Death by Healthy Doses

 

by Walter Brasch

       

They buried Bouldergrass today. The cause of death was listed as “media-induced health.”

Bouldergrass had begun his health crusade more than a decade ago when he began reading more than the sports pages of his local newspaper, subscribed to his first magazine, and decided TV news could be informative if it didn’t mention anything about wars, famines, and poverty.

Based on what he read and saw in the media, Bouldergrass moved from smog-bound Los Angeles to a rural community in scenic green Vermont, gave up alcohol and a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, and was immediately hospitalized for having too much oxygen in his body.

To burn off some of that oxygen, he joined America’s “beautiful people” on the jogging paths where the media helped him believe he was sweating out the bad karma. In less than a year, the karma left his body which was now coexisting with leg cramps, fallen arches, and several compressed disks. But at least he was as healthy as all the ads told him he could be.

To make sure he didn’t get skin cancer from being in the sun too long, he slathered four pounds of No. 35 sunblock on his body every time he ran, and went to suntan parlors twice a week to get that “healthy glow” advertisers told him he needed. He stopped blocking when he learned that suntan parlors weren’t good for your health, and that the ingredients in the lotions could cause cancer. So, he wore a jogging suit that covered more skin than an Arab woman’s black chador with veil—and developed a severe case of heat exhaustion.

From ultrathin models and billions of dollars in weight-reducing advertising that told him “thin was in,” he began a series of crash diets. When he was down to 107 pounds, advertising told him he needed to “bulk up” to be a “real man.” So, he began lifting weights and playing racquetball three hours a day. Four groin pulls and seven back injuries later, he had just 6 percent body fat, and a revolving charge account with his local orthopedist.

Several years earlier, Bouldergrass had stopped eating veal as part of a protest of America’s inhumane treatment of animals destined for supermarkets. Now, in an “enlightened” age of health, he gave up all meat, not because of mankind’s cruelty to animals, but because the media revealed that vascular surgeons owned stock in meat packing companies. Besides, it was the “healthy” thing to do.

He gave up pasta when he saw a TV report about the microscopic creepy crawlers that infest most dough.

He gave up drinking soda and began drinking juice, until he read a report that said apple juice had higher than normal levels of arsenic.

He ate soup because it was healthy and so Mmm Mmm Good, until he learned that soup had more salt than Lot’s wife. When he found low-salt soup, he again had a cup a day—until last month when he gave it up because a Harvard study revealed that soup cans contained significant amounts of Bisphenol-A-, which can lead to cancer and heart disease.

For a couple of years, lured by a multi-million dollar ad campaign and innumerable articles in the supermarket tabloids, Bouldergrass ate only oat bran muffins for breakfast and a diet of beta carotenes for lunch, until he found himself spending more time in the bathroom than at work. He eliminated the muffins entirely after reading an article that told him eating oatmeal, bran, and hood ornaments from Buick Roadsters were bad for your health.

Bouldergrass gave up milk when he learned that acid rain fell onto pastures and was eaten by cows. When he learned that industrial conglomerates had dumped everything from drinking water to radioactive waste into streams and rivers, he stopped eating fish. For awhile, based upon conflicting reports in the media, he juggled low-calorie, low-fat, and low-carbohydrate diets until his body systems dropped into the low end of inertia.

At the movies, he smuggled in packets of oleo to squeeze onto plain popcorn until he was bombarded by news stories that revealed oleo was as bad as butter and that most theatrical popcorn was worse than an all-day diet of sirloin.

When he learned that coffee and chocolate were unhealthy, he gave up an addiction to getting high from caffeine and sugar, and was now forced to work 12-hour days without any stimulants other than the fear of what his children were doing while he was at work.

Unfortunately, he soon had to give up decaffeinated coffee and sugarless candy with cyclamates since both caused laboratory mice to develop an incurable yen to listen to music from the Grand Funk Railroad.

He gave up pizza when the media reported that certain “health care investigators” claimed pizza was little more than junk food. But, he began eating several slices a day to improve his health when Congress, fattened by lobbyists campaigns, last month declared frozen pizza was a vegetable. He figured it made sense, since three decades earlier the Reagan administration had declared catsup to be a vegetable, and five years ago the Department of Agriculture decided butter-coated french fries were a vegetable.

Left with a diet of fruits and vegetables, he was lean and trim. Until he accidentally stumbled across a protest by an environmental group which complained that the use of pesticides on farm crops was a greater health hazard than the bugs the pesticides were supposed to kill. Even the city’s polluted water couldn’t clean off all the pesticides. That’s also when he stopped taking showers, and merely poured a gallon of distilled water over his head every morning.

For weeks, he survived on buckets of vitamins because the magazines told him that’s what he should do. Then, after reading an article that artificial vitamins shaped like the Flintstones caused dinosaur rot, he also gave them up.

The last time I saw Bouldergrass, he was in a hospital room claiming to see visions of monster genetic tomatoes squishing their way toward him. He was mumbling something about cholesterol and high density lipoproteins. Tubes were sticking out of every opening in his emaciated body, as well as a couple of openings that hadn’t been there when he first checked in.

In one last attempt to regain his health, Bouldergrass enlisted in Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move army. But the only movement he was doing was when the nurses flipped him so he wouldn’t get bed sores.

Shortly before he died, he pulled me near him, asked that I write his obit, and in a throaty whisper begged, “Make sure you tell them that thanks to what I learned from the media, I died healthy.”

[Walter Brasch, a robust figure of health, doesn’t follow anyone’s advice on what is or is not healthy. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed Before the First Snow, a social issues mystery novel. Brasch says the book is a great Christmas or Chanukah gift, and increased sales will improve his own mental, if not physical, health.]

         

 

 

Weekly Pulse: Single-Payer Bills Pass Vermont Senate, House


By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Vermont state Senate passed legislation to create a single-payer health insurance system, Paul Waldman reports for TAPPED. Since the state House has already passed a similar bill, all that’s left to do is reconcile the two pieces of legislation before the governor signs it into law.

Waldman stresses that there are still many details to work out, including how the system will be funded. Vermont might end up with a system like France’s where everyone has basic public insurance, which most people supplement with additional private coverage. The most important thing, Waldman argues, is that Vermont is moving to sever the link between employment and health insurance.

Roe showdown

Anti-choicers are gunning for a Roe v. Wade showdown in the Supreme Court before Obama can appoint any more justices. At the behest of an unnamed conservative group, Republican state Rep. John LaBruzzo of Louisiana has introduced a bill that would ban all abortions, even to save the woman’s life. The original bill upped the anti-choice ante by criminalizing not only doctors who perform abortions, but also women who procure them. LaBruzzo has since promised to scale the bill back to just criminalizing doctors. This is all blatantly unconstitutional, of course,. but as Kate Sheppard explains in Mother Jones, that’s precisely the point:

The Constitution, of course, is exactly what LaBruzzo is targeting. He admits his proposal is intended as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional right to privacy included the right to abortions in some circumstances. LaBruzzo says he’d like his bill to become law and “immediately go to court,” and he told a local paper that an unnamed conservative religious group asked him to propose the law for exactly that purpose.

Drug pushers in your living room

Martha Rosenberg poses a provocative question at AlterNet: Does anyone remember a time before “Ask Your Doctor” ads overran the airwaves, Internet, buses, billboards, and seemingly every other medium? Direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug advertising has become so ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget that it was illegal until the late ’90s. In the days before DTC, drug advertising was limited to medical journals, prescription pads, golf towels, and pill-shaped stress balls distributed in doctors’ offices–which makes sense. The whole point of making a drug prescription-only is to put the decision-making power in the hands of doctors. Now, drug companies advertise to consumers for the same reason that food companies advertise to children. It’s called “pester power.”

DTC drug ads encourage consumers to self-diagnose based on vague and sometimes nearly universal symptoms like poor sleep, daytime drowsiness, anxiety, and depression. Once consumers are convinced they’re suffering from industry-hyped constructs like “erectile dysfunction” and “premenstrual dysphoric disorder,” they’re going to badger their doctors for prescriptions.

That’s not to say that these terms don’t encompass legitimate health problems, but rather that DTC markets products in such vague terms that a lot of healthy people are sure to be clamoring for drugs they don’t need. Typically, neither the patient nor the doctor is paying the full cost of the drug, so patients are more likely to ask and doctors have little incentive to say no.

Greenwashing air fresheners

A reader seeks the counsel of Grist’s earthy advice columnist Umbra on the issue of air fresheners. Some of these odor-concealing aerosols are touting themselves as green for adopting all-natural propellants. Does that make them healthier, or greener? Only marginally, says Umbra. Air fresheners still contain formaldehyde, petroleum distillates, and other questionable chemicals.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Champs Stand Up and Fight for Clean Air As Tea Party Loses Steam

Things are looking up in the effort to preserve clean air protections and to keep the Clean Air Act intact. For months, polluters and their allies in Congress have been trying to strip away the protections that keep our air safe to breathe. But in the past few days, 4 anti-clean air amendments have failed miserably in the Senate, 34 senators have declared their support for the Clean Air Act, and now some members of the GOP are indicating they might give some ground on the dirty policy riders they’ve attached to the spending bill — policy riders that don’t save a single red cent.

Two forces are helping break up the logjam: the renewed leadership from clean air champions and the apparent waning influence of Tea Party supporters. But the fight is definitely not over. We need to keep the pressure on until the dirty air bullies back down.

There's more...

Champs Stand Up and Fight for Clean Air As Tea Party Loses Steam

Things are looking up in the effort to preserve clean air protections and to keep the Clean Air Act intact. For months, polluters and their allies in Congress have been trying to strip away the protections that keep our air safe to breathe. But in the past few days, 4 anti-clean air amendments have failed miserably in the Senate, 34 senators have declared their support for the Clean Air Act, and now some members of the GOP are indicating they might give some ground on the dirty policy riders they’ve attached to the spending bill — policy riders that don’t save a single red cent.

Two forces are helping break up the logjam: the renewed leadership from clean air champions and the apparent waning influence of Tea Party supporters. But the fight is definitely not over. We need to keep the pressure on until the dirty air bullies back down.

There's more...

You Can Do Better, Senator Brown

I learned last week that Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is floating the idea of stopping EPA’s work to reduce carbon dioxide pollution for at least one year.

To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. I have known and admired Senator Sherrod Brown for years, and I respect his track record on defending the environment.

Sherrod’s consideration of undermining the EPA’s ability to keep our air free from pollution doesn’t jibe with his past positions or with what’s good for Ohio’s economy and for its residents’ health.

And it certainly doesn’t match up with what I know of Sherrod Brown’s leadership.

I first met Senator Brown when he was in the House and I worked for another member of the Ohio delegation. Both members served on the Energy and Commerce Committee. During the long committee hearings, members often left to attend other events, but Hill staffers had to stick around to listen. Staffers aren’t allowed to speak at committee meetings—only members can—so when we would hear witnesses making inaccurate statements or exaggerating the facts, we felt powerless to correct the record.

That was until we realized we could turn to Sherrod Brown. He was one of the few members who would sit through the bulk of hearings, and we could always trust him to correct the record when the speaker was off the mark, we could count on him to challenge falsehoods—especially when it came to environmental issues.

More recently, Senator Brown has been a supporter of clean energy—something that has been very good for Ohio. In fact, Ohio is the best in the Midwest when it comes to green job growth. Toledo and Cleveland have led the way by transforming struggling auto-parts factories into manufacturing centers of solar panels, wind turbines, and advanced batteries.

These opportunities led Senator Brown to play an active roll drafting comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation that would have cut global warming pollution and brought as much as $5.6 billion in investment revenue and 67,000 new jobs to Ohio.

Unfortunately, that legislation never made it to the floor. So why would Brown want to put put on hold the only chance we have right now for cutting carbon dioxide pollution?  The only thing likely to be different a year from now is that one more year of pollutants will be in our air and businesses will have suffered through another year of renewed uncertainty about the standards they will have to meet.

And EPA has not put in place some Draconian plan.  All that’s being required is that new plants, or plants undergoing major changes install the latest, affordable equipment.  Why would we want new plants to be dirtier than they have to be?

We shouldn’t stop work already underway to clean up our air and tackle climate change while we wait for Congress to get its act together. And Congressional “delays” tend to be extended year after year.  Before we know it, America will be four or five years further behind in confronting the worst environmental, economic, and national security challenge of our time.

That isn’t something the Brown I know would want. And it’s not something the people of Ohio should want.  Ohio has one of the best clean energy stories to tell in the nation. Confronting climate change and shifting to more sustainable energy will bring more jobs to your state and make the hard-working families of Ohio healthier.

When your children are sick, you don’t stop giving them the medicine they need because a better product might be available someday.  Heck, you don’t even wait for your kids to GET SICK if you can take pre-emptive action to avoid it.

Sherrod Brown can stand up for the health and welfare of Ohio’s families by working WITH the EPA to make sure implementation of the Clean Air Act is successful in bringing standards up-to-date to  protect public health and drive innovation.  That is the leadership we need.

This blog was originally posted on the NRDC Action Fund blog, The Markup.

 

 

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