Health and Illness

Post image for Professional Licensing: A Risk to the Free Markets and Freedom of Speech

From physicians to dentists to lawyers, the licensing requirements of many professions are well known—but for bloggers? A recent case in North Carolina demonstrates the dangers that mandatory occupational licensing poses to liberty and how established interests use such requirements to protect their bottom line.

North Carolina resident Steve Cooksey was ill, obese, and struggling with type 2 diabetes. In 2009, after being rushed to the hospital, nearly in a coma, he decided to do everything in his power to get healthy. By following a low-carbohydrate diet, Cooksey claims he was able to drop 45 pounds and get off insulin and drugs. He documented his story on his personal blog, where he provided advice to others practicing the “paleo” diet that he believes saved his life.

That sounds like a win-win situation, but not according to the North Carolina Board of Dietetics and Nutrition (NCBDN), which decided to go after Cooksey for the “crime” of offering nutritional advice without a dietitian’s license. In 2011, it sent Cooksey a letter, claiming that his blog, by giving readers “unlicensed dietetic advice,” even for free, violated North Carolina law. The NCBDN included a 19-page copy of his online writings with comments in red ink pointing out what he could and could not say.

Even more surprising, the notice asserted that Cooksey’s private conversations with readers and friends via email and telephone also constituted a violation of the state’s dietitian licensing law!

Unfortunately, Cooksey’s case is far from an isolated incident. In just about every state, there is a dizzyingly long list of jobs that require would-be workers to go through a long, expensive, and sometimes arduous process to earn the privilege of entering into a given profession. While the stated reason for requiring occupational licenses is public safety, established players operating under existing licensing schemes usually fight tooth and nail to maintain occupational license requirement in place, to make it harder for potential competitors to enter the market.

Today, roughly 30 percent of jobs in the U.S. require some form of license (a sharp increase from a low back in 1950, when the share was only 5 percent). Fortunately, some workers are fighting these licensing regime—and many are winning.

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Have a listen here.

Senior Fellow William Yeatman is skeptical of an EPA report claiming the Clean Air Act will have nearly $2 trillion in annual benefits by 2020.

Post image for Human Achievement of the Day: Bionic Eyes

You won’t see the glory of human achievement if you abide by the World Wide Fund for Nature’s recommendation that you spend an hour in the dark this Saturday night to allegedly “show your commitment to a better future.” Rather than take that anti-technology approach, why not leave the lights on and celebrate human achievement, including a new invention that will help even blind people see?

Once only imagined in the 1970s TV series The Six Million Dollar Man or the 1990s Star Trek: The Next Generation, 2013 saw the introduction of real bionic eyes! Created by Second Sight Medical Products Inc., of Sylmar, Calif., the Argus II Retinal Implant involves placing an implant in a person’s eye that connects wirelessly to eye glasses equipped with a tiny camera, which transmits images through the optic nerve to the brain.

The device helps those individuals affected with an eye disorder called retinitis pigmentosa, which strikes first as night blindness and then can degenerate photoreceptor cells eventually causing total blindness. It is not yet designed to help those with glaucoma and some other forms of blindness.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the device in February 2013 for use in the United States, and the first FDA-approved implants began this year. Those in the experimental program testified at FDA pre-approval hearings, expressing great joy about what the device had done for them. One exclaimed: “I don’t mind telling you how much — I mean, how happy that made me, not only to see the silhouette of my son, but to hear that voice coming and saying, ‘Yeah, it’s me, Dad. I’m here and I love you.’”

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We are only three days away from Human Achievement Hour (March 29, 8:30pm to 9:30pm)! What better way to celebrate than with a post from our friends at HumanProgress.org. Stephanie Rugolo, HumanProgress’s managing editor, is spreading the good news about how far humankind has come by discussing some of the recent developments in organ replacement technology. Since this is a perfect example of how technological advancement benefits human life on earth, I wanted to share her insights:

Medical breakthroughs are giving hope to hundreds of thousands of people waiting for organ transplants. There are 120,000 people waiting for organ transplants in the United States alone. By this time tomorrow, twenty to thirty Americans will die because they cannot get a new kidney—not to mention other organs. Compare this man-made shortage to Iran where organ donors may be compensated with cash. In contrast to the United States, there is a donor waiting list in Iran. As long as the industrialized world rejects the Iranian model, we must turn to innovation to resolve the organ shortage crisis. Luckily, scientists are developing technologies that might accomplish just that.

French doctors implanted the first permanent and completely artificial heart in December. The lucky Frenchman was a 76 year old with terminal heart failure. Carmat, the company that engineered the artificial heart, intended their product for terminally ill patients like him who are too old to have any chance of receiving a human heart. Without the implant, the French patient may have lived for a few more days or possibly weeks—if lucky. Since he was the first person to be fitted with the artificial novelty, the operation would have been considered a success if he had lived for another month. With the Carmat’s artificial heart, this patient lived for another two and a half months before passing away in March 2014.  Carmat expects its heart to allow future patients to live for up to an additional five years. That could provide a normal social life to some 100,000 people in need of a new heart in the United States and Europe alone.

Last month, University of Texas scientists announced that they grew human lungs in a lab for the first time. This is a huge breakthrough considering the lung is probably the most complex of all organs in terms of cell types, according to UT researchers. Unfortunately, the use of lab-grown lungs as transplants in humans is as many as five to ten years away. When this technology reaches a mature stage, it will save thousands of lives, such as the 1,600 Americans who are waiting for a lung transplant today. Until then, these lab-grown lungs can be used by scientists and researchers to evaluate lung cells and better understand agents that target and damage the lung. Consequently, this new technology has the potential to improve the lives of those who suffer or will suffer from ailments like pneumonia, hemorrhagic fever, tuberculosis, or hantavirus.

Organovo, a San Diego-based company, made great advances in 3D printing of a human liver in the past year. This technological innovation could make it possible for the hundreds of thousands of people at death’s door while waiting for organ transplants to press ‘print’ and live. The life-saving process of 3D bio-printing involves layering sheets of live cells. The snag, it seems, is to keep 3D-printed organs “alive” for long periods of time. The 3D-printed liver, for example, has stayed alive in a lab for 40 days—a major breakthrough—and the outlook is optimistic for a functional 3D-printed liver this year. Like the lab-grown lungs, it will only be used in research for now. Luckily, that will speed up medical studies and drug research while making research results more accurate.  Watch the fascinating process of 3D printing an organ here.

Organ transplant recipients will directly benefit from medical advances that circumvent today’s shortage-inducing laws. As these technologies are used to speed up research, other medical advances will allow ever more people to live longer, fuller lives. This is timely to note considering that on March 29, from 8:30 – 9:30 p.m., we will mark the Human Achievement Hour, which pays tribute to human innovations that improve our lives. In honor of that Hour, many thanks to the researchers who develop technologies that facilitate human progress.

Stephanie Rugolo is the Managing Editor of HumanProgress.org.

About Human Achievement Hour (HAH): Human Achievement Hour is about paying tribute to the human innovations that allow people around the globe to live better, fuller lives, while also defending the basic human right to use energy to improve the quality of life of all people. Human Achievement Hour is the counter argument to Earth Hour, and promotes looking to technology and innovation to help solve environmental problems instead of reverting to the “dark ages,” by symbolically refusing to use electricity for an hour.

Have a listen here.

The Food and Drug Administration recently banned 23andMe, a genetic testing service, from marketing its product to consumers. CEI Executive Director and Senior Fellow Gregory Conko thinks the FDA should reverse the ban.

Have a listen here.

Senior Fellow Angela Logomasini debunks scare stories about chemicals in your family’s Thanksgiving dinner, ranging from BPA in canned foods to naturally occurring pesticides in potatoes. Anti-chemical activists forget the cardinal rule of toxicology: it is the dose that makes the poison. Relax, eat well, and enjoy spending time with your family this Thanksgiving.

Post image for Jane Brody’s Uninformed Attack on Cars and Suburbia

While at a conference where participants discussed the wannabe social engineers cum urbanists’ war on automobility and housing affordability, Jane Brody’s broadside against Americans’ “dependence on automobiles” and suburban living was published by the New York Times. Brody, unlike her Times colleague Michael Pollan, isn’t a complete and total kook when it comes to agricultural biotechnology, and she is one of the more thoughtful nutrition writers in America. Unfortunately, Brody has fallen for one of the popular but incorrect urban elitist tropes about cars and the suburbs.

Long commutes are killing us! Urban cores are healthier than the suburbs! Low-density living is just fattening us up for self-slaughter!

Scary stuff, just in time for Halloween! But the “evidence” supporting such fear mongering ranges from flimsy to nonexistent.

In her introduction, she unintentionally sets the stage for an interesting contradiction that drives suburb-hating urbanists crazy. “My son used to work in New Jersey, which entailed a hated commute by car that took 50 to 90 minutes each way,” writes Brody. “He quit that job when his sons were born and, working part-time from home, cared for the boys. He now commutes to work in the city by foot and by subway, giving him time to read for pleasure.”

Despite the fact that many two-income American households don’t have the realistic option to simply leave their jobs for childbirth, Brody fails to mention that the New York City metropolitan area has the longest commutes in the nation. Oh, but that’s just for suburban New York metro commuters. City dwellers avoid those lengthy commutes, right? Wrong. New York City residents who can’t afford to live in Manhattan can have extremely long commutes just like their suburban neighbors — and some of the longest commutes in the metro area are those of Brooklyn and Queens residents. See this handy map that WNYC put together with Census data.

This is to be expected. New York City has the lowest auto ownership in the nation and the highest public transit usage (about 40 percent of all transit trips taken in the U.S. are within the New York City metropolitan area). Those who get to work by transit rather than car generally have longer commutes: you need to walk to the transit stop, transfer, etc. That’s why New York City drivers tend to have lower commute times than transit users. If you’re looking for the shortest commutes, you’ll need to move to auto-oriented, low-density places like Manhattan, Kansas, rather than Manhattan, New York, New York.

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katy-perry-roarNo, of course not! However, a coalition of health advocates seems to be making that assertion when they sent her a letter this week asking that she relinquish her sponsorship of Pepsi because, they insist, its deviously effective marketing of soda to children is a cause of childhood obesity.

Never mind that childhood obesity rates are declining around the nation among all socioeconomic levels, the cause of obesity is not and never has been advertising. Additionally, the solution to any health problem our nation faces is not in the marketing of high-calorie foods. The real problem is that adults — specifically those with the responsibility of raising children — have abandoned their responsibility to instruct children about how to make healthy choices. The only way to inoculate a youngster from the relentless and ubiquitous marketing for less-than-healthful foods is to show them how to make overall healthy diet decisions.

On the other hand, quieting the marketing of a single high-calorie product will do absolutely nothing to address the problem of obesity in America. There are a million other options on store shelves; if a brainless zombie teen is at the mercy of commercials featuring pop stars, then they will simply be pushed toward a different ad and a different product with equally high sugar content.

At least, for its part, Pepsi as a company has been slowly making its products healthier and expanding its line of healthier alternatives. Other companies, like Kellogg’s, have used their profits and their celebrity sponsors to fuel campaigns that encourage youth sports. While it’s questionable how much these strategies will address obesity, they are certainly more effective than simply demonizing celebrities who endorse products.

Katy Perry, whose lyrics often promote a positive message of strength and self-confidence, is arguable a better role model for teens than many of the other performers out there. Obviously, she is free to decide which products and companies she wants to endorse. Of course, if and when Perry decides to end her sponsorship, Pepsi will certainly find another celebrity to take her place. Maybe Miley Cyrus would be interested in the job.

frozen-chickenSupporters of big government are taking advantage of a Salmonella outbreak linked to raw chicken to condemn Republican lawmakers and scare consumers about the government shutdown. But, despite the outcries from the media, Americans shouldn’t be overly concerned with the shutdown’s effect on food safety. In fact, the shutdown notwithstanding, our food is as well monitored as ever.

How could that be, you might ask? Isn’t this Salmonella outbreak proof that the shutdown has caused things to slip through the cracks? Well, actually, no.

Meat and poultry slaughterhouses are inspected by USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, a division essentially unaffected by the shutdown. Federal law requires slaughterhouses to have an inspector on-site at all times in order to conduct business, so those inspectors were on the job and functioning normally when the tainted chicken made it to market. So, the underlying cause of the Salmonella outbreak has nothing to do with the shutdown, it has everything to do with the long-ago outdated way the FSIS performs its job.

FSIS inspectors mainly rely on a “poke and sniff” test to inspect facilities and products. Although testing for the presence of bacteria and other contaminants is done, it is generally performed by slaughterhouse employees and inspectors look at the result. The primary job of an inspector is to conduct a visual inspection of every single animal carcass and guess as to how clean it is. But, while some impurities can be seen, bacteria and viruses cannot. So, visual inspections can lead to misperceptions about how sanitary a facility really is. That’s why this outbreak could occur even with FSIS on the job.

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Due to Obamacare, North Carolina “will see individual-market” health insurance rates “triple for women, and quadruple for men.”

In Tennessee, Obamacare will triple men’s premiums, and double women’s, in the market for individual health insurance.  Nationally, Obamacare will increase men’s premiums by 99 percent, and women’s by 62%.

Kathy Kristof of CBS MoneyWatch describes experiencing a 67 percent spike in her premiums, for a worse policy than she had before:

The promise that you could keep your old policy, if you liked it, has proved illusory. My insurer, Kaiser Permanente, informed me in a glossy booklet that “At midnight on December 31, we will discontinue your current plan because it will not meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.” My premium, the letter added, would go from $209 a month to $348, a 66.5 percent increase that will cost $1,668 annually. . .the things that mattered to me — that I would be able to limit my out-of-pocket costs if I had a catastrophic ailment — got worse under my new Obamacare policy. My policy, which has always paid 100 percent of the cost of annual check-ups, had a $5,000 annual deductible for sick visits and hospital stays. Once I paid that $5,000, the plan would pay 100 percent of any additional cost. That protected me from economic devastation in the event of a catastrophic illness, such as cancer.

Kaiser’s Obamacare policy has a $4,500 deductible, but then covers only 40 percent of medical costs for office visits, hospital stays and drugs. Out-of-pocket expenses aren’t capped until the policyholder pays $6,350 annually.

Meanwhile, some wealthy early retirees have figured out how to qualify for Obamacare subsidies at taxpayer expense.  They do this by living on tax-free income and deferring their receipt of taxable income—an option not available to people who have to work for a living.  As the commenter Alan Lovchik noted yesterday,

Hey you RICH early retirees who are not on Medicare yet and are buying your own medical insurance!! The Affordable Care Act of 2010 (Obamacare) will give you TOTALLY FREE insurance coverage.  You must be rich enough to take advantage, so the poor and middle class are probably left out of this wonderful opportunity.

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