Monthly Archives: July 2013

When the Medical News Is Not about Weight

Debbie says:

Cancer risk news is everywhere (because cancer is so common, and so scary). Most early articles linking increased cancer risk to anything will turn out not to be true, or to be overstated, or hugely influenced by other factors. So, I wasn’t as interested in this article because of what it says as because of how it says it. The article, from that used-to-be-a-major-news-source magazine known as Time, is about links between cancer risk and height: “New research published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found a surprising correlation between height and cancer risk among postmenopausal women; the taller the woman, the greater her risk for the disease.”

It seems to be a good enough study; it’s based on the Women’s Health Initiative data, so it’s a large pool and (as far as I can tell from a superficial article) the methodology was reasonable enough. If the article was about weight (which is constantly linked to cancer), it would end with what our own Lynne Murray calls “the faith sentence,” the capper to an article that reinforces what the writer and/or the researchers believe. In the cancer/weight articles, it is usually “proper attention to diet, weight and lifestyle management would save so many lives,” or words to that effect. In weight articles, the faith sentence is a club, used to remind you that your cancer (or whatever) is your fault and you just aren’t managing yourself properly. Here’s the American Cancer Society’s version:

While we still have much to learn about the link between weight loss and cancer risk, people who are overweight or obese should be encouraged and supported if they try to lose weight. Aside from possibly reducing cancer risk, losing weight can have many other health benefits, such as lowering the risk of other chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Losing even a small amount of weight has health benefits and is a good place to start.

In the Time article, we see a very different faith sentence.

[Dr. Thomas] Rohan, [chair and professor of epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine] and his colleagues say the study doesn’t imply that cancer is inevitable for every tall woman. The study found an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship. And it’s unlikely that diseases as complex as cancer can be traced to just one developmental process such as growth.

In other words, ladies, your height is not your fault, so we need an ending sentence that tells you not to worry too much, and not to assume you are doomed. If the same sentence was used as the closure for an article about the risks of fat in any area of health, it would say:

[Experts] say the study doesn’t imply that [this disease] is inevitable for every fat woman. The study found an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship. And it’s unlikely that diseases as complex as [this one] can be traced to just one developmental process such as body size. While losing weight has known health benefits, it also has associated health risks, and has been regularly demonstrated not to be reliably possible, even in very carefully controlled conditions.

The great thing about this faith sentence is that it’s true.

Rosy Esparza: What’s A Life Worth?

Laurie and Debbie say:

Last Friday, Rosy Esparza (apparently also known as Rosa Ayala-Goana) died after falling off the Texas Giant rollercoaster, at the Six Flags over Texas amusement park in Arlington, Texas. Other passengers on the ride heard her express her concern that she hadn’t been fully secured before the ride started, and have her worry brushed aside. Her 14-year-old son was with her on the roller coaster; other family members were also at the park.

In a reasonable world, Six Flags and the ride manufacturer would be investigating the accident with a goal toward future protection, and offering Ms. Esparza’s family whatever they need that insurance doesn’t supply. The Texas and U.S. governments would be overseeing the investigation and making sure that it was done honestly. And no one would be blaming Ms. Esparza.

Instead, Six Flags is conducting a private investigation, which the roller coaster manufacturer is participating in, but which will not be shared with the public (including, presumably, Ms. Esparza’s family). Why are they conducting their own investigation? Because no government agency is responsible. “‘Texas law doesn’t require that any kind of investigation be reported to us,’ said Jerry Hagins, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Insurance, which regulates Texas’ amusement parks.” Why don’t they intend to share it with the public? Because they are afraid of lawsuits. So they won’t share the information which might actually prevent or minimize a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the Internet is conducting its own investigation, and declaring Esparza basically too fat to live. Every comment thread on the issue discusses whether or not she was too fat to have the bar close appropriately, and how she should have known she didn’t fit on the ride. (Here’s a random, non-anonymous comment, “Broad was huuuuuuge! She had no business being more than 2 inches off the ground. What did the rictor [sic] scale register upon impact?”)

This article by SemDem on Daily Kos brings the story into sharp relief:

states are allowed to impose their own inspections.  Almost all of them do.  Only a handful:  Utah, Alabama, South Dakota and Mississippi,  still don’t.  Texas used to be a member of this red state intelligentsia but relented under public pressure (back when they cared about the public) and agreed to inspect rides once a year under the TDI, the Texas Department of Insurance.

Not all rides, mind you.  Go-karts, bounce houses, sure.  But high-speed racing machines?  Nope.  Even though they have killed.

Safety is not a priority for regulation in Texas.  Freedom and stuff.

But if you are a poor woman in Texas?  Texas legislators are all over you.

Unless you have lived under a rock, you heard that Texas just passed a law that will force dozens of clinics to close.   These poor women rely on these clinics for mammograms, STD tests or cancer screenings; but they will be shut out because of legislators want them shut down over 3% of their services.  …

The one thing I can promise you is there will be no examination, much less any state legislation, concerning the inadequate inspections of theme park and carnival rides in Texas.   Just as there were no calls in the state legislature for zoning even after the tragic deaths in West, TX.   You see, the GOP Texas conservatives don’t care about life, don’t care about safety, and sure as hell don’t care about helping poor folks.

They care about controlling sex.

That is what gets special sessions in Texas.  That is what gets regulated in Texas.

SemDem did leave out one thing. If Esparza’s right to get a gun or a gun license was in danger, the Texas legislature would be all over that, too. Anything else, like rollercoaster deaths or  explosions that kill 15 people and injure hundreds more: who cares?

In the immortal words of Malvina Reynolds, Esparza, like so many millions of other people in Texas and elsewhere, “cannot be murdered till she’s born.” After that, it’s open season. And there’s absolutely nothing right about this state of affairs.