Public Health

Let’s Review: Paula Deen, The AMA And… Open Access To Research Data

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In case you haven’t heard, Paula Deen’s empire is falling apart.

After allegations of racial discrimination against fellow co-workers, the former Food Network star is being dropped by every network, company and major brand. The recent controversy is making even more headlines than Deen’s public announcement that she has type II diabetes; Deen’s diagnosis earned her a new book, a diabetic drug endorsement  and Food Network kept her on the air. It even earned her more butter!

All of this changed within the past few weeks, when Food Network announced that it refuses to renew Deen’s contract. In addition, Ballantine Books chose to drop her latest cookbook, while diabetic drug company, novo nordisk, dropped Deen as their spokesperson.

The situation points a light to a relatively new topic: food workers’ rights. These middle-men are often left out of our discussion regarding public health and nutrition. However, fixing our food system will take more than a healthy cookbook and an anti-diabetic medication; greater awareness of food worker’s rights is a better place to start.

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Obesity is now (officially) a disease. The American Medical Association, the largest group of medical doctors in the US, announced their recognition of obesity as a disease in a meeting at their headquarters in Chicago.

Supporters of the AMA’s decision see this as “a first step to prevention” because it gives doctors financial incentive to provide obesity counseling. In addition, Congress introduced the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act of 2013, an amendment to the Social Security Act that would expand obesity services for seniors across Medicaid and Medicare. On the opposite end of the table, critics of the decision blame the AMA for giving way to reliance on pharmacotherapy and surgery, as suggested by David Katz, MD, PhD.

However, little remains certain in regards to the decision’s impact on health insurance. As mentioned in a previous post, insurance companies are currently evaluating programs that would offer clients health incentives; a 2 year initiative by health care giant, Humana Inc, is offering 350,000 enrollees in South Africa a 25% discount on “healthy foods” in return for being healthy and active. Humana is now partnering with Walmart to bring the program to the US, and Blue Care Network is following suit.

Despite controversy over the AMA’s decision, insurance companies are at the bottom of it. By recognizing obesity as a disease, the public health field can expect greater support from insurance companies, which may finally bridging health care to the food we eat.

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major story in the New York Times went unnoticed. The story follows Peter Doshi, a postdoc at John Hopkins University who is pushing drug companies to publically release data from clinical trials. Despite White House efforts to promote open access among federally-funded research studies, private industries are not required to release data to the public. Doshi is concerned that publication bias, driven by industry funding, is leading to the development of drugs with exaggerated benefits and under-stated side-effects.

The story relates to food policy. Unlike drugs, food is a necessity for life. As a result, the topic of open access is one that concerns each and every citizen. A review by the Center for Science in the Public Interest concluded that studies with food industry funding, such as for soft drinks, juice and milk, have a tendency to produce more favorable health outcomes. Similarly, the lack of publicly available data by Monsanto has created a monopoly in GM seed production, as well as drawn a curtain on consumers to the health implications of  genetically modified foods.

Most recently, Doshi and other researchers published an ultimatum to drug companies to release their data to the public. Isn’t it time we had the same level of activism in the food world?

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