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Weekly Health Digest: Google And “Legal” Health Data, Hidden Hunger, Cardiac Arrest, And Insulin Shortages

A summary of important health news from the past week

Google Is Slurping Up Health Data—and It Looks Totally Legal

By: Gregory Barber and Megan Molteni

Current health privacy laws allow tech giants, like Google, access to our personal medical information. Google’s discreet partnership with Ascension, the second largest health system, was revealed recently. This partnership facilitates sharing the personal health data of tens of millions of patients because Google is technically a business associate of Ascension. Business associates can access health information within legal restrictions of HIPAA. As long as Google works with the intention of improving health care quality with Ascension, they will continue to legally access our health data without our knowledge. Whether or not they actually need identifying information to help Ascension is the big question and worries people of more sinister intentions.

Could ‘Hidden Hunger’ Be Conquered With A Particle The Size Of A Grain Of Salt?

                By: Tim McDonnell

2 billion people suffer from “hidden hunger,” which is consuming enough calories but lacking micronutrients – such as Vitamin A and iron –  in one’s diet. This is often a problem in low-income countries where people rely on staples carbohydrates like corn and rice that are cheap and filling but not nutritious. While fortification of foods is common around the world, these fortified foods often don’t work because the uptake of the nutrients is hindered by cooking methods, storage of food, or simply because people dislike the taste. A study published by researchers at MIT found a new solution: packing nutrients into small packets. Made of a similar material to that of the coating on pills, these “microparticles” can be sprinkled into flour or salt. They found that their solution can withstand cooking and the nutrients can be “dissolved easily in the digestive system.” Nonetheless, cost remains a barrier and this solution doesn’t address the larger issue of access to nutritious food in low-income communities.

Gene Test Might Someday Gauge Your Cardiac Arrest Risk

By: Dennis Thompson

A study presented last weekend at the American Heart Association meeting suggests the possibility of predicting who is most as risk for sudden cardiac arrest using a genetic test. People with one of 14 genetic variations seem to be at three times the risk than those without. The research was based on a comparison of the genetic sequences of 600 people who had sudden cardiac death and 600 people who hadn’t. Next, the researchers will follow healthy people to see who will die from sudden cardiac arrest and who won’t, and who has these genetic variations.

To Drive Down Insulin Prices, W.H.O. Will Certify Generic Versions

By: Donald G. McNeil Jr.

Insulin prices are increasing rapidly and there are shortages developing in poorer countries. The World Health Organization will begin to test and approve generic versions of the drug. They plan to decrease insulin prices by encouraging generic drug makers to enter the insulin market. Currently, there are three companies dominating the market, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, and they have continuously increased the prices. With the WHO’s proactive stance to counter the insulin shortages, they hope that they can make insulin more accessible to people in developing nations.