that heals the soul. We also question humor that hides what’s real, judges or hurts others.

Check it out.

Massachusetts Adopts Breastfeeding Law: Massachusetts this month became the 48th state to offer legal protection to women who breastfeed their children in public. The Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition will provide mothers a “license to breastfeed” card with details of the new law and instructions on how to report violations, according to the Patriot Ledger.

The state Legislature passed the bill, “An Act to Promote Breastfeeding,” in December, and the governor signed it into law Jan. 9. Up to this point, women could have been prosecuted for indecent exposure or lewd conduct.

North Dakota and West Virginia remain the only states without breastfeeding legislation.

The Cutting Edge of Opera: “Skin Deep,” a new production opening in the UK, looks at the work of an unscrupulous fictional plastic surgeon: Dr. Needlemeier. At this BBC video slideshow, composer David Sawyer describes the opera as a story about “fear of death, vanity and the wish for immortality.” The “Skin Deep” website is far from superficial.

NABJ Conference on Health Disparities: The National Association of Black Journalists is hosting a conference on health disparities Jan. 30-31 at Morehouse School of Medicine.

The purpose is to “give journalists insight into health disparities affecting the African American community, resulting in significantly higher mortality rates. Learn how to cover major health and medical stories that make an impact. Topics include obesity, heart disease, stroke, HIV/AIDS, mental health and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.”

IVF Doesn’t Restore Fertility in Women Over 40: “A study involving more than 6,000 women who underwent the treatment at a large Boston clinic found that while [in vitro fertilization] could give infertile women younger than 35 about the same chance of having a baby as women typically have at that age, it could not counteract the decline in fertility that occurs among those older than 40,” writes Rob Stein at the Washington Post.

“Even as effective as IVF is, it can’t reverse the effects of aging,” said Alan S. Penzias of Harvard Medical School, who led the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. “We cannot reverse the biological clock.” Here’s the study’s abstract.

Kidney Transplants Less Likely to go to Women: A new study indicates that women over 45 are significantly less likely to be placed on a kidney transplant list than their equivalent male counterparts, even though women who receive a transplant stand an equal chance of survival. The study appears online in the Journal of the America Society of Nephrology.

“As woman age, that discrepancy widens to the point where woman over 75 are less than half as likely as men to be placed on a kidney transplant list,” said lead researcher Dorry Segev, M.D., a Johns Hopkins transplant surgeon. “If the women have multiple illnesses, the discrepancy is even worse.”

Fosamax Linked to Two Diseases: “Two recent reports have linked the osteoporosis drug alendronate (Fosamax) with rare but serious side effects,” reports the L.A. Times.

“In a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine published Jan. 1, a Food and Drug Administration official reported that since Fosamax was first marketed in 1995, 23 cases of esophageal cancer in patients taking the drug — including eight deaths — have been reported to the agency. And a USC study published in the January issue of the Journal of the American Dental Assn. reported that nine patients who were taking Fosamax suffered osteonecrosis of the jaw — a bone-killing infection — after having teeth extracted at USC dental clinics.”

December 9, 2008

Kaiser Webcast on Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health and Health Care

The Kaiser Family Foundation is sponsoring a live webcast today at 1 p.m. EST on a very important topic: “Are Health Disparities Back on the National Agenda? Examining the Impact of a New Administration and Congress”

Expert panelists will take a closer look at what types of policies and initiatives could emerge over the next few years. They will also examine how the new administration might prioritize efforts to eliminate health disparities in the future. Submit questions to panelists before or during the show to  If you’re interested but can’t make it, an archive of KFF webcasts can be found here.

Today’s speakers include:

Cara James, Ph.D.
Senior Policy Analyst, Race/Ethnicity & Health Care
Kaiser Family Foundation

Peter Bach, M.D., MAPP
Former Senior Advisor, Office of the Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Associate Attending Physician, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.)
Member, House Committee on Energy and Commerce
Chair, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Health and the Environment Task Force

Brian Smedley, Ph.D.
Vice President, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies
Director, Joint Center Health Policy Institute

October 14, 2008

Our Food, Ourselves: Michael Pollan on the Next Farmer in Chief

Chicago Green City Market / photo by schopie1

It’s mid-October, but the warm weather here in Chicago has me thinking we’re approaching summer. My small garden thinks so, too. Lettuce, basil, kale, peppers and chives are coming up strong, undaunted by the brown, crinkly leaves falling from the trees above.

Living in the city, planting space is limited and the season is (eventually) finite; I can’t rely solely on what I grow. But along with trips to the Green City Market downtown, and smaller farmers’ markets nearby, we probably eat locally grown produce for over half the year.

Of course, we are fortunate to have easy access to an abundance of fresh food choices. Huge swaths of Chicago are considered “food deserts” — in these neighborhoods, corner convenience stores and fast food restaurants greatly outnumber supermarkets, and access to affordable, healthy produce is severely limited by distance and cost.

Not surprisingly, residents in Chicago’s food deserts, the majority of whom are African American, experience a higher rate of diet-related illnesses (as a recent report shows), including diabetes, certain kinds of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Support for urban agriculture is growing, along with a push to increase the number of farmers markets located throughout the city — a new market opened in Englewood, an impoverished South Side neighborhood, earlier this year. Yet affordability remains an issue. As this story points out, equipment is not available to process food stamp debit cards at all farmers markets, and even at markets with the equipment, not all vendors accept the cards.

Meanwhile, as Rachel has mentioned, the federal Women, Infants and Children program (WIC) is adding a paltry $8 a month for use at farmers markets by mid-2009 (read the latest here).

Despite increased public interest in farmers markets and community-supported agriculture (CSAs) that offer consumers a stake in a local farm, the relationship between food, health and the environment, as well as the importance of affordable and sustainable agriculture, doesn’t exactly make for a crowd-rousing stump-speech.

In fact, we’ve heard almost nothing from the presidential candidates about federal food policy, even as food prices keep rising. Perhaps that will change in the final weeks, but I wouldn’t bet my kale on it.

The political aspect hasn’t escaped Michael Pollan, however. The author of, most recently, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” Pollan penned an open letter to the president-elect that was published in The New York Times Magazine. It is perhaps the smartest and most engaging piece you’ll read this year on what a McCain or Obama administration should do to overhaul the way we grow food and radically change our approach to healthy eating.

Pollan begins by explaining, in no uncertain terms, the urgency:

[W]ith a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close. What this means is that you, like so many other leaders through history, will find yourself confronting the fact — so easy to overlook these past few years — that the health of a nation’s food system is a critical issue of national security. Food is about to demand your attention.

Complicating matters is the fact that the price and abundance of food are not the only problems we face; if they were, you could simply follow Nixon’s example, appoint a latter-day Earl Butz as your secretary of agriculture and instruct him or her to do whatever it takes to boost production. But there are reasons to think that the old approach won’t work this time around; for one thing, it depends on cheap energy that we can no longer count on. For another, expanding production of industrial agriculture today would require you to sacrifice important values on which you did campaign.

Which brings me to the deeper reason you will need not simply to address food prices but to make the reform of the entire food system one of the highest priorities of your administration: unless you do, you will not be able to make significant progress on the health care crisis, energy independence or climate change. Unlike food, these are issues you did campaign on — but as you try to address them you will quickly discover that the way we currently grow, process and eat food in America goes to the heart of all three problems and will have to change if we hope to solve them.

Pollan takes readers on a detailed yet easy-to-follow journey of how the United States food system developed the way it did — and what it can count as its chief success: namely, we produce cheap calories in great abundance.

He then offers an agenda for a 21st-century food system with specific proposals under three main sections: resolarizing the American farm; reregionalizing the food system; and rebuilding America’s food culture. His plan plan for a decentralized food system includes such essentials as modifying the food stamp program and expanding WIC:

Food-stamp debit cards should double in value whenever swiped at a farmers’ markets — all of which, by the way, need to be equipped with the Electronic Benefit Transfer card readers that supermarkets already have. We should expand the WIC program that gives farmers’-market vouchers to low-income women with children; such programs help attract farmers’ markets to urban neighborhoods where access to fresh produce is often nonexistent. (We should also offer tax incentives to grocery chains willing to build supermarkets in underserved neighborhoods.)

Federal food assistance for the elderly should build on a successful program pioneered by the state of Maine that buys low-income seniors a membership in a community-supported farm. All these initiatives have the virtue of advancing two objectives at once: supporting the health of at-risk Americans and the revival of local food economies.

The adventurous agenda includes suggestions for changing our relationship with food. For children, that means starting early: Plant gardens at every primary school, overhaul school menus and increase “school-lunch spending per pupil by $1 a day — the minimum amount food-service experts believe it will take to underwrite a shift from fast food in the cafeteria to real food freshly prepared.”

We also need to cease negotiating health messages with the food industry. Pollan calls for the surgeon general to take over the job of communicating with Americans about their diet. Currently it falls to the Department of Agriculture, which you might say has a conflict of interest.

But why not start at the top? In addition to encouraging the White House to go meatless one day a week, Pollan calls for the ultimate suburban sacrifice: tear out a portion of the White House lawn and plant an organic fruit and vegetable garden.

OK, insert your favorite arugula-loving-liberal joke here. But at another crucial point in history, White House support was influential:

When Eleanor Roosevelt did something similar in 1943, she helped start a Victory Garden movement that ended up making a substantial contribution to feeding the nation in wartime. (Less well known is the fact that Roosevelt planted this garden over the objections of the U.S.D.A., which feared home gardening would hurt the American food industry.) By the end of the war, more than 20 million home gardens were supplying 40 percent of the produce consumed in America. The president should throw his support behind a new Victory Garden movement, this one seeking “victory” over three critical challenges we face today: high food prices, poor diets and a sedentary population.

Eating from this, the shortest food chain of all, offers anyone with a patch of land a way to reduce their fossil-fuel consumption and help fight climate change. (We should offer grants to cities to build allotment gardens for people without access to land.) Just as important, Victory Gardens offer a way to enlist Americans, in body as well as mind, in the work of feeding themselves and changing the food system — something more ennobling, surely, than merely asking them to shop a little differently.

Read the whole piece (it’s well worth it!). Readers have posed interesting questions and suggestions in the comments, and the Times breaks out Pollan’s responses. Finally, here’s more good stuff from the “food issue.”

*Photo of scenes from Chicago Green City Market by schopie1, reprinted under a Creative Commons license.

September 6, 2008

Double Dose: An Open Letter to Gov. Sarah Palin; Transgender Employees Find More Workplace Support; High Rate of C-Sections in Washington; Latest Breast Cancer Rates; Videos You May Have Missed from the RNC …

Dear Gov. Sarah Palin: Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, wrote an open letter to the newly picked vice presidential candidate that begins with this:

Many Americans agree with your position regarding abortion — they do this as a matter of faith, ethics, personal experience and sometimes politics. I am just wondering though, if you have thought about what would happen if you succeeded in getting your position — that fetuses have a right to life — established as the law of the land? Did you know that it not only threatens the lives, health and freedom of women who might want or need someday to end their pregnancies, it would also give the government the power to control the lives of women — like you who — go to term?

Go read the rest. Seriously. It’s amazing.

The Privilege of White Woman’hood/ Mommy’Hood: “Sarah Palin wants to put herself out there as ‘every woman.’ She wants to be seen as ‘just your average hockey mom,’ and other mommies see themselves and their reality reflected through Palin, except, mamis of color, that is,” writes Maegan “La Mala” Ortiz at Racialicious (and at her site, Mamita Mala).

What Women Want: There’s video up from the This Is What Women Want speakout in Boston (Aug. 21), including Rita Arditti advocating for health care as a universal right; Cynthia Enloe on lifting the global gag rule; and Kety Esquivel on treating immigrants as human beings.

The next speakout is Sept. 25 in Oxford, Miss. But you can always speak out right now, right here.

Smoother Transitions: “Across the country, particularly at larger companies, transgender workers are being protected and assisted in ways that were hardly imaginable a few years ago,” writes Lisa Belkin, author of the Life’s Work column in The New York Times.

Currently, 125 of the Fortune 500 companies include “gender identity” in their nondiscrimination policies, compared with “close to zero” in 2002, according to Jillian T. Weiss, an associate professor of law and society at Ramapo College of New Jersey, and an expert on transgender workplace diversity. [...]

“It is a different world,” said Dr. Weiss, who attributes the change, in part, to the slow adoption of laws banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity (20 states and roughly 100 cities have such laws), but mostly to the work of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization in the nation.

Yes, HRC, which releases the Corporate Equality Index — a measure of how receptive a company is to diversity. Questions concerning gender-identity protection and transgender benefits have been included since 2002.

High Rate of C-Section Births is Health Concern for Women: “One in four Washington mothers now give birth through C-section, according to the Department of Health, and the rate of the surgical procedure has been increasing by 6 percent every year for nearly a decade,” reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

“The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says we should have no more than 15 percent of low-risk births delivered by C-section,” said Joe Campo, director of research at the [state agency's Center for Health Statistics]. “It’s important for us to know what’s driving this increase.”

About 13,300 of the 21,800 total C-sections are first-time procedures and about 8,500 are repeat procedures, Campo and his colleagues found. Of the total, state officials believe at least 2,200 are clearly unnecessary. A fairly sophisticated analysis of the C-section rates allowed for a geographic comparison that found an especially pronounced increase in the use of the surgical procedure in the Puget Sound region.

Plus: In a guest column penned in response to the SI story, Sara L. Ainsworth, senior legal and legislative counsel at Northwest Women’s Law Center, wrote that the high rate of caesarean sections “raises alarms for those who care about women’s reproductive health and patients’ rights.”

In addition to the potential health risks of the surgery, women who have C-sections face consequences that even conscientious health care providers may not recognize or discuss with their patients.

In many parts of this state, having one C-section delivery will require another at a subsequent birth, even over the objection of the pregnant woman and her doctor. Several Washington hospitals refuse to allow doctors to provide labor and delivery services to pregnant women who have had a previous C-section unless those women submit to a second C-section delivery.

Breast Cancer Rates: The Kaiser Family Foundation has published a state-by-state breakdown of breast cancer incidence rate per 100,000 women in 2004. Massachusetts has the highest rate (134 per 100,000 women), followed by Oregon, Washington, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Arizona has the lowest rate (102.9), followed by Idaho, Arkansas, Nevada and Indiana.

Plus: Feminist Peace Network reports on Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI), a new procedure that may be useful for women with dense breasts who have a higher risk of breast cancer. The downside? Patients receive 8 to 10 times more radiation from MBI’s than from mammograms.

With Child, With Cancer: The New York Times Magazine profiles women who are undergoing cancer treatments during pregnancy and covers the medical history of treating pregnancy-associated breast cancer.

Health Reporters Not Helping Readers: A study by University of Missouri journalism professors found that “the majority of health journalists have not had specialized training in health reporting and face challenges in communicating new medical science developments.”

Of the journalists surveyed, only 18 percent had specialized training in health reporting and only 6.4 percent reported that a majority of their readers change health behaviors based on the information they provide. The journalists had an average of 18 years of journalism experience and seven years experience as health journalists.

“Health journalists play an important role in helping people effectively manage their health,” [assistant professor Maria] Len-Ríos said. “However, we found that many journalists find it difficult to explain health information to their readers, while maintaining the information’s scientific credibility. They have to resist ‘bogging down’ the story with too much technical science data and ‘dumbing down’ the story with overly simplistic recommendations.”

Journalists reported quoting medical experts, avoiding technical terms, and providing data and statistics as the three most important elements to making health information understandable. However, understanding numbers is a challenge for many people, [assistant professor Amanda] Hinnant said.

Celebrate the Anti-Wedding: Read what happens when death and taxes decide to get married and stage a protest against weddings. And there’s video.

Returning for the Final Time to the Republican National Convention: Jon Stewart drives home the hypocrisy of Republican attitudes toward reproductive rights with guest Newt Gingrich, while Samantha Bee tries to remember what that word is …

September 4, 2008

Addressing Breast Cancer Inequities

Our Bodies Our Blog has invited the folks at Breast Cancer Action to write monthly guest posts on breast cancer and related issues.

by Brenda Salgado

Here’s an alarming statistic: African American women are much more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, and the mortality gap has actually widened over the past 20 years.

According to the California Breast Cancer Research Program, in 1980 breast cancer mortality rates were equal for both African American and Caucasian women. By 1990, however, African American women had a 16 percent higher mortality rate than white women, and by 2004 this difference had increased to 36 percent.

We should all be outraged by these figures.

This disturbing trend has led to a much-needed focus on determining why these differences — commonly referred to as “disparities” — exist, and what can be done to alleviate them.

Research on breast cancer disparities has largely focused on screening rates, access to health care, differences in treatment and, increasingly, genetic differences. While such research is important, it ignores other factors — such as social and economic injustices and racism — that also affect health outcomes.

In discussing the differences in outcomes, the Alameda County Department of Public Health in Northern California uses the term health inequities rather than disparities  to clarify that “differences in health … are unnecessary, avoidable, unfair and unjust” and related to “discriminatory actions, practices and policies that perpetuate diminished opportunity and hazardous exposures for certain populations.”

As health advocates, we’re engaged in efforts to eliminate these injustices. But in order to succeed, our efforts must be broad enough to include the root causes of breast cancer and go beyond focusing on the usual suspects of health care access and genetics.

In the United States, we seem to be particularly enamored with the idea that we can “unlock” the genetics of disease, and, in doing so, fix most of our health problems. But in going down this path, we must guard against the misuse of this information to stereotype communities.

As we seek to identify genes that may be predictive of disease, we may unknowingly turn our attention from talking about other issues like income, racism, access to healthy foods and neighborhood pollution. Like breast cancer mortality, these issues are not distributed equitably in our society, and there is already clear evidence that these factors affect multiple health outcomes.

Earlier this year, the Center for American Progress issued a report called “Geneticizing Disease: Implications for Racial Health Disparities.” The authors tell the cautionary tale of BiDil, the first race-specific medication targeted at African Americans, and the ethical, research and funding controversies surrounding its approval. They also make the case that placing all our emphasis on medicating disease once it has arisen will come at the cost of preventing disease from occurring in the first place.

We need to make sure our policymakers think more broadly than genetics research and health “disparities.” Resources also must focus on addressing the social injustices that lead to health inequities and on improving the social conditions of everyone in society.

Genetic research and biotechnologies have led to some important medical advances (in addition to creating profits for pharmaceutical companies). We need to make sure these new treatments and health technologies also serve public health and do not undermine our efforts to create a more just and fair society.

If not, we will never reduce that 36 percent difference in mortality. And it’s high time we did.

Brenda Salgado is the program manager at Breast Cancer Action. She manages BCA’s ongoing campaigns, oversees BCA’s legislative and policy work, and represents BCA on environmental and women’s health coalitions.

August 22, 2008

Double Dose: Concerns Over HPV Vaccines; HHS’ Latest Contraception/Conscience Proposal; The Future of Personalized Medicine; Spinach With a Side of Radiation; WALL*E, a Lesbian Love Story …

Flesh-Eating Fish Perform “Pedicures”: See what shows up in my in-box from NPR?

Drug Makers’ Push Leads to Cancer Vaccines’ Rise: “In two years, cervical cancer has gone from obscure killer confined mostly to poor nations to the West’s disease of the moment,” begins this lengthy New York Times story by Elisabeth Rosenthal about concerns over the rapid rollout of vaccines against HPV, which have now been used by tens of millions of girls and young women in the United States and Europe.

Some of the issues raised:

Merck’s vaccine was studied in clinical trials for five years, and Glaxo’s for nearly six and a half, so it is not clear how long the protection will last. Some data from the clinical trials indicate immune molecules may wane after three to five years. If a 12-year-old is vaccinated, will she still be protected in college, when her risk of infection is higher? Or will a booster vaccine be necessary?

Some experts are concerned about possible side effects that become apparent only after a vaccine has been more widely tested over longer periods.

And why the sudden alarm in developed countries about cervical cancer, some experts ask. A major killer in the developing world, particularly Africa, where the vaccines are too expensive for use, cervical cancer is classified as very rare in the West because it is almost always preventable through regular Pap smears, which detect precancerous cells early enough for effective treatment. Indeed, because the vaccines prevent only 70 percent of cervical cancers, Pap smear screening must continue anyway.

“Merck lobbied every opinion leader, women’s group, medical society, politicians, and went directly to the people — it created a sense of panic that says you have to have this vaccine now,” said Dr. Diane Harper, a professor of medicine at Dartmouth Medical School. Dr. Harper was a principal investigator on the clinical trials of both Gardasil and Cervarix, and she spent 2006-7 on sabbatical at the World Health Organization developing plans for cervical cancer vaccine programs around the world.

“Because Merck was so aggressive, it went too fast,” Dr. Harper said. “I would have liked to see it go much slower.”

Plus: In a separate story, Rosenthal refers to two articles published in New England Journal of Medicine that conclude the vaccines are being used without knowing for sure that they are worth the high cost or if they are effective in preventing cervical cancer. Read the articles here and here.

HHS Fails to Deliver on Contraception/Conscience Proposal: “The Department of Health and Human Services today formally released proposed regulations that Secretary Michael Leavitt claims are necessary to protect health care providers and institutions who decline to provide certain medical services because those services offend their ‘consciences,’” writes Emily Douglas at RH Reality Check.

“After intense criticism in the mainstream media and from millions of Americans, HHS has removed an explicit redefinition of contraception as abortion from the regulation. In so doing, the agency may have created a much larger problem.”

Plus: Here’s the official version of the regulation, and Rachel’s previous writings on this topic.

Birth of a Movement: “Last month, a seven-judge appellate panel in Pennsylvania ruled that delivering babies is not the practice of medicine. It’s always comforting when the law catches up to history; midwifery is, after all, the second-oldest profession,” writes Roberta Devers-Scott, a Vermont midwife and psychologist who has written an op-ed about the prosecution of midwives, including her own case.

Health Care is the Issue:  Judy Waxman, vice president and director of health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center, identifies seven questions to ask when looking at health reform proposals to determine whether the proposals help to ensure that all women have access to health care that meets their needs.

The Future of Personalized Medicine: View a webcast of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s series Today’s Topics In Health Disparities, which discusses the potential of race-based medical solutions for improving healthcare and reducing racial/ethnic health disparities. The webcast takes a closer look at efforts to study the interaction between race, genetics and health.

Spinach With a Side of Radiation: “Consumers worried about salad safety may soon be able to buy fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce zapped with just enough radiation to kill E. coli and a few other germs,” reports the AP. “The Food and Drug Administration on Friday will issue a regulation allowing spinach and lettuce sellers to take that extra step, a long-awaited move amid increasing outbreaks from raw produce.”

A leading food safety expert said irradiation indeed can kill certain bacteria safely — but it doesn’t kill viruses that also increasingly contaminate produce, and it isn’t as effective as tightening steps to prevent contamination starting at the farm.

“It won’t control all hazards on these products,” cautioned Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

She questioned why the FDA hasn’t addressed her agency’s 2006 call to require growers to document such things as how they use manure and ensure the safety of irrigation water. Irrigation is one suspect in this summer’s nationwide salmonella outbreak attributed first to tomatoes and then to Mexican hot peppers.

“We are not opposed to the use of irradiation,” DeWaal said. But, “it’s expensive and it doesn’t really address the problem at the source.”

The Claim: Morning Sickness Means a Girl Is More Likely: “The notion that morning sickness can sometimes indicate that a girl is on the way may be an exception,” to a number of old wives tales about pregnancy that are based more on fantasy than fact, reports The New York Times. “A number of large studies in various countries have examined the claim, and almost all have found it to be true, with caveats. Specifically, studies have found that it applies to women with morning sickness in the first trimester, and with symptoms so severe that it leads to hospitalization, a condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum.”

A True Love Story: “I’m completely smitten with WALL•E, this summer’s Pixar/Disney offering. But the last thing I expected to see in my friendly, heterosexual upper east side Manhattan neighborhood movie theater was a feature length cartoon about a pair of lesbian robots who fall madly in love with each other,” writes Kate Bornstein. “WALL•E is nothing short of hot, dyke Sci Fi action romance, some seven hundred years in the future! Woo-hoo! Isn’t that what you saw? No? What movie were you watching?” Hee. via en|Gender.

July 24, 2008

Cultural Support Needed for Women Who Breastfeed, Plus a Pitchman for Breast Milk

Aisha Qaasim, a civil rights attorney, often advocates on behalf of others.

Today, in an essay published at Women’s eNews, Qaasim takes on the insults hurled at women who breastfeed in public and argues that the negativity surrounding breastfeeding is hurting the health of children and mothers, particularly in African-American families, where the rate of breastfeeding is the lowest.

Women who breastfeed lower their risk of developing uterine cancer, osteoporosis, Type 2 diabetes and breast cancer over their lifetimes.

But the irony is that in today’s ambitious parenting climate — where millions of dollars are being spent on educational toys and organic baby products — breastfeeding as the most important developmental head-start is often neglected.

Among African American women that’s particularly true. In 2004, 74 percent of U.S. women initiated breastfeeding soon after giving birth. Among black women it was 60 percent.

By the time infants reached 6 months of age — a key health target — only 14 percent of U.S. infants were breastfed exclusively. Among black infants it was 7 percent.

Only 36 percent of U.S. babies received breast milk in combination with formula or other foods at 6 months of age. For African American babies make that 29 percent.

Black women are the least likely to breastfeed, even those of us with a college education, health insurance and a nice paying job. African American women across the spectrum breastfeed less than women who have only a high school education, less than women who live below the poverty line and less than adolescent mothers, according to the Centers for Disease Control 2004 National Immunization Survey.

It’s not an abstract issue for Qaasim. As a black women, she has weathered overtly racist insults, much of which she could brush off. But Qaasim couldn’t shake a comment she heard while breastfeeding her 2-month-old daughter at a suburban Maryland mall.

“That is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen,” the woman said.

“A nameless woman at a mall was somehow the one to find the insult that I could not toss onto the neat pile of words that would never hurt me. It did hurt. And, these attitudes toward breastfeeding are making our children sick, especially African American children, who are the least likely to get the benefit of mothers’ milk,” writes Qaasim.

And when she complained about the ridicule — which she said almost always came from other women — friends and family didn’t offer much support.

The response is not uncommon. Among the many public obstacles women face with regard to breastfeeding — including a lack of privacy and time to pump breast milk at work and a lack of knowledge concerning laws in most states granting mothers the right to breastfeed in public spaces — discouragement from friends and family is also a major deterrent.

A recently published study of 88 new or soon-to-be mothers, mostly Hispanic and African-American, found that the opinions of family and friends are the most significant factor in determining whether low-income mothers breastfeed their children. The study, titled “Breast-feeding Intentions Among Low-Income Pregnant and Lactating Women,” appeared in the March-April 2008 issue of The American Journal of Health Behavior.

Interestingly, researchers found no statistical relationship between positive attitudes held by pregnant women concerning breastfeeding and their intent to breastfeed. The views of family members closest to them mattered the most. The researchers concluded that education about breastfeeding include the “opinion-shapers” as well as pregnant women.

“In the study, women were most significantly influenced by what they perceived to be the opinions of people close to them such as their husband or partner, siblings, friends and parents,” said Gina Jarman Hill, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Texas Christian University. “Husbands or partners were the most influential.”

Henry Hale gets it. The 25-year-old African-American father of a 3-year-old daughter named Miracle is the first male certified breast-feeding peer counselor at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. He may even be the first in Illinois (or anywhere?).

“No one knows for sure, because calls to organizations that track this type of thing are met with befuddled silence,” writes Bonnie Miller Rubin in the Chicago Tribune. A photo of Hale is on the Trib’s front page today.

His interest in lactation began after the birth of his now 3-year-old daughter, Miracle, who was born at 24 weeks, weighing only 1 pound, 3 ounces. Hale and Miracle’s mother, Jackie Scott, attended Mother’s Milk Club, a weekly support group for parents of babies in the neonatal intensive-care unit, and learned about the health health benefits of breast feeding.

Although dads may make occasional appearances, Hale never missed a meeting, said Paula Meier, Rush’s director for clinical research and lactation.

“A lot of dads find it repulsive,” she said. “But Henry was just so outspoken and inspiring.”

That’s when Meier had a lightbulb moment: She’d recruit Hale to extol the virtues of breast-feeding — especially to the African-American community, which traditionally nurses at lower rates than other groups. [...]

“When I heard all the good things about breast milk,” Hale said, “my first thought was, ‘C’mon, let’s get it out. Let’s get going.’ ”

So Scott started pumping. For the first seven months, Miracle consumed nothing else.

“At the beginning, it was really hard,” Scott said to the group, which meets weekly to discuss every aspect of lactation, from inadequate milk supply to how nipple-piercing affects the process. “There were a couple of days when I just wanted to stop. But Henry really helped.”

How Hale assisted isn’t immediately clear given the basic anatomy involved. However, he picks up the thread of the discussion smoothly, explaining how he’d bring the pump to Scott at all hours and wash the equipment when she was done.

“It’s about focusing on what we — as men — can do,” he said.

Hale and Scott have a second daughter now, and both completed a five-day certification course that qualified them to volunteer as peer counselors. Rush is now looking at hiring Hale part-time to lead a male-only group.

Can you imagine? Think of how that education might translate to support at home — and more acceptance in public. The results could literally be life-saving.

July 18, 2008

Double Dose: A Wacky Week for the White House on Abortion; “Hypersegregation” and Racial Disparities in Preterm Birth; Blogging While Brown Conference; Hot Flash Fan on Exhibit; AIDS Conference Coverage …

White House Defines Contraception as Abortion: You know you’re counting down the remaining hours of the Bush presidency when you read that the administration “wants to require all recipients of aid under federal health programs to certify that they will not refuse to hire nurses and other providers who object to abortion and even certain types of birth control,” as reported in The New York Times.

Under the draft of a proposed rule, hospitals, clinics, researchers and medical schools would have to sign “written certifications” as a prerequisite to getting money under any program run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Such certification would also be required of state and local governments, forbidden to discriminate, in areas like grant-making, against hospitals and other institutions that have policies against providing abortion.

And the kicker:

The proposal defines abortion as follows: “any of the various procedures — including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.”

Check out the full memo (PDF). Reuters has reaction from family planning groups. NARAL created a letter you can send to members of Congress.

For more reading, see Allison Stevens; Susan Wood; and Christina Page, who notes:

Up until now, the federal government followed the definition of pregnancy accepted by the American Medical Association and our nation’s pregnancy experts, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which is: pregnancy begins at implantation. With this proposal, however, HHS is dismissing medical experts and opting instead to accept a definition of pregnancy based on polling data. It now claims that pregnancy begins at some biologically unknowable moment (there’s no test to determine if a woman’s egg has been fertilized). Under these new standards there would be no way for a woman to prove she’s not pregnant. Thus, any woman could be denied contraception under HHS’ new science.

Senate Passes PEPFAR: Scott Swenson of RH Reality Check has the live blog on the 80-16 vote to reauthorize the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a five-year, $50 billion global initiative to combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

SEICUS, International Women’s Health Coalition, and other groups issued a response to the vote, noting in part that “policymakers failed to address critical shortfalls in the bill that would have ensured effective use of scarce public funds and a sustainable response to the pandemic.” It continues:

One key change that should have been made in the PEPFAR bill was the abolishment of arbitrary funding guidelines that determine how money can be distributed on the ground. The Senate bill calls for spending at least fifty percent of prevention funds designed to halt the sexual transmission of HIV, in countries with generalized epidemics, only on abstinence and faithfulness programs. PEPFAR recipients that do not meet this requirement must justify their programmatic decisions through an onerous reporting requirement to Congress, potentially facing defunding. [...]

The PEPFAR bill passed by the Senate also failed to fully increase protection for women and young people, two groups increasingly vulnerable to new infections in nearly every region of the world. Women and young people are most likely to use family planning and other reproductive health services, and would benefit greatly from a strategy that integrated HIV prevention and treatment with family planning. Recent studies suggest that upwards of 90 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women in countries such as Uganda and South Africa have unmet need for integrated family planning and HIV services. However, the bill passed by the Senate fails to call for, or even acknowledge, the need to strengthen critical linkages between family planning and reproductive health services and HIV prevention efforts.

Regional “Hypersegregation” May Contribute to Racial Disparity in Preterm Births: Where a mother lives may account for some of the striking racial disparities in preterm birth, according to a new study described in this release and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Written by Northeastern University professor Theresa Osypuk, the study found that regional hypersegregation (residential racial segregation across four or more dimensions*) may contribute to the higher rate of preterm births among black women. Prior research has shown that infants born to Black women in the U.S. are 50% more likely to be preterm than infants born to White women, although the causes remain poorly understood. [...]

“The complexity of residential segregation and its impact on preterm births and related health outcomes has been overlooked by health literature,” said Dr. Osypuk, Assistant Professor in Northeastern’s Bouve College of Health Sciences. “We believe that the association between residential segregation and higher risk of preterm birth is related to the neighborhood environments in which black women live, including neighborhoods characterized by high levels of poverty, violent crime, and worse housing stock.”

Are Breast Self-Exams Worth It?: Kate Harding breaks down a new study by the Cochrane Collaboration.

Blogging While Brown (and Female): “People consider me the 411 on what goes wrong with black women in America,” Gina McCauley, founder of,” tells Kristal Brent Zook in this article on how women bloggers of color are getting their messages out without having to first get approval through a male power structure.

Plus: The first ever “Blogging While Brown” conference takes place July 25-27 in Atlanta.

Return of the C-Word for Departing Trib Editor: From Romenesko: “In 2004, Ann Marie Lipinski had her Chicago Tribune staff manually pull 600,000 copies of the WomenNews section out of preprinted packages because of the headline, “You c_nt say that.” (The story explored usage of the vulgar term for a woman’s anatomy.) On Thursday, the departing editor showed the newsroom a reader’s e-mail that said, “You C_nt Leave.”

Dissecting the Diets: I caught a frustratingly superficial TV news segment on a long-term Atkins Foundation-funded study (published in the New England Journal of Medicine) that concluded participants on the Atkins Diet lost more weight compared to people on low-fat or Mediterranean diets. Tara Parker-Pope notes, however, that none of the diets resulted in much weight loss (though there were other health benefits), and she takes a closer look at what eating low-carb meant for the purpose of this study — while some commenters discuss whether the low-fat diet was low enough to be effective. Parker-Pope’s most concise critique of the study may be found here.

AIDS Conference Coverage: will provide daily coverage of AIDS 2008 from Mexico City, Aug. 3-8. Coverage will include live and tape-delayed webcasts and transcripts of each day’s sessions, including the opening and closing sessions, all plenary sessions, and selected other sessions and press conferences; English- and Spanish-language audio podcasts of select sessions; slide presentations from select conference sessions; a daily update email with links to the latest coverage; and more.

Plus: Here’s information on how you can syndicate Kaiser’s coverage on your own website.

Hot Flash Fan Heats Up Exhibit: Lucinda Marshall points to an exhibit at the Huff Gallery at Spalding University in Louisville: “The Hot Flash Fan, Then and Now: Celebrating 160 Years of Feminism.” The Hot Flash Fan, an 8’ x 16’ wall hanging, was created by Ann Stewart Anderson in collaboration with more than 50 women artists. From the exhibit website:

The Hot Flash Fan was created in 1985 and facilitated by renowned feminist artist, Judy Chicago. The Hot Flash Fan, an immense wall hanging, encompasses various media and materials including: elaborate knotting, roping, beading and stitching. In addition, the piece is swathed in vibrant colors, which enhances the viewer’s image of the realities and experiences of menopause.

This specific piece has particular historical significance because it was one of the first artworks to ever visualize the subject of menopause. Through its vivid colors and intricate detailing the Hot Flash Fan depicts the various myths, stereotypes, as well as lived experiences of women transitioning through the multiple phases of menopause. Though historically, representations of menopause have largely focused on the decaying of women’s bodies, as the piece indicates, there are also many reasons to celebrate menopause as one of the important phases in women’s lives.

Check it out:


July 15, 2008

American Medical Association Apology Sparks Discussion on Race

Last week, as mentioned in the Double Dose, the American Medical Association apologized for more than a century of racial inequality within the organization.

The apology provided a teaching moment of sorts for Chicago Tribune columnist Dawn Turner Trice, who maintains an online forum on race. White readers, she notes, frequently write in to ask why blacks create their own groups, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, along with black colleges, sororities, etc. After all, if the word “white” were in the title, wouldn’t those groups be considered racist?

Trice responds:

My answer to these questions begins with the American Medical Association’s announcement last week that it was apologizing to black doctors for policies and practices that for years prohibited blacks from joining.

This week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the group will release the details of the independent group that was commissioned in 2005 to look at disparities in health care and the history of what the AMA called “the racial divide in organized medicine.”

In response to the AMA’s discrimination, black physicians in 1895 founded the National Medical Association. In Chicago, the Cook County Physicians Association was formed. For dentists locked out of the city’s white dental societies, the Lincoln Dental Society was formed. Black pharmacists and nurses created similar groups.

In 2002, Chicago’s Harsh Research collection hosted an extraordinary yearlong exhibit at the Woodson Library on the Far South Side. It was titled, “More Than a Century of Struggle: African American Achievement in Chicago’s Medical History.”

The exhibit explained that until a legal ruling in 1964, 54 of the city’s 57 hospitals didn’t allow black physicians to have attending status. That meant that in order to admit a patient, they had to seek out a white physician.

We’re not talking about Mississippi. This was Chicago just a generation ago.

Meanwhile, the Big Push for Midwives Campaign issued a statement (PDF) in response to the AMA’s apology, drawing attention to the historical role that African American midwives have played:

“Those of us working on maternity care reform have long known that the racial and ethnic disparities in birth outcomes in the U.S. are a national scandal,” said Susan M. Jenkins, Legal Counsel for the Big Push for Midwives Campaign. “We’ve also known that midwives play a critical role in reducing the two most preventable causes of neonatal death, prematurity and low birth weight. Now that the AMA has recognized the problem, perhaps their members will stop trying to outlaw the solution.”

At its annual meeting in June, the AMA issued resolutions opposing the licensure and regulation of Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs), who specialize in out-of-hospital delivery, with a strong focus on preventative care. Historically, African American midwives have played a significant role in minimizing racial disparities in birth outcomes, and they were employed by the World Health Organization to train traditional birth attendants in developing nations. In the first several decades of the 20th century, the AMA and other medical groups launched a racist campaign to outlaw so-called “granny midwives,” which resulted in the closure of the Tuskegee Institute’s state-of-the-art midwifery school and forced African American women into segregated hospitals.

“African American midwives were also a target of racist practices and deserve to be recognized as well; when those midwives were in the community caring for women, we didn’t have such enormous disparity in birth outcomes,” said Jane Peterson, CPM and President of the Wisconsin Guild of Midwives, and Advocacy Trainer with the Big Push for Midwives Campaign. “Immigrant midwives here in Wisconsin and other Midwestern states also struggled against attempts to outlaw them, but they were never subject to the same level of racist animosity.”

July 11, 2008

Double Dose: Black Maternal Health in the United States; Google Fumbles on Childcare; AMA Apologizes for Past Racism; Doctors Discussing Weight; Open Letter to Obama on Late-Term Abortion; Postcards From Vermont …

U.S. Black Maternal Health Tied to Social Stress: Writing in Women’s eNews, June Ross looks at how advocates for black women are redefining maternal health — the period from pregnancy through the first six months after delivery — to include a woman’s overall well-being. It’s the first in a series on black maternal health.

“Regardless of their age, marital status, education or early prenatal care, African American women are more likely to bear premature and low-birth-weight infants, those under 6 pounds, whose survival odds are below the U.S. norm,” writes Ross. “Nationwide, black women are three to four times more likely to die giving birth than either white or Latina women. Their infants’ mortality risk is doubled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disparity has persisted even as infant mortality rates for the nation as a whole have fallen.”

“Prenatal care alone doesn’t solve the problem,” said Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, president of the Black Women’s Health Imperative. “It’s the life course of women in our communities that is making us give birth prematurely to sick babies. The gap (between black and white women) persists because we haven’t done enough. We need to reframe the policy issues. We need to address maternal health first, then talk about infant mortality.”

It’s a great piece that also looks at the work of Byllye Avery, who stresses the intergenerational aspects of black women’s health and who founded the first Black Women’s Health Imperative. She now runs the Avery Institute for Social Change, which brings together health activists, strategists, community advocates and scholars for constructive dialogue on health disparities and health care reform.

Plus: Also from Women’s eNews, a look at the call for billions to reduce maternal mortality at the G-8 economic summit — Pat Sheffield at RH Reality Check reports on how it went; and an article in a series on the status of U.S. women looks at the growing ranks of poor single mothers since the 1996 welfare overhaul.

And also at RH Reality Check, Miriam Perez looks at “The Myth of the Elective C-Section,” which references “Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth.

A Giant Fumble: Moving on to child care, what’s up with Google?

AMA Apologizes for Past Racism: The American Medical Association on Thursday “formally apologized for more than a century of policies that excluded blacks from a group long considered the voice of American doctors,” writes AP medical writer Lindsey Tanner. “The apology is among initiatives at the nation’s largest doctors’ group to reduce racial disparities in medicine and to recruit more blacks to become doctors and to join the AMA.”

Read the full statement.

When a Mammogram Isn’t Enough: The Wall Street Journal reports on the use of MRIs and ultrasounds to help detect breast cancer in women who have a higher risk of the disease. These methods are more sensitive, but the downside is that they also have a higher rate of false-positives, which can lead to unnecessary stress and biopsies.

Should Doctors Lecture Patients About Their Weight?: Well looks at a recent blog post by “Dr. Rob” (Dr. Robert Lambert of Georgia) at Musings of a Distractible Mind. A whopping 600-plus comments follow. Here’s one of the good ones, as is the one that follows it.

Father’s Age Also a Factor in Fertility: Also from Well. Ah, the cultural implications …

Open Letter to Obama: Lynda Waddington of Essential Estrogen and the Iowa Independent offers her personal story about late-term abortion.

Death of an Activist: Via Viva La Feminista, news of the death of Jana Mackey, a 25-year-old law student and feminist activist who wanted to be an advocate for victims of domestic violence. She was murdered by her ex-boyfriend.

Plus: New York’s domestic violence law is about to be expanded. According to The New York Times: “The new law would make it possible for people in dating relationships, heterosexual or gay, to seek protection from abusers in family court. As it stands, New York has one of the narrowest domestic violence laws in the country, allowing for civil protection orders only against spouses or former spouses, blood relations or the other parent of an abused person’s child.”

pizza_on_earth.jpgEating at the Farm: I’m in Vermont this week — trying to eat locally as much as possible, same as we do in Chicago during the short-but-sweet growing season — and I have to give a shout-out to Pizza On Earth, where not only does the pizza come topped with farm-fresh ingredients, but you can pick up your share of fruit and vegetables from Stony Loam Farm when you pick up your pie. Or stay and eat outdoors overlooking the rows of vegetables, flowers and herbs.

We ordered the week’s pizza special, curry squash (sounds awful but it was good) and left with a bunch of (free!) garlic scapes.

The New York Times yesterday looked at the growth of community supported agriculture (or CSA) groups around the country and the benefits to members and farmers. One of the unexpected benefits is being introduced to seasonal food you might not otherwise try. If it’s in my bag, I’m going to try to use it, whereas at the farmers market or supermarket I’m more likely to skip over foods I don’t recognize.

You can find a local CSA and other farm subscriptions at Local Harvest. Here’s the view at Stony Loam:


June 21, 2008

Double Dose: Abstinence-Only Funding Survives Another Vote; Statement of Black Men Against the Exploitation of Black Women; UN Addresses Rape as War Crime; Debate Over Islam and Virginity; Shopping for Breast Cancer and More …

Best Headline: “Abstinence-only funding is like an evil Energizer Bunny,” courtesy of Vannesa at Feministing. Why the evil? The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies voted to continue funding the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) program, an abstinence-only education funding stream, despite all the research that’s it’s a waste of money and resources. Scott Swenson of RH Reality Check has a good wrap-up here.

Share This: Via Brownfemipower, I found an online petition — Statement of Black Men Against the Exploitation of Black Women — written in the wake of R. Kelly’s acquittal. The petition and related useful books, films and organizations are also listed on Mark Anthony Neal’s blog, which itself is a terrific resource on issues on issues of race and masculinity.

UN Addresses Rape as a War Crime: “In Sudan, girls as young as four are raped by rebel forces and government-backed militias. In Democratic Republic of Congo, women are sexually mutilated by roving gangs. In Burma, they are systematically raped as part of a military offensive,” writes Olivia Ward in the Toronto Sun. “[Thursday], the United Nations Security Council agreed that sexual violence against women and girls in war zones is a threat to international stability, opening the way for action against countries that condone or promote atrocities.”

Here’s more from the BBC, and the full text of UN Resolution 1820, which states that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide.” The 15-member Security Council also demanded the “immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians.”

In Europe, Debate Over Islam and Virginity: From The New York Times:

As Europe’s Muslim population grows, many young Muslim women are caught between the freedoms that European society affords and the deep-rooted traditions of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

Gynecologists say that in the past few years, more Muslim women are seeking certificates of virginity to provide proof to others. That in turn has created a demand among cosmetic surgeons for hymen replacements, which, if done properly, they say, will not be detected and will produce tell-tale vaginal bleeding on the wedding night. The service is widely advertised on the Internet; medical tourism packages are available to countries like Tunisia where it is less expensive.

“If you’re a Muslim woman growing up in more open societies in Europe, you can easily end up having sex before marriage,” said Dr. Hicham Mouallem, who is based in London and performs the operation. “So if you’re looking to marry a Muslim and don’t want to have problems, you’ll try to recapture your virginity.”

A 23-year-old French student of Moroccan descent who paid $2,900 for the procedure, said: “In my culture, not to be a virgin is to be dirt … Right now, virginity is more important to me than life.”

Plus: Read Judith Warner’s column, which links hymen surgery, father-daughter purity balls and other news stories related to patriarchy and female chastity.

World Refugee Day: In recognition of the 8th Annual UN World Refugee Day on June 20, Worldview looked at the plight of Iraqi refugees.

Cervical Cancer Screenings Lacking in Developing Countries: “A study published in the open-access journal PLoS Medicine has found that women in the developing world are not getting the cervical cancer screenings that they need,” according to Medical News Today. “Researcher Emmanuela Gakidou (University of Washington) and colleagues report that although women in the developing world have the highest risk of developing cervical cancer, few are effectively screened. Additionally, there exist severe inequalities between and within countries concerning the access to cervical cancer screening.”

Plus: A survey of 38,000 Canadian women found that obese women are significantly less likely (30 to 40 percent, depending on the degree of obesity) to be tested for cervical cancer than women of average body weight, according to CBC News. Breast and colon cancer screening are unaffected by a woman’s body mass.

Shopping for Breast Cancer: The Center for Media & Democracy’s PRWatch recently posted an article about “Pinkwashing” — which is what happens when corporations try to boost sales by associating their products with the fight against breast cancer. “The worst pinkwashers exploit the intense emotions associated with breast cancer while selling products that actually contribute to breast cancer,” writes Ann Landman, who goes on to offer some key examples, including a Ford 2008 V-6 Mustang with Warriors in Pink Package, which proclaims to “add more muscle to the fight.”

Landman also links to Breast Cancer Action’s excellent Think Before You Pink campaign.

Study Finds Drop in Use of HRT: “Fewer older women in Canada are using hormone-replacement therapies to treat the symptoms of menopause, turning instead to natural remedies, says a study released Thursday,” reports The Vancouver Sun.

“The Canadian Institute for Health Information has found only five per cent of women in five provinces who are 65 years and older use hormone-replacement therapies — a drop from 14 per cent six years ago, when a report found the risks of using the menopause therapies outweigh the benefits.”

The Number of Underinsured Grows: Via the L.A. Times – A new study published in Health Affairs journal found that 25 million people ages 19 to 64 were underinsured in 2007, up from 16 million in 2003.

Nearly 50 million additional people have no health insurance at all. In all, “You end up with about 75 million adults who were either underinsured or uninsured at some time during the year,” says study co-author Sara Collins, an assistant vice president of the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that supports independent healthcare research.

Those who had inadequate insurance coverage were almost as likely as those with no insurance to avoid getting needed care or to suffer medically related financial problems. Some 53% of the underinsured went without needed care, compared with 68% of the uninsured. And 45% of underinsured people had trouble paying medical bills, compared with 51% of uninsured people. “You can have health insurance and still go bankrupt if you get sick,” the authors note.

ACLU Symposium on LGBTQ Rights: Melissa points to a number of pieces posted at the symposium, including her piece on gay marriage written as a LGBTQ ally. I loved what Rachel Maddow had to say in an interview with the ACLU:

So far the state where I grew up (California) and the state where I live (Massachusetts) and the state where I work most of the time (New York) have legalized, legalized, and agreed-to-recognize-other-states’ same-sex-marriages, respectively. I am accepting applications now from other states that want me to relocate, since apparently I am to second-class gay citizenship what Saint Patrick was to snakes.