Big Food, Big Pharma, Big Psych: Recent Articles Worth Checking Out
Posted on Friday, March 27th, 2009
How You Shop for Food
Just about any advice column you see on the subject of shopping for a healthy diet includes some form of the dictum, “Make a list and keep to it. Have a plan!” The idea is, of course, to avoid impulse buys of attractive and tempting but highly processed, junky foods. (This is also why they warn against shopping when hungry.) And indeed, the food manufacturers and grocers do all they can to tempt us anyway via the placement and presentation of products. In the recent Economist article “The Way the Brain Buys,” we learn about the latest research into consumer behavior at the grocery store and the new technology that’s being used and developed to further refine the art of selling us what we don’t need. Check it out and become a fervent believer in the need to make and stick to a shopping plan…
How the Food Industry Is Like a Drug Dealer
When people use the phrase “Big Food” to describe the food manufacturing and agribusiness industries, they’re more or less comparing their behavior to that of the pharmaceutical industry, Big Pharma. But there’s another industry Big Food resembles: tobacco. As Kelly Brownell and Kenneth Warner point out in The Millbank Quarterly (PDF, via Marler Blog), “the tobacco industry had a playbook, a script, that emphasized personal responsibility, paying scientists who delivered research that instilled doubt, criticizing the ‘junk’ science that found harms associated with smoking, making self-regulatory pledges, lobbying with massive resources to stifle government action, introducing ‘safer’ products, and simultaneously manipulating and denying both the addictive nature of their products and their marketing to children. The script of the food industry is both similar to and different from the tobacco industry script.” What follows is an engaging and powerful analysis of it.
Harvard Med Students Just Say No
Meanwhile, opposition to Big Pharma “murketing” continues to grow. And we were heartened to read of an important group resisting industry manipulations: medical students and “sympathetic faculty” at Harvard. According to a recent New York Times article, this group is “intent on exposing and curtailing the industry influence in their classrooms and laboratories, as well as in Harvard’s 17 affiliated teaching hospitals and institutes.” How bad is the problem of industry influence there? University-wide, about 18% of faculty have disclosed financial ties to industries related to their teaching (1600 out of 8900 faculty members), including 149 with ties to Pfizer and 130 to Merck. The American Medical Students Association gave Harvard Medical School a grade of F because of such ties. (The University of Pennsylvania got an A. Yale earned a C.) As med student Kirsten Austad describes it, “We are really being indoctrinated into a field of medicine that is becoming more and more commercialized.”
Too Much Medicine and the National Health Care Debate
One of the other problems with the extreme commercialization of health care is skyrocketing costs. And a good amount of the blame can go to things like unnecessary tests and procedures (often done in the name of “preventive medicine,” as previously discussed). These are issues that Congress and the Obama administration must tackle if they are to truly begin to reform the troubled American “sick care” system, along with the more touted issues of increased efficiency. Recently, a retired physician guest blogging at Maggie Mahar’s Health Beat Blog offered a number of specific suggestions along these lines. While he is presumably writing from an orthodox medical background, his argument for getting rid of the excesses of industrial medicine is sharp, thought-provoking and definitely worth checking out as the national health care debate heats up.
When Is PTSD Not PTSD?
We’re all familiar with the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a category of mental illness that became prominent by explaining the psychological problems experienced by a large number of Vietnam vets upon returning home. But it seems that, like many psychological disorders, the diagnostic criteria have been overly broadened. As psychologist Richard J. McNally notes in a recent article in Scientific American, “PTSD is a real thing, without a doubt….But as a diagnosis, PTSD has become so flabby and overstretched, so much a part of the culture, that we are almost certainly mistaking other problems for PTSD and thus mistreating them.” The article gives an excellent overview of the disorder, how it arises and plays out, and the factors contributing to overdiagnosis.