The Situationist

Archive for the ‘Food and Drug Law’ Category

Secondhand Smoking

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 20, 2011

From EurekaAlert:

Seeing actors smoke in a movie activated the brain areas of smokers that are known to interpret and plan hand movements, as though they too were about to light a cigarette, according to a new study in the Jan. 19 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

Habitual smokers repeat the same hand motions, sometimes dozens of times a day. In this study, researchers led by senior investigator Todd Heatherton, PhD, and graduate student Dylan Wagner of Dartmouth College set out to determine whether the parts of the brain that control that routine gesture could be triggered by simply seeing someone else smoke.

The authors found that seeing this familiar action — even when embedded in a Hollywood movie — evoked the same brain responses as planning to actually make that movement. These results may provide additional insight for people trying to overcome nicotine addiction, a condition that leads to one in five U.S. deaths each year.

“Our findings support prior studies that show smokers who exit a movie that had images of smoking are more likely to crave a cigarette, compared with ones who watched a movie without them,” Wagner said. “More work is needed to show whether brain activity in response to movie smoking predicts relapse for a smoker trying to quit.”

During the study, 17 smokers and 17 non-smokers watched the first 30 minutes of the movie “Matchstick Men” while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The researchers chose the movie because it prominently features smoking scenes but otherwise lacks alcohol use, violence, and sexual content.

The volunteers were unaware that the study was about smoking. When they viewed smoking scenes, smokers showed greater brain activity in a part of the parietal lobe called the intraparietal sulcus, as well as other areas involved in the perception and coordination of actions. In the smokers’ brains specifically, the activity corresponded to the hand they use to smoke.

“Smokers trying to quit are frequently advised to avoid other smokers and remove smoking paraphernalia from their homes, but they might not think to avoid a movie with smoking content,” Wagner said. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that exposure to onscreen smoking in movies makes adolescents more likely to smoke. According to their 2010 report, tobacco use in films has decreased in recent years, but about half of popular movies still contained tobacco imagery in 2009, including 54 percent of those rated PG-13.

Scott Huettel, PhD, of Duke University, an expert in the neuroscience of decision-making who was unaffiliated with the study, said scientists have long known that visual cues often induce drug cravings. “This finding builds upon the growing body of evidence that addiction may be reinforced not just by drugs themselves, but by images and other experiences associated with those drugs,” Huettel said.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Entertainment, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Neuroscience | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Interview with Professor Robert MacCoun on Drug Policy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 17, 2010

Here is a fascinating interview of Professor Robert MacCoun about “The Psychology and Politics of Drug Policy.”  The 36-minute interview was conducted by Nina Catalano as part of the Law and Mind Science Seminar at Harvard Law School.

Biography

Robert MacCoun, a psychologist, joined the faculty of UC Berkeley’s School of Public Policy in 1993 and the Boalt faculty in 1999. From 1986 to 1993 he was a behavioral scientist at The RAND Corporation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan private research institution. He has published many studies of jury decision making, alternative dispute resolution, illicit drug dealing, alternative drug laws, harm reduction, gays and lesbians in the military, media biases, and bias in the use and interpretation of research evidence. He is on the National Academy of Sciences committee on drug policy research and analysis, and in 1999 he was a visiting professor at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Table of Contents

00:15 — How do you see the relationship between scientific research and drug policy?

05:34 — What role does the media play in public drug policy debates?

07:50 — What’s up with the drug policy reform movement these days?

11:36 — How does our scientific understanding of addiction impact the legalization debate?

17:31 — What are your thoughts about the California ballot initiative to legalize and tax marijuana?

28:10 — What are the current trends with regard to marijuana and public opinion?

32:44 — Can you tell us how you got involved in the intersection between psychology and the law?

Duration: 35:24

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “News about the Captured Situation of Food Policy,” “The Situation of Medical Research,” “Andrew Papachristos Explains Why Criminals Obey the Law – Video,” and “The Situation of Criminality – Abstract.”

Posted in Food and Drug Law, Law, Public Policy, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Merchants of Denial

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 17, 2010

GoogleTalks:  Author David Michaels visits Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Ca, to discuss his book “Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Corporate Situation of Universities,” The Greasy Situation of University Research,” The Deeply Captured Situation of Spilling Oil,” Tushnet on Teles and The Situation of Ideas – Abstract,”The Situation of Policy Research and Policy Outcomes,” Industry-Funded Research,” “The Situation of Medical Research,” The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’ . . . .,” “The Situation of University Research,” “Captured Science.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Education, Food and Drug Law, Politics, Public Relations, Video | 1 Comment »

News about the Captured Situation of Food Policy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 16, 2010

From the New York Times:

Domino’s Pizza was hurting early last year. Domestic sales had fallen, and a survey of big pizza chain customers left the company tied for the worst tasting pies.

Then help arrived from an organization called Dairy Management. It teamed up with Domino’s to develop a new line of pizzas with 40 percent more cheese, and proceeded to devise and pay for a $12 million marketing campaign.

Consumers devoured the cheesier pizza, and sales soared by double digits. “This partnership is clearly working,” Brandon Solano, the Domino’s vice president for brand innovation, said in a statement to The New York Times.

But as healthy as this pizza has been for Domino’s, one slice contains as much as two-thirds of a day’s maximum recommended amount of saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and is high in calories.

And Dairy Management, which has made cheese its cause, is not a private business consultant. It is a marketing creation of the United States Department of Agriculture — the same agency at the center of a federal anti-obesity drive that discourages over-consumption of some of the very foods Dairy Management is vigorously promoting.

Urged on by government warnings about saturated fat, Americans have been moving toward low-fat milk for decades, leaving a surplus of whole milk and milk fat. Yet the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primarily through cheese.

Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate. Cheese has become the largest source of saturated fat; an ounce of many cheeses contains as much saturated fat as a glass of whole milk.

When Michelle Obama implored restaurateurs in September to help fight obesity, she cited the proliferation of cheeseburgers and macaroni and cheese. “I want to challenge every restaurant to offer healthy menu options,” she told the National Restaurant Association’s annual meeting.

But in a series of confidential agreements approved by agriculture secretaries in both the Bush and Obama administrations, Dairy Management has worked with restaurants to expand their menus with cheese-laden products.

Read the entire article here.

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From the Guardian:

The Department of Health is putting the fast food companies McDonald’s and KFC and processed food and drink manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Unilever, Mars and Diageo at the heart of writing government policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease, the Guardian has learned.

In an overhaul of public health, said by campaign groups to be the equivalent of handing smoking policy over to the tobacco industry, health secretary Andrew Lansley has set up five “responsibility deal” networks with business, co-chaired by ministers, to come up with policies. Some of these are expected to be used in the public health white paper due in the next month.

The groups are dominated by food and alcohol industry members, who have been invited to suggest measures to tackle public health crises. Working alongside them are public interest health and consumer groups including Which?, Cancer Research UK and the Faculty of Public Health. The alcohol responsibility deal network is chaired by the head of the lobby group the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. The food network to tackle diet and health problems includes processed food manufacturers, fast food companies, and Compass, the catering company famously pilloried by Jamie Oliver for its school menus of turkey twizzlers. The food deal’s sub-group on calories is chaired by PepsiCo, owner of Walkers crisps.

The leading supermarkets are an equally strong presence, while the responsibility deal’s physical activity group is chaired by the Fitness Industry Association, which is the lobby group for private gyms and personal trainers.

In early meetings, these commercial partners have been invited to draft priorities and identify barriers, such as EU legislation, that they would like removed. They have been assured by Lansley that he wants to explore voluntary not regulatory approaches, and to support them in removing obstacles. Using the pricing of food or alcohol to change consumption has been ruled out. One group was told that the health department did not want to lead, but rather hear from its members what should be done.

Read the entire article here.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Policy Situation of Obesity,” Innovative Policy: Zoning for Health,” or review the collection of posts here.

Posted in Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

Winning the Food Fight

Posted by Adam Benforado on October 27, 2010

Back at the end of August, I wrote a post about the benefits of “nudging” people towards heath, in particular, by resetting food defaults.  I argued that we could combat obesity without unduly infringing on individual choice or autonomy by changing the food situation so that when a person ordered “a latte,” for example, she was given skim milk unless she specified that she wanted whole milk.

Thus, I was extremely excited to see Brian Wansink, David R. Just, and Joe McKendry’s great “Lunch Line Redesign” op-chart in the New York Times a few days ago.  For decades, experts have been working hard to design supermarkets and fast food restaurants to maximize sales; it sure is nice to see scientists taking a similar approach to maximize nutrition.  As they explain,

Experiments that we and other researchers have done in cafeterias at high schools, middle schools and summer camp programs, as well as in laboratories, have revealed many ways to use behavioral psychology to coax children to eat better. Here are a dozen such strategies that work without requiring drastic or expensive changes in school menus.

I highly encourage you to check out their interactive proposal here.

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Situationism’s Improving Situation,” “Dr. David Kessler Waxes Situationist,” “The Situation of Eating – Part II,” The Situation of Eating,” “The Situation of the Dreaded ‘Freshman 15′,” “Our Situation Is What We Eat,” “Social Networks,” The Situation of Fatness = Our ‘Obesogenic’ Society,” Innovative Policy: Zoning for Health,” McDonalds tastes better than McDonalds, if it’s packaged right,” and “The Situation of Repackaging.”

To access Adam Benforado’s article, entitled “Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America (co-written with Situationist contributors Jon Hanson and David Yosifon), on the situationist causes of the American obesity epidemic, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Education, Food and Drug Law, Situationist Contributors | 1 Comment »

The Viral Situation of Obesity

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 21, 2010

From UC San Diego News:

The emerging idea that obesity may have an infectious origin gets new support in a cross-sectional study by University of California, San Diego School of Medicine researchers who found that children exposed to a particular strain of adenovirus were significantly more likely to be obese.

The study will be published in the September 20 online edition of the journal Pediatrics. September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.

Jeffrey B. Schwimmer, MD,  associate professor of clinical pediatrics at UC San Diego, and colleagues examined 124 children, ages 8 to 18, for the presence of antibodies specific to adenovirus 36 (AD36), one of more than 50 strains of adenovirus known to infect humans and cause a variety of respiratory, gastrointestinal and other infections. AD36 is the only human adenovirus currently linked to human obesity.

Slightly more than half of the children in the study (67) were considered obese, based on a Body Mass Index or BMI in the 95th percentile or greater. The researchers detected neutralizing antibodies specific to AD36 in 19 of the children (15 percent). The majority of these AD36-positive children (78 percent) were obese, with AD36 antibodies much more frequent in obese children (15 of 67) than in non-obese children (4 of 57).

Children who were AD36-positive weighed almost 50 pounds more, on average, than children who were AD36-negative. Within the group of obese children, those with evidence of AD36 infection weighed an average of 35 pounds more than obese children who were AD36-negative.

“This amount of extra weight is a major concern at any age, but is especially so for a child,” said Schwimmer, who is also director of Weight and Wellness at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. “Obesity can be a marker for future health problems like heart disease, liver disease and diabetes. An extra 35 to 50 pounds is more than enough to greatly increase those risks.”

Schwimmer said he hopes this research will help shift some of the burden that falls so heavily upon obese people, in particular children.

“Many people believe that obesity is one’s own fault or the fault of one’s parents or family. This work helps point out that body weight is more complicated than it’s made out to be. And it is time that we move away from assigning blame in favor of developing a level of understanding that will better support efforts at both prevention and treatment. These data add credence to the concept that an infection can be a cause or contributor to obesity.”

While an association between AD36 and obesity in both animals and human adults has been previously described, the particulars remain poorly understood. For example, it is not known how often or under what circumstances AD36 infects, why the virus affects people differently and whether weight gain is the result of an active infection or a lasting change in a person’s metabolism.

In cell cultures, Schwimmer said, the virus infects pre-adipocytes or immature fat cells, prompting them to develop more quickly and proliferate in greater numbers than normal. “This might be the mechanism for obesity,” Schwimmer said, “but more work needs to be done.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Addictive Situation of Fatty Food,” Common Cause: Combating the Epidemics of Obesity and Evil,” The Policy Situation of Obesity,” The Situation of Body Image,”The Situation of Fatness = Our ‘Obesogenic’ Society,” Situational Obesity, or, Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat and Veg.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Food and Drug Law | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Bagel Situation

Posted by Adam Benforado on August 29, 2010

If you order a “bagel with cream cheese,” how much cream cheese should be provided with the bagel?

That was the question my girlfriend and I pondered the other day as we drove through New Jersey futilely trying to remove half of the cream cheese on our bagels without the aid of a knife.

Why is it that nearly every bagel that we buy has considerably more cream cheese than we want?  Is it that people can somehow sense that we are from Philadelphia?

If some people prefer a little cream cheese and some people prefer a lot, doesn’t it make the most sense to provide a small amount of cream cheese unless someone speaks up and voices a preference for more?  That way, everyone gets exactly what they want (and no more than they want).  And people who don’t really have a strong impulse either way are saved from consuming needless extra calories.

A lot of recent discussion concerning combating the obesity epidemic has been around the ability of the government to ban particular unhealthy ingredients or products, like trans fats and salt.  But perhaps we should be spending more time thinking about resetting food defaults, rather than on outright prohibitions, which tend to engender a strong backlash from certain sectors of the public

Already, there is a considerable amount of valuable research being conducted on how portion sizes and ingredient lists are set and how these elements impact our waistlines, but we need to think more about how we can use this data to accomplish meaningful policy prescriptions.

What if, in addition to a light spreading default, every bagel shop served light cream cheese unless you  asked for the higher-fat / higher-calorie alternative?

What if all sodas currently referred to as “diet” were relabeled as “regular,’ and “regular” sodas became “high-calorie” sodas?

What if “lite” beer became “standard” beer, and everything else became “heavy” beer?

What if when you ordered a sandwich, the regular side was a salad and you had to ask to substitute in fries, rather than vice versa?

What if the default when you ordered a latte was skimmed milk and you had to specify if you wanted whole milk?

One of the great benefits of a “resetting defaults” strategy is that it is much harder for opponents to attack as “anti-freedom” or “paternalistic.”  In each of the above examples, free choice would be completely preserved.  All the existing food and beverage options would still be there.  Every person would be at liberty to have fries and “heavy” beers at every meal.  However, Americans would have to actively choose what they wanted to eat; they could no longer sit back and have the choice made for them.  For those who elected to operate on autopilot, the result would be a far healthier diet.

Does such a “nudging towards health” proposal really have any negative impact on individual autonomy?  Are food defaults frighteningly paternalistic?  I don’t think so, but maybe all that cream cheese has gone to my head.

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Situationism’s Improving Situation,” “Dr. David Kessler Waxes Situationist,” “The Situation of Eating – Part II,” The Situation of Eating,” “The Situation of the Dreaded ‘Freshman 15′,” “Our Situation Is What We Eat,” “Social Networks,” The Situation of Fatness = Our ‘Obesogenic’ Society,” Innovative Policy: Zoning for Health,” McDonalds tastes better than McDonalds, if it’s packaged right,” and “The Situation of Repackaging.”

To access Adam Benforado’s article, entitled “Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America (co-written with Situationist contributors Jon Hanson and David Yosifon), on the situationist causes of the American obesity epidemic, click here.

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Situationist Contributors | 7 Comments »

Doctors’ Conspiracy of Silence?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 25, 2010

From ABC News, here is the introduction to Kim Carollo’s article, “Many Doctors Reluctant to Report Inept or Impaired Colleagues”:

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Many professional medical organizations ethically require doctors to report other doctors who are incompetent or impaired by substance abuse or mental health problems, but as one recent survey found, more than a third of doctors don’t turn in their colleagues.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital surveyed nearly 3,000 doctors across multiple specialties, and of the almost 2,000 who responded, 31 percent objected to the idea that they should have a responsibility to report physicians who are incompetent or impaired.

The survey also found that 17 percent of doctors had encountered an impaired or incompetent colleague over the past three years, but only two-thirds of them actually turned those doctors in. Only 69 percent of doctors said they know how to go about reporting a compromised colleague.

Lead study author Catherine DesRoches of the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital told ABC News the fact that more than a third of physicians don’t agree that they have a responsibility to report doctors with problems is a “signifcant number” she finds troubling.

“Self-regulation is the primary mechanism we use to make sure doctors that shouldn’t be practicing are not practicing,” said DesRoches. “That’s a key to protecting patients.”

“This is a very important study, because it reminds us that we’re probably not doing what we should be doing,” said Dr. Virginia Hood, president-elect of the American College of Physicians and professor of medicine at The University of Vermont School of Medicine.

“Our primary responsibility is always patient safety and what’s in the best interest of the patient, and when it appears that we’re not doing what we should be doing, it’s a matter of great concern,” she added.

Doctors who are members of underrepresented minority groups, graduates of foreign medical schools and doctors in smaller practices were less likely to report an impaired or incompetent fellow doctor.

There were three main reasons many doctors did not turn in their colleagues.

“Twenty-three percent believed someone else was taking care of the problem, 15 percent didn’t think anything would happen and 12 percent feared retribution,” said DesRoches.

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To read the entire article, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Bystanders,” “The Deeply Captured Situation of Medicine,” “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me),” “The Situational Effect of Groups,” “Stop that Thief! (or not),” The Situation of Prejudice: Us vs. Them? or Them Is Us?Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism,” “‘Us’ and ‘Them,’” “Four Failures of Deliberating Groups – Abstract,” and “Team-Interested Decision Making.”

Posted in Food and Drug Law, Morality | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Toxic Situation of Cosmetics

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 23, 2010

The Story of Cosmetics, released on July 21st, 2010, examines the pervasive use of toxic chemicals in our everyday personal care products, from lipstick to baby shampoo. Produced with Free Range Studios and hosted by Annie Leonard, the seven-minute film by The Story of Stuff Project reveals the implications for consumer and worker health and the environment, and outlines ways we can move the industry away from hazardous chemicals and towards safer alternatives. The film concludes with a call for viewers to support legislation aimed at ensuring the safety of cosmetics and personal care products.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Our Carcinogenic Situation,” “The Situation of Bottled Water,” “‘Flow’ and the Situation of Water,” “The Situation of our Food Series ( Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V), “Market Manipulation – Assuaging Cognitive Dissonance,”Juliet Schor, ‘Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies’,Juliet Schor on the Situation of Consumption,”Denial,” and  The Need for a Situationist Morality.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Environment, Food and Drug Law, Life, Marketing, Video | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Deeply Captured Situation of Medicine

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 21, 2010

From PBS’s Need to Know:

Prescription drug Avandia was once the top-selling diabetes drug in the world — and it still helps more than half a million Americans balance their blood sugar levels. But a Food and Drug Administration panel dealt the drug a blow this week that may have some diabetes sufferers questioning whether they want to use it.

The debate focused on whether Avandia, which is acknowledged to be one of the most effective drugs for treating Type 2 diabetes, comes with dangerous side effects: An increase in a patient’s chance of suffering a stroke or heart attack, and dying from it.

In the end, while a majority of the 33-member panel did agree that Avandia, compared to other diabetes drugs, does increase risk for cardiovascular problems, they didn’t agree that it increases a user’s risk of death. The FDA will decide if and how it will act on the panel’s recommendation soon. Whatever it decides, the drug’s reputation has already been tarnished.

Need to Know’s Jon Meacham sat down with Dr. Jerome Kassirer, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, to discuss the state of the FDA today in light of the Avandia ruling. Kassirer talked about the conditions that make it possible for drugs such as Fen-phen, Vioxx and now Avandia, the latest drug that may be pulled from the market, to reach consumers.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see Tushnet on Teles and The Situation of Ideas – Abstract,” “Larry Lessig’s Situationism,” Industry-Funded Research,” “The Situation of Medical Research,”The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’ . . . .,” “Mark Lanier visits Professor Jon Hanson’s Tort Class (web cast),” “The Situation of University Research,” “Captured Science.”

Posted in Book, Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Video | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Public Relations

Posted by Adam Benforado on June 19, 2010

Here at the Situationist, we spend a lot of time focused on new research from the mind sciences and, as a result, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there are other individuals and entities (besides academics and universities) out there working tirelessly to uncover what makes us tick.

Some of these individuals and entities are well intentioned: they want to know how humans think and behave to design better government policies that reduce suffering and improve outcomes or to create products or services that better serve our needs and wants.

Yet, there are others out there whose goals are less meritorious.  Like mind scientists, they understand that people are powerfully influenced by their situations, but their aim is not to use this knowledge to nudge people towards healthy eating choices that save lives and minimize costs or long-term savings that can help people thrive into old age.  Rather, their sole aim is to maximize profits.

Take Richard Berman, head of the public relations firm, Berman and Company.  I (along with Situationist contributors Jon Hanson and David Yosifon) became familiar with Berman’s work a number of years ago while doing research on how fast food corporations use third-party messengers to alter the debate over the causes of the current obesity epidemic.  As documented in a resulting article, Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America (Emory Law Journal, 2004), Berman is a master at altering seemingly settled issues—like whether high fructose corn syrup is good for you and whether there should be a minimum wage—because he understands how people think.

Rachel Maddow exposed some of Berman’s more recent public campaigns in an interesting segment below.

On Thursday, Stephanie Strom at the New York Times, had a nice piece on how Berman uses the nonprofit loophole to accomplish his goals:

Across two decades, Mr. Berman has founded the Center for Consumer Freedom and five other nonprofits with similarly innocuous names. His industry donors — including restaurant chains whose costs could rise if living conditions for animals have to be improved, and wine and spirits companies that might sell less liquor if MADD has its way — can claim a deduction for charitable donations or business expenses. And since nonprofit groups do not have to disclose their donors, Mr. Berman’s groups offer an even more valuable asset — anonymity for companies that would rather their customers not know they are behind certain attacks.

His critics say Mr. Berman’s organizations are little more than moneymakers for his for-profit communications firm, Berman and Company. Last month, in what appears to be a new tactic by those critics, the Humane Society and MADD filed a complaint with the New York Commission on Public Integrity, charging that the American Beverage Institute and Berman and Company were in fact lobbying and had failed to register with the state as lobbyists.

I, for one, am curious to see how this plays out.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Deep Capture – Part VII,” “Deep Capture – Part IX,” “The Century of Dispositionism – Part I, Part II, and Part III,”

Posted in Food and Drug Law, Marketing, Public Relations, Situationist Contributors, Video | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Poor Education

Posted by Adam Benforado on June 3, 2010

What is the cause of the educational disaster in central Africa?

Nicholas D. Kristof had an interesting take in his N.Y. Times column, Moonshine or the Kids?, published last week.

According to Kristof, “[I]f the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed. Much suffering is caused not only by low incomes, but also by shortsighted private spending decisions by heads of households.”

In the article, Kristof profiles a Congolese family, the Obamzas (yes, you read that right).  The family is behind on its $6-a-month rent and cannot afford to send the three Obamza children to school at a cost of $7.50 a month.  The Obamzas do, however, spend $10 a month on cellphone usage and Mr. Obamza spends $12-a-month drinking at the village bar.

Kristof’s point is well taken—many poor families around the world spend more on alcohol, tobacco, and other “non-essential” goods than they do on educating their children.  However, he does not go far enough in searching for the roots of the problem.

Kristof does offer some situationally sensitive solutions: encouraging aid groups and U.N agencies to help women to take “more control over purse strings” and developing microsavings programs that can support a savings culture.  Yet, he ultimately seems to place blame on parents like Mr. Obamza.  Indeed, the column comes off as being about “personal responsibility” and making wise choices.

This seems particularly shortsighted given the main vices that Kristof mentions: cigarettes, alcohol, and cell phones.  These are not goods that people freely “choose” to consume.  The first two have been clearly established as addictive.  And all three are now actively marketed to people in the third world by various corporate interests eager to hook a new consumer base.

Ultimately, Kristof has identified something that we should all pay attention to—the dreadful state of education for the poorest people in Africa—but he’s asking the wrong questions.  He shouldn’t be asking why Mr. Obamza “prioritizes alcohol over educating his kids.”  He should be asking about Heineken’s efforts to market its beer and Altria’s efforts to market Marlboro cigarettes to young men and boys in the Congo Republic.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health,” “Missing the Situation Leads to Optimism Among Powerful,” “Should Addiction Be Criminalized?,” “The Addictive Situation of Fatty Food,” “Merchants of Discontent – Abstract,” “A “Healthy” Alternative or the Latest Trick?,” Market Manipulation – Assuaging Cognitive Dissonance,” “Without the Filter,” “Deep Capture – Part VII,” “Promoting Smoking through Situation,” and The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Education, Food and Drug Law, Marketing | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 21, 2010

Press release from University of Michigan:

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When people are under chronic stress, they tend to smoke, drink, use drugs and overeat to help cope with stress. These behaviors trigger a biological cascade that helps prevent depression, but they also contribute to a host of physical problems that eventually contribute to early death.

That is the claim of University of Michigan social scientist James S. Jackson and colleagues in an article published in the May 2010 issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The theory helps explain a long-time epidemiological puzzle: why African Americans have worse physical health than whites but better psychiatric health.

“People engage in bad habits for functional reasons, not because of weak character or ignorance,” says Jackson, director of the U-M Institute for Social Research. “Over the life course, coping strategies that are effective in ‘preserving’ the mental health of blacks may work in concert with social, economic and environmental inequalities to produce physical health disparities in middle age and later life.”

In an analysis of survey data, obtained from the same people at two points in time, Jackson and colleagues find evidence for their theory. The relationship between stressful life events and depression varies by the level of unhealthy behaviors. But the direction of that relationship is strikingly different for blacks and whites.

Controlling for the extent of stressful life events a person has experienced, unhealthy behaviors seem to protect against depression in African Americans but lead to higher levels of depression in whites.

“Many black Americans live in chronically precarious and difficult environments,” says Jackson. “These environments produce stressful living conditions, and often the most easily accessible options for addressing stress are various unhealthy behaviors. These behaviors may alleviate stress through the same mechanisms that are believed to contribute to some mental disorders—the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal cortical axis and related biological systems.”

Since negative health behaviors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, drug use and overeating (especially comfort foods) also have direct and debilitating effects on physical health, these behaviors—along with the difficult living conditions that give rise to them—contribute to the disparities in mortality and physical health problems between black and white populations.

These disparities in physical health and mortality are greatest at middle age and beyond, Jackson says. Why?

“At younger ages, blacks are able to employ a variety of strategies that, when combined with the more robust physical health of youth, effectively mask the cascade to the negative health effects,” Jackson said. “But as people get older, they tend to reduce stress more often by engaging in bad habits.”

Black women show heightened rates of obesity over the life course, he points out. In fact, by the time they are in their 40s, 60 percent of African American women are obese.

“How can it be that 60 percent of the population has a character flaw?” Jackson asks. “Overeating is an effective, early, well-learned response to chronic environmental stressors that only strengthens over the life course. In contrast, for a variety of social and cultural reasons, black American men’s coping choices are different.

“Early in life, they tend to be physically active and athletic, which produces the stress-lowering hormone dopamine. But in middle age, physical deterioration reduces the viability and effectiveness of this way of coping with stress, and black men turn in increasing numbers to unhealthy coping behaviors, showing increased rates of smoking, drinking and illicit drug use.”

Racial disparities in physical illnesses and mortality are not really a result of race at all, Jackson says. Instead, they are a result of how people live their lives, the composition of their lives. These disparities are not just a function of socioeconomic status, but of a wide range of conditions including the accretion of micro insults that people are exposed to over the years.

“You can’t really study physical health without looking at people’s mental health and really their whole lives,” he said. “The most effective way to address an important source of physical health disparities is to reduce environmentally produced stressors—both those related to race and those that are not. We need to improve living conditions, create good job opportunities, eliminate poverty and improve the quality of inner-city urban life.

“Paradoxically, the lack of attention to these conditions contributes to the use of unhealthy coping behaviors by people living in poor conditions. Although these unhealthy coping behaviors contribute to lower rates of mental disorder, over the life course they play a significant role in leading to higher rates of physical health problems and earlier mortality than is found in the general population.”

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see The Situation of Racial Health Disparities,” The Toll of Discrimination on Black Women,” The Physical Pains of Discrimination,” The Depressing Effects of Racial Discrimination,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” and “Guilt and Racial Prejudice.” For a listing of numerous Situationist posts on the situational sources of obesity, click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Distribution, Emotions, Environment, Food and Drug Law, Life | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Our Carcinogenic Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 12, 2010

The President’s Cancer Panel last week published its 2008 – 2009 Annual Report, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risks: What We Can Do Now.”  Here is an extended excerpt from the Report’s executive summary, describing the extent of the problem.

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Despite overall decreases in incidence and mortality, cancer continues to shatter and steal the lives of Americans. Approximately 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and about 21 percent will die from cancer. The incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing for unexplained reasons.

Public and governmental awareness of environmental influences on cancer risk and other health issues has increased substantially in recent years as scientific and health care communities, policymakers, and individuals strive to understand and ameliorate the causes and toll of human disease. A growing body of research documents myriad established and suspected environmental factors linked to genetic, immune, and endocrine dysfunction that can lead to cancer and other diseases.

Between September 2008 and January 2009, the President’s Cancer Panel (the Panel) convened four meetings to assess the state of environmental cancer research, policy, and programs addressing known and potential effects of environmental exposures on cancer. The Panel received testimony from 45 invited experts from academia, government, industry, the environmental and cancer advocacy communities, and the public.

This report summarizes the Panel’s findings and conclusions based on the testimony received and additional information gathering. The Panel’s recommendations delineate concrete actions that governments; industry; the research, health care, and advocacy communities; and individuals can take to reduce cancer risk related to environmental contaminants, excess radiation, and other harmful exposures.

Key Issues for Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk

Issues impeding control of environmental cancer risks include those related to limited research on environmental influences on cancer; conflicting or inadequate exposure measurement, assessment, and classification; and ineffective regulation of environmental chemical and other hazardous exposures.

Environmental Cancer Research

Research on environmental causes of cancer has been limited by low priority and inadequate funding. As a result, the cadre of environmental oncologists is relatively small, and both the consequences of cumulative lifetime exposure to known carcinogens and the interaction of specific environmental contaminants remain largely unstudied. There is a lack of emphasis on environmental research as a route to primary cancer prevention, particularly compared with research emphases on genetic and molecular mechanisms in cancer.

Environmental Exposure Measurement, Methodologic, Assessment, and Classification Issues

Efforts to identify, quantify, and control environmental exposures that raise cancer risk, including both single agents and combinations of exposures, have been complicated by the use of different measures, exposure limits, assessment processes, and classification structures across agencies in the U.S. and among nations. In addition, efforts have been compromised by a lack of effective measurement methods and tools; delay in adopting available newer technologies; inadequate computational models; and weak, flawed, or uncorroborated studies.

Some scientists maintain that current toxicity testing and exposure limit-setting methods fail to accurately represent the nature of human exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. Current toxicity testing relies heavily on animal studies that utilize doses substantially higher than those likely to be encountered by humans. These data—and the exposure limits extrapolated from them—fail to take into account harmful effects that may occur only at very low doses. Further, chemicals typically are administered when laboratory animals are in their adolescence, a methodology that fails to assess the impact of in utero, childhood, and lifelong exposures. In addition, agents are tested singly rather than in combination.

Regulation of Environmental Contaminants

The prevailing regulatory approach in the United States is reactionary rather than precautionary. That is, instead of taking preventive action when uncertainty exists about the potential harm a chemical or other environmental contaminant may cause, a hazard must be incontrovertibly demonstrated before action to ameliorate it is initiated. Moreover, instead of requiring industry or other proponents of specific chemicals, devices, or activities to prove their safety, the public bears the burden of proving that a given environmental exposure is harmful. Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety.

U.S. regulation of environmental contaminants is rendered ineffective by five major problems: (1) inadequate funding and insufficient staffing, (2) fragmented and overlapping authorities coupled with uneven and decentralized enforcement, (3) excessive regulatory complexity, (4) weak laws and regulations, and (5) undue industry influence. Too often, these factors, either singly or in combination, result in agency dysfunction and a lack of will to identify and remove hazards.

Sources and Types of Environmental Contaminants

The line between occupational and environmental contaminants is fine and often difficult to demarcate. Many known or suspected carcinogens first identified through studies of industrial and agricultural occupational exposures have since found their way into soil, air, water, and numerous consumer products. People from disadvantaged populations are more likely to be employed in occupations with higher levels of exposure (e.g., mining, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, certain service sector occupations) and to live in more highly contaminated communities. The reality of this unequal burden is not just a health issue, but an issue of environmental justice.

While all Americans now carry many foreign chemicals in their bodies, women often have higher levels of many toxic and hormone-disrupting substances than do men. Some of these chemicals have been found in maternal blood, placental tissue, and breast milk samples from pregnant women and mothers who recently gave birth. Thus, chemical contaminants are being passed on to the next generation, both prenatally and during breastfeeding. Some chemicals indirectly increase cancer risk by contributing to immune and endocrine dysfunction that can influence the effect of carcinogens.

Children of all ages are considerably more vulnerable than adults to increased cancer risk and other adverse effects from virtually all harmful environmental exposures. In addition, some toxics have adverse effects not only on those exposed directly (including in utero), but on the offspring of exposed individuals.

Exposure to Contaminants from Industrial and Manufacturing Sources

Manufacturing and other industrial products and processes are responsible for a great many of the hazardous occupational and environmental exposures experienced by Americans. Many of these contaminants—even substances banned more than 30 years ago—remain ubiquitous in the environment because they break down very slowly, if at all. Other industrial chemicals or processes have hazardous by-products or metabolites. Numerous chemicals used in manufacturing remain in or on the product as residues, while others are integral components of the products themselves. Further, in the ongoing quest for more effective and efficient ways of making industrial and consumer products, new chemicals and other substances are being created continually and existing substances are being put to new uses. Limited research to date on unintended health effects of nanomaterials, for example, suggests that unanticipated environmental hazards may emerge from the push for progress.

Exposure to Contaminants from Agricultural Sources

The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals, some of which also are used in residential and commercial landscaping. Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties. Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic. Many of the solvents, fillers, and other

chemicals listed as inert ingredients on pesticide labels also are toxic, but are not required to be tested for their potential to cause chronic diseases such as cancer. In addition to pesticides, agricultural fertilizers and veterinary pharmaceuticals are major contributors to water pollution, both directly and as a result of chemical processes that form toxic by-products when these substances enter the water supply. Farmers and their families, including migrant workers, are at highest risk from agricultural exposures. Because agricultural chemicals often are applied as mixtures, it has been difficult to clearly distinguish cancer risks associated with individual agents.

Environmental Exposures Related to Modern Lifestyles

Conveniences of modern life—automobile and airplane travel, dry cleaning, potable tap water, electricity, and cellular communications, to name a few—have made daily life easier for virtually all Americans. Some of these conveniences, however, have come at a considerable price to the environment and human health, and the true health impact of others is unconfirmed. For example, mobile source air emissions (e.g., from cars, trucks, other passenger vehicles, ships), especially diesel particulate pollution, are responsible for approximately 30 percent of cancer resulting from air pollution. Disinfection of public water supplies has dramatically reduced the incidence of waterborne illnesses and related mortality in the United States, but research indicates that long-term exposure to disinfection by-products such as trihalomethanes may increase cancer risk. Chemicals used for household pest control can become a component of carpet dust, posing a risk to children when they play on the floor.

Sharp controversy exists in the scientific community as to possible adverse health effects from exposure to low frequency electromagnetic energy. The use of cell phones and other wireless technology is of great concern, particularly since these devices are being used regularly by ever larger and younger segments of the population. At this time, there is no evidence to support a link between cell phone use and cancer. However, the research on cancer and other disease risk among long-term and heavy users of contemporary wireless devices is extremely limited. Similarly, current and potential harms from extremely low frequency radiation are unclear and require further study. In addition, ultraviolet radiation from excess sun exposure and tanning devices has been proven to substantially increase skin cancer risk.

Exposure to Hazards from Medical Sources

In the past two decades, improved imaging technologies, nuclear medicine examinations, and new pharmaceutical interventions have made possible significant strides in our ability to diagnose and treat human disease, including cancer. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that some of these same technologies and drugs that have contributed so greatly to health status and longevity also carry risks.

While ionizing radiation exposures from radon, occupational, and other sources have remained essentially stable over the past 30 years, Americans now are estimated to receive nearly half of their total radiation exposure from medical imaging and other medical sources, compared with only 15 percent in the early 1980s. The increase in medical radiation has nearly doubled the total average effective radiation dose per

individual in the United States. Computed tomography (CT) and nuclear medicine tests alone now contribute 36 percent of the total radiation exposure and 75 percent of the medical radiation exposure of the U.S. population. Medical imaging of children is of special concern; compared with adults, children have many more years of life during which a malignancy initiated by medical radiation can develop. Many referring physicians, radiology professionals, and the public are unaware of the radiation dose associated with various tests or the total radiation dose and related increased cancer risk individuals may accumulate over a lifetime. People who receive multiple scans or other tests that require radiation may accumulate doses equal to or exceeding that of Hiroshima atomic bomb survivors. It is believed that a single large dose of ionizing radiation and numerous low doses equal to the single large dose have much the same effect on the body over time.

Moreover, radiation dose for the same test can vary dramatically depending on the equipment used, technologist skill, application of dose-reduction strategies, and patient size, age, and gender. Licensure of imaging and radiation therapy technologists varies depending on the type of test performed by the technologist. Some states have only partial regulation; six states and the District of Columbia have no licensure or regulatory provisions of any kind.

In addition, pharmaceuticals have become a considerable source of environmental contamination. Drugs of all types enter the water supply when they are excreted or improperly disposed of; the health impact of long-term exposure to varying mixtures of these compounds is unknown.

Exposure to Contaminants and Other Hazards from Military Sources

The military is a major source of toxic occupational and environmental exposures that can increase cancer risk. Information is available about some military activities that have directly or indirectly exposed military and civilian personnel to carcinogens and contaminated soil and water in numerous locations in the United States and abroad. However, we may never know the full extent of environmental contamination from military sources. Nearly 900 Superfund sites are abandoned military facilities or facilities that produced materials and products for or otherwise supported military needs. Some of these sites and the areas surrounding them became heavily contaminated due to improper storage and disposal of known or suspected carcinogens including solvents, machining oils, metalworking fluids, and metals. In some cases, these contaminants have spread far beyond their points of origin because they have been transported by wind currents or have leached into drinking water supplies.

Hundreds of thousands of military personnel and civilians in the United States received significant radiation doses as a result of their participation in nuclear weapons testing and supporting occupations and industries, including nuclear fuel and weapons production, and uranium mining, milling, and ore transport. Hundreds of thousands more were irradiated at levels sufficient to cause cancer and other diseases. These populations include the families of military and civilian workers, and people—known as “downwinders”—living or working in communities surrounding or downstream from testing and related activities, and in

relatively distant areas to which nuclear fallout or other radioactive material spread. Federal responses to the plight of affected individuals have been unsatisfactory. Those affected lack knowledge about the extent of their exposure or potential health problems they may face. Similarly, most health care providers are not aware of cancer and other latent radiation effects and therefore are unlikely to adequately monitor patients for these health conditions. Exposure to ionizing radiation related to nuclear weapons testing is an underappreciated issue worldwide.

Exposure to Environmental Hazards from Natural Sources

Most environmental hazards with the potential to raise cancer risk are the product of human activity, but some environmental carcinogens come from natural sources. For example, radon gas, which forms naturally from the breakdown of uranium mineral deposits, is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and the leading cause of lung cancer among people who have never smoked. Radon-induced lung cancer is responsible for an estimated average of 21,000 deaths annually. People who smoke and also are exposed to radon have a higher risk of lung cancer than from either exposure alone.

Although human activities such as mining, ore processing, use of arsenic-containing pesticides, and burning of fossil fuels are major contributors to waterborne arsenic in the U.S., most inorganic arsenic in drinking water is from natural sources. Inorganic arsenic in drinking water has been linked to skin, lung, bladder, and kidney cancer in both sexes and with prostate cancer in men, as well as numerous non-cancerous conditions including endocrine, reproductive, and developmental effects.

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You can download the Report, which includes details on what might be done about the problem, here.

Today, the Report will be the focus on NPR’s On Point.  Guests on that show will include Sandra Steingraber (ecologist, author, and cancer survivor), who wrote “Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment,” and the subject of a new documentary based on her book.  She tells her story in the video below.  The second video is the trailer for her documentary.

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Bottled Water,”  “The Situation of our Food Series ( Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V), “Market Manipulation – Assuaging Cognitive Dissonance,”Juliet Schor, ‘Colossal Failure: The Output Bias of Market Economies’,” Juliet Schor on the Situation of Consumption,”Denial,” The Need for a Situationist Morality,” “The Situation of Medical Research,” The Situation of University Research,” The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’ . . . .,” Deep Capture – Part VII,” “Promoting Smoking through Situation,” “Industry-Funded Research,” “Industry-Funded Research – Part II,” and “Captured Science.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Environment, Food and Drug Law, Politics | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Obesity and Bullying

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 9, 2010

Christian Nordqvist wrote a nice summary of recent research for  Medical News Today on the relationship of obesity with bullying.  Here are a few excerpts.

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A new study published in the journal Pediatrics reports that obese children have a higher risk of being bullied, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, social skills, academic achievement or gender. The study, titled “Weight status as a predictor of being bullied in third through sixth grades” was carried out by Julie C. Lumeng, M.D., . . . and her colleagues.

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The aim of this study was to establish the link between childhood obesity and being the victim of bullying in 3rd, 5th, and 6th grades.

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Researchers studied 821 children who were . . . . recruited at birth in 10 study sites around the USA.

The researchers evaluated the relationship between the child’s weight status and the chances of being bullied as reported by the child, mother, and teacher. The study accounted for grade level in school, gender, race, family income-to-needs ratio, racial and socioeconomic composition of the school, and child social skills and academic achievement as reported by mothers and teachers.

They found that obese children had a higher risk of being bullied, regardless of gender, race, family socioeconomic status, school demographic profile, social skills or academic achievement.

The authors conclude that being obese – by itself – raises the probability of being a victim of bullying. Lumeng adds that interventions to address bullying in schools are badly needed.

Lumeng said “Physicians who care for obese children should consider the role that being bullied is playing in the child’s well-being. Because perceptions of children are connected to broader societal perceptions about body type, it is important to fashion messages aimed at reducing the premium placed on thinness and the negative stereotypes that are associated with being obese or overweight.”

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To read the entire summary, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts see “The Situation of Bullying,” The Cruelty of Children,”Examining the Bullying Situation,” The Situation of Bullying,” The Neuro-Situation of Violence and Empathy,” The Policy Situation of Obesity,” The Situation of Body Image,” Social Networks,” Common Cause: Combating the Epidemics of Obesity and Evil,” “The Situation of Fatness = Our ‘Obesogenic’ Society,”

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Conflict, Food and Drug Law | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

De-Capturing the FDA

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 19, 2010

Harvard Law Student, Jason Iuliano, recently posted his forthcoming article, “Killing Us Sweetly: How to Take Industry Out of the FDA” (forthcoming Journal of Food Law and Policy) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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For more than a century, the Food and Drug Administration has purported to protect the public health. During that time, it has actually been placing corporate profits above consumer safety. Nowhere is this corruption more evident than in the approval of artificial sweeteners. FDA leaders’ close ties to the very industry they were supposed to be regulating present a startling picture. Ignoring warnings from both independent scientists and their own review panels, FDA decision makers let greed guide their actions. They approved carcinogenic sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose while simultaneously banning the natural herb stevia because it would cut into industry profits. This Article proposes two reforms that can end these corrupt practices and take industry out of the FDA. By strengthening conflict of interest regulations and preventing companies from participating in safety trials, the FDA will be able to gain independence from corporate control.

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To download the paper for free, click here.

To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Deeply Captured Situation of the Economic Crisis,” Our Stake in Corporate Behavior,” The Policy Situation of Obesity,” The Situation of Food: The Movie,”Our Situation Is What We Eat,” Larry Lessig’s Situationism,” Big Calories Come in Small Packages,” The Situation of Policy Research and Policy Outcomes,” Industry-Funded Research,” The Situation of our Food – Part I,” “The Situation of Our Food – Part II,” The Situation of Our Food – Part III,” and “The Situation of our Food – Part IV.”

The American obesity paradox is explored at some length by Situationist Contributors, Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosifon, who devoted a sizeable article to the mistaken but dominant dispositionist attributions made regarding obesity and the actual situational sources of the epidemic, including industry capture of regulatory institutions. To access their article, entitled “Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America,” click here.

Posted in Abstracts, Deep Capture, Food and Drug Law, Politics, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Should Addiction Be Criminalized?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 2, 2010

From Big Think: Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, argues that abusers should be treated the same as anyone with a debilitating disease.

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Transcript:

Question: How should drug addicts be treated in society?

Nora Volkow: Drug addiction is a disease of the brain. It’s a disease of the brain. We don’t put people that have diseases in the jail or in prison because they actually, that’s what we decide, right? I don’t even dare myself to the concept of putting someone in jail because they have a disease. My brain doesn’t even allow me to think that way.

And yet we do that with addicted people and I’ve thought a lot, why is our society criminalizing the person that’s addicted to drugs? And I think it’s because it has been very hard for people to recognize that our behaviors and our ability to control our desires is basically the product of very complex systems in the brain that enable us to perceive these desires, to control them, to make the right choices. This is very difficult for people that have all of their faculties intact, to understand that not everybody can do it. And so I sort of easier to say, “Well, if I can do it, that person is not doing it because they are choosing to just have a good time.” And so we’ve taken that approach and I guess the other element that happens with drugs, the drive to take these drugs can be so overpowering, so, so overpowering, because it’s hard wiring of the brain, the signaling is this is something that is necessary for survival. That’s what drugs have done in a person that’s addicted. They’ve generated the message as the same intense as if you haven’t eaten. And it’s a signal, you have to eat or you’ll die, you have to drink water or you’ll die, very, very powerful signals. Very difficult to control. You haven’t eaten for one week and you have food in front of you, just try to say no to that food. It’s the same drive.

So they can, when they are in those situations, this intense drive, they can do behaviors that are criminal, they can go and steal, in order to be able to get the drug. Like someone who has not eaten for one week, if they have nothing but to steal the food, they may steal the food. So that leads to the criminal behavior that then leads the person and the system to react very negatively, you should not steal. Of course you should not steal. But people should not be hungry, people should not be in the situation that they have to steal in order to eat. That should not happen. Like a person should not be, not given treatment that is in a situation where their body’s experiencing the drug as if it were a survival need. They should be provided with treatment.

So yes, we should deal with drug addiction as a disease, like we deal with any of the other medical diseases. We should not be criminalizing it. When we criminalize a drug addict, nobody wins. Certainly you’re not going to improve the behavior of that person that is thrown into jail. When they get out of the jail, the first thing they’ll do is relapse. Unless you treat them in jail. If you treat them in jail and you maintain the treatment when they leave jail, then you’re giving them a chance. If you’re throwing them in jail and not providing any treatment or treating them in jail and then throwing them out, they will relapse.

So, and that costs an enormous amount of money, to put people in jail because they are addicted to drugs is very, very costly. It doesn’t make any sense. Your tax dollar goes into the criminal justice system, it’s much less expensive to treat. And if you treat the person, you’re giving that person a chance. And you’re giving the family of that person a chance. So it’s a win-win. You’re basically decrease your cost on criminal behavior, you decrease reincarceration and the person can go back and become an active member of society at all levels.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situational Effects of Dopamine,” “The Addictive Situation of Fatty Food,” The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice,” Are Video Games Addictive?,” “The Situation of Gambling,” Crazy Little Thing Called Love The Situation of Punishment (and Forgiveness),” “The Situation of Punishment,” “Why We Punish,” Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” and “Law & the Brain.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Food and Drug Law, Law, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

The Addictive Situation of Fatty Food

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 30, 2010

Sarah Klein wrote an article for CNN, titled “Fatty foods may cause cocaine-like addiction,” discussing recent research co-authored by Paul J. Kenny, Ph.D., an associate professor of molecular therapeutics at the Scripps Research Institute.  Here are a few excerpts.

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In the study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Kenny and his co-author studied three groups of lab rats for 40 days. One of the groups was fed regular rat food. A second was fed bacon, sausage, cheesecake, frosting, and other fattening, high-calorie foods–but only for one hour each day. The third group was allowed to pig out on the unhealthy foods for up to 23 hours a day.

Not surprisingly, the rats that gorged themselves on the human food quickly became obese. But their brains also changed. By monitoring implanted brain electrodes, the researchers found that the rats in the third group gradually developed a tolerance to the pleasure the food gave them and had to eat more to experience a high.

They began to eat compulsively, to the point where they continued to do so in the face of pain. When the researchers applied an electric shock to the rats’ feet in the presence of the food, the rats in the first two groups were frightened away from eating. But the obese rats were not. “Their attention was solely focused on consuming food,” says Kenny.

In previous studies, rats have exhibited similar brain changes when given unlimited access to cocaine or heroin. And rats have similarly ignored punishment to continue consuming cocaine, the researchers note.

The fact that junk food could provoke this response isn’t entirely surprising, says Dr.Gene-Jack Wang, M.D., the chair of the medical department at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, in Upton, New York.

“We make our food very similar to cocaine now,” he says.

Coca leaves have been used since ancient times, he points out, but people learned to purify or alter cocaine to deliver it more efficiently to their brains (by injecting or smoking it, for instance). This made the drug more addictive.

According to Wang, food has evolved in a similar way. “We purify our food,” he says. “Our ancestors ate whole grains, but we’re eating white bread. American Indians ate corn; we eat corn syrup.”

The ingredients in purified modern food cause people to “eat unconsciously and unnecessarily,” and will also prompt an animal to “eat like a drug abuser [uses drugs],” says Wang.

The neurotransmitter dopamine appears to be responsible for the behavior of the overeating rats, according to the study. Dopamine is involved in the brain’s pleasure (or reward) centers, and it also plays a role in reinforcing behavior. “It tells the brain something has happened and you should learn from what just happened,” says Kenny.

Overeating caused the levels of a certain dopamine receptor in the brains of the obese rats to drop, the study found. In humans, low levels of the same receptors have been associated with drug addiction and obesity, and may be genetic, Kenny says.

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To read the entire article, click here.

To read some related Situationist posts, see “The Policy Situation of Obesity,” The Situation of Snacking,” Big Calories Come in Small Packages,”The Situation of Eating – Part II,” The Situation of Eating,” “The Situation of the Dreaded ‘Freshman 15′,” “Our Situation Is What We Eat,” “Social Networks,” Common Cause: Combating the Epidemics of Obesity and Evil,” “The Situation of Fatness = Our ‘Obesogenic’ Society,” Innovative Policy: Zoning for Health,” Situational Obesity, or, Friends Don’t Let Friends Eat and Veg,” “McDonalds tastes better than McDonalds, if it’s packaged right,” “The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice,” The Situation of our Food – Part I,” “The Situation of Our Food – Part II,”The Situation of Our Food – Part III,” and “The Situation of our Food – Part IV.”

The American obesity paradox is explored at some length by Situationist Contributors, Adam Benforado, Jon Hanson, and David Yosifon, who devoted a sizeable article to the mistaken but dominant dispositionist attributions made regarding obesity and the actual situational sources of the epidemic. To access their article, entitled “Broken Scales: Obesity and Justice in America,” click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Food and Drug Law, Public Policy | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

The Situation of Bottled Water

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 26, 2010

From the Story of Stuff: The Story of Bottled Water, releasing March 22, 2010, employs the Story of Stuff style to tell the story of manufactured demand—how you get Americans to buy more than half a billion bottles of water every week when it already flows from the tap. Over five minutes, the film explores the bottled water industrys attacks on tap water and its use of seductive, environmental-themed advertising to cover up the mountains of plastic waste it produces. The film concludes with a call to take back the tap, not only by making a personal commitment to avoid bottled water, but by supporting investments in clean, available tap water for all.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see ““Flow” and the Situation of Water,” and the links that posts contains.

Posted in Abstracts, Choice Myth, Deep Capture, Education, Food and Drug Law, Life, Marketing, Public Policy, Video | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“Flow” and the Situation of Water

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 25, 2010

From Wikipedia: Flow: For Love of Water is a 2008 documentary film by Irena Salina. The film concentrates on the big business of privatization of water infrastructure which prioritizes profits over the availability of clean water for people and the environment. Major businesses depicted in the film are Nestle, The Coca-Cola Company, Suez, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The first video below is the trailer.  You can watch the movie in 9 (roughly 10-minute) sections after the jump.

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Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Deep Capture, Distribution, Food and Drug Law, Geography, Life, Politics, Public Policy, Video | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

 
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