Archive for the ‘Youth’ Category

January 31, 2009

Double Dose: Breast Cancer Memoirs; Keeping Open the Window on Healthcare Reform; Red Sex, Blue Sex; Chemicals May Delay Pregnancy …

What I Learned From Breast Cancer Memoirs: “Breast cancer memoirs have become such staples — reliably displayed during Let’s Wave Pink Ribbons for Breast Cancer month — that it’s hard to remember a time when women didn’t document their journey from onset through the catalog of treatments to restored health, stabilization, or imminent death. But it wasn’t always thus,” writes S.L. Wisenberg in the Chicago Reader.

She continues:

True, British author Fanny Burney wrote to her family about the agonizing mastectomy she underwent — without anesthetic — in 1811. And Katharine Lee Bates (whose poem “America the Beautiful” became the famous hymn) wrote to friends in 1915 about her partner’s breast cancer and death. But neither of these works was published in the author’s lifetime. It was only after World War II that prominent American women went public with their tumors. Marion Flexner, wife of a well-known doctor, wrote “Cancer — I’ve Had It” for Ladies’ Home Journal in May 1947, breaking a taboo by refusing to euphemize her condition — and even inserting a little slapstick with a passage describing “roving boozies”: prosthetic breasts that escaped the confines of a bra and fell to the floor.

It’s a terrific essay, and it makes this reader eager to read Wisenberg’s own story, “The Adventures of Cancer Bitch,” due out in March from University of Iowa Press. In the meantime, visit her blog.

Healthcare Overhaul: “Mindful of how delays sapped the political will to overhaul healthcare during the Clinton administration, health advocates hoped to get a major bill during the new administration’s first 100 days,” reports the Boston Globe. “Now, it looks like it will take longer, and some observers fear that a historic opportunity could be missed.”

Family Planning Nursing Program Saved in Washington: “A campaign by Planned Parenthood to save a program that provides family-planning services in welfare offices has apparently worked, for now,” reports the Yakima Herald. “The Community Service Office (CSO) Family Planning Nurse program, which houses 70 nurses statewide at 58 Department of Social and Health Services offices, will stay open through June. Previously, DSHS planned to shut down the service Jan. 30.”

Split Over Abortion-Reduction Tactics: “The election of a pro-choice administration and a Democratic Congress has divided the pro-life movement, between those who are preparing for the fight of their lives and those who see an opportunity to redefine what it means to be pro-life,” reports Newsweek.

Plus: Red Sex, Blue Sex: Back in November, The New Yorker looked at another type of divide:

During the campaign, the media has largely respected calls to treat Bristol Palin’s pregnancy as a private matter. But the reactions to it have exposed a cultural rift that mirrors America’s dominant political divide. Social liberals in the country’s “blue states” tend to support sex education and are not particularly troubled by the idea that many teen-agers have sex before marriage, but would regard a teen-age daughter’s pregnancy as devastating news. And the social conservatives in “red states” generally advocate abstinence-only education and denounce sex before marriage, but are relatively unruffled if a teen-ager becomes pregnant, as long as she doesn’t choose to have an abortion. A handful of social scientists and family-law scholars have recently begun looking closely at this split.

What About …: The delivery of octuplets in Los Angeles this week raised many questions, including: Can a woman breastfeed eight children?

Lawsuit Takes on Higher Insurance Rates for Women: “California insurers are discriminating against women, charging them more for individual health insurance than men, the city of San Francisco maintained in a lawsuit filed Tuesday against the state regulators who govern them,” reports the L.A. Times.

Gender rating is health insurance is also the focus of two bills have been introduced in the California state Legislature to address the issue. If either of the bills is signed into law, the suit may be dropped.

Study Says Common Chemicals May Affect Fertility: HealthDay News reports on a study that suggests chemicals known as perfluorinated chemicals, which are pervasive in food packaging, pesticides, clothing, upholstery, carpets and personal care products, may delay pregnancy. The study appears in the Jan. 29 edition of Human Reproduction and is available online.

These chemicals are being phased out in the United States because of their toxic effects, and are expected to be completely gone by 2010. However, they remain in the environment and in the body for decades, and have been linked to developmental problems.

“These widespread chemicals apparently lower the fertility in couples trying to get pregnant,” said lead researcher Dr. Jorn Olsen, chairman of the Department of Epidemiology at UCLA’s School of Public Health.

Danish women in the study who had with high levels of perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) took longer to get pregnant, Olsen said.

January 24, 2009

Commodifying the First Daughters

The first daughters have hit the market.

For just $9.99, you can own your own set of “Sweet Sasha” and “Marvelous Malia” dolls.

“They’re such adorable girls,” Ty Inc. spokeswoman Tania Lundeen said Wednesday of the Obama sisters — Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10. “How can we resist?”

But by the end of the week, Ty Inc. — the company that created Beanie Babies — announced the names were chosen because “they are beautiful names,” not because they resemble the first daughters.

Whatever. Sadly, these dolls lack agency in their own world. Malia doesn’t even have her own camera.

Instead, they “come with a password to an online ‘virtual world’ where real girls can decorate their dolls’ room, change their clothes or go shopping,” reports the Chicago Sun Times.

Michelle Obama is not impressed with the 12-inch pseduo-replicas.

“We believe it is inappropriate to use young private citizens for marketing purposes,” Obama’s press secretary, Katie McCormick Lelyveld, said in a statement today.

Also this week, Mattel announced it will launch its first complete line of African-American Barbie dolls.

Plus: There’s a new blog on girls as media producers. Mary Celeste Kearney writes that she created Girls Make Media “because I’ve been researching girls’ media production for over a decade now, and wanted to pull together in one place information about girl media producers, as well as programs for and research about girls’ media-making.”

Kearney — an associate professor of radio, television and film, and women and gender studies at the University of Texas at Austin — is looking to link to other programs (in and outside of the United States), so let her know if you doing something interesting in this field.

cross-posted from PopPolitics

January 24, 2009

Double Dose: No IUD For You!; Teens for Safe Cosmetics; Medical Debt a Growing Worry; Biblical Battered Wife Syndrome …

Nurse Pulls IUD Out of Patient; Says IUD Are a Type of Abortion: Trying to understand the logic of why someone against abortion would remove a contraceptive device will hurt your head — trust me. But do read the court story nicely summarized by Tracy Clark-Flory. Understandably, the patient is suing nurse practitioner Sylvia Olona and Presbyterian Medical Services Rio Rancho Family Health Center (Albuquerque, N.M.).

Heroes of the Week: Writing at Women’s eNews, Kristin Bender reports on Teens for Safe Cosmetics, which last year endorsed a small body care product line that promises to keep suspicious chemicals off adolescents’ skin. Sales figures through the end of December totaled $150,000, and the group, which has active chapters in the San Francisco Bay area and New York, plans to add more products this year.

The New, Improved The new White House website is worth a visit. In addition to the information you’d expect to find on President Obama’s cabinet and White House history, this is the first administration to feature a blog. And the agenda includes a women’s section that addresses healthcare, economic security and gender equity.

Medical Debt a Growing Worry: The problem of medical debt is “climbing the income scale, affecting not just the poor or the uninsured,” writes Sandra G. Boodman of Kaiser Health News. These are the latest numbers:

Experts define the underinsured as those forced to spend at least 10 percent of their income on health care, excluding premiums. But the nonprofit Center for Studying Health System Change found recently that financial pressures on families increase sharply when out-of-pocket spending on medical bills exceeds 2.5 percent of family income. New York’s Commonwealth Fund has reported that 72 million adults under age 65 had problems paying medical bills or were paying off medical debt in 2007, up from 58 million in 2005. Many had insurance, and 39 percent said they had exhausted their savings paying for health care.

Additional stories on healthcare costs are available here, here and here — along with tips and resources for managing medical debt.

Plus: The New York Times reports that Medicaid roles are surging due to the recession and employees losing their health coverage along with their jobs. For many states it’s become an unmanageable burden.

Senate Passes Wage Discrimination Bill: The Senate passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act this week by a vote of 61-36 (here’s the vote breakdown). When the Senate voted on similar legislation in April, it failed by two votes.

“We’ve had an enormous victory,” said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), a main sponsor. All 16 female senators voted in favor. The legislation now goes back to the House for reconciliation before being sent to President Obama, who is expected to sign the bill.

Biblical Battered Wife Syndrome: “In the face of prominent leaders who claim helplessness in the face of biblical tradition, [Christian domestic violence survivor and advocate Jocelyn] Andersen and a small but growing cadre of like-minded abuse survivors are fighting this established conservative wisdom on domestic violence not with secular or feminist domestic violence tactics, but with new theological arguments arguing for abused wives’ rights within a biblically literalist, and in some cases even complementarian, framework,” writes Kathryn Joyce in this piece at Religion Dispatches.

Joyce has a book coming out next month titled “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.”

What Do Women Want?: The New York Times Sunday Magazine tackles the question via this cover story, summed up as: “A new generation of postfeminist sexologists is trying to discover what ignites female desire.” I haven’t read the piece yet, but I skimmed the comments. This response prompted a “hell, yeah.”

January 23, 2009

Teen Voices Interview With Poet Elizabeth Alexander

Wouldn’t you love to sit down, one-on-one, and talk about writing with Elizabeth Alexander, the nationally-renowned African American poet, essayist, playwright, teacher — and, as the world now knows, President Obama’s poet-of-choice?

Wilza Merzeus, 18, feature editor of Teen Voices magazine, had the opportunity to do just that. The text of their conversation has been posted online.

In addition to discussing poetry and feminism during the spring 2008 interview, Alexander offers sound, healthy advice for young poets:

Read all the time; always have a book [with you]. Read widely and diversely; read more than you ever imagined you could. Keep learning and keep taking in examples of what good writing is. It’s very important to keep healthy, to attend to the health of your body. It’s difficult to listen to your distinct and magical voices if your body is not as it should be. That means fresh unpackaged foods, moving [your body] every day, and spending some time in a quiet space. [...]

I was at the inauguration, though so far back (as in: Lincoln-Memorial-far) that I enjoyed watching it all again. Here’s Alexander, reading what I though was an exquisite poem (text):

January 17, 2009

Our Small Town, Ourselves: The Return of “Friday Night Lights”

Just in time for the third season of “Friday Night Lights,” BuzzSugar looks at the five most essential episodes, including the one where Landry tries to impress with a copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”


I’ve already watched the third season on DirecTV, and it’s a triumphant return to the themes of season one (season two was overly melodramatic; it was a bad call, to use the appropriate sports metaphor).

The cast of “FNL” includes a number of young women with agency and the best working mother — school principal Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) — on TV.

I recommend adding it to your viewing schedule this year (NBC, Fridays at 9 p.m. EST; the first episode aired last night, Jan. 16). You can also view episodes online.

Plus: “The L Word,” a true guilty pleasure, begins its sixth and final season Sunday on Showtime. Ginia Bellafante has more.

January 13, 2009

New Moon Seeks Nominations for Beautiful Girls

New Moon, the terrific magazine for girls age 8-12, is seeking nominations for its annual 25 beautiful girls issue. Maybe you know someone you’d like to recommend.

The deadline is midnight (CST) on Monday, Jan. 19, so get going now. Here’s the lowdown from New Moon founder Nancy Gruver:

Each girl has her own inner beauty: the beauty of action, caring, creativity, passion. Tell us about the inner beauty of your daughter, granddaughter, niece, neighbor or student and help us to inspire girls everywhere with their own unique inner beauty.

Every year since 2000, the May/June issue of New Moon Girls magazine features 25 girls ages 8-12 who are beautiful inside. Our Girls Editorial Board selects 25 girls (from those who are nominated) who represent many different aspects of inner beauty. Those girls are featured in the magazine. All the other girls who are nominated receive special recognition and are honored at

Anyone can nominate a girl – her family, someone in the community, another girl. And girls can also nominate themselves! I encourage you to nominate one or more girls by downloading the short form. Then complete the form and email it as an attached document to

December 31, 2008

The Hymen: Breaking the Myths

The value placed on virgin brides in some cultures led to much talk this year about “reconstructing” virginity (see: hymenoplasty) and the legal relevance of virginity (see: “essential quality” for marriage). So it seems only fitting that we should end with an inflated device designed to fake virginity by mimicking the “breaking” of the vaginal tissue known as the hymen.

According to the product description, once inserted the device “will expand a little and make you feel tight. When your lover penetrate [sic], it will ooze out a liquid that look [sic] like blood not too much but just the right amount. Add in a few moans and groans, you will pass through undetectable.”

Putting aside the issues of why someone would consider this a necessary product  — and the looming question: what do they use to make the fake blood and do I really want it in my vagina?? — let’s take a step back and discuss the hymen and what really happens to this misunderstood body part.

For this we turn to Carol Roye, a nursing professor at Hunter College and a nurse practitioner who specializes in adolescent primary and reproductive health care. Roye recently wrote an an article on the hymen that was published at Women’s eNews (and reprinted at Our Bodies Ourselves).

First off, contrary to what girls are often led to believe, “the hymen is not a flat piece of tissue covering the vagina, which is punctured during intercourse. If it were, girls would not be able to menstruate before they lose their virginity because there would be no outlet for menstrual blood,”

“Usually, the hymen looks like a fringe of tissue around the vaginal opening,” adds Roye. “It is not an intact piece of tissue draped across it. Some girls are born without a hymen, others have only a scanty fringe of tissue. Moreover, for all its fabled mystery, the hymen is just a body part.”

Furthermore, while hymens can be torn during sex or other physical activity, they don’t “break.” These torn areas can bleed, but it doesn’t always happen.

Some of Roye’s patients ask whether using tampons or riding a bicycle can affect their hymens (and their virginity), or if they are “de-virginized” if a partner inserts a finger into the vagina. Roye also deals with parents who ask her to determine if their daughters are virgins.

“Of course, in New York (and many states) teens have a right to confidential care so I cannot tell the mother anything unless the teen gives me permission to do so,” Roye writes. “But even if I am allowed to talk to the parent frankly, I often can’t give the yes-no answer they want. It is not so easy to tell whether a girl is a virgin, because hymens are so varied. If there is not much of a hymen I have no way of knowing what happened to it. Was it a boyfriend or a bicycle? Or, perhaps, this girl did not have much tissue there to begin with.”

Back to the virginity question, Roye states that she believes “virginity is what the individual thinks it is. It certainly is for men, who bear no tell-tale signs of lost virginity.” She adds:

The concept of virginity has an emotional connotation. It is more than just the physical disruption of hymenal tissue.

If a young woman has had a sexual relationship with her partner, and she feels that she has lost her virginity, then she has, regardless of what actually happened to her hymen during the encounter. There are ancillary issues that each woman must answer for herself.

Well said.

Interestingly, “hymen” is the most popular internal search term at the Our Bodies Ourselves health resource center. (In case you’re wondering, orgasm, abortion, yeast infection and vagina round out the top-five searches.) This self-guided tour is very useful in helping you to find your hymen, if remnants remain.

P.S.: If you enjoyed Carol Roye’s article, there’s more to look forward to — she is currently working on a book about reproductive health policies. Excerpts can be read at her website, Women’s Health is a Family Value.

December 22, 2008

The Girl Effect: Spread the Message

Earlier this year, the Center for Global Development released a report on girls in developing countries and the disadvantages they face. The report includes specific policy recommendations that apply to several key actions:

  • Count girls. Disaggregate data of all types — from health and education statistics to the counts of program beneficiaries — by age and sex. Doing so will make girls more visible to policymakers and reveal where girls are excluded.
  • Invest in girls. Make strategic and significant investments in programs focused on adolescent girls, commensurate with their importance as contributors to the achievement of economic and social goals.
  • Give girls a fair share. In employment, social programs, protection of human rights, and all other domains ensure that adolescent girls benefit equitably. In many cases this will take explicit and deliberate efforts to overcome household and social barriers.

Here’s a useful fact sheet (pdf) that explains how investments in girls can have a huge impact on the economic growth, health and well-being of communities. For a very cool visual representation, check out the video below.

The project was created by the Nike and NoVo foundations, with the support of the UN Foundation, the International Center for Research on Women, the Population Council, the Center for Global Devlopment, PLAN and BRAC.

December 4, 2008

Want to Help Empower Girls? Volunteer/Intern with Teen Voices

Teen Voices, an awesome leadership program for girls built around the production of Teen Voices magazine, is looking for mentors and interns. More details about the various positions and application information can be found here.

* *  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Mentors: Teen Voices is looking for women in the Boston area who want to mentor teen girls while creating an amazing international teen magazine. It’s a rewarding opportunity that you won’t regret!

As an editorial mentor, you work with teens in the after school program to develop a section of the magazine. You will guide them through the editorial process, from submission review to research, writing, editing, fact checking, interviewing and more.

Journalism or writing experience, and experience or interest working with teens preferred. Mentor positions run for 10-12 weeks during Spring semester. 6-8 hours/week minimum commitment.

Interns: Volunteer as an intern and get the opportunity to work on a variety of projects and learn more than you ever imagined! Our internships provide a great environment for college students to hone their skills and gain concrete experience in marketing, development, editorial, youth work, technology, administration, and publishing.

Become part of a positive and empowering environment. Make a difference for your career and help change the world for girls. Don’t wait! Internships require a 10-12 hour/week minimum commitment.

July 8, 2008

Summer Reading List

cfw_summer_reading.jpgThe Chicago Foundation for Women today published a list of recommended books for summer reading, including such notables as “The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade,” by Ann Fessler (Penguin Books, $15), and “Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice,” by Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried, Loretta Ross and Elena Gutierrez (South End Press, $20), with the comment, “The history of women of color’s leadership on reproductive health is underappreciated, but this book seeks to remedy that.”

The image on the left includes those and some of the other titles. CFW also recommends a title you should skip: Kathleen Parker’s new book on the rise of “slut culture” called “Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care.”

Every week, CFW includes “What’s Missing” — a feminist analysis of media omissions — and this week they write:

In an excerpt printed in the New York Daily News, Parker blames women and girls — including pre-pubescent girls — for “Save the Males” cover with international “No” sign arousing boys and men, then insisting on freedom from sexual violence. Sexual innuendo on young girls’ clothing is “part of a larger trend in which children are being sexualized at ever-younger ages” — fair enough. But Parker blames the girls’ mothers for “pimping” their daughters and again turns her attention to boys and men: “Once women sexually objectify themselves, it becomes harder to insist that others not.”

What’s missing: Sexuality is a fundamental, life-long part of the human experience, and children deserve to learn about it in a positive and respectful way. Yes, the commodification and sexualization of girls is a problem, but we don’t use it to demean people of any age or gender — and we don’t use it to excuse rape. Parker articulates a central premise of the rape culture: If women and girls choose to wear certain clothing, it is an invitation for men to harass, assault or rape. But a skirt is not a white flag surrendering human rights. Once we shame women and girls as “asking for it,” we absolve those men who choose to be violent — and ignore all the well-meaning men who stand up to the rape culture and respect women.

They also point to Jeff Fecke’s funny takedown at Shakesville and Broadsheet’s Tracy Clark Flory, who writes: “To recap: Girls are being sexualized before they even know what sex is, but it’s males that need the rescuing. Quick, save them from these succubi in training bras!”

So, readers, what books do you recommend?

June 28, 2008

Double Dose: Planned Parenthood Expands Reach; Pack Journalism in Search of a Pregnancy “Pact” in Gloucester; Teen Pregnancies at 30-Year Low; Mandating Insurance Coverage for Anorexia; Will Women Give Hormone Maker a Second Chance? …

Planned Parenthood Expands its Reach: “Flush with cash, Planned Parenthood affiliates nationwide are aggressively expanding their reach, seeking to woo more affluent patients with a network of suburban clinics and huge new health centers that project a decidedly upscale image,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

Unfortunately the full story is available to subscribers only, but the WSJ health blog has a summary that includes these remarks:

Despite some critiques to the contrary, Planned Parenthood insists it’s not compromising is long-held focus on serving the poor with birth control, sexual-health care and abortions. Officials there say they take a loss of nearly $1 on each packet of birth-control pills distributed to poor women under a federal program that funds reproductive care. But they make a profit of nearly $22 on each month of pills sold to an adult who can afford to pay full price. That money helps subsidize other operations, including care for the poor as well as pursuing Planned Parenthood’s political agenda.

“It is high time we follow the population,” said Sarah Stoesz, who heads Planned Parenthood operations in three Midwest states. She recently opened three express centers in wealthy Minnesota suburbs, “in shopping centers and malls, places where women are already doing their grocery shopping, picking up their Starbucks, living their daily lives,” she said.

Pregnant in Gloucester: Concerning the 18 high school students pregnant in Gloucester, Mass, that have received national news coverage for supposedly choosing to get pregnant and raise their children together, Kelly McBride, who covers media ethics for Poynter Institute, has an excellent piece on pack journalism in search of a “pact..” Meanwhile, the high school principal who first said their was evidence of a pact defends his comments and his memory.

Plus: Courtney Macavinta of Respect RX discusses her own sex “pact” at age 15 and the cycle of disrespect that leads girls who don’t value themselves to make choices “in which the fine print (that life is about to get even harder) is written in invisible ink.”

Teen Pregnancies at 30-Year Low: Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Lisa Anderson reports on the latest pregnancy statistics released by the Guttmacher Institute.

Pregnancies — whether they end in birth, miscarriage or abortion — among women age 15 to 19 dropped to 72.2 per 1,000 women in 2004, down from a peak of 117 per 1,000 women in 1990 [...]

While some 700,000 women age 15 to 19 become pregnant every year, the rate has declined 36 percent since it peaked in 1990. The rate of abortions among teens also plummeted, to 19.8 per 1,000 women in 2004 from a high of 43.5 per 1,000 in 1988.

But researchers are keeping a close eye on the numbers, as there are some signs that the drop may be reversing:

Despite decades of improvement and for reasons yet unknown, there is statistical evidence that the drop in pregnancy rates, the age of first sexual activity and contraceptive use among teens stalled after 2001.

The exception may be in the teen birthrate. After a 14-year decline, the birthrate, meaning the number of live births, among women age 15 to 19 rose 3 percent in 2006 to 41.9 per 1,000 women from 40.5 per 1,000 women in 2005, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Until more data are compiled, it is unclear whether the 2006 uptick in births was an isolated blip or the harbinger of a more significant and negative change on the teen reproductive landscape, according to David Landry, a senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute.

Mandating Insurance Coverage for Psychiatric Ailments: Illinois will become the 17th state to mandate insurance coverage for treatment of anorexia and bulimia, assuming the governor signs a bill recently approved by the state Legislature.

Bonnie Miller Rubin and Ashley Wiehle of the Chicago Tribune write:

The measure is part of a larger national debate about addressing inequities in insurance coverage between psychiatric and physical ailments.

More than 12 million Americans, mostly young women, have eating disorders in their lifetime, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. The organization ranked risk of death as higher with anorexia than with any other mental illness. Among patients with anorexia, almost half of all deaths are suicides, according to ANAD. Yet many insurers balk at covering the tab, which can run as high as $2,500 a day.

“I’ve met so many parents who have had to refinance their homes,” said Rep. Fred Crespo (D-Hoffman Estates), one of the bill’s sponsors.

But others cite the financial cost of such a law. Richard Cauchi, health program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said Illinois has taken “an unusual action” for 2008, when the trend is to move away from mandates on business and governments.

“There’s more pressure now to repeal and restrict mandates than to enact new ones,” he said..

“Neglected Infections of Poverty”: “Despite plummeting mortality rates for most infectious diseases over the last century, a group of largely overlooked bacterial, viral and parasitic infections is still plaguing the nation’s poor, according to a report released this week,” writes Wendy Hansen in the L.A. Times.

“Many of the diseases are typically associated with tropical developing countries but are surprisingly common in poor regions of the United States, according to the analysis, published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.”

The study’s author, Dr. Peter Hotez, chairman of George Washington University’s department of microbiology, immunology and tropical disease, says there are 24 diseases affecting at least 300,000 Americans, and possibly millions. Poverty-stricken regions, including Appalachia, inner cities, the Mississippi Delta and the border with Mexico, are the areas most severely affected.

Will Women Give Hormone Maker a Second Chance?: “Can Wyeth win back the 40 million Premarin and Prempro users it’s lost since 2002 — along with $1 billion a year in profits — with a new menopause drug? Or will the once-bitten women who have filed more than 5,000 lawsuits claiming the hormones gave them cancer feel fooled twice?” asks Martha Rosenberg at, in this look at Wyeth’s hope of marketing Pristiq as the first nonhormonal treatment for menopause symptoms.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Affects Women More: “The Army and Air Force discharged a disproportionate number of women in 2007 under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prohibits openly gay people from serving in the military, according to Pentagon statistics gathered by an advocacy group,” reports The New York Times.

While women make up 14 percent of Army personnel, 46 percent of those discharged under the policy last year were women. And while 20 percent of Air Force personnel are women, 49 percent of its discharges under the policy last year were women. By comparison for 2006, about 35 percent of the Army’s discharges and 36 percent of the Air Force’s were women, according to the statistics.

The information was gathered under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a policy advocacy organization.

Gardasil Not Approved for Older Women: “U.S. regulators have told Merck & Co they cannot yet approve Merck’s application to expand marketing of its cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil to an older group of women, the drugmaker said on Wednesday,” reports Reuters.

“Merck had applied for the use of Gardasil in women ages 27 through 45. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a letter regarding the application that it has completed its review and there are ‘issues’ that preclude approval within the expected review time frame, Merck said.”

Exercise as a Tonic for Aging: The New York Times reports on an updated series of physical activity recommendations for older adults from the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine, which are expected to match new federal activity guidelines due in October from the United States Health and Human Services Department.

“Contrary to what many active adults seem to believe, physical fitness does not end with aerobics,” writes Jane Brody. “Strength training has long been advocated by the National Institute on Aging, and the heart association has finally recognized the added value of muscle strength to reduce stress on joints, bones and soft tissues; enhance stability and reduce the risk of falls; and increase the ability to meet the demands of daily life, like rising from a chair, climbing stairs and opening jars.”

June 24, 2008

Healthy Food Advice Welcomed

alexandra_happy_meal.jpgThis is a little off the beaten path, but it is most definitely health-related.

My 5-year-old niece visited for a sleepover this weekend, and despite being told that getting her to eat vegetables was pretty much impossible, I decided we’d make a build-your-own veggie burger.

She selected a black bean patty for the head; I chose a portobella cap. We both added carrot sticks for the arms and the legs, kale for the skirt or shorts, chopped garlic scapes for the eyes and nose, and a yellow tomato slice for the mouth.

Alexandra replaced the tomato with a ketchup smile, but then offered that the tomato would make an excellent hula-hoop. I smiled smugly. This meal thing was easy; all it took was a little creativity.

We took pictures (proof!). Then we started to eat. Or, rather, I ate.

Many parents and caregivers are probably familiar with what came next. Alexandra broke up pieces of the bun and dunked it in ketchup (“But it’s a vegetable, tia Christine!”). The body parts swirled around on the plate until they resembled a cubist painting.

Clearly I had no idea what I was up against.

After Alexandra left the next morning (following whole grain pancakes with blueberries, bananas, carob chips and a real chocolate chip or two — I was a pushover by 8 a.m.), I came across this L.A. Times story on the various methods used to get kids to eat vegetables, including pureeing veggies and hiding them in sweetened foods. Melinda Fulmer writes:

Everyone hopes that their kids will eat their fruits and vegetables so they’ll grow into big, strong adults who will eat the nine daily servings recommended by the U.S. government. But everyone also knows kids rarely put “broccoli” at the top of a list of favorite foods.

So an increasing number of parents are loading the foods their kids will eat with produce they think they should be getting. And food makers are lending a hand, offering a growing array of processed foods that sneak vegetables and fruits into chips, juice and nuggets.

But some nutritionists and public health experts wonder if parents these days are relying too much on the sneak attack. They doubt if kids will ever develop a taste for vegetables in all their leafy glory if they are hidden in smoothies and macaroni and cheese. Some say this well-intentioned sneaking could produce kids less likely — not more — to eat greens.

“Children should learn to make healthy choices,” says Pat Crawford, co-director of the Center for Weight and Health at UC Berkeley. “It really comes down to whether we are feeding our children for nutrients, or for the potential development of healthy patterns that are lifelong.”

Many mothers say they were turned on to hiding vegetables in their kids’ foods by bestselling cookbooks such as Jessica Seinfeld’s “Deceptively Delicious” and Missy Chase Lapine’s “The Sneaky Chef.” Both offer kid-friendly recipes with hidden vegetable and fruit purées in such items as pizza and pasta.

Some of the big food companies that have entered the fray by including helpings of fruits and vegetables in everything from chips to pancake mix are also continuing to include sodium, fat and sugar in amounts that would seem to negate the health benefits. Consider, for instance, that “a 1-ounce, 130-calorie serving of Frito-Lay’s Tangy Tomato Ranch chips offers 210 milligrams of sodium, 3 grams of sugar and 5 grams of fat along with its half-serving of vegetables.”

I also visited a cool blog mentioned in the Times — Fresh Mouth, where a family of five had one mission: to eat only fresh food or processed food with 5 ingredients or less for 30 days. It takes some serious commitment, but Fresh Mouth also makes it seem fun.

So, dear readers, are any of you hiding vegetables in your kids’ meals? What other methods have worked for you?

May 17, 2008

Double Dose: The New Film Genre: Fertility Films; D.C. Sets Up a Place to Pump; The Business of Bacteria; Culture Affects How Teen Girls See Harassment …

When Chick Flicks Get Knocked Up: “Eventually, your female friends — the ones who married late and retained youthful obsessions with Yo La Tengo and graphic art books until forty — may shock you by having children,” writes Alissa Quart at Mother Jones. “This year, at least, they have cinematic alter egos; those millennium Mary Tyler Moores Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt have left their cosmos and canned laughter behind and gotten knocked up onscreen too. In the process, they have created a new genre: The Fertility Film. But are the new fertility film stars actually feminists?” (via Feministing)

Silicone Gel Implants May Lose Approval: From our enlightened neighbor to the north … “Health Canada may have to reverse its controversial 2006 decision to allow women to get silicone gel-filled breast implants if it proceeds with a plan to declare key chemicals found in them to be toxic, experts say,” reports The Ottawa Citizen. (via Beauty and the Breast)

South Carolina Supreme Court Overturns Conviction: “A South Carolina woman convicted of homicide by child abuse after her stillborn baby tested positive for cocaine should get a new trial because of several mistakes her attorneys made, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday,” reports the Associated Press. “Attorneys for Regina McKnight did not introduce the baby’s autopsy report into evidence and failed to rebut the prosecution’s medical expert, the court said in the unanimous decision.”

Prosecutors have 15 days to decide whether to appeal. From the Myrtle Beach Online:

Attorneys for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women and the S.C. Civil Liberties Union became involved in McKnight’s case when she asked for post-conviction relief.

“The groups got involved because there is complete consensus that prosecuting pregnant women is bad for mothers and babies,” said Lynn Paltrow, with the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. “Regina McKnight was convicted on junk science and was not fairly represented at trial.”

A Place to Pump: “Washington area women have hooked up electric or manual versions in parked cars, restrooms, a telephone booth and the basement storage room of the National Zoo visitors center, where a box of panda costumes doubled this spring as a table on which one woman set her pump, bottles and other equipment,” writes Rebecca Adams at the Washington Post.

“Not perhaps what the D.C. Council had in mind when it passed a law in December requiring employers to provide female workers a private, clean space, outside a restroom, to express milk. The Child’s Right to Nurse Act also gives a woman the right to breast-feed, covered or not, in any place, public or private, where she has a right to be.”

Maternal Exposure to Persistent Organic Pollutants Linked to Urologic Conditions in Boys: This release from the American Urological Association summarizes studies that confirm existing hypotheses that maternal exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals – including total polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs, such as Arochlor) and organochlorinated pesticides (such as dichlorodiphenyl-trichloroethane, or DDT) may contribute to an increased incidences of congenital anomalies.

Mammograms Coupled with Ultrasounds: Deborah Katz of U.S. News & World Report looks at new research on combining mammography and ultrasounds, which may be better for finding cancers in some women, but it also greatly increases the rate of false-positive results. Plus: Check out our analysis on routine mammograms for premenopausal women.

The Business of Bacteria: The L.A. Times reports on the popularity of probioitics, live "friendly" bacteria that is showing up in more foods, like Dannon’s Activia yogurt. “Companies claim that the daily consumption of probiotics can provide consumers with benefits such as a boost to the immune system and relief from intestinal distress — and researchers think that certain probiotic strains hold promise in a number of areas,” writes Brendan Borrell. “But how significant these benefits are is a matter of debate. And it can be tough to decipher which products offer verifiable health claims and which are piggybacking on the hype of the booming industry.

Doctors Start to Say “I’m Sorry” Long Before “See You in Court”: The New York Times reports on a change in hospital policy: full disclosure when a doctor makes a mistake. Kevin Sack writes:

For decades, malpractice lawyers and insurers have counseled doctors and hospitals to “deny and defend.” Many still warn clients that any admission of fault, or even expression of regret, is likely to invite litigation and imperil careers.

But with providers choking on malpractice costs and consumers demanding action against medical errors, a handful of prominent academic medical centers, like Johns Hopkins and Stanford, are trying a disarming approach.

By promptly disclosing medical errors and offering earnest apologies and fair compensation, they hope to restore integrity to dealings with patients, make it easier to learn from mistakes and dilute anger that often fuels lawsuits.

Malpractice lawyers say that what often transforms a reasonable patient into an indignant plaintiff is less an error than its concealment, and the victim’s concern that it will happen again.

Culture Affects How Teen Girls See Harassment: “Teenage girls of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds still experience sexism and sexual harassment – but cultural factors may control whether they perceive sexism as an environmental problem or as evidence of their own shortcomings,” according to this release from the University of Kentucky summarizing a study of 600 girls, ages 12 to 18, in California and Georgia.

Ninety percent of the girls reported experiencing at least one incident of sexual harassment, the researchers from University of Kentucky and University of California Santa Cruz found.

Specifically, 67 percent of girls reported receiving unwanted romantic attention, 62 percent were exposed to demeaning gender-related comments, 58 percent were teased because of their appearance, 52 percent received unwanted physical contact and 25 percent were bullied or threatened with harm by a male. 52 percent of girls also reported receiving discouraging gender-based comments on the math, science and computer abilities, usually from male peers, and 76 percent of girls reported sexist comments on their athletic abilities, again
predominantly from male peers.

The researchers found that girls have different levels of understanding of sexism and sexual harassment, which may affect reporting data. Older girls and those from a lower socioeconomic background reported more sexism than did their peers. Latin and Asian American girls reported less sexual harassment than did girls of other ethnic groups. Girls who had been exposed to feminist ideas, either through the media or an adult such as a mother or teacher, were more likely to identify and report sexist behavior than were girls who had no information about feminism. Girls who reported feeling pressure from their parents to conform to gender stereotypes were also more likely to perceive sexism. Girls who felt atypical for their gender and/or were unhappy with stereotypical gender roles were most likely to report sexism and harassment.

The study appears in the May/June issue of Child Development.

May 3, 2008

Double Dose: Bush White House – “Where All Good Public Health Protections Go to Die”; Afghanistan’s High Maternal Death Rate; The Disney Hypocrisy; Divorce Tied to Professor’s Job Loss; Amy Richards on “Opting In”; and More

Federal Agencies Can Now Offer Secret Input on EPA Chemical Reviews: The Washington Post reports on changes the Bush administration has made to Environmental Protection Agency reviews of chemicals — changes that officials with the Government Accountability Office say will delay scientific assessments of health risks and open the process to politicization.

Richard Wiles, executive director of the Environmental Working Group, called the EPA process a “bureaucratic quagmire,” adding, “With these rules in place, it’s now official: The Bush White House is where all good public health protections go to die.”

Death in Childbirth a Health Scourge for Afghanistan: Reuters takes a close look at the staggering maternal death rate in Afghanistan, where about 1,600 Afghan women die in childbirth out of every 100,000 live births.

“In some of the most remote areas, the death rate is as high as 6,500. In comparison, the average rate in developing countries is 450 and in developed countries it is 9,” writes Tan Ee Lyn. “Virtually everyone in Afghanistan can recount a story about a relative dying in childbirth, often from minor complications that can be easily treated with proper medical care.”

Plus: Read our previous posts on Afghanistan and maternal health — and how the United States has mismanaged funding and programs intended to improve hospital conditions.

The Disney Hyprocrisy: From Slate: Forget Miley Cyrus. Check out Disney’s Chinese underwear ad. Just go.

Plus: There’s a new book out on the sexualization of ‘tween girls: “The Lolita Effect,” by Gigi Durham, a University of Iowa journalism professor.

“I’m criticizing the unhealthy and damaging representations of girls’ sexuality, and how the media present girls’ sexuality in a way that’s tied to their profit motives,” said Durham in this release. “The body ideals presented in the media are virtually impossible to attain, but girls don’t always realize that, and they’ll buy an awful lot of products to try to achieve those bodies. There’s endless consumerism built around that.”

Divorce Leads to Job Loss: So imagine you’re a professor and you’re going through a divorce. Your college requires that you talk with a staff member to see whether the grounds for divorce meet Biblical standards. If you don’t, you’ll lose your job. Yep, that’s what happened to a popular English professor who has taught at Wheaton College in Illinois for 20 years. From the Chicago Tribune:

Many theological conservatives say the New Testament permits divorce only in cases of adultery or desertion. Wheaton requires faculty and staff to sign a faith statement and adhere to standards of conduct in areas including marriage, said Provost Stan Jones.

Still, every year, the college has dealt with several cases in which it must evaluate the divorce of a job applicant or a staff or faculty member and consider whether it matches the exceptions laid out in Matthew 19 and the writings of the Apostle Paul.

I admit I’m not up on Bible readings, but what about, say, domestic abuse — along with a host of other very good reasons?

Genetic Link to Osteoporosis: “Researchers have identified two common genetic mutations that increase the risk of osteoporosis and related bone fractures, according to a study released Tuesday,” reports Reuters.

U.S. Federal Funding for HIV/AIDS: The Kaiser Family Foundation has released a new fact sheet on federal funding for HIV/AIDS in the President’s Fiscal Year 2009 budget request, and comparisons over time, with key funding highlights for domestic and global HIV/AIDS programs. It also includes additional information on federal funding for global TB, malaria and other global health efforts.

Can I Get A May Day for Immigrant Women’s Health?: “May Day, May 1st, has come to hold the promise of rallies for immigrant rights staged across the United States. And this year is no different. But with McCain’s more-of-the-same health care plan having just been released, it’s a perfect time to focus on why women’s reproductive health care must be a crucial part of any discussion about immigration reform,” begins Amie Newman’s essay at RH Reality Check.

Rescue Us From Our Bodies: Here’s a nice round-up of responses to Midol’s new “Reverse the Curse” campaign.

Stop the Mommy Madness: Salon talks with feminist activist Amy Richards, whose new book is titled “Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself.”

Plus: Rachel Fudge reviews “Opting In” for Mother Jones.

More Mothers Breast-Feed, in First Months at Least: “About 77 percent of new mothers breast-feed their infants at least briefly, the highest rate seen in the United States in more than a decade, according to a government survey released on Wednesday,” reports The New York Times. Enthusiasm, however, was tempered.

Breast-feeding experts said that they were cheered by the report’s numbers but noted that rates of breast-feeding at 6 months of age have remained unchanged and are significantly lower than goals set by government agencies. The most recent C.D.C. survey did not report breast-feeding rates at 6 months because of a lack of data. [...]

In the most recent survey, breast-feeding rates increased among non-Hispanic black women to 65 percent from 36 percent in 1993 and 1994. Eighty percent of Mexican-American infants and 79 percent of non-Hispanic white infants had been breast-fed.

The age and income of mothers played important roles. Just 57 percent of poor mothers and only 43 percent of mothers under 20 breast-fed their infants, the survey found.

Dr. Barbara L. Philipp, associate professor of pediatrics at Boston University, said the C.D.C. survey had not asked mothers whether they breast-fed exclusively. “One sip was positive, so they set the bar very low,” Dr. Philipp said.

April 21, 2008

What’s the Truth About Teen Pregnancy?

You may have seen recent headlines such as “US teen pregnancy rate near historic low” and been somewhat confused (I certainly was). After all, didn’t the CDC just announce that teen pregnancy rates were going up? A Dec 7, 2007 CDC press release entitled “Teen Birth Rate Rises for First Time in 14 Years” stated that “The teen birth rate in the United States rose in 2006 for the first time since 1991, and unmarried childbearing also rose significantly, according to preliminary birth statistics.”

The two reports focus on slightly different things – teen pregnancies vs. teen births. The new report notes that the teen pregnancy rate was 72.2 per 1,000 ages 15-19 in 2004. The 2006 report indicates that the teen birth rate has increased to 41.9 births per 1,000, but doesn’t provide an overall teen pregnancy rate. These are difficult to compare easily, as not all pregnancies result in births. We know, then, that births to teenagers increased in 2006, but not how the actual pregnancy rate changed. The teen pregnancy report shows a historic trend of both birth and abortion rates declining alongside pregnancy rates.

Another difference between the two reports is the time period covered. The report cited by the most recent CDC press release (“Pregnancy Rate Drops for U.S. Women Under Age 25“) actually states: “Pregnancy rates for females under age 25, including teenagers, in the United States declined in 2004 compared to 1990.” This most recent report stops at 2004, when teen pregnancy rates were at their lowest point since data began being collected in 1976, falling steadily from a record high around 1990. It does not include 2006 data on teen pregnancies or births, when we know at least that the teen birth rate had increased.

What difference does it make? If you only looked at the most recent, “teen pregnancies down!” reports, you might have a different impression with regards to sex education, contraception availability, and related policy than if you also looked at the 2006 data and asked why an increase occurred. Although we don’t yet know if that increase represents the beginning or a trend or a mere blip, it’s important to remember that one report does not always provide a complete picture.