An analysis by The New York Times found that in the first full year of the Affordable Health Care Act there were historic increases in coverage for low-wage workers and those in other demographics previously less represented in the health care system. The article from The New York Times illustrates the findings with a series of charts and graphics showing the scope of changes. As noted, the expanded coverage has had a significant impact for many Americans. Read more…
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Lifestyle and habits
by Jen Jenkins
Geography matters for the poor when it comes to life expectancy rates in the United States. While the rich live longer regardless of where they live, in some parts of the country, adults with the lowest incomes have lifespans that match that of people in much poorer nations around the world. However, in some large cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as a few smaller cities, the poor are living as long as the middle-class and are seeing rising life expectancy. New research shows that improving habits and public health can help people live longer regardless of income. This New York Times article discusses the new research published this month in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
According to Stanford economist Raj Chetty, who is the above-mentioned study’s lead author, “You want to think about this problem at a more local level than you might have before. You don’t want to just think about why things are going badly for the poor in America. You want to think specifically about why they’re going poorly in Tulsa and Detroit.” Adopting local policies to help the poor maintain healthier habits may succeed in extending lifespans despite what the future may bring as far as income inequality. The New York Times article states:
It could be as simple as this: Wealth buys higher-quality medical care, which allows people to live into old age. But a long line of evidence, including the new work, suggests it’s less obvious than it might seem. The affluent seem to live in healthier ways. They exercise more, smoke less, feel less stress and are less likely to be obese.
Quality medical care is important and carries a high value but research has long established that behavioral factors, such as smoking or exercising, have a larger effect on life span than health care interventions.
It is important to know that poor Americans are living longer in some places in the country but it’s even more important to understand how these places are making that possible. For example, in Jefferson county, Alabama, the chief executive of the health department, Mark E. Wilson, believes that the following measures have helped to raise the lifespan in that area: expanding availability of preventative health care, allocating local taxes to hospital care for those that cannot afford to pay, banning smoking in restaurants and workplaces, and establishing philanthropic foundations to fund campaigns to make people in the area healthier. “These aren’t all huge-scale projects, but there is still an alignment of getting resources moving in the same direction around health,” Dr. Wilson said. “We’re trying to establish a culture of health and get it more and more on the radar screen of our community.”
Establishing a “culture of health” in our communities to help make people healthier regardless of income – could this be a factor that helps to positively effect the radical gap in longevity between income levels in this country?
Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section!
by Jen Jenkins
Celebrity influence can often be considerable, even when it comes to health and medicine. Although this influence can sometimes be for good, it can also be harmful. Doctors are fighting now more than ever to seize the spotlight from celebrities when it comes to medical issues, as their voices typically have far more reach than medical journals. Most recently, this New York Times article discusses the case of a documentary film being pulled from the Tribeca Film Festival. The film, Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, was pulled by Tribeca in the wake of an uproar from doctors and experts. The concern revolved around the extreme publicity of the event and screening a film that featured research into the connection between vaccines and autism — research offered by a disgraced former doctor that has long since been debunked.
Anti-vaccination advocacy is an issue that has been promoted by many celebrities and politicians as of late. Arthur L. Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University, believes celebrities have an out-of-proportion impact on the public’s understanding of vaccine risk but he also added, “I don’t want to overplay it; most people vaccinate. It’s not like hordes of people are listening to Jenny McCarthy and saying, ‘Forget the American Association of Pediatrics, I’m going with the former Playboy Bunny.’” However, with so many celebrities heavily promoting new drugs, exclaiming incessantly about health practices, or offering opinions on health recommendations for infants and children, it is important to ensure the public understands that although celebrity health advice may be well-meaning, it can still be dangerous. “It’s part of the general impact celebrities are having on health,” says Caplan. “It’s a constant battle to try to correct misperceptions.”
By Jen Jenkins
According to national health figures, one in four adults in the United States has experienced back pain within the past month. Back pain is the second most common cause of disability for American adults and is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Sufferers have tried it all, from painkillers and shots to physical therapy. In our previous post on MCNTalk we discussed chronic pain in the United States and the growing concerns surrounding opioid painkillers, their addictive nature, and the rise in opioid-related deaths. Amid this evolving crisis, a new study is now reporting that many people may find relief with a form of meditation called mindfulness-based stress reduction. This technique harnesses the power of the mind to help manage pain and involves a combination of meditation, body awareness and yoga.
“This new study is exciting, because here’s a technique that doesn’t involve taking any pharmaceutical agents, and doesn’t involve the side effects of pharmaceutical agents.”
– Dr. Madhav Goyal
Dr. Madhav Goyal of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine co-wrote an editorial accompanying the paper published on the study of mindfulness-based stress reduction. Participants in the study were assigned to meditation or cognitive behavior therapy and they received eight weekly two-hour sessions of group training in the techniques. Six months later, those learning meditation had an easier time with activities such as getting up out of a chair, climbing stairs, or putting on socks; a year later, they were still doing better and expressed meaningful improvement. The sheer size of this study is considered one of its strengths – it included 342 participants ranging from age 20 to age 70. However, Dr. Goyal does warn, “It may not be for everybody.” Some people with back pain might find yoga and certain movements too painful, but Dr. Goyal thinks that this technique is very empowering for people who want to do something using their own mind to help their pain.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction was developed in the 1970s by scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn, who used Buddhist meditation practices as a template for his technique. Dr. Cherkin explained that the goal is for pain sufferers to increase their awareness of their experience through meditation. They are meant to understand how their pain is affecting them and more importantly, how they respond to it. The idea is for participants “to change their mindset and, in a way, almost befriend the pain, and not feel it’s oppressing them.”
It is important to be able to offer a lot of options for chronic pain because while some treatments may help some people, they may not work well for others. Dr. Cherkin believes that mindfulness-based stress reduction is helpful because even if someone does not use it all the time, it is a skill they will never forget and it is something that can be used anywhere. Currently, the downsides for those who are interested in mindfulness-based stress reduction revolve around getting access to is, which is problematic without certified instructor training available everywhere; and, as an alternative remedy, receiving instruction in it may not be covered by health insurance.
View this New York Times article on mind-based therapy and back pain. Also, please share your comments with us!
by Jen Jenkins
A disturbing new pattern is emerging from a growing body of data. Although experts have long been aware that people of affluence live longer people than people who are poor, this recent New York Times article delves into the widening longevity gap between high-income and low-income Americans. In their newest research, economists at the Brookings Institution found when looking at the top ten percent of earners and the bottom ten percent for men born in 1920 there was a six-year difference in life expectancy; for men born in 1950 that difference skyrocketed to fourteen years. The causes for this growing chasm are still under investigation but one explanation may be the significant declines in smoking among the educated and affluent populations. Although it is hard to point to any one cause, smoking is known to be the single biggest cause of preventable death and has definitely played a role in the widening gap. The article goes on to discuss other possible factors and the potential weight they may or may not carry. These include obesity, the prescription drug epidemic, and limited access to health care.
Elizabeth H. Bradley, a professor of public health at Yale, believes that economic and social inequities are at the heart of this disparity, which is something that high-tech medicine cannot fix. Last summer, after convening a panel of experts to study the implications of the growing longevity gap, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that disparate life expectancies are making programs such as Social Security and Medicare unfair to the poor. More information on what this means for the promise of Social Security can be found in this research report published by the Brookings Institution.
The New York Times article wraps up with a quote from Christopher J.L. Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle.
“There are large swaths of the population that are not enjoying the pretty impressive gains the rest of us are having in life spans. Not everybody is sharing in the same prosperity and progress.”
Policy makers are now expressing concern over shortening life spans for some Americans, especially since the United States has slipped down to some of the lowest rankings of life expectancy among rich countries.
We are interested in your thoughts on this subject – please share with us in the comments section.
by Angela Sams
Many of us likely saw or at least heard about the picture that Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook, posted on the social media site recently. Though perhaps it appeared innocent on the surface, the photo of his two-month-old daughter getting vaccinated surely ruffled some feathers amongst the anti-vaccination community. A recent Time article discusses the fact that this isn’t the first public statement that Zuckerberg has made regarding vaccinations. He recently used Facebook to publicize a book called On Immunity, by Eula Bliss. “The science is completely clear: vaccinations work and are important for the health of everyone in our community,” he wrote.
Despite the fact that links between vaccines and autism have been discredited, there are still many who believe that vaccines are harmful. But what about the harm caused by unvaccinated individuals who are spreading diseases that were once a thing of the past? Indeed, if Zuckerberg wanted to, he could shut down the Facebook pages of the “antivaxxers.” This does not violate any First Amendment rights, due to the fact that Facebook is a private company.
Another article on the Time website discusses the dangers of “tolerating” those who refuse to vaccinate their children. Recently, at a school in Melbourne, Australia, approximately a quarter of the school’s student body contracted chicken pox. Only 73.2 % of the students had been vaccinated. Apparently, the school does not require students to receive vaccinations, and instead wrote that “staff respects the right of every family to make choices about immunisation,” in a school newsletter back in May.
While tolerance is often a good thing, even called “the social and intellectual flexibility that allows a society to function at all,” at what cost does it come? Will our society eventually see a dangerous return of diseases that until recently have been kept at bay due to vaccines? The line has to be drawn somewhere, especially when the beliefs of certain individuals (despite the scientific facts) negatively impact those around them.
by Angela Sams
“You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.” A common phrase indicating that everyone can have their opinion on any variety of matters, but when it comes to clear, objective facts, there’s really no point in arguing. Needless to say, there are plenty of opinionated people out there, and sometimes having an unsubstantiated opinion on unarguable facts can come at price.
Political arguments overwhelm our country as we read about the Paris climate change conference and prepare for elections next year. It takes a well-informed and discerning individual to separate fact from fiction (or, opinion), when sometimes one may be presented as the other. As a recent Op-Ed article in New York Times points out, “disbelieving science isn’t skepticism, it’s a form of willful ignorance.” Skepticism is something that is evidence-based. For example, we may read about a topic, but are not convinced enough by the facts to believe that whatever the article states is true. Denialism, on the other hand, is more about believing what we want to believe (“I don’t want climate change to exist, so I just won’t believe in it,”), pushing aside obvious evidence, and focusing on so-called “facts” that would help support our own opinions on the matter.
In order to avoid denial, it’s important to understand science. Science does not mean that there is only one answer, and it does not mean that if new evidence comes along it will not change the current understanding of something. Rather, it’s something that’s always evolving, something that is never “settled.” And while it may turn out that a theory is false, science’s “successful track record suggests that there is no superior competitor in discovering the facts about the empirical world.” Rejecting the current scientific evidence on a topic such as global warming is not just being in denial—it could also come at a price. Instead of pretending that something doesn’t exist, wouldn’t it be smarter instead to prepare for it or try to prevent it, until further evidence suggests that this is not necessary?
by Angela Sams
Have you ever been prescribed a painkiller to help with surgery recovery or maybe for back pain that just won’t go away? Even if not, it is likely that you know someone who has been on a painkiller medication at some time or another. That likelihood rose steadily between 1999 and 2010, as doctors began turning to a “quick fix” that will treat their patients in an aggressive manner. But, as patients cooperatively swallow their prescribed pills, it is important to consider the downsides of opioids on an individual and societal level.
A recent opinion article in the New York Times indicates that while there has been a “steady increase in the mortality rate of middle-aged white Americans since 1999,” this is not the case in other age and ethnic groups, or even with people in the same age group who live in other countries. Consider this disturbing statistic: “In 2013 alone, opioids were involved in 37 percent of all fatal drug overdoses.” It is clear that opioid overdose is quickly becoming an epidemic, and a major shift in attitude is a key to the problem.
At one time, opioids were used mainly for pain caused by terminal illnesses or as a short-term fix for pain after surgery. However, during the 1990s, drug companies began marketing to doctors, encouraging them to “be proactive with pain and treat it aggressively.” Afraid of being seen as uncaring or reprimanded for not treating a patient’s pain to the best of their abilities, doctors fell for the marketing scheme and began prescribing powerful opioids such as OxyContin.
Though opioids may relieve pain and help a patient recover more comfortably, evidence suggests that they should only be used for short-term treatment, not long-term treatment of nonmalignant pain. There are also many downsides to taking such a medication. This type of painkiller is extremely addictive, may affect mental health, lead to unemployment, and cause poor health in general, to name a few risks. Ironically, using these drugs can also make a patient more sensitive to pain.
So what is the solution to this problem? Should people suffer in pain, rather than take the risks associated with opioid drugs? Actually, the answer may be as simple as taking an over-the-counter medication. In one study, researchers found that when Motrin and Tylenol were combined, they were actually more effective than opioids, not to mention safer. While opioids are still very readily available to patients who are in pain, small steps towards a solution have been taken. For example, the Food and Drug Administration issued a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy, ensuring that opioids now contain warning labels. The makers of these drugs must also give training and education that will help doctors prescribe them safely. Certainly, patient awareness is helpful, but only time will tell if physicians can turn this shift in attitude back around, and work towards other, safer solutions for pain management.
by Angela Sams
As consumers, many of us have probably seen low-sodium chicken broth, or reduced salt frozen dinners. In effort to cater to those who desire a healthier diet, there are definitely many options out there when it comes to limiting sodium intake. However, a 2012 report published by a consumer-research firm found that “low-sodium” product sales had declined by 5 percent in the last year. It seems that consumers want less salt due to health concerns, but may not be willing to tolerate a replacement food that may not taste as good.
The recommended daily sodium intake is only 2,300 mg, but average Americans are consuming 1000 mg more than that each day. Over-consumption of sugar is also a growing problem. Both women and men are consuming much more than the recommended 100 calories per day of added sugar (for women) and the 150 calories per day of added sugar (for men).
So why do we need so much of the bad stuff in our food? There are a lot of reasons, it turns out. Salt and sugar are both well-known preservatives. Sugar can lower the temperature at which food freezes, and salt is also a factor in food’s texture (such as dough stickiness, for example). It seems that a good substitute may be very elusive.
But what if we could trick ourselves into thinking our food tastes good, even if it doesn’t? This is where our sense of smell comes in, and it’s a topic that Robert Sobel, Vice President of Research and Innovation at flavor company FONA International, has been investigating ever since he read about the concept of “phantom aroma” back in 2009. This term is used to describe a phenomenon where the brain perceives that it tastes certain ingredients, even when in reality they are not there at all.
Because our sense of smell and taste are so closely intertwined, we often associate certain smells with certain tastes. In one study, participants had a 15 percent increased perception of salt when they smelled beef in a broth that was low-sodium. Similarly, when people eat something that smells like vanilla, they perceive the food as sweet, even though it may not actually contain very much sugar. The trick is finding a balance so that the additional flavor isn’t overt enough to disappoint us, but still triggers our senses to perceive foods as being more sweet or salty than they are in reality.
Many phantom aromas are synthetically produced and therefore involve introducing more processed substances into one’s body, which has critics shaking their heads. However, if these aromas can help consumers eat less sugar and salt in the long run, it may come down to choosing the lesser of two evils.
To read more about this topic, please click here.
by Jen Jenkins, Market Analyst
We are beyond excited about a unique policy recently enacted here at MCN and we wanted to take a moment to share it with you. Since its inception, our company has understood and fully appreciated the importance of creating an atmosphere that supports a healthy work-life balance; this new policy adds to that sentiment. We hope that moving forward this will have a strong, positive impact on our team and continue to make MCN a great place to work.
This policy is a paid parental leave plan for full-time employees that provides bonding time when a new parent returns to work after the birth or adoption of a child. The plan provides 5 days of pay for 4 days of work for a total of 20 weeks flexibly applied during the first year after return to work. This shorter work week will help allow the new parent time bond with their child and enjoy a less abrupt return to full-time employment.
Our CEO and founder Brian Grant is a father of four himself and he wanted to offer a benefit that does more than pay for time-off that new parents generally take with or without pay. Brian notes:
“Over the years MCN staff have had babies, taken some time off that is generally a combination of earned leave and unpaid time-off, and then returned full-time to work. That is an abrupt change for a new parent. We wanted to try something different; paying a parent upon their return for full-time work while giving them some additional time to bond with their new baby.”
One new parent, a father who will benefit from the policy, said: “This is really a great opportunity for me to make sure that I can hit the ground running and see my son and catch great moments when they happen.” Another employee whose own family is complete commented: “What I like about it is that though it won’t apply to me directly, we’ve worked so hard to establish a real sense of team here. This allows people to stay part of the team and know that their needs are recognized during a major transition period in their lives.”