Friday Five: Hajj, pinkwashing, listeria, IVF, President Taft

Each Friday, I use five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week.  

Hajj ends with no significant health scares

The Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, called hajj, concludes today. Public health officials worried about the spread of MERS as well as the annual concerns of fires, stampedes, and the transmission of pathogens through the ritual of head shaving. Thankfully, there have been no injuries or deaths so far (though we’ll have to keep watch for MERS and the infectious diseases associated with the head shaving). The number of pilgrims was down significantly from 3.2 million last year to just under two million this year. Hopefully, this success can be emulated in future years—keeping people safe during religious rituals should be a priority for Saudi Arabia.

 

Just say no to pinkwashing

I don’t understand how someone thinks that purchasing pink M&Ms or water bottles or scarves does any more good than donating directly to a breast cancer research charity—and in fact, it doesn’t. Luckily, Breast Cancer Action runs a campaign every October called Think Before You Pink, encouraging consumers not to purchase these products. This year they’re targeting the known carcinogens that are in various “awareness” items. They’re pushing for legislation that would require chemicals in consumer products to be tested for safety before they come to market, something that is not required now. Take a look at what they’re proposing, and even if you don’t want to sign the petition, please consider sending a couple bucks to the American Cancer Society or another reputable charity rather than buying a pink iPhone case

 

Food recall: listeria edition

There is yet another food recall this week, this time with ready to eat chicken and ham products from Garden Fresh Foods tainted with listeria (the irony of company names involved in recalls always makes me giggle). Garden Fresh had a previous recall in September involving foods sold at Target, Weis, and other outlets. If you bought chicken or ham salad from Weis, and the package has "EST. 17256" or "Est. P-17256" printed on it, throw it away! Listeria usually causes trouble in the usual vulnerable groups: elderly adults, pregnant women, small children, and people with compromised immune systems. For the list of recalled foods, see the USDA.

 

IVF has been a huge success

Preliminary research shows that there have been at least five million births as a result of in vitro fertilization (IVF). IVF is the process of stimulating ovulation, retrieving eggs, fertilizing those eggs in a controlled environment, and transferring the resulting embryo into the woman’s uterus. People choose to use IVF for many reasons: maternal age, fallopian tube issues, male infertility, or to allow LGBT couples to have a child biologically related to a partner. Infertility is losing its stigma in no small part due to the surge in IVF babies. Having options about when and how to start a family is crucial, and being able to talk about those options and decisions helps normalize the ideas for others.

 

Former presidents…they’re just like us!

William Howard Taft, our portliest president, seems to have used the late 1800s version of Weight Watchers to slim down. New research shows that he had a years-long correspondence with a weight loss doctor who suggested a low-fat, low-calorie diet combined with exercise, portion control, and daily weigh-ins. Taft lost weight, but complained of constant hunger—no surprise because he was limited to small portions of meat, vegetables without butter, plain salad, and cooked fruit. He was not able to stick to the diet long term, so he eventually regained the weight he lost, much like modern dieters. Permanent weight loss is incredibly difficult, and Taft shows us that even the powerful can struggle with their weight.

 

Oh, and I’d love if you’d check out the first episode of my new podcast, Action Phase!