Dr. Michael Forster

One good, two very bad ideas for health

Health issues make big headlines, as they should.  Here are three items gleaned from recent news:

The first is encouraging.  Hospitals are discovering that it pays to focus case management resources on high volume users (so-called “super-utilizers”) of emergency room services.  Chronically homeless individuals, for example, or substance abusers without health insurance, will rely on emergency rooms for basic health care much less often if attention is given to resolving their “underlying” problems.  It is indeed encouraging to see this happening, and one can only hope the practice of such intervention will eventually become commonplace.  At the same time, I can’t resist noting that “this ain’t rocket science, folks”; it’s called social work, it’s been around a while, and it can work wonders when practiced by properly trained professionals.

Unfortunately, the other two ideas are bad ones.  Not merely not encouraging, but  just plain bad policy from a health promotion standpoint. 

The first is an attempt by some in the U.S. Congress, recently reported by Sid Salter in the Clarion-Ledger, to pull the SNAP program (“food stamps”) out from comprehensive agriculture legislation, so that it can be more easily attacked and de-funded.  Such a move – resisted by moderate Republican Senator Thad Cochran – would be very very bad for Mississippi, where more than one in five citizens (by definition many of the poorest and most vulnerable) are eligible for SNAP, with the numbers growing dramatically during our painfully protracted recession.  He’s hard to stay well and healthy when you’re not eating regularly.

The second bad idea involves an effort by North Carolina state legislators to emulate some of their Mississippi counterparts – a welcome event, perhaps, were it not for the object of their imitation.  The “Commonsense Consumption Act” would, like similar legislation in the Magnolia State, prevent communities from regulating the size of soft drinks retailers can sell.  No matter that high sugar consumption is a central villain in the obesity epidemic, nor that no city in either Mississippi or North Carolina has in fact drunk the New York City-Mayor Bloomberg koolaid and tried to impose regulation.  Legislators want to be sure nobody gets any fancy ideas about promoting public health over the individual’s right to exercise “common sense.”  Let’s hear it for the freedom to be fat and flirt with chronic disease.

Dr. Michael Forster
Dr. Michael Forster

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