Archive | Trends/Studies/Research

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways to Reduce Insomnia

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s list was prompted by a new study showing that sleep loss in middle age is associated with high blood pressure. As a chronic insomniac, I figure this study just gives me one more reason to stay up at night worrying. But it also furnishes me with an excuse to pontificate about some of the more popular sleep aides out there:

1. Get a Mouthguard. If – like so many of us – you find that your night-time stress moves directly into your jaw, you might consider asking your dentist for a mouthguard. Yes, it may make you feel like Evander Holyfield. And, yes, as an old dentist of mine once said: “It ain’t exactly an aphrodesiac.” But if you’ve ever lain next to someone who grinds their teeth or – worse – woken up with a piercing pain in your own jaw, a mouthguard might be just the trick. (Insider tip: figure out if you are a clencher or a grinder. It may affect the design of your mouthguard.)

2. Wear an Eye Patch. These can be helpful for shutting out light that aggravates insomnia. But be sure to replace them frequently. Most eye patches use velcro to accommodate different head sizes. Over time, you may find that  most of your hair stays on the velcro rather than on your head. And some of us don’t have a lot to spare.

3. Employ a Noise Machine. Some people are big fans of background noise. You can listen to the soothing sounds of an ocean…birds chirping…or just plain “white noise.” But again, choose carefully. For the last several years, my husband and I have been using a portable air conditioner to cool our bedroom, which doesn’t have a window (we have a skylight instead). But said machine sputters, heaves and otherwise exerts itself throughout the night like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on steroids. If, like me, you’re prone to dreams about being chased, this doesn’t exactly lend itself to relaxation.

4. Take Ambien. Somewhat further up the food chain, you may need to resort to medication. I have no problem with this, although know that Ambien is often less effective when taken sequentially, rather than once in awhile. My own favorite Ambien story was the time I ran out of my own (5mg) pills and borrowed a friend’s 10mg pill. As the medication began to take effect and I got woozy, I freaked out and called 911. (Yes, you’re seeing a pattern here.) When the operator asked me how much I’d taken and I told her “10 mg,” she responded: “Call me when you’ve taken 100.” You know it’s bad when even the 911 folks are dissing you.

5. Move to France. Apparently, people in France sleep more than in any other industrialized country. Heavens knows why. Maybe it’s all that red wine.

Bonne nuit!

Image: B’s Mouthguard for Football by Axlotl via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Help! I've OD'd on Ibuprofen: Medicine and Social Media

There’s a new study out suggesting that more than 60% of Americans go on-line to get their health care information. Whereas in the past, they might have called a doctor, relative or good friend for advice, these days people are reading blogs, listening to podcasts or posting comments, often relying on user-generated information.

To be sure, there are downsides to this trend. Pressed for time, some people are likely to try to use social media as a way to avoid actually seeing a doctor. A friend of mine likes to joke that he now just takes a photograph and emails it to his doctor with the subject line: “It hurts here.”

Over-reliance on the internet can also lead to over-reactions. Try plugging the words “red rash children” into Google. It comes up with about 99 different potential causes, ranging from Leukemia to a minor skin irritation. Guess which one you’ll gravitate towards?

Then there was the time I thought I’d over-dosed on Ibuprofen. I’d been having trouble – again – with Piriformis Syndrome and lost track of how many pills I’d taken in one day. I leapt to the computer, Googled “Ibuprofen” and discovered that adults are only supposed to take something like 1600 mg a day. I’d already had at least 2000. My heart started racing and I frantically reached for the phone to call 999 (911). I was convinced that I was going to die. (Never mind that the dangerous side effects of Ibuprofen run to digestive – not coronary – matters.) By the time the ambulance arrived, the medics practically laughed in my face.

On the other hand, I think there are a lot of upsides to this trend as well. I’ve had friends use the internet to correctly identify serious illnesses whose symptoms had flummoxed their doctors.

In a thoughtful article in the New York Times last week, Pauline Chen (M.D.) talks about how blogs, Facebook and Twitter have been instrumental to her practice as a physician. Among other things, they’ve helped her and other doctors like her monitor patients, share information, widen illness support networks or just provide a quick word of encouragement.

And yet, ironically – as Chen notes – there are very few guidelines in this information age for doctors about how to use social media with their patients.

Call me crazy, but as long as we’re about to plunge in and try and totally re-configure our health care system, shouldn’t we be thinking of how social media might be used to further the goals of medicine? If nothing else, it’s free. Which is more than you can say about most things right now.

What do you think? How has social media shaped your experiences with medicine?

*****

Speaking of middle-aged technical blunders, the Onion has a hysterical article about the creation of after-work centers for the middle-aged. My favorite bit:

When not scheduling a Julia Roberts movie night or field trips to Gerald Ford’s birth site, the staff at The Den is busy showing patrons how to set up their AOL accounts and download MP3s of Sting’s latest album…

Image: P2090106 by Bright_Star via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Beam Me Up, Scotty: Are Sequels an Escape from Adulthood?

In case you haven’t heard, the summer movie season has officially begun.

Two weeks ago X-Men Origins: Wolverine opened. And last weekend Star Trek hit the Cineplexes.

Many of the current releases are either some version of a franchise, a re-make or an adaptation. And, for some, this trend is a veritable assault on adulthood.

Dennis Palumbo of Huffington Post bemoaned the current dearth of movies for adults, urging those of us who go in for more serious cinematic fare to “get off the couch” as it were (he’s also a psychotherapist). His point:  no one’s going to make movies for adults if we don’t actually go see them.

Another blogger, Lorrie Lynch, made a list of the serious Indie films coming out this summer and then wrote “Grown ups, read on.” (True confessions: I bookmarked the page post haste. I mean, c’mon. Atom Egoyan? In the summertime? Sign me up…)

I must say that I’m sympathetic to some of these concerns. The sight of grown men and women parading around theatres in their velour-insigniad Starship Enterprise tunics and Vulcan ears does give one pause. (For a particularly thoughtful review of the entire Star Trek franchise, read this article by Chicago Reader critic J.R. Jones. He argues that the original TV show was actually quite mature in its subject matter – with its mixed-gender, multiracial crew and Cold War overtones. Over time, however, the series – and movies it spawned – were dumbed down considerably to appeal to kids.)

But for me, the most interesting analysis of this trend was an article in the Washington Post by Hank Stuever examining the effect of  extreme fans (of the lightsaber bearing sort) on the making and marketing of these blockbuster-type movies.

The central question he asks – and I paraphrase here –  is why we feel compelled, as a society, to compulsively remake The Dukes of Hazard or our favorite books from fourth grade. Is it a lack of creativity? Nostalgia? Escape?

I don’t have an answer to that question. But as someone who’s quite prone to nostalgia myself, I can say that I, too, find it moving to revisit signature cultural artifacts – books, movies – from my childhood. I don’t necessarily need to don Lieutenant O’hura’s mini-dress in order to do so. But I understand the impulse.

So go ahead and beam me up, Scotty. But be warned: I’ll be looking for the Indie screening room on the Starship Enterprise when I get there.

Image: Trekkies by San Diego Shooter via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Smiles, Everyone! Smiles!: What Makes for a Happy Marriage?

The last few days have unleashed a torrent of reactions  to Elizabeth Edwards’ decision to go on Oprah and talk about her husband’s affair.

Some are outraged; some defend her; others are simply confused.

But the main reason that everyone is so fascinated by Elizabeth’s “coming out” is that until the advent of Rielle Hunter, we all thought that the Edwardses were incredibly happily married. That was, in fact, their “brand.”

So it’s worth asking: what makes for a happy marriage?

Gretchen Rubin had a lovely post earlier this week on The Happiness Project about meeting her husband. For her, the central mystery is how she and her husband  – who are perfectly suited to one another – fell in love before they knew each other at all?

One recent study suggests that the single best predictor of whether or not you’ll marry happily is – wait for it – how much you smile in photos when you’re younger. The implication, I suppose, is that happy people become happy partners. (I can just hear the Ricardo Montalban character from Fantasy Island in the background: “Smiles, Everyone. Smiles!”)

But what about a happy dynamic between spouses? What explains that?

There are lots of possible answers.

For Ayelet Waldman – of Bad Mother fame – it clearly has a lot to do with a good sex life.

A friend of mine here in London says that the key to his happy marriage is sharing the same “emotional temperature” with his wife.

I’ve always thought that happy marriages (or enduring partnerships) have a lot to do with shared interests – that both partners actually like to do the same things in their free time. That sounds pretty mundane, I know. But I’m always shocked at how many couples fall into some version of the “He likes the mountains; She likes the beach” dichotomy.

Perhaps the most egregious case was an old friend of mine whose husband’s idea of the ideal New Year’s Day was to watch four different football “bowls” on four different televisions (simultaneously). His wife, meanwhile, was busily re-reading George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss in the other room. (They’re now divorced).

In my own case, I realized that my husband and I were meant for each other when – on a recent vacation – he was re-reading Anne Frank’s Diary and I was reading Sophie’s Choice. I recognize that holocaust literature isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. But to me, it said a lot about why we’re well suited to one another.

How about you? What do you think makes for a happy long term marriage/partnership?

*****

Further to Tuesday’s post about whether or not there’s a relationship between young children growing up too fast and young adults growing up too slow, this blog – Slouching Towards Adulthood –  has one answer to that question.

Image: Bride and Groom by Sharon Goodyear via freedigitalphotos.net.

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Reaching Adulthood: Are Kids Growing Up Too Fast or Too Slow?

I read two articles over the weekend that seemed, at first glance, completely contradictory.

The first, on the New York Times Motherlode blog, was a piece discussing the oft-heard complaint that kids these days are being forced to grow up too quickly. (As one person cited in the article puts it: “How did 5 become the new 7, anyway?”)

The second article, from the Washington Post, was on so-called boomerang kids –  “children” between ages 18 and 34 who move back home to live with their parents. According to the article, the number of Twenty Somethings now living at home with their parents has grown by 50% since the 1970s (a trend that is only being  accentuated by the current recession).

So…which is it? Are kids growing up too fast or too slow?

With a little digging, I found the answer is…both.

On the one hand, through things like homework in kindergarten, we do seem to be encouraging kids to prepare for the responsibilities of adulthood at an earlier and earlier age. I live in the U.K., and if you think childhood is on the wane in the States, try living over here. Good luck finding a playground for children over 5. I’m not kidding!

And yet, as studies like this one suggest, a host of economic, social and cultural factors mean that young adults are also meandering much more than they did a generation ago:  delaying marriage, changing careers several times, failing to achieve economic independence and other milestones of adulthood. (For a quick summary of these trends, have a look at the Network on Transitions to Adulthood website at the MacArthur Foundation.)

It’s hard to read these two articles side by side and wonder if there isn’t a relationship between their claims:  Is it possible, in other words, that in encouraging young children to grow up too fast, we induce a backlash later on in older children that slows that process down?

I don’t know the answer to this question. But it certainly seems like a paradox worth exploring.

In the meantime, if you’re already a bona fide adult looking to lessen your load, swing by the Escape Adulthood blog where Kim and Jason offer tips for ridding yourself of adultitis.

*****

When I first launched this blog, a cousin of mine, Jeremy, wrote me an email: “Depressing to learn that I won’t have this all figured out by the time I’m 45. That was my last best hope for adulthood.”

A former colleague of mine with three grown children of his own also wrote: “Your blog reminds me of a distinction my kids used to make. They’d say that you become an adult when you’re 21, but you don’t ‘grow up’ until you’re 65 or beyond.”

So there you go, Jer. You’ve still got 20 years to go!

Image: Race on the Beach by Mr. Thumpz via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Changing Religion: Bagel Brunch, Anyone?

I was struck by a new poll suggesting that half of all Americans change religion during adulthood.

Apparently, the American Catholic Church has suffered the greatest loss, and is having an increasingly hard time recruiting new members (this was of particular interest to me because I was raised Catholic).

My husband is Jewish. So we’ve given the whole issue of (my) conversion some thought over the years, ever since we took an “I’m Jewish, You’re Not” class at a university Hillel. I’ve long been drawn to Judaism (my father always said that I’d “make a good Jew,” by which he meant that I was studious and hard-working – you’d have to have known him to understand that this was his way of giving a compliment).

All of which is to say that I am very much – potentially, at least – within the demographic represented in this study.

But my husband and I remain deeply ambivalent about the whole religion thing. Before moving to London, we dutifully attended the “welcome bagel brunch” at the local synagogue in our Chicago suburb every year, never quite managing to join.

On the “con” side, neither of us is terribly religious (other than the odd genuflecting here and there on my part). And when you’re Jewish, you’ve also got to “pay to play” (as we used to say about Illinois politics). Which means that even with the Goyim discount we’d get at the local synagogue in London because I’m not Jewish, it would still cost about 500 pounds to join (approximately $750). If you come from the pass-the-basket tradition in which I grew up, you’ll balk before shelling out that kind of money unless you’re truly ready to commit.

On the “pro” side, however, we both feel that religion can be a positive form of identity for children. My husband grew up in the American South and attended a Christian high school, and so being Jewish is still a huge part of who he is. (There’s arguably no better way to solidify a minority cultural identity than to have your high school football coach gather the team around when you need to leave practice early to, quote, “send you off to Jew school,” unquote.)

And then I read this persuasive essay in Slate by Mark Oppenheimer about why going to services with his daughter has been such a meaningful experience. His basic point is that kids love rituals, religious services are a great way to spend quality time with your kids and they also allow him to continue to learn about his religion through his daughter. The essay is about Judaism, but the arguments apply more generally.

I’m not sure this article will motivate me to pony up the 500 quid I’d need to join the synagogue here, but it did get me thinking. Maybe I’ll just take a peek at the synagogue’s website and see if there’s a bagel brunch coming up anytime soon…

How about you? Have you changed religion as an adult? What was it like?

*****

Further to last week’s post about cycling, I was delighted to discover that the first chapter of Smart Bike has started in the United States.

Image: Sesame Bagel by Roboppy via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Cycling to Work: The Latest Sign of Maturity

In today’s International Herald Tribune, there’s a story about the new “must have” item of this recession: a glossy, black Dutch bicycle. Apparently, one of the many side effects of the current economic downturn is that people in New York City are embracing cycling like never before (according to the article, commuting by bicycle rose by 35% from 2007-2008 in New York; click here for everything you ever wanted to know about bicycle statistics).

This article caught my attention for several reasons, not the least of which is that I’m married to someone who has cycled to work regularly for the past two and a half years since we moved to London. But what really struck me was the article’s central question:  “Can urban cyclists really grow up and put on a tie?” (italics mine)

It’s certainly true that biking is something we typically associate with childhood. Learning to ride a bike is one of those great rites of passage of early childhood. It’s one of the first big activities you engage in – much like swimming – where you’re no longer entrusted to the immediate physical care of an adult. Rather, you’re on your own, and biking therefore signals freedom, mobility, independence.

But it’s when you transition from bike to car – in America, at least – that’s the definitive rite of passage:  a clear, indelible sign that you’ve become an adult.

Until now. What this article seems to suggest is that to the extent that New York bikers can acquire the gear, habits and attitude of, say, the Dutch, they will have evolved to a more adult way of living.

I can’t tell you how happy I am, for once, to be ahead of the curve on something lifestyle-related. Because here in Europe, so many people cycle to work that I no longer think it at all unusual. In Amsterdam, where we spent Christmas, you could easily forget that there even existed something called a car.

(Nor do I find it strange anymore to see someone – who shall be nameless – spend hours on line investigating the latest developments in fluorescent panniers and ergonomic hand grips. I think I’ll somehow fail to flag to his attention the latest trend in bike wear: the cordaround. Something tells me that if he ever got wind of the “espresso checked seersucker,” I’d never hear the end of it…)

It’s funny how life has a way of coming full circle. Things that once were considered the very essence of youth – like bicycles – are now a sign of maturity. I’m just wondering what’s next. I’m personally hoping that poptarts make a come-back…

*****

Speaking of recessions, Marci Alboher has a terrific new blog – Working the New Economy – that’s all about finding work in the current economy. Be sure to check out her weekly segment –  Who’s Finding Jobs Now? – for inspiration.

Image: Bicycle by J. Salmoral via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Kaleidoscope Careers: Uncovering Your Inner Cezanne

Soon after I started this blog, I got an email from a former colleague who was quite taken with the RealDelia concept. “Think about it,” he said. “You have so much material. I mean how many shows are there featuring ex-pat American PhD freelance essayist ex-radio producer moms?”

He was teasing me, of course (he also said that I should have called the blog “Lloyds of London,” but then advised me to save that for the reality TV show). But he does touch on a serious point. Like many people out there in today’s work force, I’ve done a lot of different things in my professional life which, combined, give me a diverse set of experiences to write about and talk about.

Lisa Belkin had a terrific article about this phenomenon in the New York Times Magazine earlier this year, in which she discussed Caroline Kennedy’s failed bid for the New York senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton. However you felt about Kennedy as a candidate, Belkin’s basic point was that Kennedy may have lacked experience for the job in a linear-I’ve-been-preparing-for-this-job-all-my-life sort of way (unlike, say, Kristen Gillebrand, who eventually got the nod). But the sort of “kaleidoscope” resume that Kennedy brought to the table (e.g., lawyer, writer, fundraiser, parent) is increasingly the norm in today’s economy, a by-product both of the dot-com economy which threw traditional career trajectories out the window, as well as the reality of women returning to the workforce after having children.

Belkin’s article also reminded me of some of the arguments raised in Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, Outliers. In a New Yorker article last Fall entitled “Late Bloomers: Why do we Equate Genius with Precocity?,” Gladwell – drawing on extensive research by David Galenson at the University of Chicago – points out that many of the world’s most celebrated “geniuses” – people like Paul Cezanne, to name but one – didn’t start out as geniuses right off the bat, but rather took years to culivate their talents. So it wasn’t that Cezanne was discovered late (as is sometimes erroneously thought to be the case); it’s that he simply wasn’t very good at what he did until quite late in his career. In the meantime, he was experimenting.

Taken together, I found the messages in these articles to be quite reassuring. Belkin’s article suggests that the economy may be changing in ways that rewards diversity over continuity where careers are concerned. And Gladwell’s article suggests that if you haven’t been labeled a genius by the time you’re twenty five, you’ve still got plenty of time ahead of you. In either case, the message seems to be:  experiment away…

*****

While we’re on the topic of experimentation, I took my kids to see Dan Zane and Friends today in London. Some of you may remember Zanes from his earlier career in the pop band The Del Fuegos. But he has since reinvented himself as a creator of  “homemade family music.” Haven’t seen him perform live? It’s a must…

Image: Kaleidoscope FR 5340 1907 by Lucy Nieto via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Is Public Radio Too Middle Aged?

Public radio has hit hard times in the United States. According to recent accounts in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, National Public Radio is having budgetary problems resulting in show cancellations as well as tensions with its member stations over fundraising.

I worked at Chicago Public Radio for four years, so part of my interest in these developments is purely personal. But I wanted to talk about it here because it’s also the case that listening to public radio – in America, at least – is and always has been a much “older thing” to do. No one I know in the States began listening (or much less contributing money) to public radio until they were well into their thirties. I distinctly remember the first time that I began to identify with a local station – WAMU in Washington, DC. I was thirty-four.

I’m not sure why listening to public radio has become synonymous with maturity, exactly. It could be the long form interviews…the more in-depth news analysis…the sometimes esoteric programming…or simply the age of the average guest/host that somehow, combined, demand a longer attention span. The sort that comes with age.

There’s certainly been a lot of handwringing within the public radio world over how to reach a younger demographic. Chicago Public Radio responded with something called Vocalo. Others may remember the short-lived Bryant Park Project which was meant to cultivate a younger, more diverse NPR audience. (A friend of mine who’s an economist once appeared on a BPP segment via telephone. As she waited for her interview to begin, she listened to the hosts talk with some hip, young guy about his “podcamp” that was spreading like wildfire. Then, when they segued to her story, they literally said: “So, there’s something going on in DC about health insurance programs. No, don’t reach for the ‘off ‘ button on your Ipod! This is actually interesting…” Ouch.).

I don’t know how NPR is going to square this circle. Apparently, listeners are at an all time high, but they are tuning in for shorter and shorter periods of time. We here in Great Britain face our own travails with the BBC (more on that some other time), but at least I don’t have to worry that my beloved (lengthy, overly-intellectual and decidedly middle-aged) programming will end any time soon. Phew.

In the meantime, I think I’ll just tune out of this whole dilemma and go back to that great Aldous Huxley retrospective I was just listening to on Radio Four…

*****

If you are a public radio junkie, by all means visit a new website created by two of my former Chicago Public Radio colleagues –  Radiopublic – where you can listen to and talk about your favorite shows, as well as catch up on what’s going on inside the industry.

Image: National Public Radio Headquarters by SavetheDave via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Never Too Old to Protest?: What the G20 Riots Tell us about Aging

I was intrigued by a recent article analyzing the diminishing preponderance of street protests in the United States, despite so-called “populist rage” at the current economic situation. The author, sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh, argues that for a variety of reasons – technological change, suburban sprawl and above all, personal debt – social protest isn’t as easy or as desirable as it was even 15 years ago. The net result, he claims, is a sort of street-level version of Robert Putnam’s famous “bowling alone” argument: yet one more indicator of the decline of civic engagement in American life.

I live in London where anti-capitalist riots in anticipation of the G-20 Summit resulted in one death and some 80 arrests yesterday. Images like this one have been all over the news here.

It’s true that the ring leader of this current wave of protests is a very charismatic 60 year-old, Chris Knight, (suggesting you’re never too old to burn someone in effigy.) But just eye-balling the coverage of these protests, most of the protesters look to be quite young.

Which makes sense. When you’re young, you have the time, the energy, the large social circles and – it must be said – the anger to get out there and march when a public policy annoys you or your favorite local coffee shop shuts down. I’ve participated in the odd march and rally in my life, but it was mostly when I was in my early 20’s and had a lot of time on my hands and was largely free of the assorted job/family/parenting responsibilities I have today. So maybe the reason people aren’t protesting so much anymore (the G-20 riots notwithstanding) isn’t so much the “anger fatigue” brought on by an endless stream of wars, layoffs and public policy nightmares – as Venkatesh suggests – so much as anger fatigue brought on by…life itself. (It would be interesting to know how an aging population – both in the U.S. and globally – fits into this analysis.)

What do you think? Do you still take to the streets to protest anything? And if not, why not?

  • ****

Speaking of protest: Further to my earlier post on breast cancer screening, a group of doctors and patients has written a letter to the Times of London decrying the alleged over-estimation of screening benefits and under-estimation of perverse health effects that can derive from early mammograms. The letter has prompted National Health Service officials in Britain to re-word their pamphlets on said topic. Stay tuned on this one…we all have a stake in figuring this out.

Image: Women Protesting for Equal Wages at the Ministry of Social Affairs (Netherlands) via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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