Junk food bonanza: Food companies have stepped up aggressive marketing of junk food to black children and teens, according to a report published by the University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity and its partners. Even as overall spending on TV advertisements for food decreased between 2013 and 2017, spending on food advertisements targeting black youth increased by more than 50 percent to $333 million. In 2017, black children ages 2 to 11 viewed 86 percent more food ads than white peers. Among teens, that disparity was even higher. Researchers interviewed by Lauren Weber of HuffPost noted that black children are more likely to live in low-income neighborhoods with limited access to grocery stores with healthy food options, and food makers know that ads promoting sugary drinks or fast food will be more effective there. “Once you hook people,” Rafael Perez-Escamilla, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health, told her, “especially starting with young children, which is very upsetting ― essentially you start training them not only on your brand but on how sweet, how salty, how caloric they’re going to like [their food] as they grow.”
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New life for deadly chemical: The mothers of two young men killed by exposure to toxic paint strippers are suing the federal government for failing to enact a ban on methylene chloride, even after former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt promised his agency would do just that. Wendy Hartley and Lauren Atkins each lost a son when the men were using products that contained the chemical, one stripping a bathtub and one refinishing a bike part. Methylene chloride has been linked to dozens of deaths. The mothers have joined forces with Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group to ask a federal court in Vermont to order the government to institute a ban. Their suit was filed about a week after Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis of The Washington Post reported that the EPA had proposed allowing continued use of methylene chloride by commercial operators. Richard Denison, a scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, told the Post that the partial ban would leave too many people exposed. “The great majority of the deaths that we know about from this product involve workers, not individual consumers,” he said.
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Pushing pills, as death toll climbed: By now, the aggressive marketing of prescription opioids to doctors and hospitals has been well documented. But Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey added considerably to the evidence with a 247-page memorandum that lays out just how drug reps from Purdue Pharma pushed doctors to prescribe more pills, while also detailing the immense pressure they faced from the very top of the company, including from members of the founding family. Richard Sackler, former president and chairman, pushed to travel alongside drug reps and complained to the sales staff that prescribing rates weren’t high enough, even as they skyrocketed. Christine Willmsen and Martha Beibinger report for NPR on how, according to Healey’s memo, the company and the Sackler family spread its influence in Massachusetts. One example was donating $3 million to Massachusetts General Hospital, which named its pain center after the company and planned a symposium designed by Purdue Pharma to promote OxyContin. The hospital later dropped the center’s name. The company told WBUR that Healey’s office is vilifying a single drugmaker “rather than doing the hard work of trying to solve a complex public health crisis.” But a study published Friday points, yet again, to inextricable links between marketing practices and the opioid crisis. The study, by researchers at Boston Medical Center and New York University School of Medicine, found that opioid overdose deaths were higher in counties where opioid manufacturers had given more gifts and payments to doctors than in counties where marketing to doctors was less aggressive, reports Abby Goodnough of The New York Times. The frequency of visits by marketing reps mattered more than how much drugmakers spent wooing doctors.
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Passing and failing grades: Safety advocates are out with their annual report card on states rated best and worst in adopting laws to curb traffic deaths, which topped 37,000 in the U.S. in 2017. The report by Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety identifies 16 key laws involving such things as seat belt and motorcycle helmet usage, cellphone use behind the wheel, , and licensing of teenage drivers. The six states rated best for adopting most of the laws are California, Oregon, Washington, Louisiana, Delaware and Rhode Island, along with the District of Columbia. Eleven states with the worst rating included Florida Arizona, Virginia and New Hampshire.
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Drink with caution: Reporters with The Wall Street Journal report on how more productive farms in the U.S. have led to more polluted drinking water for many who rely on wells nearby. An increase in fertilizer use, larger and less diverse farms, a shift to more intensive corn crops, and changes in the movement of water and manure around farms have contributed to the contamination. Jesse Newman and Patrick McGroarty look specifically at Kewaunee County, Wisconsin, where the state found that nearly 30 percent of private wells contained bacteria and elevated levels of nitrates, which can be harmful to infants, and where contamination around one farm has caused conflict among neighbors. Meanwhile, a recent analysis of EPA drinking water data found that water systems serving Hispanic communities were more likely to have elevated nitrates.
- Also: Brady Dennis of The Washington Post looks at how one community in Michigan was moved to anger and activism by PFAS contamination (polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances) in their drinking water. –– James Bruggers of InsideClimate News writes about the scope of groundwater contaminated by coal ash in 22 states and efforts to remedy the problem. –– Wendy MacNaughton’s illustrated column “Meanwhile” contemplates the people who go to decommissioned mines in Montanain in search of health benefits and pay to be exposed to radon by air and water.
Where the shutdown hurts: President Trump renewed his commitment to continue the shutdown unless Democrats in Congress give him funding for a border wall, tweeting “No Cave!” this morning. That gives little hope for bipartisan efforts in Congress to reopen government agencies while continuing negotiations on border security, even as the consequences grow more dire. Glenn Thrush of The New York Times reports on how the shutdown is hurting low-income people who rely on government subsidies to pay for rent and food. One Arkansas property management company taped notices on the doors of 43 tenants who typically receive rent support from the government, saying they would be responsible for covering the full amount until the shutdown ends. With no end in sight, states are considering how they will continue key safety-net programs. Federal money allocated for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps, will continue only through February. And welfare funding through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families ends this month, Mattie Quinn of Governing magazine reports. While states generally will be able to use reserve funds to pay for those programs, a protracted shutdown could hurt their financial health long term or result in cuts elsewhere. Matt Viser of The Washington Post found that some parts of Trump’s base are growing impatient with the shutdown, seeing it as counter to the president’s stated support for the middle class.
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On ignoring climate change: Despite the Trump administration’s lack of concern about the issue, climate change is undermining national security, according to two government reports. The Pentagon issued a report to Congress calling the effects of a warming planet “a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense missions, operational plans, and installations.” However, some lawmakers were frustrated that the report lacked the details they had requested, Nicholas Kusnetz of InsideClimate News reports. And Neela Banerjee writes that the Government Accountability Office has released a report urging the State Department to reinstate guidelines to American diplomats on planning for how climate change will affect migration and global security. “Without clear guidance, State may miss opportunities to identify and address issues related to climate change as a potential driver of migration,” the report reads.
- Also: Greenland’s melting ice sheet may have reached a “tipping point” toward becoming a big contributor to sea level rise, John Schwartz of The New York Times reports. –– There are layers of bad news in this report on the impact of warming permafrost. –– The New York Times takes a close look at how melting glaciers in Central Asia will have serious consequences on water supplies.
Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.