Weekly this and that - November 15, 2006
There's a lot going on in the health news realm in the past week. Here's what I hope will be a useful cross-section.
The mid-term elections
Rob Cunningham of the Health Affairs Blog provides a wrap-up on likely directions for health policy given the new Democratic majority, keeping in mind that the majority is, after all, a very slim one. Be sure to take a look at the complete Health Affairs coverage of the election, linked at the foot of the post.
Lung cancer screening: a follow-up
Sandra Boodman of the Washington Post wrote a well-balanced article following up on the recent New England Journal study by Henschke et al. (I blogged about it a few weeks ago). In this article, Boodman fully acknowledges the controversy engendered by the article and interviews smokers and radiologists about their thoughts and intentions regarding the new research. Curious, isn't it, that a radiologist in private practice thinks we should go ahead and start screening smokers en masse, even before the definitive study comes out? Or am I just too cynical?
Red meat and breast cancer
My colleagues at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker and the Health Behavior Blog kindly summed up some of the news coverage of the new finding from the Nurses' Health Study II, that women who ate red meat regularly in their 20s through 40s were at higher risk of breast cancer. I was probably too busy feeling smug about having all but given up beef in my 20s to get exercised about yet another single observational risk-factor epidemiology study.
Reuters reported this week on a study at the eminent Duke University Hospital in Durham, NC, home to a proud history of psychosocial research. The study showed that black men treated for heart disease at the hospital had lower mortality than white men treated there, even though their younger average age should have made up for lower scores on other factors that aggravate heart disease. This study was apparently reported at a meeting, and I am loath to report on items where I can't look at the data, but with luck I'll get a chance to see this one in print soon. In any case, it's illustrative of an important aspect of health disparities: possible effects on health outcomes from discrimination on the part of providers. Again, no details available; I include it merely as food for thought.
And this just in from the same meeting: a study showing that whites receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation for heart attacks more often than blacks, possibly because blacks are less likely to get CPR training than whites. A little more straightforward than the previous example, perhaps.
Sin taxes and the AMA
The AP reported yesterday that the American Medical Association declined to endorse a proposal to tax soft drinks. Apparently they were uncomfortable with a Federal tax, but it's unclear why. Taxing cigarettes is the most effective way to prevent smoking, so it stands to reason that taxing soft drinks would work the same way to help prevent obesity. But wait a second - we know that preventing smoking protects health, but how good is the evidence that preventing soft drink consumption prevents obesity or, more importantly, actual health endpoints such as diabetes? That may be where the AMA's resolve weakened. Still, I'd like to have been in the room when the issue was debated.