Double Dose: Sexism in Film and Culture; Postpartum Depression Law Evaluated in N.J.; Breast Cancer Detection Depends on Doctor

By Christine Cupaiuolo — December 16, 2007

A Culture Saturated in Sexism: “If you believe many of this year’s movies, tabloids and blogs, one of the most terrifying sights is an adult female body that is (gasp) slightly imperfect,” writes Johanna Schneller in a great column on sexism in popular culture.

The piece quotes many of our favorite bloggers and cultural critics — including OBOS Executive Director Judy Norsigian, who weighs in on the impact that unrealistic beauty expectations and public criticism of women’s bodies have on women’s health:

“Humans have a natural desire to feel attractive,” she said, “but our culture is pushing an extremely narrow norm of what constitutes beauty, and that results in critical risks: complications from elective surgery, from silicone ruptures to MRSA [the virulent methicillin-resistant staph infection that plagues hospitals]. Health risks from fad diets. New mothers being encouraged to lose their baby weight so soon that they can’t produce breast milk. These dangers are downplayed left and right by the beauty industry. Their marketing misleads the public in massive ways.”

N.J. Postpartum Depression Law Not Meeting Expectations: “Since Gov. Jon Corzine signed the landmark postpartum depression law 20 months ago, the state has spent $9 million on the program: half on TV and radio ads and brochures encouraging women to ask for help, and half on training more than 6,000 medical professionals in how to identify the illness,” writes Susan K. Livio in the New Jersey Star-Ledger. “But health experts and women using the hotline say the law has fallen short: Women are seeking help, but when they do, state and medical professionals often are not prepared to assist them.”

The story covers the shocking range of responses women have received after calling the hotline — one women was referred to a therapist who turned out to be a drug counselor; another had the police and rescue squad arrive unannounced at her home an hour after she told a hotline staffer she was six months pregnant and “depressed out of my mind.”

The Sunny Side of Legal Rights for Eggs: Writing at Women’s eNews, Gloria Feldt summarizes the state ballot initiatives to give legal rights to fertilized eggs, from Colorado, where a proposed initiative extends the state’s constitutional protections to “any human being from the moment of fertilization,” to similar initiatives underway in Georgia, Oregon, Michigan, Mississippi and Montana.

But far setting off alarm bells, Feldt writes that she is “sounding the gong of opportunity.”

Fetal personhood initiatives could be the best thing since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973. Maybe even since Griswold v. Connecticut made birth control legal in 1965. That’s if, and only if, the pro-choice movement confronts the challenge head on and goes boldly toward a new moral rhetoric and legal agenda rooted in human rights.

Breast Cancer Detection Depends on Doctor: A study published in last week’s Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that doctors reading mammograms miss an average of two in every 10 cases of breast cancer. From the Chicago Tribune:

The researchers found that sensitivity — the ability to detect cancer when it is present — ranged from 27 percent to 100 percent, with a median of 79 percent. The false-positive rate — women who got a tentative diagnosis of cancer when they did not have it — ranged from zero to 16 percent, with a median of 4.3 percent. (A definitive diagnosis of cancer depends on a biopsy.)

The radiologists who were most accurate — that is, had the highest sensitivity without too many false alarms — tended to be those based at academic medical centers, followed by those who spent at least 20 percent of their time on breast imaging.

Plus: Gene Study Helps Explain Link to Breast Cancer

Respiratory Risk with Elective C-Sections: “Compared with newborns delivered vaginally or by emergency caesarean sections, those delivered by elective caesarean section around term have an increased risk of overall and serious respiratory morbidity. The relative risk increased with decreasing gestational age,” concludes a study (PDF) from Denmark. The study by researchers at Aarhus University Hospital was published last week at and is summarized in this press release.

Physical Activity, Not Body Fat, Matters Most: A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that seniors who are physically active on a regular basis live longer than unfit adults, regardless of their body fat, according to researchers at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health. The study was published in the Dec. 5 issue of JAMA.

Personal Health Records: The Chicago Tribune looks at reasons for putting together your own personal record system. And what better time than the holidays, when everyone’s gathered together, to discuss your family medical history?

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