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Current Events in August 2019

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    Depression is more likely when consumers have excess body fat

    Researchers suggest the effects go beyond just BMI

    A new study conducted by researchers from Aarhus University found that consumers are more likely to develop depression if they carry excess body fat -- even if it’s just a modest amount. 

    “Our study also indicated that the location of the fat on the body makes no difference to the risk of depression. This suggests that it is the psychological consequences of being overweight or obese which lead to the increased risk of depression, and not the direct biological effect of the fat,” said researcher Dr. Søren Dinesen Østergaard.

    “If the opposite was true, we would have seen that fat located centrally on the body increased the risk the most, as it has the most damaging effect in biological terms.” 

    Understanding the risk

    The researchers utilized two genetic data sets -- the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium and the U.K. Biobank -- to get a better understanding of how extra body fat can increase the risk of consumers developing depression. 

    After analyzing the information, the researchers ruled out body mass index (BMI) as the only factor, as they explained that it isn’t always the best measure for consumers’ overall health.

    “BMI is an inaccurate way of measuring overweight and obesity,” said Dr. Østergaard. “Many athletes with a large muscle mass and a low body fat mass will have a BMI above 25, which is classified as overweight according to the common definition. This obviously doesn’t make much sense.” 

    As an alternative the researchers decided to “zoom in and look at the specific relationship” between depression and body fat. Ultimately, they learned that excess body fat was closely linked to an increased risk of depression, emphasizing the psychological impact that weight gain can have on consumers. 

    The researchers hope that a more comprehensive approach is taken to both help fight obesity and inform consumers about the associated risks that go beyond just weight gain.

    “As it appears to be the psychological consequences of obesity, such as negative body image and low self-esteem that is the main driving force behind the increased risk of depression, society’s efforts to combat obesity must not stigmatise, as this will probably increase the risk of depression even further,” said Dr. Østergaard. “It is more important to bear this in mind so we can avoid doing more harm than good in the effort to curb the obesity epidemic.”

    A new study conducted by researchers from Aarhus University found that consumers are more likely to develop depression if they carry excess body fat -- eve...
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    BMW recalls model year 2020 BMW 745e xDrives

    The audible warning signal for an unbelted driver to fasten the seat belt may be disabled

    BMW of North America (BMW) is recalling 173 model year 2020 BMW 745e xDrives.

    A software error in the electronic control unit (ECU) may disable the audible warning signal for an unbelted driver to fasten the seat belt.

    Without an audible warning, the driver may forget to buckle the seat belt, increasing the risk of injury in the event of a crash.

    What to do

    BMW will notify owners, and dealers will update the ECU software free of charge.

    The recall is expected to begin October 4, 2019.

    Owners may contact BMW customer service at (800) 525-7417.

    BMW of North America (BMW) is recalling 173 model year 2020 BMW 745e xDrives.A software error in the electronic control unit (ECU) may disable the audi...
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    BRP recalls Ski-Doo snowmobiles

    The vehicle can have a leak at the fuel injector

    BRP U.S. of Sturtevant, Wis., is recalling about 2,900 model year 2019 Ski-Doo snowmobiles equipped with an 850 E-TEC engine.

    The vehicle can have a leak at the fuel injector, posing a fire hazard.

    The firm has received 17 reports of broken/missing injector bolts, one report of fuel leaks and two reports of fires. No injuries have been reported.

    This recall involves model year 2019 Ski-Doo Backcountry, Freeride, MXZ, Renegade and Summit snowmobiles equipped with an 850 E-TEC engine.

    The vehicles are sold in a variety of colors. Ski-Doo and the model name are printed on the side panels of the vehicles. The vehicle identification number (VIN) is on the decal located on the right hand side of tunnel.

    Consumers can contact BRP or an authorized dealer to verify if their VIN number is included in the recall.

    The following models are included in the recall:

    Models

    Colors

    BACKCOUNTRY 850 E-TEC

    Black; White/Black

    BACKCOUNTRY X 850 E-TEC

    Black; White/Black

    BACKCOUNTRY XRS 850 E-TEC

    Black; White/Black

    FREERIDE 850 E-TEC

    Blue

    MXZ BLIZZARD 850 E-ETC

    Black/Yellow

    MXZ TNT 850 E-TEC

    White/Black; Black

    MXZ X 850 E-TEC

    Black; Yellow; Yellow/Silver

    MXZ XRS 850 E-TEC

    Black; Yellow/Silver

    RENEGADE ADRENALINE 850 E-TEC

    White

    RENEGADE X 850 E-TEC

    Black; Red

    RENEGADE XRS 850 E-TEC

    Orange/Silver

    SUMMIT SP 850 E-TEC

    Black; Black/Blue

    SUMMIT X 850 E-TEC

    Black; Black/Blue

    The snowmobiles, manufactured in Canada, were sold at Ski-Doo dealers nationwide from June 2018, through July 2019, for between $12,600 and $16,200.

    What to do

    Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled vehicles and contact a BRP Snowmobile dealer for a free repair. BRP is contacting all known purchasers directly.

    Consumers may contact BRP toll-free at (888) 272-9222 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET) Monday through Sunday or online at https://www.ski-doo.com and click on “Community” at the top of the page and then “Safety” for more information.

    BRP U.S. of Sturtevant, Wis., is recalling about 2,900 model year 2019 Ski-Doo snowmobiles equipped with an 850 E-TEC engine.The vehicle can have a lea...
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      Mercedes-Benz recalls model year 2018-2019 GLA250s and GLA250 4MATICs

      The seatbelt for a passenger in the rear middle position might not be properly secured,

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 3,435 model year 2018-2019 GLA250s and GLA250 4MATICs.

      The left anchor plate of the rear middle seatbelt may be loose.

      The seatbelt for a passenger seated in the rear middle seating position might not be properly secured, which could increase the risk of an injury in the event of a crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will inspect the left anchor plate of the rear middle seatbelt, correcting its installation as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 8, 2019.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at (800) 367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 3,435 model year 2018-2019 GLA250s and GLA250 4MATICs.The left anchor plate of the rear middle seatbelt may be l...
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      Amazon says Tesla’s solar panels caught fire on one of its buildings

      Tesla has acknowledged the ‘isolated event’

      Amazon has come forward saying Tesla’s solar panels caught fire on one of its buildings last year. The news comes just a few days after Walmart sued Tesla, which acquired SolarCity in 2016, over reports that the company’s panel systems caught fire on the rooftops of at least seven of its locations since 2012.

      On Friday, Amazon said one of Tesla’s SolarCity panel systems generated a fire on the rooftop of one of its warehouses in Redlands, California in June of 2018, according to a Bloomberg report. 

      Amazon, which has commissioned the installation of only a small number of Tesla’s solar panels, said it has no plans to install any more Tesla systems at its warehouses. In a statement to the media, Tesla acknowledged that there was an “isolated event” at one of Amazon’s facilities. 

      "All 11 Amazon sites with solar from Tesla are generating energy and are proactively monitored and maintained. Last year, there was an isolated event that occurred in an inverter at one of the Amazon sites,” Tesla said. “Tesla worked collaboratively with Amazon to root cause the event and remediate. We also performed inspections at the other sites, which confirmed the integrity of the systems. As with all of our commercial solar installations, we continue to proactively monitor the systems to ensure they operate safely and reliably."

      Claims of unsafe systems

      Walmart claimed in its lawsuit that tests conducted this year showed some of Tesla’s panel arrays had broken parts, rendering the systems unsafe. Inspections found that 157 systems needed to be replaced or repaired, “48 of which Tesla itself characterized as reflecting conditions that rendered the sites unsafe or potentially unsafe,” the company’s lawsuit states.

      Additionally, Walmart claimed that “Tesla routinely deployed individuals to inspect the solar systems who lacked basic solar training and knowledge.”

      Walmart and Tesla issued a joint statement last week saying they “look forward to addressing all issues and re-energizing Tesla solar installations at Walmart stores, once all parties are certain that all concerns have been addressed.”

      Tesla is currently trying to relaunch its solar panel program. Earlier this month, the company’s CEO Elon Musk announced that Tesla will give consumers in a half dozen states the ability to rent solar power systems on a monthly basis. 

      Amazon has come forward saying Tesla’s solar panels caught fire on one of its buildings last year. The news comes just a few days after Walmart sued Tesla,...
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      KFC testing meatless fried ‘chicken’

      The chain says its customers will ‘find it difficult to tell that it's plant-based’

      KFC announced on Monday that it is partnering with Beyond Meat to test plant-based fried "chicken.” 

      Beyond Fried Chicken will be available at one KFC restaurant in Smyrna, Georgia starting Tuesday, August 27. The meat-free menu item -- which will be available in either nugget or boneless wing form -- may eventually be added to other KFC locations if the initial trial garners positive customer feedback.

      Meatless burgers becoming popular

      Responding to a surge in consumer demand for meat alternatives, other restaurant chains have also begun testing the addition of menu items made with faux meat. 

      Burger King recently made a meat-free version of its Whopper, dubbed the Impossible Whopper, available at locations across the U.S. The expanded availability of the burger followed a small trial in St. Louis, which led to a bump in traffic for the restaurants involved.

      Dunkin’ also announced over the summer that it plans to add plant-based sandwiches to all of its U.S. locations in the coming months. Beyond has already started producing meatless burger substitutes for Carl’s Jr. restaurants and meatless meatball subs for Subway. 

      Under its collaboration with Beyond Meat, KFC will become the first nationwide fast food restaurant to test the company’s plant-based chicken, CNBC reports. 

      "KFC Beyond Fried Chicken is so delicious, our customers will find it difficult to tell that it's plant-based," said Kevin Hochman, chief concept officer for KFC US. "I think we've all heard 'it tastes like chicken' -- well our customers are going to be amazed and say, 'it tastes like Kentucky Fried Chicken!'"

      KFC announced on Monday that it is partnering with Beyond Meat to test plant-based fried "chicken.” Beyond Fried Chicken will be available at one KFC r...
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      Disney to open stores in 25 Target locations

      The two companies plan to add 40 more locations by 2021

      The Walt Disney Company and Target have announced a new collaboration that will result in new Disney stores being developed inside 25 Target stores in October and 40 more by October 2020.

      The Disney stores at Target will feature more than 450 products, including more than 100 items  that were previously only available at Disney retail locations. They’ll include a variety of Disney Princess, Star Wars, Marvel, Disney Junior characters, classic Disney plush, apparel, home, and holiday-specific products. 

      The two companies call the partnership a win-win. Disney gets exposed to Target’s customer base while Target can use the Disney presence to provide an experiential environment that will draw young families.

      "With a shared focus on families and unwavering commitment to our guests, we are excited to evolve our relationship with Disney to bring ease, convenience, and joy to more families and fans with unique and differentiated retail experiences that can only be created through our two companies," said Brian Cornell, Target’s CEO. "We believe the combination of Disney's unmatched entertainment and storytelling with our omnichannel retail platform will create inspiring and unique experiences for our guests.”

      ‘Live the magic’

      Bob Chapek, chairman, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, says the collaboration will create value for both companies as well as their customers.

      "Our products help fans and families live the magic wherever and whenever they want," he said. "And we know the way consumers shop for those products is changing—so we're making the magic easier to access than ever before through this collaboration that will bring Disney store magic to Target stores."

      As part of the deal, Target will open a new store on Walt Disney World Resorts property in 2021.

      The Target locations for the first Disney stores are all in major markets. It’s the latest development in the store-within-a-store concept that Target has already used to team with CVS Health. In 2015, CVS began operating some Target Pharmacies; two years later, Walgreens announced FedEx would open shipping centers in some of its locations.

      The 25 Disney stores will take up about 750 square feet of floor space and will be located next to the toy department. The stores will be operated by Target personnel.

      The Walt Disney Company and Target have announced a new collaboration that will result in new Disney stores being developed inside 25 Target stores in Octo...
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      President Trump raises tariffs on Chinese imports to 30 percent

      In the absence of trade talk progress, tariffs continue to rise

      President Trump is ratcheting up the pressure in the ongoing trade war with China, increasing tariffs on Chinese imports in retaliation for China’s latest imposition of tariffs on U.S. goods.

      Trump, who had already announced a 25 percent tariff on $250 billion in Chinese imports, announced late Friday he would raise it to 30 percent. That was in response to China’s announcement that it is taxing $75 billion in American imports.

      The back and forth between the two trading partners has increased as trade talks have broken down in recent weeks. Trump has said publicly that he’s “not ready to make a deal” and China has suggested it is in position to wait things out.

      Things got even more confusing over the weekend when Trump, who is attending the G-7 economic summit, suggested he could declare a “state of emergency” to deal with the impasse with China, without suggesting what that would mean.

      No progress

      The tariff war broke out when it became clear that the U.S. and China are far apart on major trade issues, such as the protection of U.S. intellectual property. Another issue is China’s plan to elevate its manufacturing economy away from cheap consumer goods and toward high-value products to compete directly with U.S. companies.

      In the absence of serious talks, both countries have been lobbing tariff increases at one another in hopes of gaining the upper hand. So far, it appears that neither has.

      Tariffs are taxes placed on imported products that could have the effect of making them more expensive. After all, someone has to pay the tariffs. President Trump insists Chinese importers will eat the higher costs but there is little evidence to suggest that will happen.

      Impact yet to be felt

      While consumers are still spending and appear to be upbeat about the future, they have yet to feel the full effects of the tariffs or their increases. The tariff increase to 30 percent won’t take effect until October 1.

      Trump’s tariff increase on the remaining $300 billion in Chinese imports, set to rise from 10 percent to 15 percent, won’t take effect until September 1. Even so, tariffs on nearly half of those imports won’t kick in until December 15.

      As China and the U.S. continue to make imported products more expensive, economists are worried about how all of this will impact the global economy. And U.S. retailers appear to be growing increasingly impatient.

      "It's impossible for businesses to plan for the future in this type of environment,” said David French, an executive at the National Retail Federation. “The administration's approach clearly isn't working, and the answer isn't more taxes on American businesses and consumers. Where does this end?" 

      Even farmers, who to this point have been Trump’s most loyal backers, are growing weary of the tariff wars. In a statement, the National Farmers Union said the latest round of tariffs is only making things worse. 

      President Trump is ratcheting up the pressure in the ongoing trade war with China, increasing tariffs on Chinese imports in retaliation for China’s latest...
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      New and existing homes: a tale of two housing markets

      The latest sales figures show the market has too many homes consumers can’t afford

      New and existing home sales went in opposite directions last month, but a closer examination reveals what they had in common. Many homes -- both new and existing -- are now simply out of reach for first-time homebuyers.

      On the other hand, falling mortgage interest rates could help those buyers on the margins qualify for a home purchase and spur sales.

      The government reports that sales of new homes plunged 13 percent in July, but the slowdown might not be as severe as it seems. June’s new home sales were revised sharply higher, so some of July’s sales might have been pushed back to the previous month.

      Robert Frick, corporate economist for Navy Federal Credit Union, says falling mortgage rates could breath new life into a slumping housing market. 

      “But the numbers reflected the core problem holding the home sales market from regaining momentum: the average sales price for a new home was $388,000, and half of home buyers are looking for a sub $300,000 home,” Frick said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “Until more, less expensive homes and condos come to market, millions of Americans will be shut out of homeownership.”

      Same issue with existing homes

      That fact seemed to jump out of last week’s existing home sales report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Sales rose 2.5 percent from the month before, but the inventory of entry-level homes -- those priced around $200,000 or less -- remains very tight. The lack of supply has had the effect of pushing up the price of those formerly low-priced homes.

      "Clearly, the inventory of moderately-priced homes is inadequate and more home building is needed," NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said last week.

      Why aren’t builders responding?

      Following World War II, Levitt & Sons builders responded to a severe housing shortage by developing a huge parcel in Nassau County, N.Y. into a planned community of small, affordable homes for returning servicemen and their families. Levittown was duplicated across the country, giving birth to suburbia and alleviating the housing shortage. So why hasn’t something like that happened today?

      There could be a number of reasons, but builders blame rising costs for their emphasis on high-end luxury homes. After paying for land, materials, and labor, the profit margin is much higher on a home that costs $300,000 than one selling for $200,000. 

      The problem, however, is that the market is running out of people who can afford to pay $300,000 or more for a home.

      New and existing home sales went in opposite directions last month, but a closer examination reveals what they had in common. Many homes -- both new and ex...
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      Model year 2020 Mercedes Benz GLE350s, GLE350 4MATICs, and GLE450 4MATICs recalled

      Water may drain from the air conditioner into the passenger compartment

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 17,755 model year 2020 GLE350s, GLE350 4MATICs, and GLE450 4MATICs.

      The air conditioner drain hoses may have been incorrectly installed, causing water to drain from the air conditioner into the passenger compartment.

      If a significant volume of water enters the driver and passenger side foot wells, it might cause corrosion and/or short circuits to the electrical components in the area, increasing the risk of fire.

      In addition, the emergency call (eCall) feature may be disabled; the vehicle may not be able to be unlocked and/or started; and the engine limp-home mode might be activated during driving. These features increase the risk of an injury or crash.

      What to do

      MBUSA will notify owners, and dealers will inspect and correct the air conditioner drain hoses, as necessary, free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 8, 2019.

      Owners may contact MBUSA customer service at (800) 367-6372.

      Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) is recalling 17,755 model year 2020 GLE350s, GLE350 4MATICs, and GLE450 4MATICs.The air conditioner drain hoses may have been...
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      Volkswagen recalls GTIs, Golfs, Beetles, Beetle Convertible, Golf SportWagens and Jettas

      The key may removed from the ignition when the transmission shift lever is not in "Park."

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 679,027 model year 2015-2019 GTIs, model year 2015-2016 & 2018-2019 Golfs, model year 2012-2019 Beetles & Beetle Convertibles, model year 2017-2019 Golf SportWagens and model year 2011-2018 Jettas with an automatic transmission, manual handbrake and keyless entry.

      A build-up of silicate on the shift lever micro switch contacts may enable the key to be removed from the ignition when the transmission shift lever is not in "Park."

      Removing the key while the shift lever is in a position other than "Park" increases the risk of an unintended vehicle rollaway that may result in personal injury or a crash.

      What to do

      Volkswagen will notify owners, and dealers will install an additional switch and circuit board free of charge.

      The recall is expected to begin October 11, 2019.

      Owners may contact Volkswagen customer service at 1-800-893-5298. Volkswagen's number for this recall is 37M2.

      Volkswagen Group of America is recalling 679,027 model year 2015-2019 GTIs, model year 2015-2016 & 2018-2019 Golfs, model year 2012-2019 Beetles & Beetle C...
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      China imposes retaliatory tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S. goods

      The move escalates the ongoing U.S.-China trade war

      On Friday, China announced a new round of tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S. goods. The move comes amid an ongoing trade war between the two nations and just ahead of the United States’ plan to impose new tariffs on another $300 billion worth of Chinese goods.  

      In a statement, China’s Finance Ministry said it will place tariffs ranging from 5-10 percent on U.S. imports starting on September 1, which coincides with the Trump administration’s next round of planned duty increases on Chinese products. 

      Roughly 5,000 products -- including soybeans, coffee, whiskey, seafood, and crude oil -- will be affected by the new tariffs.

      "China has ammunition to fight back. The US side will feel the pain," Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin said Friday on Twitter.

      Trump responds

      In response to the news, President Trump sent out a series of tweets. 

      "We don't need China and, frankly, would be far better off without them," he tweeted. “Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing your companies HOME and making your products in the USA. 

      He added that he will respond to China’s tariffs “this afternoon” while describing the situation as “a GREAT opportunity for the United States.” 

      The U.S. Chamber of Commerce called China’s reciprocal tariffs “unfortunate, but not unexpected.” 

      “Nobody wins a trade war,” the Chamber of Commerce said in a statement “The continued tit-for-tat escalation between the U.S. and China is putting significant strain on the U.S. economy, raising costs, undermining investment, and roiling markets.” 

      Analysts say the uncertainty caused by China’s move is likely to have an immediate effect on the economy.

      "Business people are tearing their hair out because they can’t figure out which products have tariffs, how big are the tariffs, which countries will the tariffs be on, how long will they be in place,"  Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, told USA Today.

      On Friday, China announced a new round of tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S. goods. The move comes amid an ongoing trade war between the two nations and...
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      Numerous Amazon items declared unsafe by federal regulators

      An investigation indicates that thousands of items on the site were either banned or declared unsafe by federal agencies

      Thousands of items allowed to be listed on Amazon’s marketplace did not receive passing safety marks from federal regulators, according to an investigation from The Wall Street Journal

      The Journal found that about 4,100 items on Amazon’s site had been “declared unsafe” or outright banned by federal agencies. About half of these items were toys or medications without proper risk warnings, at least 157 items were items Amazon had said it banned, and some items were even labeled as “Amazon’s choice.” 

      In response to the investigation, Amazon removed or altered the wording of more than half of the listings in question. 

      “Safety is a top priority at Amazon,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “When a concern arises, we move quickly to protect customers and work directly with sellers, brands and government agencies.”

      In a blog post on Friday, Amazon highlighted its use of tools and programs to make sure products are "safe, compliant and authentic."

      "Amazon offers customers hundreds of millions of items, and we have developed, and continuously refine and improve our tools that prevent suspicious, unsafe, or noncompliant products from being listed in our store," the company said. "In 2018, our teams and technologies proactively blocked more than 3 billion suspect listings for various forms of abuse, including noncompliance, before they were published to our store."

      Difficulty policing large number of third-party sellers 

      As Amazon has grown in scale, the site has faced challenges in policing its third-party sellers. 

      Earlier this year, an investigation by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson found that school supplies and children’s jewelry sold on the digital marketplace had unsafe levels of toxic metals. On the heels of the discovery, Amazon quickly changed its quality control standards for these categories of products. 

      Counterfeit listings have also been a problem for Amazon. Just last month, the e-commerce giant warned customers who previously purchased Align Probiotic nutritional supplements on its site that the supplements were most likely fake and should be tossed. 

      Thousands of items allowed to be listed on Amazon’s marketplace did not receive passing safety marks from federal regulators, according to an investigation...
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      Most patients are willing to share medical records for research purposes

      However, experts explain that there are a few reasons to hold back

      With many consumers concerned about the safety and security of their medical records, researchers at the University of California -- San Diego conducted a study to discover what kinds of information patients would be willing and likely to share with medical personnel for research purposes. 

      According to the researchers, patients considered medical research conducted by their own healthcare practices as an acceptable place to share their medical records, but patients also like having the power to opt out when they think it’s necessary. 

      What do patients feel comfortable sharing?

      The researchers had patients at two academic hospitals complete surveys on what kinds of information from their medical records they’d be willing to share with researchers. 

      Over 1,200 participants completed the survey, which had different layouts that allowed participants to either opt in or opt out of sharing their information. After being assigned to either  the opt-in or opt-out categories, participants were further divided into either “simple” responses, which included 18 categories to share their information, or “detailed” responses, which included nearly 60 categories to share their records. 

      Out of all participants, less than four percent said they wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing medical information of any kind with anyone for any reason. On the flip side, over 23 percent of respondents said they’d share any information with any researchers. 

      The study also revealed that over two-thirds of respondents would share their medical records solely with their own healthcare practice, which, according to the researchers, could have interesting implications for medical research. 

      “These results are important because data from a single institution is often insufficient to achieve statistical significance in research findings,” said researcher Dr. Lucila Ohno-Machado. “When sample sizes are small, it is unclear whether the research findings generalize to a larger population.” 

      The participants appreciated having more choices within the parameters of the study; patients who currently opt in to share their information have no choice in who gets their information or what they get -- once they approve, all of their information becomes public.

      However, in this study, every single participant noted at least one source or piece of their information they wouldn’t want shared. Knowing that is crucial to creating future policies because it may allow patients to withhold only some pieces of their medical history without having to opt out entirely.

      “Institutions currently make decisions on sharing on behalf of all patients who do not explicitly decline sharing,” said Dr. Ohno-Machado. “It is possible that asking patients directly would increase the amount of data shared for research. On the other hand, it is also possible that some types of research would suffer from small sample sizes if patients consistently decline certain categories of items.” 

      With many consumers concerned about the safety and security of their medical records, researchers at the University of California -- San Diego conducted a...
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      State attorneys general and major telecoms band together to fight robocalls

      The new shoulder-to-shoulder effort may lead to real progress

      Fifty-one state attorneys general and 12 of the biggest telephone companies in the U.S. are banding together to utilize technology that can identify and block robocalls before the calls ever make it to consumers’ phone. Part of that accord is call-blocking technology that can be integrated into the supporting telecom’s systems without any additional cost to customers.

      If this sounds like old news, it is -- sort of. There’s a lot of legislative bodies, agencies, and associations doing something, just not jointly.

      On the federal level, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been trying to get phone companies to get their act together in adopting standards and putting the FCC’s SHAKEN/STIR framework into action, but the phone companies have been dragging their feet. 

      Also on the national level, the House of Representatives passed the ‘Stopping Bad Robocalls Act’ in July to better detect and reduce illegal robocalls.

      On the state level, various state attorneys general have tried to wield their own axe -- such as North Carolina’s TRACED Act -- but, like the FCC’s efforts, it hasn’t gotten much traction. 

      The stone in the path?

      In ConsumerAffairs research, we also found an earlier collective effort by the National Association of Attorneys General that seemingly went nowhere. In that letter, there was a counteractive twist that may have been a reason why the phone companies were dragging their feet -- that being the pro-telecom efforts of the USTelecom Association.

      “Under existing laws . . . phone companies have a legal obligation to complete phone calls. These companies may not block or otherwise prevent phone calls from transiting their networks or completing such calls,” is how USTelecom positioned itself at a 2013 U.S. Senate hearing called “Stopping Fraudulent Robocall Scams: Can More Be Done?,” as quoted in the letter.

      “The current legal framework simply does not allow [phone companies] to decide for the consumer which calls should be allowed to go through and which should be blocked.”

      Now we’re getting somewhere

      Fast forward six years and things have changed. USTelecom says it’s all-in for the good of the consumer.

      “Illegal robocalls are more than annoying, they are a deliberate attempt by criminals to flood voice networks with unwanted calls that scam, spoof and prey upon vulnerable consumers who are justifiably fed up,” the association wrote in a joint statement on State Attorneys General Anti-Robocall Principles.

      “The member companies of USTelecom, CTIA and NCTA are taking action and aggressively responding to this threat with a variety of tools. We appreciate the efforts of the state attorneys general, the FCC, the FTC and other agencies to further collaboration that will hold the scammers behind these calls responsible for their actions.”

      USTelecom is also doubling its efforts to cover both the legislative and the states+phone companies’ efforts, hoping that one of those will take hold. “We’re supportive of the bipartisan legislation in Congress,” a spokesperson for USTelecom told ConsumerAffairs.

      Much like the recent effort by the attorneys general to complement the efforts of Congress in scrutinizing Big Tech, maybe this new joint effort between the states and the telecoms will move the needle. Maybe consumers will finally start to see some of those 4 billion monthly robocalls fade away. Maybe.

      "We owe it to the most vulnerable in our communities to do everything in our power to protect them," North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said in announcing the new effort. "Thanks to these prevention principles, our phones will ring less often."

      Fifty-one state attorneys general and 12 of the biggest telephone companies in the U.S. are banding together to utilize technology that can identify and bl...
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      Owning a dog could improve consumers' heart health

      The health benefits of having a dog may outweigh benefits from any other pet

      Many children beg their parents for a pet to add to the family, and a new study conducted by researchers from the Mayo Clinic could help make that decision a bit easier. 

      The study found that pet owners, and more specifically dog owners, were more likely to have better overall heart health. 

      “In general, people who owned any pet were more likely to report more physical activity, better diet, and blood sugar at ideal level,” said researcher Andrea Maugeri, PhD. “The greatest benefits from having a pet were for those who owned a dog, independent of their age, sex, and education level.” 

      A natural way to boost health

      The researchers analyzed over 1,700 pet owners and non-pet owners to see how owning a pet contributed to positive health benefits. 

      After establishing their baseline health levels for nearly two years, the researchers set out to spot the differences between the two groups by utilizing the American Heart Association's (AHA) Life’s Simple 7, which is a resource that promotes healthy habits in seven major areas (cholesterol, body mass index, smoking status, diet, blood pressure, physical activity, and blood glucose). 

      Owning a pet proved to be beneficial to the participants’ health, as they were less likely to smoke, more likely to be active, and had better cholesterol levels and a lower likelihood of developing diabetes. 

      The researchers then took the study one step further to see how dog owners’ health records differed from all other pet owners. They found that having a dog can be even more beneficial to consumers’ health; over 24 percent of pet owners had dogs, and these participants were even more likely to be physically active and follow a healthy diet when compared with both non-pet owners and pet owners who didn’t have dogs. 

      These findings demonstrate how owning a pet can be helpful in ways consumers may have never considered. For those looking for creative ways to stay active and boost their heart health, adopting a pet could do just that. 

      Staying active and healthy

      A recent study found that owning a dog could also help older consumers stay active and lead healthier lifestyles. 

      The researchers found that older dog owners who participate in daily activities with their pets are more active than their peers who don’t have pets. The team said that difference could help seniors fight disease and live longer. 

      "Ultimately, our research will provide insights into how pet ownership may help older people achieve higher levels of physical activity or maintain their physical activity levels for a longer period of time, which could improve their prospects for a better quality of life, improved or maintained cognition, and perhaps, even overall longevity," said researcher Nancy Gee. 

      Many children beg their parents for a pet to add to the family, and a new study conducted by researchers from the Mayo Clinic could help make that decision...
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