Headlines: January 27, 2011
by Meg Larkin
First, in public health news, federal health officials have reported a distressing rise in diabetes. Nearly 26 million Americans have type 2 or adult onset diabetes as compared with 23.6 million in 2008. In addition, 79 million American adults have prediabetes, a condition characterized by high blood sugar that does not quite rise to the level required for a diabetes diagnosis. According to the Boston Globe, “Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. People with diabetes are more likely to have heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, kidney failure, blindness, and require amputations.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which released the data yesterday, has called for greater prevention efforts aimed at reducing diabetes risk factors and improving exercise and eating habits.
In related news, weight gain may be linked to central heating. In even mildly cold conditions, a substance known as brown fat is activated, which raises humans’ body temperature and burns additional calories. If brown fat is not activated, it goes away. Over the years, Americans have generally raised the ambient temperature at which they keep their homes, and have begun to use central heating more, which means that the body does not have to adjust to different temperatures in different rooms of the house during the day. In a study published in the journal Obesity this week British researchers found a correlation between the rise in obesity and the rise in ambient room temperature in England and the United States. While reduced exposure to cold is not considered a major cause of obesity, some researchers have posited that reducing room temperature could help with weight control over time.
In legal news, the Wall St. Journal has sued to open up access to a confidential Medicare database. The Journal asserts that open access to the database is essential to rooting out fraud and abuse in the Medicare system. The Journal reported that, “Dow Jones, owned by News Corp.[the Journal’s parent company], claims the 1979 injunction hampered the paper's reporting since it limited its access to the data and its ability to name physicians and other providers. Dow Jones says the effort won't violate patient confidentiality. The AMA vigorously opposes the action: arguing that it infringes on doctors rights to privacy and due process. The Department of Health and Human Services, which maintains the database has declined to comment. Access to the database is currently barred by a 1979 court order won in a suit by the AMA over doctors privacy.
In other legal news, the Fourth Circuit court of appeals has promised a quick hearing on the suit to overturn the federal health reform law. Earlier this year, Federal District Court Judge Henry Hudson invalidated the law’s requirement that individuals purchase health insurance. That decision has been appealed, and the Fourth Circuit has said it will hear arguments in the case between May 10th and May 13th of this year.
Finally, in research news, breast implants have been linked to a rare but treatable kind of cancer. The cancer is not breast cancer, but rather an immune system cancer, and has been found in women with both the saline and silicone implants. Although it has made the incidence of the cancer public, the FDA is not taking action to remove breast implants from the market. According to the New York Times, “So far, the drug agency said it knew of about 60 cases worldwide, a tiny number compared with the 5 million to 10 million women who have implants. But even that small number appears to be an excess of cases when compared with the usual incidence of the disease: This type of lymphoma in the breast is normally found in only 3 in 100 million women who do not have implants.” Women with breast implants are not advised to seek any special medical care in the absence of symptoms, and women considering implants are advised to take this risk into account. Treatment of the cancer should be individualized depending on the needs of the patient and the advice of her oncologist.
Meg Larkin is a third year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.