Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wealth Buys Health

Thomas Riggins

The title above is part of a headline from a recent article in Science Daily.
Nobody should be surprised to learn that in a class society wealthy people are going to be healthier that poor folks. But the complete title of the article is actually "Wealth Buys Health -- Even in China."

Lets see just what this is supposed to show. Since Daily says we have long known, by scientific studies, that the "health gap" between rich and poor exists in the U.S. and that the gap "gets worse as people get older." The article then asks: "But is this because the U.S. is a capitalist society?" An interesting scientific question. The answer they propose is: "Apparently not."

North Carolina State University has recently released a study made of the health gap in China between people with high and low SES [socioeconomic status] and the study shows "the same is true for China" as for the U.S. But is it really the SAME? The study found "In China, the overall health gap across generations is getting narrower--- and it's getting wider in the U.S." A strange use of the word "same."

What the study seems to show is that in any society there is going to be a gap in the health between people of high and low SES. But can we infer that the type of economic system has nothing to do with this. China is not a capitalist society. It has a mixed economy and capitalism is being engineered in China, under state control, to develop the economic resources of the country, but not for the sole benefit of finance capital and big privately owned industrial monopolies.

The Chinese Communist Party can direct the economic development of China precisely because the economy is not subject to an unregulated and out of control "free market." It is for this reason that the health gap is growing smaller as China develops and it continues to grow larger in the capitalist U.S.

The present U.S. administration has tried to somewhat reverse this gap with health care reform ( "Obama care"--so called by the enemies of social progress in the U.S.) that would extend health benefits to 35 million people of lower SES. This reform is threatened and could be repealed if reactionary forces take over the government or make major in roads into it.
Chinese people, not living under monopoly capitalism, do not have to fear the reversal of their narrowing health gap.

Here is one of the conclusions from the authors of the North Carolina State study: "Even accounting for the fact that more recent generations are younger [in China] the health gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged has shrunk with each successive generation. This is the exact opposite [not "same"?] of what has been found in studies of the U.S. population, where the health gap has been shown to widen with each generation."

The researchers say it is not clear why this is so? What can the reason be? They plan more research and tell us, "We suspect this narrowing of the health gap in China is due to significant social and economic changes over the past 20 years, including changes in health behaviors and ACCESS (my emphasis-tr) to health care."

I think their future research may find this to be the case. As for the question about the growing health care gap in the U.S-- is this because the U.S. is a capitalist country?--I think the answer may be apparently "yes."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Too Fat to Fight

Thomas Riggins

Science Daily (Oct. 18, 2010) has reported a new analysis by Cornell University has uncovered a major threat to U.S. national security. Research has shown that about 25% of the young people needed to provide the cannon fodder for the U.S. military are too fat to pass the medical requirements for service in the armed forces.

The military needs to sign up 184,000 young people each year in order to carry on its wars and the garrisoning of its military outposts around the world and the fact that so many young people are too fat to fight means the Pentagon may have to rely more and more on private security mercenaries and drones to carry out its war plans.

John Crawley, one of the professors associated with the Cornell study says being overweight or obese is “the most common reason for medical disqualification.”
The coefficient of fatness is also higher based on income, education and race. Marxists and other progressives will not be shocked to find out that the poor, under-educated and racially or ethnically oppressed are likely to have higher coefficients of fatness.

The only example given in the article is the comparison of white female potential recruits compared to those of Black and Hispanic descent; the last two groups “are less likely to meet the weight standards.”

The problem, of course, is the prevalence of junk food sold by the big chains such as McDonald's, KFC, Burger King, Wendy’s, and hundreds of others that prey on the poor and minorities with their cheap unhealthy pseudo-food concoctions and the failure of the Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies to regulate the quality of food private capitalist corporations are allowed to offer to the public. Since people’s health doesn’t seem to motivate the FDA maybe the government will take some action when the military gets involved because it can’t get the troops it needs.

Some solutions have been suggested—short of providing the population with inexpensive healthy food – such as changing the health standards so that fatter people can join the military—but only for desk jobs. Also the drone flyers don’t have to be in good shape since their work is akin to playing video games—only real people not animations get killed. In fact many young people become obese from lack of exercise due to sitting and playing video war games all day long. These skills will serve the military well and the fatter a drone recruit is may be an indication of better skill at drone warfare.

It would be counter productive to reintroduce the draft as young people could just spend a month eating at McDonald's before taking their physical and being exempted. Dr. Crowley points out that obesity is not just a personal problem, as it has been made out to be, and “U.S. military leaders view it at a threat to national security and military readiness…” Once again a red flag threatens the hegemony of U.S. imperialism: but this time it sports golden arches.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Air Pollution and Diabetes: EPA Pollution Levels Set Too High

Thomas Riggins

A new national study has found that there is a statistical correlation between exposure to air pollution and adult diabetes. The air pollution studied is known as particulate air pollution so named for the small particles of microscopic matter that are found in factory smoke, engine exhaust, haze, and smog.

The particles are measured in nanometers so PM10 would be "particulate matter of 10 nanometers size." The Environmental Protection Agency standards say it is safe to breath air with a PM level of 2.5 or below. But is it? Has this level been set for people's health or to save auto makers and other pollution generating industries from the expense of having to clean up their exhaust to a level far below the "safe" level of PM2.5?

Under the Bush[W] administration the Union of Concerned Scientists condemned the blatant suppression of both the scientists and the scientific studies at the EPA to cover up the harmful effects of air pollution and the true levels of safety. The Obama administration has taken steps to improve the situation but more has to be done.

Science Daily (based on a study published in Diabetes Care) has recently reported that scientists have discovered that air pollution levels well below 2.5, in the range of 0.1 to 2.5, are linked to the development of diabetes in adults. Exposure to the particulate matter in air causes inflammation associated with insulin resistance which is a sign of possible future diabetes onset.

The scientists compared EPA data on air pollution levels with Centers for Disease Control [CDC] data on diabetes on a county by county basis for the entire US. Science Daily reports that, "In all analyses, there was a strong and consistent association between diabetes prevalence and PM2.5 concentrations." This association also held at lower levels.

Of course there are many other causes of diabetes-- heredity, obesity, diet, etc., but this new evidence also shows that the EPA's 2.5PM safety limit for air pollution is set too high. Congress and the Administration must take action to ensure that capitalist profits do not, yet again, come before people.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Science Notes: Loopholes in Climate Accord Portend Death of Coral Reefs by 2100

Thomas Riggins

It doesn't seem as if the big industrial nations are serious about trying to halt global warming. They are trying to address the issue again right now at a meeting in Tianjin, China from October 4 to the 9th but early press reports are warning people not to expect too much. The divide between the rich and poor nations, which caused last year's conference in Copenhagen to end in a debacle, are still present.

The governments of the major industrialized nations, with the exception of China, represent the interests of the large corporations including the industrial, oil and mining conglomerates which are responsible for much of the pollution driving global warming. Unless the people become more active and insistent these governments will continue to support the interests of the capitalist corporations at the expense of the planet and its inhabitants.

Time is running out for the planet. People left Copenhagen pledging to keep global warming down to 2 degrees C by 2100, but the big nations gave themselves so many loopholes that scientists are saying that the real increase will be more like 4.2 degrees C-- more than enough to kill off the remaining coral reefs, and, according to Environmental Research Letters, as reported by Science Daily, drastically increase ocean acidification and the destruction of the marine ecosystem.

Most people live day by day and a disaster predicted for one hundred years in the future doesn't seem to motivate them to action. The big corporations and their governments are counting on the inertia, indeed even apathy, to put off climate reform as long as possible.

Scientists are saying that just setting vague goals for 2100 is insufficient. Interim goals for 2020 and 2030 are needed to make sure we are on the right track. We need a 50 per cent reduction below 1990 levels of CO2 emissions by 2050 if the world is going to stand a chance of avoiding the catastrophe of the 4.2 degree C increase by 2100.

If the Tianjin conference comes to grief, as did the one at Copenhagen, due to the intransigence of the big capitalist powers it will be up to the international workers movement and democratic national elements to take up the struggle for saving the planet.