Headnes: February 1, 2011
by Meg Larkin
First, in legal news, a federal judge in Pensacola, Florida has ruled that the 2010 health care reform law is unconstitutional. The decision by judge Rodger Vinson is notable in that it invalidates the entire law, not just the individual insurance mandate. This means that the Florida decision goes beyond the scope of the ruling by Judge Henry Hudson of Virginia earlier this year. This latest ruling evens the count among lower federal courts, with two judges finding the law to be in compliance with the constitution, and two judges finding the law, or key components of it to be unconstitutional. The Obama Administration will be appealing Judge Vinson’s ruling to the 11th Circuit. So far, the lower court decisions have divided along the party lines of the presidents who appointed each of the judges: a fact which has only served to further solidify the partisan debate. Because of unclear language in Judge Vinson’s opinion, it has yet to be seen what impact, if any, it will have on the immediate implementation of some portions of the larger health reform bill.
In somewhat unsurprising public health news, new dietary guidelines in the United States call for people to eat less and exercise more. The guidelines are issued by the US Department of Agriculture every five years, and this year’s guidelines are notable for taking a more aggressive tone than in years past. The guidelines call for increased consumption of fruit and vegetables in addition to lean proteins like fish, and reduced consumption of processed foods and high calorie drinks. According to the Wall St. Journal, “The guidelines say people should eat more fruits and vegetables and consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. They call on Americans to switch to fat-free or low-fat milk and choose a variety of proteins, including beans, peas and soy products.” The guidelines are expected to have an impact on what types of food are advertised, and on the marketing efforts of food companies in the coming year.
In research news, brisk walking has been linked to better memory in seniors. Researchers reported that the part of the brain associated with memory actually grew in size in older people who engaged in brisk walking regularly over the course of a year. Generally, the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for memory, shrinks with age, but in people who engaged in brisk walking or other aerobic exercise, as opposed to just stretching, the size of the hippocampus was found to increase. The conclusions of the study provide strong confirmation for earlier work that linked aerobic exercise to improvements in early stage Alzheimer’s patients.
Finally, in global health news, Bill Gates is calling for the eradication of polio. The call is controversial because many public health experts believe that eradication efforts are likely to prove to be both costly and unsuccessful. While worldwide the campaign against polio has been tremendously successful: caseloads are down 99% since 1985, eliminating the last 1 percent of cases has proved difficult. Given the comparatively low incidence of polio worldwide, many global health advocates criticize Gates’s focus on eradication and say that the money could be better spent on efforts to reduce the incidence of diseases like measles that statistically claim the lives of more children per year. Gates, however, continues to donate large sums of money to the polio eradication efforts in hopes of a success similar to the worldwide eradication of smallpox. According to the New York Times, “Proponents of eradication argue that it would be terrible to waste the $9 billion already spent, and a new analysis concluded that eradication, if successful, would save up to $50 billion by 2035.” The WHO, among other organizations, is still optimistic that eradication of polio is possible in the near future.
Meg Larkin is a third year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.