Women and alcohol: To your health?

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Wed, 2012-06-06

by Ann Dowsett Johnston

It’s the twilight hour at my corner coffee shop, a crowded café on a wintry evening. The locals are lined up by the till, rosy from the outdoors, ordering their version of liquid perfection. My guest is nursing hers, a low-fat latte—and nursing her thoughts as well, waiting for the crowd to pass before she speaks. “How did I know I had a drinking problem?” She pauses. My guest, a former ad executive, chooses her words carefully. “I knew when I had to switch from red wine to white because the red was staining my teeth. I knew when I began strategizing at parties, choosing the wine that fewer people were drinking, so there would be more for me. And I knew when I started waking up, having blacked out the night before. I’d have to check the fridge to see what was gone. Near the end, I had the shakes in the morning. I’d put a shot of vodka in my coffee.”

She says all this without blinking. A perfectly coiffed and manicured woman in her 50s, comfortable with her story—and yet unwilling to share her real name. Let’s call her Jennifer, as she’d like to be known. Daughter of two alcoholics, survivor of an abusive childhood, mother of a grown daughter, she has been sober for more than eight years, thanks, she says, to the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. She spends her free time helping newcomers, women not much older than her daughter, stay sober. Girls who started partying in high school, at university. Young women, who’ve found they could not stop.

GUEST COLUMN - Being proactive about your breast health

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By Verna Hunt

Women and girls of all ages in today’s culture are stamped with the colour pink as the fantasy for the fairy princess lives they are lead to believe they should yearn for. It is like a plastic film that society puts over us at birth. Onward from birth they are made to think that nothing other than a fantasy life should ever happen to them. Never get old. Never get sick. Never be sad or mad or frightened. Women should be perfect—in pink. This is not reality. As a result women often feel that they are not “good enough” in the inevitable imperfect lives they lead, and their breasts are no exception.

Another unreality propagated by campaigns such as “the pink” is that there is a cure for every disease and that it can be discovered if the medical scientists just have enough money to discover this magic bullet cure.

Our culture does not teach coping strategies for tragedies such as someone near and dear to us or even ourselves developing a disease such as breast cancer. So, in an effort to turn our understandable emotional strife into something constructive, crusades such as the Pink Ribbon Campaign have evolved. Often they end up as a business enterprise unto themselves more interested in keeping the organization going than looking at how to serve humanity.

But what is the point of it all? Is the point to find the cure for breast cancer, or is the point to find the cause for lack of breast health? The Pink Ribbon Campaign is a distraction from what is really going on with breast health. All of the pink sound bites urge us to pitch in and find the cure like there is a missing link of knowledge, a holy grail, the one thing that will solve it all. Our society tries to commodify everything as if we all have the exact same disease. It is like assuming that we all wear the same size and style of shoes.

Film Review - Programmed to be Fat

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Wed, 2012-08-15

Film review

Programmed to be Fat 
Directed by Bruce Mohun.
Written by Bruce Mohun and Helen Slinger, and produced by Sue Ridout, Helen Slinger and Sara Darling for Dreamfilm Productions in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

By Alex Merrill

What causes obesity? Why have obesity rates almost doubled in the past 30 years? And how can we avert the looming worldwide crisis of rising diabetes rates associated with obesity? Health agencies are grappling with these billion-dollar questions, not only in the affluent western world but also in developing countries—in every country that has adopted a western lifestyle.

Despite the ridiculous claims of the obesity prevention industry, there is no magic bullet.  Popular obesity prevention strategies bombard people with the messages that they are too fat and should eat less and exercise more. But campaigns that blame and shame individuals for being heavy are failing terribly and at great cost. Preventing obesity, we are learning, is far more complex than “calories in, calories out.” Poverty; the “Big Food” industry that produces fatty, salty, and additive-addled food; and our sedentary lives and work environments are all factors in the complex equation of obesity.

And now we have something new to consider about why we, as a species, are becoming obese: the chemicals we are exposed to every day. Programmed to be Fat, a new documentary directed by Bruce Mohun, examines emerging evidence that chemicals in our environment infiltrate pregnant women’s bodies and “program” their babies to be fat or obese as adults. The film aired on CBC Television’s The Nature of Things on January 12, 2012.

Book Review - I Feel Great About My Hands

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Wed, 2012-08-15


I Feel Great About My Hands: And Other Unexpected Joys of Aging 
Shari Graydon, Douglas & McIntyre Press, 2011

I Feel Great About My HandsBy Anne Rochon Ford
Intended as a response to Nora Ephron's book I Feel Bad About My Neck, I Feel Good About My Hands is a welcome balm for those of us over 50 who don't need any more reminders that, well, aging kinda sucks. In this anthology, Shari Graydon has collected the wit and wisdom of 40 women from a variety of backgrounds, including politician and environmental activist Elizabeth May, poet Susan Musgrave, broadcaster Alison Smith, legal scholar Constance Backhouse, storyteller Sheree Fitch,  and former Senator Sharon Carstairs.

We needn’t look far for evidence that we live in a culture steeped in adoration of youth and all things youthful. Nor can we escape exposure to the relentless efforts by the pharmaceutical and beauty product industries to find "cures" and elixirs to fight "the ravages" of aging. As Mary Walsh puts it in her essay in the collection, “… it’s not a great time to be an old dame living here in the West, in the centre of our youth-obsessed culture where it is considered a moral failing to look old.”

Ottawa-based law professor Diana Majury elaborates on this: “The image of the old woman in our culture is not one of beauty. And there’s an undercurrent of censure—even among feminists—of women who fail to take care of themselves as they age, who ‘let themselves go.’ As older women, we’re complimented when told we don’t look our age; [and] encouraged to ... deny our aging with hair dye, skin creams and surgery.”

Women and disaster

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Wed, 2010-03-31

Adapted from Not Just Victims: Women in Emergencies and Disasters from Women and Health Care Reform

After the recent earthquake in Haiti, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) made headline news when it began to distribute “women only” food coupons. By distributing some aid exclusively to women, they were in fact trying to make sure as many people as possible received it. Women tended to be responsible for their household’s food supplies, the WFP explained, and were losing out on supplies when young men pushed to the front of lines or swarmed aid trucks.

This may have been the first example many people had ever seen of accounting for sex or gender differences in disaster situations. Over the last 15 years, however, the body of work on gender and disaster has grown, as we recognize that looking at sex and gender can help identify and prepare for different strengths and vulnerabilities in times of crisis.

Why should we think about women in emergencies?

Women and men, girls and boys may go through the same disaster, but they are likely to experience it differently. Different health risks, for instance: Women are more physically vulnerable to the effects of heat waves, and heavily pregnant women may need special transportation or other supports during emergencies.

What we're reading - Fall 2010

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Thu, 2010-09-30

Sex, Lies, and Pharmaceuticals: How Drug Companies Plan to Profit from Female Sexual Dysfunction
By Ray Moynihan and Barbara Mintzes (Greystone Books, 2010)

A provocative exposé of the lucrative industry built around a newly constructed disorder.
Set against a backdrop of virtual intercourse, online porn, and burgeoning Viagra sales, this compelling new book reveals how women’s sexual difficulties are being repackaged as symptoms of a new disease—female sexual dysfunction, or FSD.
Award-winning journalist Ray Moynihan and drug assessment specialist Barbara Mintzes go inside the corridors of medical power to reveal how doctors, psychologists, and PR specialists are now working with global drug companies to promote awareness of this potentially lucrative condition and the drugs being hailed as its cure-all.
Sex, Lies, and Pharmaceuticals explores the controversy about whether common sexual difficulties should be treated as medical conditions like FSD, which may be a dangerous distraction from the real problems in sexual relationships.
The book also offers practical information about the risks and benefits of the latest pills and canvasses other approaches to understanding common sexual problems.

For more from Barbara Mintzes, check out our webinar series. In a presentation on on Sex, Lies, and Pharmaceuticals, Barbara discusses the book, what we might expect to see if a FSD drug ever makes it to market, and participates in a lively audience discussion.

Maternity Rolls: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Disability
Heather Kuttai (Fernwood Publishing, 2010)

Marginalization through aggregation

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Thu, 2010-09-30

Cardiovascular disease is the second highest cause of mortality in Canada, eclipsed only by cancer as the highest cause of death for Canadians. When the aggregate CVD numbers are compared for women and for men, the sexes appear to have similar experiences of CVD – in 2000, 50.5% of all cardiovascular deaths in Canada were women and 49.5% were men. However, aggregation masks dramatic differences for men and for women in terms of cardiovascular disease.

Applying a sex- and gender-based analysis reveals that historically, men have had higher mortality rates from CVD, leading to the perception that CVD is a disease mainly afflicting middle-aged men. Therefore, until recently research has often only included men, leading to a male bias in our knowledge about CVD treatment and symptoms. But research has since demonstrated that the symptoms of CVD for men and women can be different, and many groups, including The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, are launching education campaigns on the topic. These emerging sex-specific findings have been possible because CVD-related research has begun to include both men and women and disaggregate data by sex, with some researchers even beginning to develop sex-sensitive indicators of CVD. In other words, aggregation has been challenged, and sources of marginalization that once were invisible are now plain to see. This new line of research will improve cardiovascular care across the Canadian population.

Cardiovascular disease is only one example of how critical issues for women’s health can be lost through data aggregation, a lack of sex- and gender-based analysis, (SGBA) or not collecting data broken down by sex in the first place. There is a fundamental question underlying this issue – how can our surveillance systems collect, process, and report on the data that are important to women’s health?

Breaking down the walls

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Thu, 2010-09-30

Building a case for community-based alternatives to incarceration that better meet the needs of criminalized women

Why use the term “criminalized” as opposed to “criminal” or “offender?”

Many feminist scholars and advocates no longer use the terms “criminal” or “offender,” because such labels individualize and pathologize those who become entangled within the criminal justice system. Instead, the term “criminalized” is being used to bring attention to the social, political, economic, cultural, and psychological processes that influence crime and criminality. It implies that there are things about women’s and men’s lives that effect how they are treated by society and the criminal justice system. These factors, which include gender, race, education, employment, income, housing, and other social determinants of health, contribute to the reasons why women and men commit crime and influence how acts become defined as crimes.

Disinfection & downstream effects

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Thu, 2010-09-30

Gender and the Implications of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in our Water

Box 1: PPCPs found in Canadian drinking water samples 

•    Acetaminophen - Analgesic (pain reliever)
•    Benzafibrate – Cholesterol lowering drug
•    Carbamazepine – Anti-convulsant
•    Enrofloxacin - Antibiotic
•    Gemfibrozil – Lipid lowering drug
•    Ibuprofen - Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug
•    Lincomycin - Antibiotic
•    Ketoprofen - Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug
•    Meclocyclin - Antibiotic
•    Naproxen - Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug
•    Norfloxacin -Antibiotic
•    Roxithromycin - Antibiotic
•    Sulfamethoxazole - Antibiotic
•    Tetracycline - Antibiotic
•    Trimethoprim -Antibiotic
•    Triclosan – Antibacterial agent
•    Tylosin -Antibiotic


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Thu, 2010-09-30

It’s 8:15 p.m. on a Monday night, and Léonie Couture’s work day is far from over when she calls from her home to talk about Herstreet, the organization she started 16 years ago and still directs, that offers shelter, therapy and resources to homeless women in downtown Montreal. She had been too busy to talk at the office, writing a funding application that could secure a six-figure grant for Herstreet, so she offered to be interviewed outside office hours. In a soft and serious voice, she spends the next 90 minutes explaining the work that Herstreet does and talking about the women she sees on a daily basis – women she says many people would rather not see at all.

Couture  has worked with women in distress for more than 25 years. Before founding Herstreet, she worked for five years at an organization that supports women who have experienced rape or incest. She found that some women were “too hurt to be helped,” as they were dealing with issues of addiction, incest, violence, and were unable to function in basic ways, like keeping weekly appointments with support workers at the group.

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