Author Archives: Vanessa Merta, Science Blogger

Truth in Labeling: Your Vending Machine Is about to Guide Your Diet

Vanessa Merta

Vanessa Merta

Does menu labeling cause consumers to make healthier choices? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration thinks so.

A few weeks ago, the FDA finalized two regulations that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandated in 2010.  The announcement issued on November 25, 2014 requires calorie information be listed on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants, similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations and vending machines.

Consumers should begin to notice the difference as soon as next year since restaurants and vending machines need to comply with the law before December 2015.

FDA Commissioner, Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, said that this regulation is an “important step for public health that will help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families.”

While this federal regulation was announced just a few weeks ago, many restaurants have used self-imposed calorie information guidance on their own for years. The first company to voluntarily post calorie counts in all of their locations was Panera Bread in 2010.  Starbucks and other chains have been labeling calories since April 2008, but only in New York City stores, as required by a NYC law.

While the FDA’s intentions are to improve public health, individuals and groups such as the Center for Consumer Freedoms have raised some concerns.  Do calorie counts on menus actually cause consumers to eat healthier? Will increased information on nutrition hurt revenue for the business? Researchers in many different fields have been looking for the answers.

Stanford Graduate School of Business studied New York City Starbucks and the effects that calorie labeling had on consumer behaviors as well as the impact on revenue.

The study found that customers whose average purchase was over 250 calories decreased by 26 percent. Stanford researchers concluded that posting calorie counts on menu boards does, in fact, affect consumer behavior.

Stanford also concluded that Starbucks revenues were not affected by the calorie-posting requirement. However, for Starbucks stores located within 50 meters of a competitor, calorie-postings led to an increase in Starbucks revenue.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one of the world’s largest philanthropies devoted to public health, conducted a four-year research review on the effects that menu labeling has on the average consumer.  Over the course of this long-term review, they found that labeling wasn’t only something that the average consumer wanted, but that it reduces the amount of calories per transaction, and in some cases causes restaurants to offer healthier, lower-calorie options.

Opponents to menu labeling such as U.S. House of Representatives Blaine Leutkemeyer (R-Mo.), Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), signed a letter proposing pamphlets with calorie counts be available next to menus, rather than posted.  Both studies said that the consumer rarely seeks out nutrition information outside the point of purchase.  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study claimed that customers see menu labels at the point of purchase and those labels increase their awareness of nutritional information, effectively educating the consumer better than a website or pamphlet could.

Do you think this mandate will change your eating habits or do you think that online nutritional information is sufficient now? Let us know how you feel about this new rule in the comments section!

 

Categories: General

A Proper Diagnosis Shouldn’t Require a Doctor Scavenger Hunt. Here Are Tips to Help Your Doctor Find an Answer

Vanessa Merta

Vanessa Merta

Have you or someone you know been passed from doctor to doctor without a resulting diagnosis? According to Tufts University School of Medicine, the prevalence of undiagnosed diseases is significant, even for common chronic diseases.  A disease as common as depression, which is estimated to effect two to four percent of Americans, is missed in a staggering 69 percent of patients who seek help!  Other chronic diseases that often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed include diabetes, dementia, and osteoporosis.

The good news is that there are actions you or a loved one can take to help your doctor get to the bottom of the problem quicker, according to the Center for Advancing Health.

What to do if the Doctor Just Shrugs,” offers patients ten tips on what they can do when doctors are unable to come up with a diagnosis. Check out this interesting read and let us know what you think.  Have you or a loved one ever tried any of these suggestions? Tell us your experience in the comments section!

 

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If Uber can Deliver Flu Shots, Could Drones Deliver Medications?

Vanessa Merta

Vanessa Merta

Last Thursday, Uber test ran a new concept that added wellness to its mission of evolving the way the world moves. Along with making cities more accessible, Uber made health care more accessible with flu shot deliveries. Currently, we know of no other companies delivering vaccines upon request like Uber, but we do know of a few other health care delivery services in the works, and some of the more exciting services include drones.

DHL has been researching delivery of health care with drones they’re calling “parcelcopters.” While Amazon Prime Air has been working on delivering products via drone, DHL is testing the system with medications specifically. As a part of a month long test run that began in September, they have been delivering medications via unmanned aircraft from a coastal town in Germany to the small island of Juist, about seven and a half miles away. The only restriction thus far has been the inability to send medications that need to be refrigerated. DHL is still early in the product testing process, but they are hopeful that this can be a way to deliver medications to those who live in rural areas, or are unable to get to pharmacies.

While delivering mediations via drone sounds like an optimal solution that could provide quick health care to people in hard to reach places, some ethical questions arise. Could personal identifying information be at risk if these parcelcopters crash? A DHL spokeswoman says that the drones will not fly in the same altitudes as conventional aircrafts, and also avoid this possible breach of privacy by avoiding flying over homes.

Time magazine quickly refuted another common fear that drone delivery will increase air pollution, claiming that it can be greener than traditional forms of pick up and deliveries.

Time reporter Bryan Walsh says that delivery services are “a lot more efficient at delivering products to you than you are at driving out and buying them yourself,” and drones are no exception.

Following in Amazon Prime Air’s path, FedEx has been researching drone delivery, but they want to find a specific niche. They have not named their interests yet, but why not consider medication delivery? Over the summer, Google announced that they have been researching drone delivery in the Australian outback, where they successfully delivered first aid kits to rural farmers. Both companies are in the developing stage, but once finished this could be a promising new technology that improves health care accessibility.

American companies will have a more difficult time than DHL in Germany because the Federal Aviation Administration bans the use of unmanned aircrafts to deliver commercial products. Amazon says that as soon as the FAA has the proper regulations in place, it will begin delivering products via drone. Maybe after that, an American drone delivery service will claim medication delivery as their niche.

How would you feel about drones delivering your medications? Do you think these nontraditional methods of health care delivery will gain acceptance and popularity in the future? Tell us what you think in the comments section!

Categories: Access to Care

How New Apps and Technology Create a New Central Nervous System for MS Patients: A Look at the Current State of Online Disease Management

By Vanessa Merta, Science Blogger

RWHC Writer Pic-2

Vanessa Merta

With over two million people suffering from multiple sclerosis and a cure for the debilitating autoimmune disease remaining illusive, patients are using new technologies to improve how they manage the disease. By leveraging web-based technologies and smart phones, patients have new weapons to improve their symptom management by collaborating with other patients and access care more easily.

Websites such as www.PatientsLikeMe.com play a supportive role by helping patients understand and manage their disease, and track potential outcomes. Patients use the website to connect with other patients to track symptoms, relapses, and medication results. By entering these data, patients not only learn more about managing their illness, they also help scientists and doctors use the data for research.

In a recent TedxTalk, PatientsLikeMe President, Ben Heywood, spoke of the growing MS community, currently at over 25,000 active users on the site. “You can see what it’s like to have MS,” said Mr. Heywood. “Symptoms in real-time of thousands and thousands of patients [are captured],” analyzed for trends, and help inform researchers in ways that may expedite a cure.

These widespread patient histories may prove to be helpful to drug developers because they can see what symptoms are not well managed, in the hopes of creating a goal for a future drug. With the knowledge of medication success rates, researchers can see if any drugs have the potential to be improved, or if they should be forgotten all together. Before websites like PatientsLikeMe.com, obtaining this kind of information was nearly impossible.

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When patients are on the go and don’t have access to a computer, smart phone applications offer welcome help. Patients have their entire health history with them at all times with apps such as the MS Association of America’s Multiple Sclerosis Self-Care Manager. Patients track mood and symptoms in a journal, and record whether or not they’ve taken their medications on schedule. In emergency situations, MS Self-Care Manager helps find physicians or hospitals with a Google-Map powered locator. The app makes doctor’s appointments more productive due to immediate access to lab results, and a record of all symptoms since the patient’s last visit.

Medical technology is trying to lessen the burden that an MS diagnosis may bring. Resources for patients are continuing to improve with the development of smart phone apps and online sites where patients can collaborate.

Technology has created its own version of a central nervous system by building a patient community with dynamic connectivity. Helping patients to manage symptoms by improving hand-held technology has become a reality for tens of thousands of MS patients. Until we have a cure or advances in medicine, these simple programs offer real benefits.

Tell us what you think about symptom tracking and online disease management. Have you put any of these products to good use?

Categories: General