COVID VaccinesReturn to WorkMental Health

Brainstorm Health Daily: June 15, 2017

June 15, 2017, 5:17 PM UTC

Hello, readers. Sy at your service.

Or at least that’s what the headlines are blaring across the Internet today. Here’s a sampling of how the media is covering the story, which is currently sitting near the top spot on Google News’ health section: “Put the french fries down: Eating fried potatoes doubles risk of death, study says”; “Eating fried potatoes doubles your risk of early death, study says.”

This raises the question: just how scared should you be of these nefarious fried potatoes? And is that really what the study is saying?

To get the obvious out of the way, fried foods in general aren’t good for you. They come loaded with calories and fats that can raise your cholesterol. That, in turn, is bad for your heart health and raises the risk for cardiovascular diseases which, yes, can lead to death.

What’s less obvious, at least from the headlines, is that there isn’t something inherently unique to fried potatoes that makes them deadly. In fact, potatoes in general aren’t going to raise your death risk. Don’t take my word for it—that’s literally what the study authors explicitly conclude. “After adjustment for 14 potential baseline confounders, and taking those with the lowest consumption of potatoes as the reference group, participants with the highest consumption of potatoes did not show an increased risk of overall mortality,” they write. “The consumption of unfried potatoes was not associated with an increased mortality risk.”

To be fair, the researchers did conclude that people who ate fried potatoes two to three (or more) times per week were at an elevated death risk. But that topline result doesn’t delve into the numerous caveats that could contribute to that trend. For instance, what else might a person who eats french fries three times per week be consuming in his or her diet? How much do those people exercise? Does the sample contain people who have elevated genetic risk of heart disease or other health problems?

Those sorts of details are critical to accurate science. But much of the coverage surrounding scientific studies tends to be reductive. The last time a click-y nutrition study was in the news, diet soda was the villain (apparently it can triple your stroke risk and raise the chances of developing dementia—except all that is a massive simplification).

Making science palatable to the masses can be difficult. And sometimes, stories do go on to mention caveats and confounding factors, and clarify that correlation isn’t the same thing as causation. But as we’ve come to learn, in social media, headlines are often the only words that readers take away with them.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Oscar Health, Cleveland Clinic team up to offer insurance plans in Ohio. Digital health upstart Oscar Health has struck a first-of-its-kind deal with the Cleveland Clinic to offer insurance plans to customers in Ohio. While this will be limited to consumers in the northeast part of the state, it's the first health insurance product that the Cleveland Clinic will officially brand with its powerhouse signature (pending regulatory approval). Oscar's technology, like that of others in the high-tech insurance space, aims to help people navigate the complicated U.S. health system with sleek apps. "This is a rare opportunity to work with Cleveland Clinic to deliver the simpler, better, and affordable health care experience that consumers want," said Oscar CEO Mario Schlosser in a statement.


Florida lawmakers call for hearing on Sanofi's exclusive Zika vaccine license. French drug giant Sanofi is facing the heat from multiple U.S. lawmakers from Florida over the exclusive license that it's obtained to market a Zika virus vaccine that was developed with the help of taxpayer money and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. "If the Army chooses to move forward with its plan to provide Sanofi Pasteur an exclusive license to sell this vaccine, it must first obtain assurances that the vaccine will be affordable to all who need it," wrote Sen. Bill Nelson in a letter to acting U.S. Army Secretary Robert Speer. (Miami Herald)

Blink Health shuts down Express Scripts pact for Eli Lilly insulin discounts. Blink Health, a digital health firm attempting to cut drug costs via web apps that leapfrog health industry components which can inflate prices, has ended a partnership with benefits manager giant Express Scripts over a discount deal for drug maker Eli Lilly's insulin. Scripts spokespeople say the partnership ended because Blink didn't want an exclusive relationship with the PBM; under the deal, uninsured patients would have received massive discounts for Lilly's insulin. (Wall Street Journal)


GOP Senators urge HHS Secretary to make Obamacare insurer payments. Several leading GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, urged Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to continue payments to insurance companies as part of an Affordable Care Act program to reduce out-of-pocket medical costs for low-income people. The Trump administration's ambivalence towards these payments has been cited by several insurers as a reason for absconding from Obamacare's marketplaces, since their costs would go up considerably without the subsidies. Secretary Price reiterated that payments would largely go forward as planned pending the results of a lawsuit about their legality.

A Philly OB/GYN wound up delivering a baby gorilla. It's not quite Friday yet. But that doesn't mean we can't serve up a Friday-style story. The Atlantic has a delightful piece about how a Philadelphia-area OB/GYN named Rebekah McCurdy suddenly found herself delivering a baby gorilla after mama gorilla Kira appeared to be in distress during labor. The odyssey involved spur-of-the-moment decisions on whether or not to perform a C-section, an impromptu pair of forceps, and, eventually, a five-pound baby gorilla for the Philadelphia Zoo. (The pictures are really priceless.) (The Atlantic)


Tim Cook Talks Apple—And Donald Trumpby Don Reisinger

Google Drive Will Soon Be Able to Back Up Your Whole Computerby Madeline Farber

Why an Amazon-Slack Deal Makes Senseby Barb Darrow

How Can Silicon Valley Help Save the World? by Adam Lashinsky

Produced by Sy Mukherjee

Find past coverage. Sign up for other Fortune newsletters.