Linkworthy 4.0: The overdue edition

I’m way overdue for another edition of Linkworthy, my semi-occasional collection of links to interesting health-related stuff recently encountered on the web.

Besides, it’s time we all moved on from the Hatfield-McCoy post, which has accumulated several thousand hits since being published three days ago and is perhaps in need of a rest. (I’m just sayin’.)

Regional news first: The latest issue of Prairie Business Magazine includes a cover story about the use of high-tech diagnostic imaging, how the technology has evolved and how it’s being used in daily care. As a bonus, there’s also a story exploring the demand for doctors in rural health.

Did anyone catch the news earlier this week about a proposal by Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, to ban extra-large soft drinks? On the surface, this might sound like a good tactic in the so-called war on obesity. Many people are questioning, however, the likelihood that a ban on large sodas will make much difference. The critics have weighed in here and here. The most colorful quote probably comes from the online commenter who opined that “we are like a bunch of lemmings headed for tyranny.”

Speaking of obesity, few people could have failed to miss the recent news about a study that discovered exercise does not in fact benefit everyone. Researchers analyzed six earlier studies and found that in about 10 percent of the participants, heart-related measures such as blood pressure, insulin level, cholesterol and triglycerides worsened with exercise.

The spinmeisters have been hard at work. Some are pointing out, and rightly so, that this was only one study – and a relatively small one, at that. Others worry that folks will use it as an excuse to avoid exercise. What this study really seems to be saying, however, is that we need to be careful about cookie-cutter assumptions that a particular intervention or lifestyle is always good for everyone, because often there are exceptions to the rule.

After blogging about three years ago on needle phobia, I heard from a couple of people who have this fear and who felt their anxiety often wasn’t taken seriously by health care providers. So I was intrigued to come across the news that MIT has developed a high-powered liquid injection device that squirts a thin stream of medicine directly into the skin.

According to the developers, it’s so fast and precise that it can barely be felt. But it’s a little premature to hope the device could be coming soon to a health facility near you. The injector device is still in the prototype stage and hasn’t yet been tested on humans. There’s also the not-insignificant matter of cost. Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to see whether this Star-Trekkian concept catches on.

Most of us have probably heard about Munchausen’s disease, or Munchausen by proxy, in which people go to great lengths to fake illness in themselves or someone close to them. Now it seems there may be a new version of this behavior: Munchausen by Internet.

A rather chilling story from the BBC News Magazine details the behavior – and impact – of individuals who go online and convincingly pretend to be sick or to have someone in their family who is sick. Some of these hoaxes can be incredibly elaborate – for example, a woman in the U.S. who faked having cancer, HIV, anorexia and heart problems, and went so far as to post online pictures of herself in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask and feeding tube.

Many fakers seem to crave attention, and the Internet is the ideal medium for their manipulations, the article notes. “It gives the perpetrator a quick hit of attention, a feeling of being valued, but without really having done anything to deserve it. Just as online fraudsters dream of easy money, these people crave easy attention. And it is, perhaps, just another form of fraud – emotional, rather than financial fraud.”

Consider setting aside a chunk of time for the final piece in today’s series of links, an in-depth look at the huge global business of tobacco smuggling. Cigarettes are the most widely smuggled legal substance in the world, generating multibillion-dollar profits, fueling organized crime and corruption, and diverting much-needed tax revenue from governments.

Since 1999, a team of reporters with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has been examining this issue. They’ve just published a new series of reports, assembled by journalists from 15 countries, that takes a look at the influence of organized crime and terrorists groups as well as “the continued complicity of distributors, wholesalers, and tobacco companies themselves” in the illicit tobacco trade.

Most people are likely unaware of the impact of tobacco smuggling, its ties to crime and its impact on developing nations where cigarettes increasingly are being introduced and sold on the black market. This ambitious news project explains what’s happening and, more importantly, why it matters.

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