take the leave.

This coming week I will be two-thirds of the way through a medical leave – a paid medical leave that I almost didn’t take because I somehow felt it wasn’t warranted. My reluctance to take advantage of a benefit – offered by my university, supported by my colleagues, and recommended by a doctor who knows more about physiology and recovery than I do – is a problem.

Without a doubt, part of this hesitation is just me and my personality.* However, it was also the product of more widespread issues that I wanted to highlight here.  I also wanted to share the wisdom of others that finally gave me the courage to take the leave in hopes that someone else will do the same. Continue reading “take the leave.”

is obesity a problem?

I started this post as a reply to the OrgTheory thread on obesity but it got long enough I decided to move it here.

With all due respect, I think the claim that “obesity is not the problem” is overstated. I suspect that this overstatement is due in part to medical sociology’s tendency to infer from the “social construction of <condition>” that <condition> is not really real (see here for more on that). (Quick disclaimer: I have not yet read Abigail Saguy’s What’s Wrong With Fat?, though I hope to soon.)
Continue reading “is obesity a problem?”

the contraception mandate and path dependency

There’s much conversation about the so-called conscience issues with the contraception “mandate” under the new health care reform act. The Immanent Frame carries a useful set of statements by scholars on the topic. Kevin Schultz is of course correct that the whole matter is trumped up for election-year politics. Essentially they’ve carved out whole new territory for rights of “conscience”: a right to have one’s money “marked” such that it can’t be used for things one doesn’t believe in, even once that money is committed to nonreligious purposes. This idea validates one of Viviana Zelizer’s theses that the infinitely-fungible character of money fails to protect it from being invested with myriad meanings and distinctions.

The thing I haven’t heard mentioned is that the only reason this is an issue is because of the bizarre, path-dependency-created fact that most health insurance in the United States is purchased by employers. In the context of a national health care program, employers wouldn’t be in the business of purchasing their employees’ health care, so there would be no issue about “conscience.” There is no objection on the part of the Bishops to using public roads to allow people to drive to purchase contraceptives, nor public police and fire to protect the establishments that sell them.

blood pressure, the slavery hypothesis, and social construction

My wife is a physician, and like many doctors was taught in medical schools that African Americans are susceptible to hypertension, and particularly salt-sensitive hypertension, as a result of genetic selection through conditions during the middle passage. I raised this possibility in chatting with Liana Richardson, a postdoc here at UNC, about her very interesting work  on hypertension as a biomarker for stress over the life course, and in particular as a marker for high stress among African Americans. Her response was very interesting, and illustrates an example of cross-disciplinary information flows.

Continue reading “blood pressure, the slavery hypothesis, and social construction”

obesity and life trajectories

This morning NPR had a story about this study, which followed high-school grads to age 40. It uses “growth mixture models” (I’m not sure what these are) to identify two latent classes: one of “normative,” gradual growth in weight from normal weight at high school graduation to higher weight at 35 or 40, the other of “persistent overweight,” i.e., being overweight at high school graduation and staying overweight. There are important differences in health at age 40, which I don’t think is that surprising (though worth demonstrating). But there are also differences in social outcomes, including having “ever had a partner” (romantic, I assume); welfare receipt; and not having pursued education after high school, all of them more likely among the persistently overweight group.

The paper also, though, demonstrates that low childhood SES is a significant predictor of overweight at high school graduation, as is (independently) high school GPA. Read in this way, it strikes me that we ought not understand persistent obesity as a biological cause of social outcomes, as the NPR story (and particularly Kelly Brownell’s commentary therein) suggests, but rather as a mediator between childhood SES and adult SES.

coakley, brown, and health care

I’m not sure how to call today’s Coakley/Brown race in Massachusetts, largely because of the difficulty of predicting turnout and, even more so, the reactivity of polls based on turnout predictions. But I’m intrigued by the thread around talk radio and the ‘net that health care reform is “dead” if Coakley loses. Continue reading “coakley, brown, and health care”