Group to Track H1N1 Vaccine Safety
An independent group of experts appointed to help government officials monitor the swine flu vaccine's safety starts work today, the Associated Press reports. Among its first tasks is to consider study data on the vaccine's effects in more than 10,000 people, according to the AP. So far, efforts to assess safety have turned up nothing unusual, Bruce Gellin, head of the National Vaccine Program Office, tells the AP, but it's important to be on the lookout for possible rare side effects. Additional scrutiny of the H1N1 vaccine comes after the last vaccine to fight an outbreak of swine flu in 1976 was linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder that results in paralysis.
Can Americans Change Their Taste for the Sweet and Salty?
There's no question that the average American has a sweet—and a salty—tooth. Not surprisingly, a chorus of voices has said we need to make changes to what and how we eat, U.S. News's Katherine Hobson writes. In April, two nutrition experts at the Harvard School of Public Health called on beverage makers to create reduced-calorie drinks with no more than a gram of sugar per ounce. One expert's research shows that your sweet preference can indeed be jacked up by repeated exposure to sugary foods and drinks. In theory, the mechanism should work the other way, too—though the research to prove it hasn't been done, Hobson writes.
There have also been numerous requests by the American Medical Association and other medical groups for manufacturers to cut the amount of sodium in processed foods by as much as half, with the aim of reducing rates of high blood pressure, heart problems, and stroke. Evidence on switching to a low-sodium diet, at least in adults, shows that it's hard to make an abrupt change, says one expert. But an ability to change our tastes, even if over time, is what the health experts are banking on. Read more.
House Healthcare Bill Rewards Activism on Women's Issues
Women may seem to be the driving force of health reform, given all the attention recently paid to gender disparities in insurance premiums, U.S. News's Deborah Kotz writes. The massive healthcare reform bill unveiled by the House of Representatives Thursday contains several sections that pertain just to women in terms of abortion coverage, pregnancy services, and prohibitions against excluding those with pre-existing conditions, specifically mentioning women who've been victims of domestic violence.
While the bill does include maternity coverage as part of a basic benefits package that insurers must provide, it specifically says that public funding can't be used for abortions—which would be covered under the public option—except where it's already allowed, such as in cases of rape or incest or where a mother's life is at risk.
Kotz met with two healthcare activists trying to push their issues onto the legislative agenda. One was Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, who is lobbying hard for increased reproductive health services. Read more.
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