Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Health Fascism in America

Scores of grumbling parents facing a threat of jail lined up at a courthouse today to either prove that their school-age kids already had their required vaccinations or see that the youngsters submitted to the needle. The get-tough policy in Prince George's County was one of the strongest efforts made by any U.S. school system to ensure its youngsters receive their required immunizations.

Two months into the school year, school officials realized that more than 2,000 students in the county still didn't have the vaccinations they were supposed to have before attending class. So Circuit Court Judge C. Philip Nichols ordered parents in a letter to appear at the courthouse today and either get their children vaccinated on the spot or risk up to 10 days in jail. They could also provide proof of vaccination or an explanation why their kids didn't have them.

By about 8:30 a.m., the line of parents stretched outside the courthouse in the county on the east side of Washington. Many of them complained that their children already were properly immunized but the school system had misplaced the records. They said efforts to get the paperwork straightened out had been futile. "It was very intimidating," Territa Wooden of Largo said of the letter. She said she presented the paperwork at the courthouse today and resolved the matter.

"I could be home asleep. My son had his shots," said Veinell Dickens of Upper Marlboro, who also blamed errant paperwork. Aloma Martin of Fort Washington brought her children, Delontay and Taron, in 10th and 6th grade, for their hepatitis shots. She said she had been trying to get the vaccinations for more than a month, since the school system sent a warning letter. She had an appointment for Monday, but came to the courthouse to be safe. "It was very heavy handed," she said of the county's action. "From that letter, it sounded like they were going to start putting us in jail."

School officials deemed the court action a success. School system spokesman John White said the number of children lacking vaccinations dropped from 2,300 at the time the judge sent the letter to about 1,100 Friday. After today's session, 172 more students were brought into compliance, including 101 students who received vaccinations at the courthouse and 71 whose records were updated. That still left more than 900 students out of compliance with vaccination requirements, White said. "Obviously, we still have some more work to do," he said.

Any children who still lack immunizations could be expelled. Their parents could then be brought up on truancy charges, which can result in a 10-day jail sentence for a first offense and 30 days for a second. Prince George's State's Attorney Glenn Ivey couldn't say today whether he would prosecute parents who fail to comply. "We have to sit down with school and health services," he said. "We haven't ruled anything out. We need to figure out where we stand."

White said the school system, with about 132,000 students, has been trying for two years to get parents to comply with state law. That law allows children to skip vaccines if they have a medical or religious exemption. It was unclear how many medical or religious exemptions were involved.

Maryland, like all states, requires children to be immunized against several childhood illnesses including polio, mumps and measles. In recent years, it also has required that students up to high school age be vaccinated against hepatitis B and chicken pox.

Nichols said nobody actually came before him today, but he was there if any parent asked to see him. The judge noted the unhappy looks of some of the kids in line waiting for vaccinations. "It's cute. It looks like their parents are dragging them to church," Nichols said.

Several organizations opposed to mass vaccinations demonstrated outside the courthouse. While the medical consensus is that vaccines are safe and effective, some people blame immunizations for a rise in autism and other medical problems. "People should have a choice" in getting their children immunized, said Charles Frohman, representing a physicians' group opposed to vaccines.


Parents no longer needed

Comment on the story above. Excerpt:

"An incredible story in the The Washington Post reports that the parents of around 2,300 Maryland suburban students who failed to get needed vaccinations may now face a $50 a day fine and up to 10 days in jail if their children fails to meet the state's immunization requirements. ...

My wife and I would not allow our doctor to stick a needle into our two little girls with hepatitis B vaccine, not because we're anti-vaccine, but because we deemed this vaccine unnecessary at such a young age. But even if Prince George parents are wrong about the shots effectiveness and worth, are we now a country where an attorney general coerces parents to inject pharmaceuticals into their children? If parents fail to walk lockstep will they now regularly be threatened with prison?"


A Lesson in economics for the food freaks

Boulder Weekly covers the city public schools' burgeoning black market in ... wait for it ... candy. Black market in candy? Yep -- it's all courtesy of a new school district policy "that has removed all unhealthy, sugar-laden snacks and sodas from vending machines in schools. The new policies are part of a national trend, in which foods are forbidden at schools if they don't meet strict nutritional criteria that limit calories coming from sugar and fat."

How restrictive is the policy? Boulder's new policies apply to vendors of food services, snack and beverage vending machines, student stores, fundraisers and "any regularly offered food during a child's school day." The policy allows water and seltzers, low-fat milk, fruit juice (no less than 50 percent real juice), and electrolyte sports drinks with 42 grams or less of added sweetener per 20-ounce serving. Allowed snack items include nuts, seeds, dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, dried fruits and vegetables, and some packaged fruits. Other food items are allowed only if calories are comprised of 35 percent or less fat, 10 percent or less of saturated fat plus trans fat, and if sugar comprises 35 percent or less of the total weight of the product.

All very well-intentioned, I'm sure. But school administrators clearly forgot one of the iron laws of economics: If you ban it, they will come ("they" being underground entrepreneurs, of course).

The money to be made sounds pretty impressive. The story details kids buying iPods and new clothes -- and even taking their own parents out to dinner -- from the profits made off marking up candy bought in bulk at Costco. At least one set of parents actually bankrolled their entrepreneurial offspring.

The laws of economics rule across the board, of course. Profit margins have apparently drifted down because of the influx of competition from other kids who have turned their lockers into convenience stores. Unsurprisingly, similar black markets have appeared elsewhere when school administrators imposed nutritional restrictions that ran contrary to consumer tastes. Huh. These modern kids have it so easy. In my day, we had to sell dope to make a buck between classes.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.

10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correla-tion coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic condi-tions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his anal-ysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic condi-tions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.


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