Archive: April, 2013
I just got back from 10 days in France. Like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, I was struck by all the little differences in Europe—how the toilets work, the way roads are designed, and the size of a meal. Wherever I went, the portion sizes seemed much smaller than what I was accustomed to in Philadelphia.
While visiting the École des Hautes Études En Santé (French School of Public Health) in the city of Rennes, I actually met a researcher who had empirically investigated my observation—he had walked around Philadelphia and gone to restaurants, not to eat, but to weigh the content of the food he was served. His efforts contributed to an interesting study, published a decade ago in the journal Psychological Science, which explored whether portion sizes are indeed larger in Philly than in Paris.
First, the researchers compared the weight of identical meals (e.g., pizza, chicken sandwich) at comparable restaurants in the two cities. On average, they found that portions were 25 percent larger in Philadelphia than in Paris. (Their data suggest that the Royale with Cheese in Paris was actually the same size as a Quarter Pounder in Philly, but a “medium” fries was 72 percent bigger).
Janet Golden, PhD, Professor of history, Rutgers University-Camden
The horrifying explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas is a painful reminder that workplace safety is a crucial part of public health. As former U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis noted in a Memorial Day speech in 2012 “Every day in America, 12 people go to work and never come home. Every year in America, nearly 4 million people suffer a workplace injury from which some may never recover. These are preventable tragedies that disable our workers, devastate our families, and damage our economy.”
In 1911, a fire at the Triangle Waist Factory in New York City, took the lives of 146 people in a mere 18 minutes, a horrific tragedy that is documented in news reports, survivor interviews, photos and documents compiled by Cornell University.. The victims suffocated or burned inside or jumped to their deaths to escape the flames. “They hit the pavement like rain” recalled a fire chief. In the wake of this tragedy, New York State created a Factory Investigating Commission. The owners of the factory were charged in criminal court. The full transcript of the trial is here. But rather than read it, why not listen to poet Robert Pinsky read his moving poem about the fire, “Shirt.”
States enacted factory inspection laws before and after the Triangle Fire, although safety enforcement was not always rigorous and small workplaces often escaped from regulation or avoided inspection. Widespread federal oversight of workplaces did not begin until 1971, with the creation of the Labor Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) following passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.
What interests you: Disease sleuthing? Global bioethics? Protecting the food supply? Protecting yourself when you travel?
A new ranking of the top 30 public health blogs places The Public's Health at No. 14. The complete list is below. Lots of interesting stuff.
And if you want to go beyond reading about public health, join us at 6 p.m. Friday for “Blogging and Beer: Public Health in Philadelphia.” Also with us will be our editor at the Inquirer, public health writer Don Sapatkin, and some of our regular contributors. There is no cover charge for what we hope will be a lively discussion at Rembrandt’s Restaurant in Fairmount, one of several health offerings at the Philadelphia Science Festival that we mentioned last week.
Best Public Health Blogs
Despite slowly declining teen birth rates in the United States, more than 367,000 young women and girls ages 15-19 had babies in 2010, according to a recent vital statistics report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This number accounted for almost 10% of all births that year. Making matters worse, nearly 1 in 5 of those teen births was a repeat birth, meaning it was at least the second time that teen mother had had a baby. Most of those repeat births were for a second child, but over 12% of them were for births of a third child or more.
Teenagers having babies can have negative consequences for mother and child alike. According to a study by E. Ruedinger and J.E. Cox at Children’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School, outcomes for both are worsened by the social and economic factors affecting the women independently of their status as teen mothers.
Having a child can limit a teenage mom's ability to attend school or get a job. Teenage mothers also experience high rates of depression, substance abuse, and higher levels of intimate partner violence. They also, compared to their peers, have higher rates of poverty.
In just a few weeks, the City of Brotherly Love will welcome the third annual Philadelphia Science Festival — a 10-day-long, citywide celebration of science that features lectures, debates, hands-on activities, special exhibits, and a host of other science-related programming coming to a museum, bar, or random space near you.
We here at The Public’s Health will be participating in two events this year. On Friday, April 19 at 6 p.m. we will be hosting a discussion called Blogging and Beer: Public Health in Philadelphia. Our editor at the Inquirer, Don Sapatkin, will be joining us, as will some of our regular contributors. We expect to have a lively conversation at Rembrandt’s Restaurant in Fairmount. If you want to participate and enjoy good food and drink, please come! There is no cover charge.
On Thursday, April 25 at 7 p.m. I will also be participating in a wacky evening that is appropriately titled Sounds Made Up: Tales from the History of Science. It brings historians and comedians together at The Chemical Heritage Foundation at the edge of Old City to dramatize, in the silliest way possible, absurdities from the histories of science, medicine and public health. Last year’s rather risque event — the video above is from the year before — saw discussions of a medieval women birthing a cat, zombies, the history of the banana, and a discussion of Alfred Kinsey’s toothbrush.
Janet Golden, PhD, Professor of history, Rutgers University-Camden
If initial reports are to be believed, Influenza A (H7N9) is moving fast in China: The World Health Organization reported 11 cases and six deaths as of Friday, and is continuing to monitor the situation and post updates. Will there be more cases? Is this just a minor outbreak of disease in a far off place or the ominous sign that we are on the verge of a dangerous pandemic?
There are no answers to these questions—we can only watch and prepare.
Beginning with the horrendous 1918 flu pandemic (a global outbreak) that killed 50 million people worldwide, there have been four flu pandemics in less than a century. The second was in 1957-58 and the third 1968-69; neither was anywhere near as deadly as the first, thanks to vaccines and improved treatment for those whose infection lead to pneumonia. And then there was the pandemic in 2009-10.
In the wake of the New York State Supreme Court striking down New York City’s ban on sodas larger than 16 ounces, a surprising op-ed appeared in the New York Times. The essay encouraged New York City, despite the ruling, not to give up trying to limit the aggressive marketing tactics of big food companies and the soda industry. The surprise, however, was not the sentiment – after all, many public health leaders applaud Mayor Bloomberg’s latest effort to address obesity by regulating sales of super-sized sodas.
The op-ed, it turns out, was written by a former food industry insider, Kraft Foods executive Michael Mudd. Mudd had left the industry when he could no longer accept, as he called it, “a business model that put profits over public health.” Mudd argues that it is big food processors and soft drink companies who are the most culpable for the growth in obesity. “Over the years, relentless efforts were made to increase the number of eating occasions people indulged in and the amount of food they consumed at each. Even as awareness grew of the health consequences of obesity, the industry continued to emphasize cheap and often unhealthful ingredients that maximized taste, shelf life and profits,” he wrote.
Selling food and beverages to kids is big business. According to a recent Federal Trade Commission report, the food and beverage industry, including fast food restaurants, spent 1.79 billion dollars in 2009 to sell products mostly low in nutrition and high in calories, sugars, salt and fats to America’s children. Seventy-two percent of this was spent on fast food restaurants, carbonated beverages and breakfast cereals.