FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC ARCHIVE
Monitoring food and health news
-- with particular attention to fads, fallacies and the "obesity" war
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A major cause of increasing obesity is certainly the campaign against it -- as dieting usually makes people FATTER. If there were any sincerity to the obesity warriors, they would ban all diet advertising and otherwise shut up about it. Re-authorizing now-banned school playground activities and school outings would help too. But it is so much easier to blame obesity on the evil "multinationals" than it is to blame it on your own restrictions on the natural activities of kids
NOTE: "No trial has ever demonstrated benefits from reducing dietary saturated fat".
A brief summary of the last 50 years' of research into diet: Everything you can possibly eat or drink is both bad and good for you
30 April, 2010
CA: County wants to stop kids getting toys
What nasty minds they have! This all hinges on the unproven claim that McDonald's food is unhealthy. And the major assumptions underlying that claim -- that vegetables and a low fat diet are good for you -- have in fact been shown by recent research to be false
County supervisors in California have proposed that toys included in fast-food restaurant meals for kids be banned, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Officials in Santa Clara are convinced that luring kids into eating foods with high sugar, sodium and fat by using toys will make them overweight and cause long term health problems.
This proposal is believed to the first of this type, and would ban the inclusion of a toy in any kids meal with more than 485 calories, 600 mg of salt, or high amounts of sugar or fat. These guidelines would cause all McDonald’s happy meals—even those with apple sticks instead of French fries—to be served without a toy.
Supporters of the ban argue that it will force restaurants to offer nutritious foods to kids. Others have said this is another case of the government getting too involved in parenting decisions.
Soft drink may make you old -- if you are a mouse
Drink champagne instead? Mouse studies often do not generalize to humans
A LIKING for fizzy drinks could make you old before your time, scientists have warned. Research shows that phosphate, which gives many soft drinks their tangy taste, can accelerate ageing.
The mineral, which is also added to processed meats, cakes and breads, was found to make the skin and muscles wither and could also damage the heart and kidneys.
Although the experiments were carried out on mice, the Harvard University researchers believe the results show the potential consequences of high doses of the mineral.
Gerald Weissmann, of research journal FASEB, which published the results, said: "Soda is the caffeine-delivery vehicle of choice for millions of people worldwide, but comes with phosphorous as a passenger. "This research suggests that our phosphorous balance influences the ageing process, so don't tip it."
The study is not the first to raise concerns about carbonated colas, which have been linked to brittle bones, pancreatic cancer, muscle weakness and paralysis. Two cans a week are thought to raise the risk.
In the latest study, Dr M. Shawkat Razzaque, of Harvard's dentistry school, looked at the effects of phosphate on three sets of mice. The first group was genetically engineered to have a gene called klotho, leading to higher than normal phosphate levels. They lived eight to 15 weeks, suffering a range of problems linked to premature ageing.
The second group lacked klotho, leading to phosphate levels closer to normal. They lived for 20 weeks. The third group was bred to be like the second group, but fed a high-phosphate diet. All died by 15 weeks, like those in the first group. This, the scientists suggest, indicated the phosphate diet had toxic effects.
They warned the mineral could age skin and muscles and might trigger or exacerbate kidney and heart problems. "Humans need a healthy diet and keeping the balance of phosphate in the diet may be important for a healthy life and longevity. Avoid phosphate toxicity and enjoy a healthy life," the researchers said.
A US study this year found two or more soft drinks a week could almost double the chances of pancreatic cancer.
29 April, 2010
Double blind study ends fish oil myth
But there is a lot of face-saving going on
Parents who buy fish oil tablets to boost their children’s brain power are wasting their money, the largest study of its kind suggests. An analysis of primary school pupils found that reading, spelling and handwriting were not improved by taking omega-3 ‘clever capsules’.
It contradicts a raft of other research which has credited the pills and powders with boosting mental ability and exam grades.
But the academics say their study is more thorough than many others. Rather than just giving fish oils to all the children, some were given dummy pills instead, a technique that allows for a truer picture of any resulting benefits.
For four months, 450 children aged eight to ten at 18 schools in South Wales took either omega-3 supplements or placebos. The children, parents, teachers and even the researchers were unaware of who had taken what until the end of the study.
The results of a battery of tests revealed the fish oil pills did not improve the youngsters’ work – although it did appear that those taking them were more attentive.
Researchers also found that around 30 of the 450 children had very low levels of omega-3 fat in their blood to begin with.
Researcher Professor Amanda Kirby said the study was bigger than any other of its kind. She said that while supplements might help some youngsters who have trouble concentrating in class, the conclusion for parents of children who are not having problems at school is that healthy eating is all that is needed.
She said: ‘The primary message always has got to be to start with a good diet. ‘We have to look at eating more fish and less processed food. ‘It is not just that children are eating less fish, they are eating more rubbish as well. ‘If children have a relatively varied diet and don’t seem to have problems, it is probably not going to help them.’
For youngsters with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or learning difficulties, fish oils are ‘worth a try’, she said.
Professor Kirby, of the University of Wales, said that more research was needed into the wider benefits of omega-3 pills, which cost from £3 to £15 for a month’s supply.
Abundant in fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon and fresh tuna, the fats have been credited with health benefits from staving off heart disease, cancer and depression, to warding off Alzheimer’s disease.
The professor said: ‘Fatty acids make up 20 per cent of the brain and are going to have an effect in a number of different ways. ‘Some of the studies on cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease are pretty convincing, but we need more research.’
Last week, a British study questioned the ability of fish oil supplements to keep the mind sharp into old age. Researcher Alan Dangour, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, studied 900 volunteers aged 70 to 80 from England and Wales. Those who took fish oils had far greater levels of omega-3 in their bloodstream but fared no better in the tests.
Dr Dangour said: ‘Although this is the longest trial of its kind ever conducted, it may be that it was not long enough for any true beneficial effects to be detected.’
Last night, manufacturers said that although it is unclear if fish oils give healthy children an extra boost, they play an essential role in the development of brain and body. With few children eating the recommended two weekly portions of fish, supplements can help youngsters reach their potential, they say.
Dr Carrie Ruxton, a dietician, warned against a message that encouraged parents to throw fish oil supplements in the bin. ‘Parents need to know there is an option if they can’t get their children to eat fish,’ she said.
British Boy, two, left in tears as nursery staff confiscate his 'unhealthy' cheese sandwich
Disgusting fanatics -- particularly since the "benefits" of eating fruit and veg. have recently been scientifically disproved. But ideology trumps science every time
When little Jack Ormisher opened his packed lunch, he was delighted to find inside a cheese sandwich his mummy had made for him. But before he could tuck into the meal, staff at the nursery he attended snatched it away - leaving him in tears.
Apparently, the sandwich broke their 'healthy eating' rules. Instead, the two-year-old was offered fruit and vegetables.
Later when Jack's father arrived to pick him up from the Westfield Children's Centre in Pemberton, near Wigan, staff told him that if his son wanted sandwiches in future they must include lettuce or tomato.
Jack's mother, Dorothy Gallear, 32, was so incensed she has now enrolled him at a different nursery. 'I think it is absolutely pathetic and these people are playing Big Brother with people's lives,' she said yesterday. 'The attitude of the nursery was ridiculous. They were looking down their noses at me.
'When I told people at his new nursery what had happened all over a cheese sandwich some laughed with shock and others were horrified.'
Mother-of-two Miss Gallear said Jack started at Westfield in September last year, spending three afternoons a week there but she decided to make him his own sandwiches after he developed several stomach bugs. 'He was having what they prepared for him to eat.
'It was fruit mostly so I decided that I would prepare something for him at home to take in so I knew exactly what he was eating.
'This was the first time I'd sent in my food. They said it was fine as long as it was a healthy snack. He did have some veg and a piece of melon in his box. 'But my partner went to pick him up and they told him that if we were going to bring sandwiches in it had to have at least a piece of lettuce on it.'
The nursery's list of acceptable 'healthy options' includes various fruit and vegetables plus rice, pasta and potatoes.
A spokesman for Wigan Council, which runs the nursery, said: 'The centre has a list of recommended healthy food, according to national guidelines, which children are encouraged to eat. 'A cheese sandwich would not feature on the list.'
Miss Gallear and her partner, Harry Ormisher, transferred Jack to a nursery in nearby Orrell.
Westfield's manager, Aukje Clegg, said: 'The decision to remove the child from the centre was taken by the parents. 'We have informed them that a place is still available for their child at Westfield should they reconsider.'
28 April, 2010
Genes for alcoholism found
Those pesky genes again!
Scientists have identified new genes and pathways that influence an individual's typical pattern of brain electrical activity, a trait that may serve as a useful surrogate marker for more genetically complex traits and diseases. One of the genes, for example, was found to be associated with alcoholism.
A report of the findings by researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, appears online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"This important advance sustains our hope for the potential of genome-wide association techniques to further the study of complex genetic disorders such as alcoholism," notes NIAAA Acting Director Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) allow researchers to rapidly scan the complete set of DNA of many individuals to find genetic variations associated with a particular disease or condition.
"One of the challenges in identifying the genes that underlie alcoholism is the large degree of genetic and environmental variability associated with the disease," explains first author Colin A. Hodgkinson, Ph.D., a geneticist in the NIAAA Laboratory of Neurogenetics. "Such variability has impeded even GWAS efforts to identify alcoholism genes. To overcome those difficulties, we used GWAS techniques to search for genetic variants related to EEG, or brain wave, patterns in a comparatively small sample of several hundred Native American individuals."
As unique as an individual's fingerprints, EEG (electroencephalogram) patterns are highly heritable, and have been associated with alcoholism and other psychiatric disorders. The high degree of genetic similarity and common environmental exposure shared by the Native American individuals that comprised the study sample aided this search.
Working with David Goldman, M.D., chief of the NIAAA Laboratory of Neurogenetics, Dr. Hodgkinson and colleagues identified multiple genes that were associated with the amplitude, or height, of two of the four characteristic electrical frequencies that make up the wave patterns found in EEG recordings.
One of the genes, for example, was found to account for nearly 9 percent of the EEG theta wave variability seen in the Native American sample. Theta waves are relatively low-frequency brain waves, and previous studies have shown that their amplitude is altered among alcoholics. The researchers then showed that the same gene accounted for about 4 percent of theta wave variability in a sample of North American whites. The gene's diminished effect among whites, they noted, was likely a reflection of the greater genetic variability present in that sample. In the same study Dr. Goldman's group went on to show that genetic variation in one of the genes identified for theta wave variability was also associated with an altered risk for alcoholism.
"While our main findings are for genes that influence EEG wave patterns, this study represents an important step toward the use of EEG as a surrogate marker for alcoholism," notes Dr. Goldman. "It also reveals new molecular pathways involved in addiction processes."
Fresh fears for games addicts
You can overdo anything. Even drinking too much water can kill you. In general, however, games are pro-social, just as harmless as drinking normal amounts of water. Those who do use games excessively may be using them as non-drug therapy for problems -- which could be desirable. Better than heroin, anyway
PLAYING computer games is as popular as watching TV, but some gamers have developed an addiction that can be as costly and debilitating as drug and alcohol dependence.
A study by the Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, conducted online among 1945 participants, showed 8 per cent were identified as problem gamers. These players admitted to gaming for extended periods - in some cases more than eight hours a day - had fewer friends in real life and had even lost a significant relationship as a result of excessive play.
Other problems extended to craving more play time, and restlessness or irritability if they couldn't get back to the controller. Some also said their gaming activities interfered with school or work performance while others identified physical issues including sleep reduction, back pain and sore eyes.
The survey also revealed a financial fallout with some problem players spending excessive amounts of money to have the latest games, hardware and virtual currency to pay for their addiction.
Psychiatrist Guy Porter, who co-wrote a paper based on the survey's findings for the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, said the syndrome of video game dependence was similar to drug and alcohol addiction. "Any pleasurable activity has the potential to become addictive or to form a repetitive pattern of use," he said.
"Games are very enjoyable and provide a very positive experience for most people who use them. "But there are a small number of people out there - those who are playing for eight hours plus a day - who have got a problem with it."
There have been cases in Asia where people have died after marathon sessions, lasting days, playing games such as World of Warcraft and Starcraft.
Dr Porter said that aside from the duration of play, other issues needed to be examined. "The issue is whether it is the actual game they are playing or an underlying mental-health problem that the person has," he said.
"Someone could have anxiety or depression, social problems, marriage problems, out of a job, financial problems and the only stress relief they have is playing a game. "A lot of games, in particular online games, can offer a sense of achievement in the virtual world which outweighs the sense of achievement in real life. "A lot of people find it more rewarding to achieve online objectives in a game rather than real-world objectives."
27 April, 2010
Pressure to publish may bias scientists
This is a well-known process but it is nice to see it convincingly documented. It does help explain the heap of epidemiological garbage that keeps pouring out. A much more extensive treatment of the subject here
The quality of scientific research may be suffering because scholars are under pressure to get their work published in scientific journals, a new analysis suggests.
The study found that the fraction of U.S.-published research papers claiming “positive” results—those that may indicate an actual discovery—is immensely higher when the authors are from states whose academics publish more often. The difference ranged from less than half, to over 95 percent.
The findings were reported in the online research journal PLoS One on April 21, by Daniele Fanelli of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
“Publish or perish,” an aphorism widely known in academia, expresses the very real fact that scientists must publish their work continuously to secure jobs and funding, Fanelli noted. Careers are judged based on the sheer number of papers someone has published, and on how many times these are cited in later papers—though this is a hotly debated measure of scientific quality.
But papers are more or less likely to be accepted by journals, and to be cited, depending on the results they report. Like a hit song, more interesting results tend to make further headway. Thus scientists are “torn between the need to be accurate and objective and the need to keep their careers alive,” Fanelli said.
Fanelli analysed over 1,300 papers claiming to have tested a hypothesis in all disciplines, from physics to sociology, from U.S.-based main authors. Using data from the National Science Foundation, he then checked whether the papers’ conclusions were linked to the states’ productivity, measured by the number of papers published on average by each academic.
Results were more likely to “support” the hypothesis under investigation, Fanelli found, when the paper was from a “productive” state. That suggests, he said, that scientists working in more competitive and productive environments are more likely to make their results look positive. It’s unclear whether they do this by writing the papers differently or by tweaking the underlying data, Fanelli said.
“The outcome of an experiment depends on many factors, but the productivity of the U.S. state of the researcher should not, in theory, be one of them,” explained Fanelli. “We cannot exclude that researchers in the more productive states are smarter and better equipped, and thus more successful, but this is unlikely to fully explain the marked trend observed.” The study results were independent of funding availability, he said.
Positive results were less than half the total in Nevada, North Dakota and Mississippi. At the other extreme, states including Michigan, Ohio, District of Columbia and Nebraska had between 95 percent and 100 percent positive results, a rate that seems unrealistic even for the most outstanding institutions, Fanelli said.
These conclusions could apply to all scientifically advanced countries, he added. “Academic competition for funding and positions is increasing everywhere,” said Fanelli. “Policies that rely too much on cold measures of productivity might be lowering the quality of science itself.”
Addicted smokers at mercy of their genes, find scientists
This does raise the theoretical possibility that the lung cancer is the result of the genes rather than of the smoking. That would however be discounted if smokers without the risk genes also had high rates of cancer. We should not forget that many smokers live into advanced old age
NEW research suggests smokers who find it hard to cut down or quit may be at the mercy of their genes.
Scientists have identified three genetic mutations that increase the number of cigarettes people smoke a day.
Several also appear to be associated with taking up smoking and one with smoking cessation.
Some of the findings will now be incorporated into risk factor DNA tests developed by the Icelandic company deCODE, which took part in the research.
A previous study two years ago found a common change in the genetic code linked to nicotine addiction and lung cancer risk.
The new research, which combined data on more than 140 thousand individuals, confirmed this discovery, and pinpointed two more genetic variants that seem to increase cigarette consumption among smokers.
Results from the three studies have been published today in the journal Nature Genetics.
26 April, 2010
Public health groups want Uncle Sam to start separating us from salt for our own good -- along with saturated fat and sugar. Uncle Sam is listening -- and doing. Call it the blanding of America. Or call it another blow by the nanny state for freedom -- freedom from our undisciplined appetites. Freedom from personal responsibility. Freedom from choice. Why, even freedom from freedom.
Look, freedom from freedom works for zoo animals, doesn't it? The zoo is the new model for human society. We need only open our bourgeois eyes to see. At any zoo, Americans will find tigers and lions and bears that are housed, fed, and tended to medically.
Our benevolent Maximum Leader, Barack Obama, has his dreams -- dreams grander than his father's, one dare say. He wants to turn the United States into one big, happy zoo. The president and his sharp left-wing policy wonks are working overtime to get the "housed, fed, and medical care" thing down pat.
But Mr. Obama hasn't quite figured out how he can actually feed us and keep all that salty bad stuff from our mouths. Yet by using big government -- through the auspices of the Food and Drug Administration -- to make what passes our lips less bad is a nice interim step. (Can sorely-needed punitive junk food taxes be far behind?) And though baby steps on the road to serfdom isn't typically the Obama Way, when it comes to salt, baby steps appear to be just dandy.
But naysayers and tea partiers (thinly disguised right-wing militiamen and women or their shills) might counter -- with boring predictability -- that government has no place regulating what we eat or drink other than to make sure that our food and drink are uncontaminated by arsenic and rat droppings. Goes the argument, if middle- and lowbrow Americans want to eat gobs of Fritos, that's their choice. Americans can mind their own kids' diets, too, say conservative troglodytes. And if consumers' food choices lead to bad health, then they can pick up their own medical tabs. Such heartlessness.
But what do overweight, artery-clogged adults really know about their diets -- or anything else, for that matter? Parents managing their kids' diets? Don't make our svelte president howl with laughter between drags on his coffin nail (might trigger an awful coughing fit).
In fact, fat kids are a threat, of sorts, to our national security. Perhaps not on the level of al-Qaeda, but darned close. The Pentagon's politicized generals say so, so it must be so. It goes like this: Just like sea levels rising due to global warming, military recruitment centers will one day -- very soon -- be swamped with patriotic fat kids looking to serve their country. Military budgets being tight, Jenny Craig isn't in the cards for enlistees. And the brass doesn't want to make pound-dropping basic training too rigorous.
So the Pentagon -- doubtless with White House prodding -- is rah-rahing FDA food inspectors' and minders' plans to relentlessly pursue profit-lusting execs at Frito-Lay and Slim Jims, among many other bottom-feeders who are poisoning us and "the children" with foul salty foods. Expect the overworked but saintly Congressman Henry Waxman to crank up another one of his media-friendly witch hunts (I mean committee investigations) into the whole sordid world of snack and processed food manufacturing. A word of warning to Kraft Food execs: If you guys have a corporate jet, ditch it now.
And if Henry Waxman is hot on the trail of snack food capitalist exploiters, can the otherwise-media-shy Senator Chuck Schumer be far behind? With Waxman and Schumer leading the fight, count on mainstream media institutions "60 Minutes" and "20-20" to weigh in with brilliant exposés on the cynics and manipulators who are enticing us all with slick advertising to eat one too many Little Debbie Snack 'n Cakes (lest we forget the sinister hidden salt in processed sweet treats).
For most of us Americans, who can't resist the snap and crunch of a briny Vlasic pickle or a gooey slice of DiGiorno pepperoni pizza, two words: Take heart. Uncle Sam's current assault on salt is only the opening salvo in a much longer war to eradicate sodium-laced edibles.
Won't Uncle Sam eventually do to salty food what he's doing to one of President Obama's favorite treats, cigarettes? How about plain packaging for all snack and processed foods? How about skull-and-crossbones warning labels? Shouldn't grocers be required by law to put every bag of Cheetos Cheese Puffs and Rold Gold Pretzels, every Marie Callender potpie and Swanson's Macaroni and Cheese entrée, behind counters? Before store clerks hand over the Oh Boy! Oberto Beef Jerky, shouldn't proof of age be required?
And like the cigarette wars, let's cue the trial attorneys, shall we? These vigilantes for wronged and aggrieved Americans need to begin to rustle up -- or gin up -- citizens who have suffered prolonged exposure to Spam (a salt lick if there ever were one). Besides, putting more trial attorneys to work will buff up employment numbers, won't it? A little more stimulus never hurt anyone.
Knuckle-dragging conservatives might counter that tobacco is a different animal from, say, Top Ramen Instant Noodles. It's certainly right and defensible to keep tobacco out of the hands of minors. Penalties for lax or crooked grocers and c-store operators who dole out Marlboros or Camels to the underaged deserve the law's comeuppance.
Yet dense conservatives fail to make critical connections. If cigarettes cause cancer, and salty processed food contributes to obesity and hypertension, and both could kill consumers, then why shouldn't the latter be regulated something like tobacco?
Certainly, at this point, our nation's food angels are too clever -- or scared -- to stand between hungry football or hockey fans and their Doritos. The key is to nudge food regulations along, tightening the noose slowly enough so as not to ruffle slow-witted consumers. Then one fine day, after months -- perhaps years -- of gradually taking the salt out of processed foods, consumers won't even fuss that their Lays Potato Chips taste like cardboard. Palates adjust, don't they? Snackers may not even care that their old favorite treats have been swept from store shelves.
Though statistically, we Americans are living longer than ever before, we know that our lifespans are bound to tailspin at some point if we don't forsake our long-running infatuation with everything salty -- and everything sweet, everything fatty, and everything not tofu and bean sprouts.
But cheer up, Americans. Restricting or banning naughty foods is for our own good. Uncle Sam knows best. And there's still booze, and if advocates have their way, legalized pot is in the offing in trendsetting California. Dean Wormer (National Lampoon's Animal House) may have been right that fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life. But for Uncle Sam, drunk and stoned may soon be okay.
British food fanatic praises McDonald's
The home of the Big Mac and fries has received plaudits from the unlikeliest of sources - Jamie Oliver. The champion of healthy eating heaped praise on McDonald's despite accusations that it is one of the driving forces behind the rising global tide of obesity and ill-health.
He said: 'McDonald's in the UK is very different to the U.S. model - the quality of the beef, they only sell free-range eggs, they only sell organic milk, their ethics and recycling is being improved and improved.
'And I can't even believe I'm telling you that McDonald's UK has come a long way, but actually, it probably puts quite a lot of gastropubs to shame, the amount of work they're doing in the back end.
'Also, they've just had their best commercial year in four years, so they're proving that being commercial and caring can work. Actually, it's the future.'
Oliver suggested the Government and schools could learn a lot of lessons from McDonald's. 'I gave a strategy for training dinner ladies in England that was totally ignored,' he said. 'The current one doesn't work.
'The current model of school dinners all served in one room with loads of subservient kids sitting in rows eating in an hour is very old-fashioned.
'It needs to be brought up to date and to reflect the businesses succeeding in this country right now, which frankly are Pret A Manger, McDonald's and a bit of old-fashioned dining.'
This a very different message to the one delivered by Oliver in 2005 while filming Jamie's School Dinners - a programme campaigning for better meals for pupils. At the time, he said: 'We're in a very important time right now, where we can connect kids with better food, and a knowledge of where the stuff comes from, in a really fun way.
'Or we can carry on being commercial and end up like America, which is extremely scary - where you've got McDonald's sponsoring canteens, where sugar drinks are bringing in revenue-and headteachers are making decisions based on a few quid that they should be getting from elsewhere.'
Oliver's praise for the fast-food giant follows fellow celebrity chef Marco Pierre White's decision to endorse products by Bernard Matthews - hitherto another byword for unhealthy eating.
Interviewed for the Mail on Sunday's Live magazine, Oliver stressed that his conversion to McDonald's does not mean he has given up the fight against obesity.
He has just fronted a TV series in the U.S. trying to improve the diet of that nation's children.
25 April, 2010
Genetics 'not to blame for obese kids'
This claim runs against a lot of other evidence. There are plenty of sex-linked genes and the findings below may simply indicate that some genes responsible for obesity are among them
CHILDREN become obese because of the influence of their same-sex parent, not as a result of genetics, a new study by British scientists claims.
Scientists from Peninsula Medical School at the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth say if a young girl has an overweight mother she is more likely to become obese, with the same applying to boys and their fathers. The findings suggest that it is behavioural rather than genetic factors that have a greater influence in determining whether children become obese.
According to the study of 226 British families, the scientists found that obese mums were 10 times more likely to have obese daughters. Obese dads were also six times more likely to have an obese son.
However, the same trend did not exist between mums and their sons and fathers and daughters.
"Any genetic link between obese parents and their children would be indiscriminate of gender," the study's director Professor Terry Wilkin said. "The clearly defined gender-assortative pattern which our research has uncovered is an exciting one because it points towards behavioural factors at work in childhood obesity."
Prof Wilkin said the findings could dramatically affect government policies on dealing with childhood obesity and its current focus on an apparent genetic link.
"Money and resources have focused on children over the past decade in the belief that obese children become obese adults and that prevention of obesity in children will solve the problem in adulthood," he said.
"(The study's) evidence supports the opposite hypothesis - that children are becoming obese due to the influence of their same-sex parents and that we will need to focus on changing the behaviour of the adult if we want to combat obesity in the child."
British watchdog under fire as number of IVF blunders soars
The HFEA are just bureaucratic animals. They were too busy trying to "get" Britain's most successful IVF doctor -- Taranissi. They hated him because his was a private clinic and they did their damnedest to close him down -- with help from the BBC. But he eventually beat them in the courts and they finally gave up their attack on him in Sept., 2008. The BBC paid him nearly a million for libelling him in June last year. Doing anything useful is beyond the HFEA. It would be interesting to know how many of the errors below were made at government hospitals. Most of them, I'm betting
The number of blunders made at IVF clinics has nearly doubled in the past 12 months. The serious mistakes, which affect couples desperate for children, include cases where embryos have been lost or placed in the wrong woman, or incidents where eggs have been fertilised with the wrong sperm.
Figures released by the IVF watchdog reveal the number of reported incidents increased from 182 in 2007-08 to 334 in 2008-09, prompting calls for it to get tougher on failing units.
The figures do not show which fertility clinics were the worst-performing, but include centres throughout England and Wales where 50,000 IVF procedures took place in the past year.
A leading embryologist said the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) was not adequately enforcing the rules on fertility treatment.
Sammy Lee, from University College London, said: ‘I think the key failure of the HFEA is that when they ask clinics to put in special procedures, they’re not enforcing them. ‘It’s important that when you’ve identified a weakness in a procedure, you quickly enforce it, and don’t wait a year to do so.’
The figures include all reported incidents and near misses to the HFEA during 2008-09. Examples include fridges containing eggs being switched off accidentally, or consent forms not being signed by two clinicians, which is against the rules.
The blunders are revealed on Donal MacIntyre’s BBC Radio 5 Live show tonight.
The programme features an interview with one woman, identified only as Clare, who was told by clinicians at the University of Wales IVF clinic in Cardiff that two of her remaining three embryos created during her first cycle of fertility treatment had been ‘lost’.
She says the only explanation staff could offer was that they may have ‘slipped off the straw’ during the freezing process.
Clare, who had been trying for a baby for seven years with her partner Gareth before beginning treatment at the clinic in 2008, said: ‘I was waiting to go in and have a transfer and they said I only had one embryo remaining – the other two had gone missing. Those were two potential babies.’
The clinic said it would not comment on individual cases but its overall rate of frozen embryo recovery was ‘high’ by international standards.
Lawyer Guy Forster, who is representing Clare and who has dealt with similar cases in the UK in the past year, called the situation ‘deeply disturbing’.
The HFEA said it did not accept it needed reform. A spokesman said: ‘In embryology, as in all areas of clinical care, it is not possible to guarantee 100 per cent success.’
24 April, 2010
Obama's FDA is a rogue agency
It's run by Obama appointees who hate drug companies
What happens when one of the most powerful regulatory bodies in the country orders a business to violate the agency's own rules? If they don't want to make waves, company executives follow the order, cross their fingers and hope the regulators won't punish them later. But this month, one company will have the courage to go to court and tell the regulators they've gone too far.
On April 26 California-based drug manufacturer Allergan will seek a court ruling that the Food and Drug Administration may not ban the distribution of truthful information about safe and effective uses of medicines that the agency has already approved for other conditions. It could be years before the case is finally resolved, but an Allergan victory would be a huge boon for millions of American patients who rely on so-called "off-label" uses.
Before they can be sold in the U.S., every new medicine must be certified by the FDA as safe and effective for a specific, or "on-label," use. But, once approved, physicians may legally prescribe drugs for any safe and effective off-label indication.
Allergan's drug Botox has been approved for treating muscle spasms in the neck and eyes, as well as for its more popular cosmetic purposes. But it is widely used off-label to treat various other muscle spasticity conditions, as well as speech impediments and migraine headaches.
Last September the FDA ordered Allergan to send detailed safety updates to physicians who prescribe Botox for both on-label and off-label indications. But fully complying with the order could violate an FDA ban on promoting drugs for off-label uses. Ironically, doctors will have less information about patient safety if Allergan follows the FDA's off-label rules.
Botox isn't unique. By some estimates, at least 20% of all prescriptions written are off-label, and those uses often constitute the medically recognized standard of care. The practice is ubiquitous in cancer and cardiac treatment, where as many as half of all prescriptions are for off-label uses. If not for off-label prescribing, millions of patients would have fewer treatment options, and many would die.
Off-label prescribing is controversial with regulators and some politicians, who view it as a way to shortcut clinical testing and skirt the FDA approval process. But the American Medical Association says that "physicians have the training and experience to determine the best or preferred method of treatment," and that off-label prescribing should often be considered "reasonable and necessary medical care, irrespective of labeling." In fact, doctors can be subject to malpractice liability if they do not use drugs for off-label indications when doing so constitutes the standard of care.
Still, the FDA uses its authority over drug labeling and promotion to prevent manufacturers from disseminating almost any information about off-label uses, even to doctors. Drug firms may send peer-reviewed medical journal articles and excerpts from medical text books to physicians. And, in some circumstances, they can answer questions asked directly by physicians. Nearly everything else is forbidden.
The FDA and federal prosecutors take these restrictions very seriously, charging violators with both civil and criminal sanctions. In 2009 drug manufacturer Pfizer pleaded guilty to criminal charges and paid a record $2.3 billion to settle allegations of promoting 14 of its products for off-label uses. And Eli Lilly was forced to pay $1.4 billion for promoting its schizophrenia drug Zyprexa for off-label use.
Earlier this year the FDA even sent a warning letter to a Florida dermatologist for mentioning in interviews with Elle and Allure magazines and NBC's Today show that an anti-wrinkle drug she was testing had shown positive results and that "early data shows it may last longer and kick in faster than Botox."
You can see why Allergan was hesitant to comply with the FDA's order. Sending doctors information about patient selection, dosage and appropriate injection sites for off-label uses could subject Allergan to millions of dollars in fines and threaten the company and its employees with criminal penalties.
These restrictions raise serious constitutional questions, however. In 1999 a federal district court held that the FDA's near-blanket ban on the dissemination of truthful and non-misleading information about off-label uses was an unconstitutional restriction of commercial speech. The agency only avoided having its regulations totally invalidated by claiming that they did not really ban most forms of off-label promotion. Aside from the journal article exemption, though, the FDA won't tell anyone what is and is not permitted. And, in practice, the agency refuses to permit distribution of any other kinds of information about off-label uses.
That surely is why Allergan felt it had no other choice but to seek clarity from the courts. The company acknowledges that the FDA may forbid false or misleading claims, but has petitioned the court to hold the FDA's near total ban on truthful and non-misleading information unconstitutional. In a landmark 2002 case involving advertising by pharmacists, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that the "First Amendment directs us to be especially skeptical of regulations that seek to keep people in the dark for what the government perceives to be their own good."
It is long past time for the FDA to admit that permitting truth in advertising really is the best medicine.
Earth Day myths, lies and downright stupidity
by John Stossel
Every Earth Day brings out new scaremongering from silly people.
This year, one scare is that BPA, a chemical in plastic, causes "obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, brain disorders, such as attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder, liver disease, ovarian disease, disease of the uterus, low sperm count in men." That's according to a new documentary called "Tapped." So you better not drink bottled water!
Yes, huge amounts of BPA fed to rats cause problems, but there's no good evidence that tiny amounts, locked into plastic, hurt people. In fact BPA saves lives, by stopping botulism.
"Tapped" claims that many other dangerous chemicals poison bottled water. Toxicologist Dr. Stephen King says in the film that we should be "horrified" at all the chemicals in bottled water. But when we called him, he sent us a study that says: "testing" reveals a surprising array of chemical contaminants in every bottled water brand analyzed -- at levels no different than routinely found in tap water.
The director of Tapped, Stephanie Soechtig, claims that cancer rates are up as a result of these chemicals, but that's another myth. Cancer incidence rates are flat. They would have declined, if not for new screening methods.
Life spans are up, too.
So ignore the Earth Day alarmism. Economic progress is what makes life better.
Tapped also suggests that because bottled water companies take water from the earth, the world will run out of water! But over the last 20 years, thanks to economic progress, a BILLION people GAINED access to improved drinking water, according to the WHO.
Even if we were running out off fresh water, modern technology would be the answer, not the problem. One desalinization plant in Florida converts 9 billion gallons a year – more than is used for all the bottled water sold in the US.
"Tapped" does get one thing right: bottled water is a waste of money. Tests I've done show it's not healthier or better-tasting.
On my FBN show, tonight at 8pm ET, I'll confront director Stephanie Soechtig about the myths she's pushing.
23 April, 2010
Spanking causes aggression, study shows
The usual epidemiological rubbish. All that the results show is that more aggressive parents have more aggressive children -- for whatever reason, including genetic inheritance
SMACKING disobedient three-year-olds can turn children into bullies before they reach school, with new research suggesting corporal punishment makes kids aggressive.
Toddlers smacked at least twice a month are at higher odds of being aggressive by the time they are five. Instead, doctors believe "time out zones" are the most effective way to discipline a naughty child.
A study published in the Pediatrics journal has added to the argument made by many psychologists that smacking can harm children.
Of 2500 children studied, almost half were deemed with "higher aggression" and had been spanked more than twice a month. Regular smacking doubled their chances of adopting bullying behaviours compared with those children who have never been hit.
New Orleans' University of Tulane public health researcher Catherine Taylor said there was growing evidence smacking kids did not work. "This evidence suggests that primary prevention of violence can start with efforts to prevent the use of corporal punishment against children," she said.
While experts and most families are divided over whether spanking is damaging, many acknowledge that the occasional spank on the bottom won't permanently hurt a child.
Child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Greggs said parents should never hit a kid over the head or with an implement. "The single most effective way to discipline a three-year-old is time out. The second most effective way to modify their behaviour is to notice every time they act in a pro-social way," he said.
Port Macquarie mum, Raylene Alford, uses time out zones and reward charts to discipline her three-year-old son Cameron. "We didn't want to get into the habit of smacking Cameron when he did something wrong," she said. "He responds well to the time-out or naughty step and afterwards we ask him to explain what he did wrong."
Violent games make you smarter - study
I don't know that the logic here is conclusive but it does seem to put the onus of proof on the videogame haters
VIOLENT videogames like Call of Duty and Resident Evil can make you smarter, new research suggests. The Sun reported the study said shoot-to-kill videogames improved quick-thinking and made players more able to cope with the demands of modern life.
It refutes claims videogames turn teenagers into violent criminals - and argues parents should encourage their kids to enjoy a bit of virtual blood-and-guts.
The team of researchers from the Netherlands also suggested that games consoles should be installed in nursing homes.
Assistant professor Dr Lorenza Colzato, of Leiden University's psychology department, said: "If elderly people had a lot of problems with their thinking they could play videogames to improve their minds. "This could become a common nursing home activity; it would be a successful strategy."
22 April, 2010
The war on salt goes national
Earlier this year, New York City Mayor and prominent food nag Michael Bloomberg announced a "voluntary" effort to reduce the salt content in restaurants and processed foods by 25%. Later, a New York State Senator proposed a ban on the use of any salt in restaurant kitchens. Now, the Washington Post reports:The Food and Drug Administration is planning an unprecedented effort to gradually reduce the salt consumed each day by Americans, saying that less sodium in everything from soup to nuts would prevent thousands of deaths from hypertension and heart disease. The initiative, to be launched this year, would eventually lead to the first legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in food products ...The hubris here is staggering. The federal government is going to analyze the salt content in countless different types of processed food, establish limits (and based on what? How much salt is good for me? You? Someone with hypertension? I have low blood pressure; I don’t need to cut back.), and calibrate the limits so that consumers "barely notice". Give me a break.
Officials have not determined the salt limits. In a complicated undertaking, the FDA would analyze the salt in spaghetti sauces, breads and thousands of other products that make up the $600 billion food and beverage market, sources said. Working with food manufacturers, the government would set limits for salt in these categories, designed to gradually ratchet down sodium consumption. The changes would be calibrated so that consumers barely notice the modification.
The science behind the federal government's war on salt is shaky. There is no "right" amount of daily salt consumption. Some people should cut back on salt, but others don’t need to. A study in Current Opinion in Cardiology found that people who ate low-salt diets were 37 percent more likely to die of cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Michael Alderman, head of the American Society of Hypertension, America's biggest organization of specialists in high blood pressure, wrote in a review of the science in 2000:The problem with this appealing possibility is that a reduction in salt consumption of this magnitude has other—and sometimes adverse—health consequences ... Without knowledge of the sum of the multiple effects of a reduced sodium diet, no single universal prescription for sodium intake can be scientifically justified.No matter. The government will use its mighty sledgehammer anyway.
Grim weather increases risk of prostate cancer
Some very long chains of inference here. It's all theory. There are many differences between North and South other than the weather
Cold and cloudy weather in northern countries such as Britain may make men more prone to prostate cancer, new research suggests. Scientists believe a combination of cold temperatures and lack of sun could help explain higher rates of the disease in northerly parts of the world.
Poor exposure to the sun's rays can lead to vitamin D deficiency, which may increase prostate cancer risk, it is claimed. At the same time, cold weather might help to slow the degradation of cancer-triggering industrial pollutants and pesticides, said US researchers. Cold temperatures were also believed to help the chemicals precipitate out of the atmosphere and fall to the ground.
Dr Sophie St-Hilaire, who led the scientists from Idaho State University, said: "We found that colder weather, and low rainfall, were strongly correlated with prostate cancer.
"Although we can't say exactly why this correlation exists, the trends are consistent with what we would expect given the effects of climate on the deposition, absorption, and degradation of persistent organic pollutants including pesticides".
Around one in six men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. Across the northern hemisphere, reported incidence of the disease is greater in higher latitudes, according to the scientists. The rate varies by about five per cent.
Each year in the UK, around 35,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and 10,000 die from the disease.
It is known that some pollutants can cause cancer, said the researchers writing online in the International Journal of Health Geographics.
Experts believed that cold weather slowed the chemicals' degradation and caused them to precipitate to the ground. Rain and humidity were also thought to play important roles in their absorption and degradation.
Dr St-Hilaire said: "This study provides an additional hypothesis for the north-south distribution of prostate cancer, which builds on the existing supposition that individuals at northern latitudes may be deficient in Vitamin D due to low exposure to UV (ultraviolet) radiation during the winter months.
"Our study suggests that in addition to vitamin D deficiency associated with exposure to UV radiation, other meteorological conditions may also significantly affect the incidence of prostate cancer".
The scientists analysed prostate cancer data for every US county between 2000 and 2004.
They found that lower temperatures correlated with higher rates of prostate cancer, after adjusting for UV radiation, local pesticide use, rainfall, snowfall and other factors.
"We hypothesise that temperature may be associated with the incidence of prostate cancer by modulating exposure to POPs (persistent organic pollutants), some of which have been linked to the disease," the researchers wrote.
Organic chemicals tended to exist in a solid rather than a gaseous form at cold temperatures, they pointed out. This would cause them to fall to earth. Temperature also affected the degradation of POPs in the soil and atmosphere.
21 April, 2010
"Brain training" programs don't boost IQ
Brain training games do nothing to keep the mind nimble, according to Cambridge University researchers. The scientists concluded that while we get better at the complex computer exercises with practice, there is no evidence that this is of any use in everyday life.
Brain training games, like those played on the Nintendo DS or other computers, do not improve IQ, say scientists - and you'd be better off eating a salad
Endorsement by the likes of Nicole Kidman and Patrick Stewart has helped make brain training a multi-million-pound industry but studies into how well it works have given conflicting results.
Faced with the tantalising prospect that simple puzzles of maths, memory and logic could keep the mind sharp into old age - and even help stave off dementia - the researchers sought to come up with a definitive answer.
Working with the BBC's Bang Goes The Theory programme, more than 11,000 healthy men and women aged between 18 and 60 were set a battery of highly-sensitive memory tests.
Some were then given a series of brain training games to play for at least ten minutes a day, three times a week. The others were set general knowledge questions and asked to find the answers by surfing the internet. After six weeks, they re-took the initial memory tests.
The results, published in the prestigious journal Nature, showed that those who simply surfed the internet did just as well - if not better.
Dr Clive Ballard, of the Alzheimer's Society, said: 'This evidence could change the way we look at brain training games and shows staying active by taking a walk, for example, is a better use of our time.'
Substance Found in Breast Milk Kills 40 Types of Cancer Cells
Sounds promising -- but odd that it has been known for years yet has only recently been tested on humans. What are we not being told?
Swedish researchers have discovered that a substance found in human breast milk has the ability to kill cancer cells, according to a study published in the PLoS One Journal.
The substance known as HAMLET (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor cells), was discovered years ago, but has just recently been tested on humans.
In the trial conducted at Lund University in Sweden, patients suffering from bladder cancer were treated with HAMLET. After each treatment, the patients excreted dead cancer cells in their urine, healthy cells remaining intact.
Previous laboratory experiments showed that HAMLET has the ability to kill 40 different types of cancer cells, but this was the first test conducted on humans. The next step will be to test the substance on skin cancer and brain tumors.
The trial breakthrough increases the hopes that HAMLET will be developed into a cancer treatment medication in the future.
20 April, 2010
Social workers condemn fast food
Now that's REAL expertise for you. That a Big Mac meal consists of meat, salad, bread and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet -- seems to have escaped these fluffy-heads. They should be congratulating Maccas for feeding the poor so well and so cheaply
UNHEALTHY lifestyles dominated by fast-food diets are killing 1700 Queenslanders a year and costing taxpayers billions, a new report reveals. The Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS) report found battlers forced to live on takeaways, because they couldn't afford fresh food, were having their life spans reduced by an average of four years.
The state's health bill could be cut by nearly $2 billion a year if more was done to help struggling families get healthier food and live a better lifestyle, the report said.
QCOSS president Karyn Walsh said poor families had come to rely on fast food because it was cheap, easy and available. She said many mums were faced with searching for a meal with just $5 in their pockets. "You can't walk into a fruit and vegetable shop and get a meal for that," Ms Walsh said. "Even if you are vegetarian you need more money.
"Grabbing something quick from a fast-food store for under $5 would seem like a good option, but it's not the best option health-wise. "Fast food is supposed to be a supplement to a healthy diet, not your diet itself."
Fast-food companies are pushing family value deals – with McDonald's advertising a pack to feed four people for less than $20. One pizza advertisement features a family in front of a mound of pizza ingredients before suggesting it is quicker, easier and cheaper to buy the meal from them.
But without fresh food, particularly fruit and vegetables, other health problems only became worse, Ms Walsh said. [Rubbish! Quite recent research shows otherwise]
In disadvantaged areas, it was often fast-food shops that were the last to close, whereas shops selling healthy food were hard to find, she said.
A survey by Queensland Health in 2006 found it would cost $457 a fortnight to feed a family of six adequately. With more than one in seven families in Brisbane surviving on less than $500 a week, thousands are struggling to find grocery money once rent is taken out, QCOSS said.
It's even tougher in Wide Bay, where more than a quarter of families try to manage on less than $500 a week. In West Moreton, the figure is one in five.
University of Queensland lecturer Dr Paul Henman said low income earners had little option but to swap healthy food for cheaper, filling – but less healthy – options. "Fresh fruit and vegetables have risen quite significantly in recent years," he said.
The QCOSS report said the Queensland hospital budget could save more than $1.9 billion a year by tackling the underlying causes of ill health among the state's battlers. [Based on provably false assumptions]
In some lower socio-economic areas, obesity rates were double the state average and smoking rates were 90 per cent higher. And alcohol abuse was killing 80 per cent more people, the report said.
But Aloysa Hourigan, from Nutrition Australia, said the argument that fast food was cheaper than home-cooked meals was false. The nutritionist said families could find healthy meals that were cheaper than takeaway options, but it took time and planning.
She said that aside from hot chips, takeaways were more expensive than home-cooked meals, despite what the fast-food advertisements suggested. "The marketing around a lot of fast food is about 'two for the price of one', or feed your family for so much money. "They are cheaper types of food that are high in salt and sugar," she said. [How awful! But both are very common natural products]
How olive oil helps 'switch off' genes which lead to conditions including heart disease and arthritis (?)
This is all based on a tiny sample of very ill people. Generalizability probably nil. It's another example of the "Mediterranean" mania. No-one mentions that Australians live longer than Greeks etc. despite having an almost opposite diet
Olive oil's health-giving benefits stem from its ability to help 'switch off' genes that inflame conditions ranging from heart disease to arthritis, claim researchers. Their discovery shows how the much-praised Mediterranean diet can suppress chronic disorders.
Spanish researchers identified almost 100 genes whose inflammatory activity is dampened by consumption of olive oil, in particular extra virgin olive oil.
Greeks are the biggest consumers of olive oil in the world - eating 20 times more than Britons - while Italians eat ten times as much. Eating healthy mono-unsaturated fats such as olive oil is known to lower the risk of heart disease.
In Britain, which has one of the highest heart attack rates in the world, much higher levels of animal or saturated fats are eaten.
In the study, 20 patients with metabolic syndrome, which puts them at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, were asked to eat breakfast foods covered in two types of olive oil. One was extra virgin olive oil high in phenol compounds - natural antioxidants - while the other type of oil had low levels of phenols.
The volunteers had to avoid drugs, vitamins and other supplements for six weeks before the study started.
Dr Francisco Perez- Jimenez, from the University of Cordoba, said: 'We identified 98 differentially expressed genes when comparing the intake of phenol-rich olive oil with low-phenol olive oil. 'Several of the repressed genes are known to be involved in pro-inflammatory processes, suggesting the diet can switch the activity of immune system cells.'
Olive oil contains omega-6 fats, a form of 'healthy' polyunsaturates known to block the body's response to inflammation in chronic conditions such as heart disease and arthritis.
But the latest study, whose findings are published today in the science journal BMC Genomics, provides a gene-related explanation for some of the anti-inflammatory effect.
Dietitians say a Mediterranean diet also appears to improve vascular function - the flexibility of cells lining the walls of blood vessels, particularly in the heart and circulatory system.
Eating meat increases the risk of bladder cancer, according to research by scientists at the University of Texas. Xifeng Wu, the 12-year study's lead author, said: 'People who eat a lot of red meat, particularly well-done red meat, seem to have a higher likelihood of bladder cancer.'
More than 10,000 Britons are diagnosed with bladder cancer every year.
19 April, 2010
Fast food is stirring us all into a hurry?
An extraordinary instance of extravagant inferences. Is there no such thing as scientific caution any more? I showed years ago that delay of gratification generalizes only very weakly from task to task and delay in many tasks does not generalize at all.
All that aside however, These mindreaders seem to have decided that they JUST KNOW why a logo of McDonald's made students jittery. It wouldn't be because they live in an environment that demonizes McDonalds would it? And might that demonization have aroused them in various ways?
YOU may think a takeaway burger is just something to stuff down when you are in a hurry, but scientists claim that fast food can make one crave instant gratification, become increasingly impatient and even lose the impulse to save money.
Participants in experiments became jittery even when shown the logo of the McDonald’s burger chain on screen for such a short instant that they could not recognise it.
Although each individual sighting of a logo has only a short-term subliminal effect, researchers fear [Fears are evidence?] that walking daily past numerous burger bars and sandwich shops could have a cumulative “behavioural priming” effect, making people hurry whether or not they are pushed for time.
“Fast food represents a culture of time efficiency and instant gratification,” said Chen-Bo Zhong, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Toronto University in Canada.
“The problem is that the goal of saving time gets activated upon exposure to fast food regardless of whether time is a relevant factor in the context. “For example, walking faster is time-efficient when one is trying to make a meeting, but it’s a sign of impatience when one is going for a stroll in the park. “We’re finding that the mere exposure to fast food is promoting a general sense of haste and impatience regardless of the context.”
For the study, to be published in the journal Psychological Science, Zhong and his colleague Sanford DeVoe monitored the behaviour of 57 volunteers. While some were placed in a control group, the rest were shown six logos from fast-food chains, including McDonald’s and KFC.
They were shown the images so quickly that they could not consciously see what they were, but the subliminal effect was marked.
Their speed of reading a 320-word passage was measured before and after seeing the logos and it was significantly faster afterwards. In subsequent experiments there were similar results. In one, participants preferred time-saving products — for example three-in-one skincare treatments rather than the separate versions — after seeing the logos.
In another, they were asked whether they would accept a smaller sum of money instantly or a larger amount in a week’s time. Again they opted for the instant gratification after being exposed to the logos.
“You’re constantly confronted by fast food advertising,” said DeVoe. “Chronic exposure to it throughout the day is going to have a long-term effect. “When I sit in a fast food restaurant, I find myself gobbling my Big Mac down at this incredible speed, even though there is no rush at all.”
MIT student develops $3 cutting-edge healing device
The new device could radically improve healing times for tens of millions, at a cost of $3.
No one really knows why, but for an open wound, simply applying suction dramatically speeds healing times. (The theory is that the negative pressure draws bacteria out, and encourages circulation.) But for almost everyone, that treatment is out of reach--simply because the systems are expensive--rentals cost at least $100 a day and need to be recharged every six hours.
No more. Danielle Zurovcik, a doctoral student at MIT, has created a hand-powered suction-healing system that costs about $3. The device is composed of an airtight wound dressing, connected by a plastic tube to a cylinder with accordion-like folds. Squeezing it creates the suction, which lasts as long as there's no air leak. What's more, where regular dressings need to be replaced up to three times a day--a painful ordeal--the new cuff can be left on for several days.
Zurovcik originally intended to field-test the device in Rwanda, but then the Haiti Earthquake struck. At the request of Partners in Health, an NGO, she traveled to Haiti with 50 of the pumps.
Currently, Zurovcik is verifying the healing benefits of the device, and developing a new model that can be readily carried and concealed. The one technical hurdle that remains is ensuring the bandage seals tightly--but after that, the device could benefit a huge portion of the 50-60 million people in the developing world that suffer from acute or chronic wounds.
18 April, 2010
Multivitamin link to breast cancer
Another nasty one for the health freaks. The absolute risk involved is small but such weak effects underpin most dietary advice.
The study is utter rubbish anyway. 1). It's based on self-reports; 2). It commits the "correlation is causation" fallacy. WHY were some women taking supplements? Probably because they felt less healthy anyway.
The abstract is here. The title of the article is "Multivitamin use and breast cancer incidence in a prospective cohort of Swedish women"
WOMEN who take a daily multivitamin pill are nearly 20 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer, a major study has revealed. The shock finding has rattled Australia's $2.5 billion complementary health industry, which is urging consumers not to panic.
In a 10-year study of more than 35,000 women, researchers discovered those who regularly took a multi-vitamin pill increased the risk of developing a tumour by 19 per cent.
They said the result was concerning and needed investigation as many women used multi-vitamins in the belief they prevented chronic diseases such as cancer.
A "biologically plausible" explanation was that taking vitamin and mineral supplements significantly increased the density of breast tissue, a strong risk factor for breast cancer. Folic acid, often present in a potent form in multi-vitamins, may also accelerate tumour growth.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among females in Australia, affecting more than 12,000 and killing more than 2,700 women every year. One in nine women will be diagnosed with it by the age of 85.
The study, conducted by Sweden's Karolinska Institute and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has been greeted with interest and caution by Australian experts.
Women who took a multivitamin pill in the study had higher breast tissue density than those who took no vitamin supplements. "Results from this prospective study suggest that the use of multivitamins may increase the risk of breast cancer," the lead author of the study, Susanna Larrson, said.
Multi-vitamins are big business in Australia, with leading maker Blackmores posting a before-tax profit of $30.6 million last financial year. Some nutritionists and dietitians argue supplements are unnecessary, as people absorb nutrients far better from food.
Kathy Chapman, of the Cancer Council Australia, told The Sunday Telegraph the study would add to a growing body of evidence that multi-vitamins were "not all they're cracked up to be". [Like you die earlier from taking them]
"It reinforces the importance of eating fresh fruit and vegetables rather than people thinking they can get more of their nutrition from a pill," she said. "What we've learned over time in cancer is that quick fixes aren't a good idea." Taking a multi-vitamin pill was linked to a smaller increase in breast cancer risk than being overweight or drinking too much alcohol, she said.
The Complementary Healthcare Council of Australia said "consumers need not panic" at the findings. It cited "concerns over limitations to the study", such as its reliance on self-administered questionnaires and failure to look at the bioactivity of multi-vitamin ingredients.
Blackmores advised customers "not to be alarmed" by the study, which it claims is inconclusive and conflicts with other research.
Professor John Boyages, director of the Westmead Breast Cancer Institute and spokesman for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, said he "wouldn't put any weight" on the study, as there were many complicated risk factors involved in breast cancer.
Delaying pregnancy until the age of 35, drinking alcohol every day and early-onset periods may each raise the risk by as much as 30 per cent, he said.
Nutrition Australia (NA) advocates getting vitamins and minerals from a varied diet rather than supplements. "Your body will absorb vitamins and minerals so much better from food," NA dietician Nicole Frederiksen said.
Antibody hunts, kills prostate cancer
Rather amazing news. Let's hope it passes double-blind studies in people
US RESEARCHERS have found an antibody that hunts down prostate cancer cells in mice and can destroy the killer disease even in an advanced stage.
The antibody, called F77, was found to bond more readily with cancerous prostate tissues and cells than with benign tissue and cells and to promote the death of cancerous tissue, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found.
When injected in mice, F77 bonded with tissue where prostate cancer was the primary cancer in almost all cases (97 per cent) and in tissue cores where the cancer had metastasised around 85 per cent of the time.
It recognised even androgen-independent cancer cells, present when prostate cancer is incurable, the study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania showed.
F77 "initiated direct cell death of prostate cancer cells ... and effectively prevented tumour outgrowth,'' it said.
But it did not target normal tissue, or tumor tissues in other parts of the body including the colon, kidney, cervix, pancreas, lung, skin or bladder, the study showed.
The antibody "shows promising potential for diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer, especially for androgen-independent metastatic prostate cancer", which often spread to the bones and was difficult to treat, the researchers wrote.
The five-year survival rate for metastatic prostate cancer was just 34 per cent, according to the study.
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men, claiming half a million lives each year worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.
17 April, 2010
The excessive cleanliness nonsense is not dead yet
If excessive cleanliness is responsible for autoimmune diseases, how come one of the least hygienic people on Earth, Australian Aborigines, have high rates of asthma and diabetes? See here
Put away the hand sanitizer. It's not necessarily the grime, dust bunnies, cat dander or pollen causing those miserable springtime allergies. The culprit actually may be too much cleanliness.
"Allergies have become widespread in developed countries: hay fever, eczema, hives and asthma are all increasingly prevalent. The reason? Excessive cleanliness is to blame," said Dr. Guy Delespesse, an immunologist and director of the Allergy Research Laboratory at the University of Montreal.
The school released new findings on the topic Wednesday.
While family history, air pollution, processed foods, stress and other factors can trigger allergic reactions, Dr. Delespesse is concerned by "our limited exposure to bacteria" — even cautioning parents to lighten up when their children drop toys on the floor.
"There is an inverse relationship between the level of hygiene and the incidence of allergies and autoimmune diseases," he said. "The more sterile the environment a child lives in, the higher the risk he or she will develop allergies or an immune problem in their lifetime."
The sneezing, itching and coughing is widespread.
Some 50 million Americans suffer from allergic conditions and the numbers are increasing, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. The cost of treating allergies and asthma stands at about $32 billion a year. And there is much misery: 60 percent of allergy sufferers say they were unable to find ways to stamp out the seasonal ills, according to a survey released this week by Consumer Reports National Research Center.
Dr. Delespesse also frets about the burgeoning allergic population. He noted that 10 percent of people in developed countries suffered from allergies two decades ago. Today, the percentage has increased threefold to 30 percent, with one in 10 children suffering from asthma. Deaths from that condition are also increasing, he said.
"It's not just the prevalence but the gravity of the cases," Dr. Delespesse added.
Well-intentioned hygiene can backfire, particularly with youngsters.
"The bacteria in our digestive system are essential to digestion and also serve to educate our immune system. They teach it how to react to strange substances," Dr. Delespesse explained. "This remains a key in the development of a child's immune system."
Cleanliness does reduce our exposure to harmful bacteria, he said. But it also limits our exposure to beneficial microorganisms. As a result, the bacterial flora of our digestive system isn't as "rich and diversified" as it used to be in less-paranoid times.
As a homestyle panacea, Dr. Delespesse recommends yogurt — which contains its own spate of microorganisms, or probiotics — "to enrich intestinal flora," and consequently the immune system itself.
"Consuming probiotics during pregnancy could help reduce allergies in the child," he said, adding that some studies found that women who ate yogurt in the last third of their pregnancy may reduce the impact of allergies during the first two years of their childs life by 50 percent.
"Probiotics are not a miracle remedy, yet they are one of many elements that improve our diet and our health," he said.
Dieting really CAN harm your health: Slimmers at higher risk of heart disease and cancer
A nasty one for the obesity warriors
Going on a diet could increase your risk of developing potentially deadly conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, a study has revealed.
It found that those who controlled their calorie intake produced higher levels of the harmful stress hormone cortisol.
And it claimed that exposure to the hormone actually made some dieters put on weight, which could explain why so many Britons fail to shed fat despite slashing their food intake.
The researchers also warned that far from making people feel better about themselves, dieting could actually damage their mental health.
Many suffered increased psychological stress when they were constantly forced to count calories and monitor what they ate.
Doctors should think twice before putting their patients on strict diets because of the possible long-term damage to their health, they said.
'Regardless of their success or failure (in losing weight), if future studies show that dieting increases stress and cortisol, doctors may need to rethink recommending it to their patients to improve health,' the researchers said.
'Chronic stress, in addition to promoting weight gain, has been linked with coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. Dieting might potentially add to this stress burden and its consequences would best not be ignored.'
The study, by California University in San Francisco and Minnesota University, looked at 121 women who were put on a standard three-week diet of 1,200 calories a day - around half a woman's recommended daily amount of 2,000 calories.
Each patient was asked to provide a saliva sample before and after the study to test for cortisol levels. The results showed a significant increase in the amount of the hormone after three weeks on the programme.
The study, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, said one reason for the increase in cortisol could be because it is used in the body to increase energy levels.
If a person is not eating enough calories to provide their body with energy, then they automatically begin releasing the stress hormone.
The volunteers were also asked to keep a diary of everything they ate and how they felt during the three weeks. It showed many reported higher levels of psychological stress - perhaps because they were constantly reminded that they were depriving their bodies of food.
Catherine Collins, chief dietitian at St George's Hospital in London, said that sticking to a diet of 1,200 calories a day was too severe for the body to cope with.
Instead, dieters should aim to restrict their calorie intake to between 1,500 and 1,800 calories a day, combined with regular exercise.
'Very low calorie diets do cause problems and it's not that unexpected that cortisol levels went up,' she said. 'We need cortisol for "fight or flight" situations.
'But chronic exposure to it over a long time can affect our cholesterol levels, increase blood pressure and even raise the risk of depression.
'We already know that people on strict diets often fall victim to depression. For many people, food is a comfort and so they are being asked to curtail the very thing that relieves their stress.'
Around one in four adults in the UK is classified as clinically obese - so overweight that it threatens their health.
Research has shown that being overweight increases the risk of a range of deadly conditions including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and some kinds of cancer.
Although a combination of healthy eating and exercise is recognised as the best way to ditch extra pounds, experts have warned about the dangers of 'yo-yo' dieting.
Research has shown that dieters who lost weight quickly only to put it back on again produce lower levels of white blood cells, stopping their body's immune system from working properly.
16 April, 2010
The pot calls the kettle Afro-American
Mephedrone ban shows how politics contaminate science, says Lancet -- failing to mention its own hysterical criticisms of George Bush and the Iraq war. Politics certainly contaminated science there. Typical Leftist "principles" of convenience
A ban on the drug mephedrone brought in by the Government this month was a rushed decision that further exemplifies how politics is “contaminating” science and the work of government advisers, according to a leading medical journal.
An editorial in The Lancet strongly criticises the way ministers moved to ban mephedrone and pressured its advisory body to produce the necessary evidence to act.
The former “legal high” drug was given Class B status and banned after reportedly being linked to 25 deaths. Yet the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs report that recommended the ban acknowledged that there was no scientific evidence of a causal link between the deaths and the drug.
The editorial describes the decision as motivated more by “political and media pressure” and draws parallels with the ACMD’s troubled recent history.
In October 2009 the council’s former chairman, Professor David Nutt, was sacked for criticising government policy on cannabis and ecstasy. His dismissal triggered the protest resignation of five other members.
Commenting on the latest decision, led by its new interim chairman, Professor Les Iverson, The Lancet notes: “Alarmingly, the report, which was only a draft, was still being discussed by the ACMD when Iverson rushed out of the meeting to brief Home Secretary Alan Johnson of their recommendation in time for a press briefing.”
The editorial also observes that a report on tackling alcohol and tobacco abuse by young people was “conveniently buried” by the furore over mephedrone.
A former ACMD member, Eric Carlin, who resigned over the mephedrone decision, wrote on his blog: “We were unduly pressured by media and politicians to make a quick, tough decision to classify.”
On the same day that the council issued its mephedrone recommendation, it released a report entitled Pathways to Problems that looked at drug use by young people. The report contained some “potentially unpalatable conclusions”, including the claim that not enough was being done on alcohol and tobacco, said The Lancet. It also called for a review of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.
But the report received no media attention and prompted no response from the Home Office. “Instead it conveniently got buried under discussions on the legal status of mephedrone,” said the editorial.
The ACMD did not have sufficient evidence to judge the drug’s harmfulness, the journal added. It said: “It is too easy and potentially counter-productive to ban each new substance that comes along rather than seek to understand more about young people’s motivations and how we can influence them. “We should try to support healthy behaviours rather than simply punish people who breach our society’s norms.”
The ACMD affair signalled a “disappointing finale to the Government’s relationship with science”, said the editorial. It concluded: “Politics has been allowed to contaminate scientific processes and the advice that underpins policy.
“The outcome of an independent inquiry into the practices of the ACMD, commissioned by the Home Office in October 2009, is now urgently awaited. Lessons from this debacle need to be learned by a new incoming government.”
Bizarre: Cancer link found in turning on light for night-time bathroom trips
What next will the mice-men churn out in the way of extravagant extrapolations?
SIMPLY turning on a light at night for a few seconds to go to the toilet can cause changes that might lead to cancer, scientists claim. Researchers in the UK and Israel found that when a light is turned on at night, it triggers an "over-expression" of cells linked to the formation of cancer.
Previous research has linked an increased risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer in workers exposed to artificial light on night shifts. But researchers said the latest research was the first that showed even short-term exposure could be linked to cancer.
The tests were carried out on mice at Leicester University by geneticist Professor Charalambos Kyriacou.
During the trial, a group of mice was exposed to a light for an hour. When compared with mice kept in the dark, changes were found in brain cells responsible for the circadian clock which controls bodily functions.
15 April, 2010
More (indirect) vindication of APCs
You wouldn't believe it. I documented just a few days ago (here. See also here) how in the old days users of the now banned and demonized APCs, which contained a lot of aspirin, used to get relief from migraines by getting APCs into themselves promptly. But what do I read now? See the latest wisdom below
People who suffer migraines should take more than the standard recommended dose of aspirin to combat a debilitating headache, a review of medical studies suggests today. Taking up to three tablets — up to 1,000mg — in one go could leave one in four (25 per cent) sufferers pain-free within two hours, researchers from the University of Oxford said.
A standard tablet contains about 300-350mg of aspirin, and adults are commonly advised not to take more than two in one go. But for more than half (52 per cent) of patients who took a higher dose of 900-1,000mg, symptoms went from “moderate to severe” to mild over the same time.
Migraine affects about 18 per cent of women and 8 per cent of men in Britain, with most sufferers aged between 30 and 50.
The latest review, published by the respected Cochrane Collaboration, analysed 13 previous studies involving 4,222 people in total. It found that aspirin also helped to prevent nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light commonly caused by migraines — but sachet formulations combining another anti-sickness drug, metoclopramide, worked best at this.
David Kernick, a spokesman on headache for the Royal College of GPs, said that most people could manage their migraines with over-the-counter medication — two paracetamol for pain, 600mg of aspirin for inflammation and another drug, 10mg of domperidone, for sickness.
But many experts recommended a higher dose of aspirin, such as that recommended by the Cochrane researchers, despite exceeding the licensed use of the drug.
He said that medication worked best if taken as soon as possible after the onset of symptoms, because stomach cramps can slow the absorption of drugs. He added: “There is a risk of internal bleeding with aspirin, but you are unlikely to get it with a single dose. The longer you leave it, the less likely it is to work.
Night shift work linked with cancer
Groan! Just because the Danish government has fallen for a statistical fallacy, it doesn't mean that anyone else should. It is mostly poor people who work night shifts and they have worse health anyway
THE Cancer Council is urging people not to panic over the link between breast cancer and shift work, following a government's decision to offer compensation to victims.
It follows the Danish Government's ruling to start awarding compensation to women who have developed breast cancer after years of working on the night shift. So far, 40 women have received payouts after the Danes responded to research conducted by the World Health Organisation.
A report in 2007 placed shift work along with diesel engine exhaust fumes as a "possible human carcinogen".
But Cancer Council NSW CEO Dr Andrew Penman said the research was still inconclusive. "While on theoretical grounds some have suggested that disturbances to the sleep-wake cycle may increase cancer risk by affecting melatonin levels, in reality it is difficult to disentangle shift work from many other lifestyle factors among people with cancer," he said.
"So we are more cautious in our interpretation of the evidence used in the International Agency for Research on Cancer report. The evidence is far from compelling."
The report placed shift work one level up from category one risks such as asbestos. It is believed that shift work effects the body clock and the release of the hormone melatonin. At night, melatonin is released and helps regulate sleep patterns. It also lowers the level of the female hormone oestrogen, a development which is known to encourage the growth of certain cancers.
If a person spends too long in artificial light, such as a shift worker, researchers believe this could affect the amount of melatonin released, therefore increasing the risk of breast cancer.
While other countries, including Australia, are yet to act on the research, the Danes are offering payouts to women - even though it is believed you would need to have worked regular shift work for 20 to 30 years.
"The Cancer Council is not a compensation specialist, so I cannot comment on the Danish Government's decision to compensate women," Dr Penman said. "That is a choice they made based on their own judgment.
"The point is, these types of lifestyle factors may play a major role in causing cancer, however much more research is required in this area before we can scientifically link breast cancer to a woman's shiftwork patterns."
14 April, 2010
The great Phenacetin folly
Phenacetin was once a widely used pain-relieving drug that was particularly good at relieving rheumatoid arthritis (joint pain caused by an autoimmune reaction). It was once widely used as one of the drugs in APCs (compounds of aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine) but it is now banned from most applications -- for very dubious reasons.
There is NO double-blind evidence that I can find showing that phenacetin is harmful in humans -- but there is certainly strong epidemiological evidence that heavy use over very long periods does do some harm to a small minority of people -- causing kidney failure in extreme cases. So it has been banned from most pharmaceutical use and is no longer available in "over the counter" (OTC) medications such as APCs.
It is however an excellent analgesic (pain reliever) and antpyretic (it reduces temperatures when you have a fever). It is also now in some parts of the world widely used as an illegal drug as part of street cocaine!
The definitive study of the evils of phenacetin appears to be this one. It is a 20 year follow-up of 1244 women, half of whom were regular phenacetin users and half of whom were not. Keep that "20 year" figure in mind. At the end of the period 12% of the phenacetin users had died, versus 4% of the control group. The logic then is that phenacetin killed 8% of its regular users over a 20 year period
It is however flawed logic. The study was epidemiological, not experimental. So why were the women regularly taking phenacetin in the first place? Obviously because they had a lot of aches and pains. So is it at all surprising that, over a 20 year period, women with lots of aches and pains were 8% more likely to die than women who did not have lots of aches and pains?
Among the 74 phenacetin users who died, however, there was an exceptionally high incidence of kidney disease so the reasonable assumption was made that phenacetin did that. But wait a minute there too: The comparative incidence of kidney disease among users was much higher than the incidence of death! What does that mean? It would seem to mean that, although phenacetin was bad for the kidneys in a small minority of women, it also had some health-protective effects elsewhere. It was very bad for the kidneys of some women but good for preventing other causes of death.
With such evidence in mind, the normal, logical course of action would be to allow continued use of phenacetin but periodically monitor its effect on the kidneys of those using it. Its damaging effect on the kidneys is obviously so slight in normal usage that it develops only over long periods so annual (say) testing should provide a sufficient warning to the minority whom it might be harming. Instead of such a rational approach, however, phenacetin has been banned outright in most countries.
Let us compare that logic with the logic governing the use of another class of painkillers -- NSAIDS such as Naproxen -- sold over the counter in the USA as Aleve and in the UK as Feminax. I won't bore you with the very long list of names under which NSAIDS are sold, but, whatever you are using, you should look it up -- as we shall see: NSAIDS can give you acute kidney failure within 30 days of taking it. Forget 20 years, think 30 days! So which would you rather be taking? Phenacetin or NSAIDS?
I will leave that question hanging in the air as mute testimony to the insanity of modern medical regulations. Bring back phenacetin!
But wait! There's more (as the steak knife salesmen used to say)! As I pointed out, the evidence mentioned above is epidemiological and, as such, is heavily reliant on inferences and assumptions ("guesswork", to be blunt). What about direct experimental evidence? Remember the role of phenacetin in APCs as I leave you with this little gem from 1967:"Dr. Laurence F. Prescott, who was doing clinical investigation at Johns Hopkins University, tested four ingredients in widely used analgesics, alone and in combination. He reported in The Lancet that healthy volunteers who took ten aspirin tablets a day began to excrete damaged kidney cells, reflecting at least temporary kidney injury. Surprisingly, this effect was less marked with APCs. It was also less conspicuous when he tested phenacetin alone, and still less so with medicinal caffeine. Dr. Prescott's conclusion: phenacetin alone is not the primary villain in analgesic kidney damage."NOTE: This article is a follow-up to my recent article on the heavy use of Bex APC in Australia. And I may have more to say yet. The deeper I get into the evidence on this, the worse it looks.
I would attempt to draw all this to the attention of the FDA but I know better than to waste my time banging my head on the defensive brick wall of a vast bureaucracy -- all the more so now that President Obama has appointed two highly politicized people to run the agency.
Official British food advice for schools does a big turnaround
But some myths remain, of course -- such as the evils of salt. Salt deficiency is in fact far more dangerous than salty snacks
Toddlers are being fed too much fruit and insufficient carbohydrate to maintain their energy levels, according to a survey of English nursery schools.
Children are also given too much salty food, and the size of portions varies: some are big enough for 10-year-olds and others so small that they lack key nutrients. Parents are also blamed for putting pressure on staff to ban key sources of nourishment such as whole-fat milk and red meat.
The findings are released today by the Local Authority Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) which asked trading standards officers in 29 councils, including Cumbria, Hampshire and Leicestershire, to check on the lunches and snacks offered by 118 nurseries over a five-day period.
The results provide a nationwide snapshot of the food offered to more than 600,000 children who spend up to ten hours a day at nursery.
One surprise is the lack of food in mid-morning and the afternoon. Some children received only half an apple or pear to keep them going until lunch. In the afternoon some were not offered a snack at all, and for those that were, it was often banana pieces or grapes.
There was no evidence of children starving and most nurseries tried to offer a good diet. However, too many meals were based on ham, sausages and other processed meat. Overuse of packet mixes for gravy and other sauces were blamed for the high salt content of meals.
Some nursery schools were also criticised for serving too much bread, and others for excessive use of cheese, which can be high in salt. Too many lunch plates were also short of green vegetables, pulses, eggs, oily fish and red meat, which are good sources of iron, zinc and calcium for a child.
Council chiefs now want guidance for nurseries, childminders and parents on suitable food.
Paul Bettison, LACORS chairman, said: “Most people assume it’s all about beating obesity, but nutrition problems can also be caused by not giving children enough of the types of food they need. For many adults, drinking skimmed milk, eating no red meat and loads of fruit is wonderful, but it’s not what a growing body needs.”
Most nursery schools were independent, he said, and if parents were unhappy, they would move their children.
“Nurseries have a dilemma — do they do what they know is right or do they do what parents think is right? A diet for mum and dad is not the diet for a three-year-old. Parents need to be taught what is best for their children.”
Helen Crawley, of City University, London, is director of the Caroline Walker Trust, which promotes good diet. She said: “This highlights the need for new guidance for under-5s. But it depends on each child, how long they spend in a nursery and what they eat at home. I am part of an advisory group to make recommendations to the Government by the summer.”
The Basingstoke College of Technology nursery was giving children insufficient carbohydrate but has changed its snacks to fruit or carrot sticks plus crackers, bread sticks, toast, oatcakes, scones, flapjacks, cheese cubes, houmus or fromage frais.
13 April, 2010
How the (now discredited) five-a-day mantra was born
It all began with a catchy number and a marketing campaign — not hard science -- just like the "safe" alcohol intake allowances that governments proclaim. Official health advice again shown to be unworthy of trust
It is one of the most successful indoctrinations in modern Britain, filtering into every aspect of public life.
I start my day on a bus decorated with the injunction to eat five-a-day, I drop my son off at a nursery where he learns to count using the Government’s five-a-day fruit and vegetable quota, and at the supermarket it is slapped anywhere it will confer a commercial advantage.
We have swallowed it whole and, when we swallow the five-a-day, we believe we gain a kind of magic protection. Or we did until last week’s news that the biggest study of its kind, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, showed that the reduced cancer risk by eating five-a-day didn’t add up to more than a hill of beans.
This made me a bit queasy. Where did this five-a-day order — promoted by government, the NHS, the American Cancer Society and more than 25 other countries — come from? Fuelled by a two-a-day-diet — ketchup and an olive — I tracked the global health campaign. The trail took me back 25 years, to a woman in California, and left me with little appetite for public health advice.
“The world has gone mad with targets,” says Tim Lang, the first stop in my quest. I’d tried the Department of Health, and was told its five-a-day programme was announced in 2000, based on World Health Organisation advice about the role of diet in cancer, but that didn’t really tell the full story.
Lang, a professor of food policy at City University, remembers it differently. It was the late 1990s, the new Labour Government had come to power and set about instilling a target-driven culture in every aspect of British life.
“We all understand targets in the policy world. I remember being in the room when we were being briefed by Americans on five-a-day, which we adopted from them. They chose five partly as it was considered a nice round sum and partly because it seemed possible, given how low consumption of fruit and vegetables was.”
The Department of Health was searching for a motivational tool for a nation of poor eaters and the ready-made American campaign based on the number five seemed catchy. What, I say? Can this really be true — the five in five-a-day was chosen for marketing purposes?
“Five-a-day was an attempt to shift culture, which is not the same thing as saying eating five-a-day will protect everyone. It was a political judgment, but not a bad one.”
Hippocrates said “let food be thy medicine”, but was this “let modern branding be thy medicine”? Walter Willett, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard University, is one of the world’s most eminent nutrition researchers. His career, though, has been distinguished by disproving excitably reported ideas about “superfoods” rather than forming them.
In 1991 the American Government adopted the five-a-day policy, as growing numbers of experts were stating that bad food was causing cancer. First and foremost among them was Britain’s esteemed Sir Richard Doll, the scientific hero who established the link between cigarettes and cancer. In 1981 he estimated that a third of cancer deaths in the West could have been avoided with a better diet.
When Sir Richard spoke, the world took notice and, by 2007, says Willett, the experts proclaimed that eating a load of fruit and veg could reduce your cancer risk by 50 per cent. The American National Cancer Institute upped its recommendations to nine-a-day.
“It was a pretty rough, arbitrary number, which is always the case with any target,” says Willett. But, he adds, the studies were fatally flawed. “They were based on retrospective evidence — asking people about their diet after they had already got cancer, which can lead people to report differently. Also, the control groups were not perfectly random, the people who volunteer for that kind of thing are much more health-conscious individuals.”
So, from where did the US Government get the idea for the number five, if not the scientific studies? I was closing in. Marion Nestle, nutrition professor at New York University, thinks she remembers exactly where.
“It was Susan Foerster, the head nutritionist in California. She had the bright idea of promoting fruit and vegetable consumption in a state which was a big fruit and vegetable producer.”
The American National Cancer Institute admits that “no studies have tested the impact of specific numbers of servings on cancer risk”. But it says five was chosen in California in 1988, as it doubled the average consumption, and “the number five was memorable and provided a platform for creative message and programme delivery”.
In America now, the five-a-day message is “invisible; [it has] completely dropped off the radar”, says Nestle.
Britain, though, has taken California’s 1980s marketing policy and run with it.“We have to abandon this idea that there’s something miraculous in diet,” says Paulo Boffetta, the doctor behind last week’s study. “It’s not true for fruit and vegetables as a whole, and even less true for fruit and vegetables individually.”
And by the way, as everyone I spoke to emphasised, an unexpected surprise of all this research is the discovery that although it may not do much for cancer, eating fruit and vegetables is good for your heart. How many a day? Don’t ask. [Rubbish! The findings for heart disease were inconclusive]
University-educated women are the heaviest drinkers
This is not exactly surprising. Alcohol plays a big part in student social life (dare I mention the Bullingdon club?) -- and apparently the habit persists. Additionally, smarter people tend to earn more so can more easily afford wine with dinner etc.
Women who went to university consume more alcohol than their less-highly-educated counterparts, a major study has found. Those with degrees are almost twice as likely to drink daily, and they are also more likely to admit to having a drinking problem. A similar link between educational attainment and alcohol consumption is seen among men, but the correlation is less strong.
The findings come from a comprehensive study carried out at the London School of Economics in which researchers tracked the lives of thousands of 39-year-old women and men, all born in the UK during the same week in 1970.
The report concludes: "The more educated women are, the more likely they are to drink alcohol on most days and to report having problems due to their drinking patterns. "The better-educated appear to be the ones who engage the most in problematic patterns of alcohol consumption."
Women's alcohol consumption can even be predicted from their scores in school tests taken when they are as as young as five. Women who achieved "medium" or "high" test marks as schoolgirls are up to 2.1 times more likely to drink daily as adults.
The authors of the report, Francesca Borgonovi and Maria Huerta, suggest several possible explanations as to why better-educated women drink more.
They tend to have children later, postponing the responsibilities of parenthood. They may have more active social lives or work in male-dominated workplaces with a drinking culture. As girls, they may have grown up in middle-class families and seen their parents drink regularly.
In the long-term study, the LSE team followed all the people born in Britain during one week in 1970, asking them questions about their lifestyle at regular periods throughout their lives.
The number of people for whom information was available has varied over the course of the research between 9,665 and 17,287.
The researchers took account of each individual's school test results and level of academic attainment, as well as their answers to regularly-administered surveys in which they were asked questions such as "Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?" and "Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?"
Women with some educational qualifications were 71 per cent more likely to drink on most days compared to women with no qualifications. Women with degree-level qualifications were 86 per cent more likely to do so.
Higher educated women were 1.7 times more likely to have a drinking problem, as assessed through their questionnaire answers, than their less-well-educated counterparts. Women who scored highly in tests while at school were also at greater risk of having drinking problems.
Whereas women with medium or high childhood test scores were up to 2.1 times more likely to have a drink most days, men who scored similarly-high scores were only 49 per cent more likely to do so.
"Both males and females who achieved high-level performance in test scores administered at ages five and 10 are significantly more likely to abuse alcohol than individuals who performed poorly on those tests," says the report, in the journal Social Science and Medicine.
According to the study, a substantial part of the educational effect is likely to be due to better-educated women having more opportunities and tending to have middle-class lifestyles, exposing them to circumstances that favour alcohol consumption.
"Reasons for the positive association of education and drinking behaviours may include: a more intensive social life that encourages alcohol intake; a greater engagement into traditionally male spheres of life, a greater social acceptability of alcohol use and abuse; more exposure to alcohol use during formative years; and greater postponement of childbearing and its responsibilities among the better educated," says the report.
Commenting on the findings, a spokesman for the Alcohol Concern charity said: "This raises concerns which need to be addressed. "People with higher qualifications have more disposable income, and we have seen a trend where there has been an increase in the marketing of wine, particularly aimed at working women.
"People who abuse alcohol face a higher risk of suffering from health problems incluidng cancer, liver cirrhosis, lung and cardiovascular disease, and mental and behavioural issues."
12 April, 2010
Commuter stress takes up to two years off your life
This study is better than most in that it compared people of similar income. It did not however compare them on purchasing power. People who need more purchasing power from their incomes (to fund larger families, for instance), may tend to move to generally less desirable locations and the health effects of that could be complex, with commuting times being only one factor
RESIDENTS of commuter towns should be worrying about more than the price of their season tickets. Those with long journeys face stresses that are taking up to two years off their life expectancy, new research has found.
People living in Watford, Hertfordshire, can expect to die 1.8 years earlier than the national average of 79.6 years, while the residents of Windsor, Maidenhead and Reading in Berkshire, and Brighton in East Sussex were all found to have a life expectancy of a year less than the national average for those earning similar incomes.
An area’s average life expectancy is usually closely correlated to average income, with London’s Kensington and Chelsea, one of the richest boroughs in the country, having the highest life spans.
However, new analysis by Club Vita, a pensions consultant owned by Hymans Robertson, an actuary, identified the areas where people of a given income level can expect to live significantly longer or shorter lives.
Andrew Gaches, a longevity consultant at Club Vita, said the research suggested the faster pace of life that is often blamed for a shorter life expectancy in London was now spreading beyond the capital.
“In all these commuter towns, life expectancy falls short of the level that you would expect people to have,” said Gaches. “It’s possible the pace of London life is starting to move outside the M25.”
Within London, however, there are more drastic anomalies, with life expectancy in some boroughs three years less than it should be. The usual life span in Islington, north London, regarded as the birthplace of new Labour, is 79.1, while the average across Britain for people who enjoy the same weekly household income of £817 is 81.3 years.
In Lambeth and Wandsworth, south London, residents also have a life span of around three years less than those on similar incomes living elsewhere in the UK.
By contrast, residents in nearby Westminster, central London, who earn slightly less than their neighbours in Wandsworth, tend to live 2.3 years longer than those earning a similar amount living elsewhere.
Best of all for those seeking a long retirement is Ceredigion in Wales, where people typically live 3.8 years longer than people on a comparable income elsewhere in the country.
The inhabitants of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, have an average household income of £533, which usually equates to a life expectancy of 78.9. However, they actually live to 81.8 years — a gain of nearly three years.
Tall women's salaries leave short girls in the shade
Research showing an advantage for tall people goes back many years but what is less clear is why. Certainly in Britain, upper class people are distinctly taller than the rest and class is undoubtedly still a major influence in British society. But why are upper class people taller? It could be part of a general syndrome of biological good function or it could mean that rich men prefer tall brides. Then you have to ask why that is ....
Maybe it is quite primitive. Tall women have tall sons and tall sons make more successful warriors. Is that enough speculation? Disclosure: My last bride was 5'11" tall. That's her below. Isn't she gorgeous?
It may be a tall order for some women to accept. But shorter females earn less than their loftier colleagues, a study claims. Those who stand at 5ft8in and above are twice as likely to earn more than £30,000 a year - or up to £5,000 more than their vertically challenged friends.
The researchers asked 1,461 women over the age of 16 to give details about their salary and measurements. A fifth of those questioned who fell into the 'tall' category said they earned £30,000 and above compared with 10 per cent of women under 5ft8in.
At the same time, 20 per cent of the tall women said they saw their height as a source of 'empowerment and authority' compared with just 5 per cent of shorter females.
And the study revealed that the taller you are, the more comfortable you are likely to be with your body. A quarter of women over 5ft8in said they would not change anything about themselves. In contrast, 90 per cent of females in the 'short' category said they were unhappy with their looks, the study for clothing chain Long Tall Sally found.
Arianne Cohen, author of The Tall Book: A Celebration Of Life From On High, said: 'Research shows that tall people are consistently more successful in the workplace. 'Not only do they earn more but they're more likely to be in leadership positions. 'As taller people have a downward eyecast when speaking to shorter colleagues, they are instinctively perceived to have authority and confidence.
'It means that those who are taller are respected by their colleagues and bosses, giving them a thriving atmosphere that leads them to more success.'
11 April, 2010
An opinionated ignoramus named David Penberthy
Having pancakes and maple syrup with your breakfast bacon and eggs is perfectly normal in America but virtually unknown in Australia and England -- where buttered toast is the almost invariable accompaniment to bacon and eggs. So the moronic Australian writer below thinks he is so superior when he encounters a variant of an American breakfast
It’s finally happened. I never thought I would encounter a form of junk food which repulsed me. But on a holiday to the US last month I was confronted by a foodstuff so disgusting, so evil both in design and execution, so incredibly, inedibly putrid that my entire value system has been shocked to its core.
Despite generally having a healthy diet, and spending hours flitting about the kitchen knocking up all sorts of effeminate dishes, such as a deeply suss saffron risotto with home-made chicken stock, or pesto with basil gathered from the garden in a poncy basket, I’ve long held a perverse enthusiasm for eating crap.
The crapper the better. Dodgy kebabs, late-night chiko rolls, shallow-fried at home out of the box hidden in the back of the freezer, even those mysterious Hot Pizza Heroes from the local servo, turbo-charged before microwaving with the addition of extra cheese and half a handful of jalapeños.
The item which has challenged more than two decades of culinary self-abuse goes by the innocent-sounding name of the McGriddle and is made, as the name suggests, by the generally good people at McDonalds.
Invented in 2003 – probably by a bunch of stoned 20-year-olds – the McGriddle makes that cheese-injected pizza crust developed some years ago by Dominos seem healthy. Its name implies something toasted or dry-fried, but this is misleading. The McGriddle is a sandwich-shaped memorial to the Exxon Valdez disaster.
Hoping for a breakfast pick-me-up after the long flight from Sydney, and keen for a new junk food experience, I grabbed a McGriddle at the Los Angeles Airport, unwrapped it, stared at it in disbelief, bit into it, gagged on it, and threw it away.
The filling is routine enough – egg, cheese and bacon, straight egg and cheese, or my favourite, egg, cheese and sausage – but it’s the weirdness that envelopes it that should be the subject of a formal investigation. Two chubby, fried pancakes which have been injected with maple syrup, and which spray gooey brown ooze all over your hands, into the air and straight down the back of the throat the moment you bite into them.
There’s so much fat in the McGriddle that you can see the thing glistening through the wrapper. If you left it unattended for more than five minutes it would bust out and go on a murderous spree. What’s more, its evil inventors seem to have even added sugar to the egg omelette lurking within. It’s more of a practical joke than a dish, weighing in at a heart-stopping 420 calories, with more fat than a Big Mac and more sugar than a box of McDonalds cookies.
'Cure' is found for skin cancer, claim scientists
Sounds hopeful -- if it survives the scrutiny of a double-blind trial. Many initially hopeful vaccines for all sorts of things have failed under such tests
Scientists believe that they have found a cure for skin cancer. A vaccine being tested in the UK has helped been shown to help some patients fully recover from melanoma, even in its advanced stages. It attacks tumour cells, leaving healthy cells undamaged and carries agents that boost the body's response to skin cancer.
Dr Howard Kaufman, of Chicago's Rush University Medical Centre, said: "Our study shows we may have a cure for some advanced melanoma patients and a drug which has real benefits for others. "This will save thousands of lives a year."
Over the past 25 years, rates of melanoma in Britain have risen faster than any other common cancer and 2,000 die from the disease every year.
A study of 50 patients with advanced melanoma who had been given no more than nine months to live found that 16 per cent of them recovered completely with the vaccine. They have been disease-free for more than four years. Another 28 per cent saw the size of their tumours more than halved.
It is hoped the licensing will be "fast-tracked" and it will be on the market within five years. Melanoma is now the most common cancer in young adults aged 15 to 34, with 10,41 new cases diagnosed every year in the UK.
10 April, 2010
Grouch and grumble: Bring back Bex
I am a terrible skeptic. I don't believe in Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Karl Marx, Barack Obama, global warming, the benefits of a low-fat diet or the evils of obesity. And I put plenty of salt on my fries. So I guess it should be no surprise that I don't believe in the evils of Bex either -- though I know that that is going to raise a few eyebrows.
Let's start from the present: If you have got aches and pains these days, your doctor will always recommend paracetamol (acetaminophen) -- because it is "safer" than apririn. That paracetamol can destroy your liver while aspirin only causes microscopic stomach bleeding seems not to be considered.
Australia used to have an over-the-counter pharmaceutical called Bex, which was hugely popular in Australia, particularly among Australian women. It contained aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine. Everybody knows about two of those ingredients but guess what phenacetin was? It was a analgesic known since the 19th century which broke down in your body to -- wait for it -- paracetamol.
But the do-gooders condemned Bex because it was so popular. It was so popular that some people would go through a whole box (12 powders) in a couple of days. There were labels on the packet telling you not to do that -- saying that long-term heavy usage was harmful but what the heck!
The particular harm that Bex did was thought to come from the phenacetin: A tiny percentage of users -- very heavy users -- got kidney failure and Australia had the world's highest incidence of kidney failure. So the Becker company was told to convert their powders to aspirin only.
The customers however thought that the new Bex was "not the same" so stopped buying it and it is no longer produced. So what's the problem with that?
One problem is that many Bex users went onto Valium instead -- with its attendant risk of making you drowsy when you're driving. So did the ban on Bex kill people in road accidents? Probably.
But the main problem is that something was taken away from people which they found very beneficial -- all because a tiny minority misused it. You can misuse anything by taking it in excess -- even water can kill you if drink too much of it. Google "hyponatremia" if you doubt it. So should we ban water? They would if they could, I suspect.
So why did Australian housewives like Bex so much? Because it gave them a small lift while taking their aches and pains away. They would come home from their shopping, make themselves a cup of tea, take a Bex then have "a good lie down". And after their nap they would wake up refreshed ready to deal with the rest of the day.
That was however only one use of Bex. You basically took Bex for ANY aches and pains. It kept a lot of people away from the doctor when they had colds and flu, for instance.
And a VERY important use of Bex was as an early treatment for what is still a dreaded and all too common ailment: migraines. Migraine sufferers generally get some warning when a migraine is due to strike, an aura, jaw stiffening etc. And as soon as anybody prone to migraines felt the slightest suspicion that one was about to strike, they would grab their nearby packet of Bex and slam one into themselves quick smart. And it did help. If you got the Bex into yourself straight away, the migraine would either not develop or would be less severe than a full-blown attack.
I know an old lady now in her 90s who was prone to migraines in her youth (migraines in women tend to stop after menopause) and she took a LOT of Bex. AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH HER KIDNEYS. She would hardly be around at age 92 if there were. So let me note again that it was only a tiny minority of Bex users who got problems from it.
It is true that soluble aspirin can also help with migraines if you take it quickly enough but I suspect that Bex did a better job. I am of the Bex generation. I took it on rare occasions when I had a headache (which I rarely do). And I certainly remember fewer complaints about migraines back then than I hear now. That's pure anecdote of course and Bex probably didn't help all migraine sufferers, but why not test it out properly? Nobody seems to have done so. The simple-minded do-gooders who always know better than ourselves what is good for us just banned it.
Now here's the final kicker: Something that is often prescribed for aches and pains these days is NSAIDS (Ibuprofen etc.). And guess what is a major side effects of NSAIDS? Kidney damage. NSAIDS are hundreds of times more toxic to the kidneys than Bex ever was. So let's ban NSAIDS!
Sometimes the wisdom of the past WAS better than the wisdom of the present -- JR.
UPDATE: I suspected that APC preparations such as Bex and Vincent's were not unique to Australia but could find no mention of it. The following comment from a reader does however confirm my speculation:"Bex... It contained aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine"
Ah yes, the APC pill. I first encountered them when I enlisted in the US Army, 1965. Wonderful, knocked out a headache in fifteen minutes vs the sixty-to-ninety of plain aspirin.
While a prescription drug outside the Armed Services, they were handed out by orderlies more readily than a stick of chewing gum. Now entirely illegal to manufacture in combination.
One-off treatment 'could switch off rheumatoid arthritis'
This would be an enormous blessing if it works -- but it would almost certainly make the patients vulnerable to other diseases. Switching off immune responses is a fairly desperate measure
A new one-off treatment which could potentially “switch off” rheumatoid arthritis is to be tested by British scientists. Researchers believe that the therapy could offer hope to the almost 700,000 suffers of the condition in this country.
The crippling joint disease is triggered by attacks from the body’s own defences. Scientists hope that the drug will turn off this response by the immune system, placing the patient into remission for years and potentially forever. Trials are due to start next month and, if successful, the drug could be available to patients within a decade.
Prof John Isaacs, professor of clinical rheumatology at Newcastle, who will lead the study, which will initially involve 40 patients, said: "The theory is that treatments like this can switch off the disease. “There is the potential that this switch off could last forever.
"Perhaps this would only be in patients who we treat at the early stage of the disease. "However, the chance of this happening in patients who have had the disease for a while is not altogether absent.”
The drug, called otelixizumab, was previously used in much stronger doses to prevent transplant patients rejecting donor organs. The drug targets T-cells, white blood cells which control the body’s natural defences. These cells are thought to send signals to other cells in the body to attack the joints. If they can “switch off” these signals doctors can potentially halt the disease at its source.
Current treatments for rheumatoid arthritis can send patients into remission, but these they have to be administered on an ongoing basis.
During the trial patients will receive a one-off dose of otelixizumab, administered intravenously for between two and five hours a day over five consecutive days. However, if the treatment proves successful the researchers hope that they can transfer the drug into a form which can be easily injected by patients themselves.
Prof Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, who are part-funding the study, along with GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical giant, said: “Although the research is at a very early stage, the potential prize – a new and highly effective one-off treatment for rheumatoid arthritis – is very great.”
An estimated 680,000 patients across Britain suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. The condition is different from osteoarthritis, the ‘wear and tear’ form of the disease that typically effects older patients.
9 April, 2010
Teens can fight “fatso” gene with exercise
Exercise?? But anything more energetic than walking has largely been banned from schools as unsafe. Kids run around all the time if you let them
One hour of moderate to vigorous exercise a day can help teens beat the effects of a common obesity-related gene with the nickname "fatso," according to a new European study.
The message for adolescents is to get moving, said lead author Jonatan Ruiz of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. "Be active in your way," Ruiz said. "Activities such as playing sports are just fine and enough."
The study, released Monday, appears in the April edition of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
The research supports U.S. guidelines that tell children and teenagers to get an hour or more of physical activity daily, most of it aerobic activity such as running, jumping rope, swimming, dancing and bicycling.
Scientists are finding that lifestyle and genes cause obesity, and they're just learning how much diet and exercise can offset the inherited risk.
One gene involved with obesity, the FTO gene, packs on the pounds when it shows up in a variant form. Adults who carry two copies of the gene variant - about 1 in 6 people - weigh on average 7 pounds more than people who don't.
In the new study, 752 teenagers wore monitoring devices for a week during waking hours to measure their physical activity.
Exercising an hour or more daily made a big difference for the teens who were genetically predisposed to obesity. Their waist measurements, body-mass-index scores and body fat were the same, on average, as the other teenagers with regular genes.
But the teens with the gene variant had more body fat, bigger waists and higher BMI if they got less than an hour of exercise daily. The results were similar for boys and girls.
The lying obesity propaganda never stops
There is not even epidemiological evidence behind the assertions below. The epidemiology shows that it is people of MIDDLING weight, not slim people, who live longest
OBESITY has overtaken smoking as the leading cause of premature death and illness in Australia, as experts say the federal government is woefully unprepared for a tsunami of weight-related health problems.
Fat was rapidly becoming the biggest public health challenge Australia had to face, said the president of the Public Health Association of Australia, Mike Daube, who is also the deputy chairman of the government's National Preventative Health Taskforce.
New figures from Western Australia, which are expected to be echoed across Australia, show the contribution of excessive weight to ill health has more than doubled in just six years [And how do they judge that? It's just opinion. You can bet that the death certificates concerned say things like "myocardial infarction", not "obesity"], and by 2006 accounted for 8.7 per cent of all disease. Tobacco's role has fallen by a quarter, and now causes 6.5 per cent of illness and early death.
"The obesity crisis is not on its way - it is already here," Professor Daube said. "What we have done about obesity is not working. This issue needs concentrated and determined action."
He said that while the federal government had done more than its predecessors there was an urgent need for the issue to be high on the agenda of the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra on April 19.
"Our political leaders should be considering not only improvements to the hospital system but how to stop literally hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths," he said.
The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has signalled he will use the COAG meeting to push the states to accept his hospital reform plan. Critics have said it might not work well for complex diseases such as those caused by obesity, which is linked to increased rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
More than 60 per cent of Australian adults and one in four children are overweight or obese. In 2008 the cost of obesity in NSW alone was $19 billion, according to NSW Health.
Ian Olver, chairman of the Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance, criticised the government for its lack of action on the taskforce's recommendations last year. Professor Olver said governments had acted strongly against tobacco but had failed to tackle obesity adequately. "They have access to evidence-based policy and they need to act on it," he said.
The leader of the study, Victoria Hoad, said she expected the rest of the country to reflect the findings in Western Australia. "Smoking traditionally has been the leading preventable cause of disease but people have been getting fatter and quitting smoking," she said.
Timothy Gill, from the Boden Institute at Sydney University, said people in their 30s and 40s did not understand they faced health problems caused by obesity that in the past were more commonly seen in people in their 60s and 70s. "There has been a degree of normalisation of the problems," he said. It took 50 years to lower the rates of tobacco use in Australia but there was not that time left to deal with obesity, he said.
A spokesman for the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, said that the government was investing $872 million in preventive health.
8 April, 2010
The made-up "five a day" rule bites the dust
No effect on cancer found but vege-eaters get less heart disease. Or do they? The effect on heart disease is just speculation, as the last sentence below acknowledges
Official guidelines recommend at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day in order to be healthy but new research has found that this may not have a substantial effect on cancer.
For every extra two portions consumed the risk of cancer reduced by just three per cent, the research conducted by a team at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York suggested.
It comes after other experts said thousands of cases of cancer could be avoided if Britons drank less alcohol and maintained a healthy weight.
More than 400,000 people were involved in the respected EPIC trial from across Europe, including Britain and the results are published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Average, across the whole group, was around 335 grams of fruit and vegetables a day, or around four portions. This varied greatly between the countries with people in Sweden eating the least and those in Spain eating the most.
Experts said that although the link between fruit and vegetables and cancer incidence was weak there was strong evidence that the diet reduced the risk of heart disease and should still be recommended.
Dr Walter Willett, of the Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston, America, said: "In summary, the findings from the EPIC cohort add further evidence that a broad effort to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables will not have a major effect on cancer incidence.
"Such efforts are still worthwhile because they will reduce risks of cardiovascular disease, and a small benefit for cancer remains possible. Research should focus more sharply on specific fruits and vegetables and their constituents and on earlier periods of life."
He said those eating five portions a day had a 30 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those eating an average of 1.5 portions a day.
Meanwhile other experts said even a modest link between fruit and vegetable consumption on cancer risk, if applied to the whole population still meant thousands of cancers could be avoided with a healthier diet.
Dr Rachel Thompson, Science Programme Manager for World Cancer Research Fund, said: “This study suggests that if we all ate an extra two portions of fruits and vegetables a day, about 2.5 per cent of cancers could be prevented.
“Given the fact that there are many types of cancer where there is no evidence eating fruits and vegetables affects risk, it is not surprising that the overall percentage is quite low. But for the UK, this works out as about 7,000 cases a year, which is a significant number.
“If you look at specific types of cancer, including mouth, pharynx and larynx, stomach and oesophagus, the evidence shows that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables probably reduces risk.
“Even if fruits and vegetables did not directly reduce risk, it would still be a good idea to eat them because people who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables are less likely to become overweight. Scientists now say that, after not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do for cancer prevention.”
Yinka Ebo, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “This study, the largest on diet and cancer to date, shows that eating lots of fruits and vegetables can slightly reduce your cancer risk.
“It’s still a good idea to eat your five-a-day but remember that fruits and vegetables are pieces in a much larger lifestyle jigsaw. There are many things we can do to lower our chances of developing cancer such as not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, cutting down on alcohol, eating a healthy balanced diet, being physically active and staying safe in the sun.”
The researchers found that high fruit and vegetable consumption was more beneficial for those who drank heavily.
The authors added that the results may be skewed because people who ate lots of fruit and vegetables were also likely to be healthier overall, with fewer smokers, lower alcohol consumption and greater physical activity levels.
Study explains near-death experiences
People who have "near-death experiences," such as flashing lights, feelings of peace and joy and divine encounters before they pull back from the brink may simply have raised levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood, a study suggests.
Near-death experiences (NDEs) are reported by between 11 and 23 per cent of survivors of heart attacks, according to previous research. But what causes NDEs is strongly debated. Some pin the mechanisms on physical or psychological reasons, while others see a transcendental force.
Researchers in Slovenia, reporting on Thursday in a peer-reviewed journal, Critical Care, investigated 52 consecutive cases of heart attacks in three large hospitals. The patients' average age was 53 years. Forty-two of them were men.
Eleven patients had NDEs, but there was no common link between these cases in terms of age, sex, level of education, religious belief, fear of death, time to recovery or the drugs that were administered to resuscitate them.
Instead, a common association was high levels of CO2 in the blood and, to a lesser degree, of potassium.
Further work is needed to confirm the findings among a larger sample of patients, say the authors, led by Zalika Klemenc-Ketis of the University of Maribor.
Having an NDE can be a life-changing experience, so understanding its causes is important for heart-attack survivors, they say.
7 April, 2010
"Gender-bending" chemicals 'triggering early puberty in girls and putting them at risk of diabetes and cancer'?
Not Phthalates and Bisphenol again! This is just the usual scare-mongering based on the weakest possible evidence and some very long chains of inference. It has been going on for years but no amount of negative evidence seems to get believers to give up. They plough on until they find SOMETHING!
Amusing that some of the "evil" substances concerned apparently delayed puberty while others accelerated it! So no effect overall? As an epidemiological study, it's all just speculation anyway. Note the "believe" statements below. You can believe that the moon is made of green cheese but that does not make it so
Journal abstract here. The differences observed were between extreme quintiles -- meaning that the researchers ignored the majority of their data in order to find their weak correlations!
Apparently a substantial part of the sample was black ghetto kids. Combining black and white kids in one sample is absurd as blacks mature earlier. Maybe all the study shows is that inner-city blacks have more exposure to the demonized chemicals. Despite the praise for it below, this study has more holes than a colander! It's amazing what passes for science these days.
Gender-bending chemicals used in food cans, shower curtains and toys may be triggering early puberty in girls - and putting them at greater risk of cancer and diabetes, researchers say.
A study has found evidence that three classes of hormone-mimicking chemicals disrupt the bodies of girls approaching adolescence. Although the association is 'weak', the scientists say it raises serious questions about the causes of early puberty.
The average age of puberty in girls - ten years and three months - has fallen by more than a year in a single generation. Doctors say improved diet and higher body weights of children is mostly to blame.
But some researchers believe environmental chemicals that mimic the sex hormone oestrogen could also be a factor. The latest study found that exposure to three chemical classes - phthalates, phenols and phytoestrogens - can 'disrupt the timing of pubertal development' in young girls.
Phthalates are banned in cosmetics in Europe, but are allowed in the U.S. Phenols include the widely used chemical Bisphenol A - which is used in the lining of food cans and shatter-proof baby bottles. Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring chemicals found in soya, bread, cereals and nuts.
In tests, girls with the highest concentrations of some of the substances in their bodies tended to develop breasts and pubic hair earlier than those with the lowest levels.
'Research has shown that early pubertal development in girls can have adverse social and medical effects, including cancer and diabetes later in life,' said Dr Mary Wolff, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
'Our research shows a connection between chemicals that girls are exposed to on a daily basis and either delayed or early development. While more research is needed, these data are an important first step in evaluating the impact of these common environmental agents in putting girls at risk.'
The findings come from a study of 1,151 American girls. The girls were aged between six and eight at the start of the study and were monitored for up to two years.
The scientists-found that all three chemicals were widely detectable in the girls' urine samples.
High exposure to some of the hormone-mimicking chemicals was 'weakly associated' with early signs of puberty. Exposure to others appeared to delay puberty. The strongest links were seen with phthalates and phytoestrogens.
'We believe that there are certain periods of vulnerability in the development of the mammary gland, and exposure to these chemicals may influence breast cancer risk in adulthood,' Dr Wolff said.
Around a third of the girls in the study were showing signs of early puberty.
Hormone-disrupting chemicals can interfere with the body by mimicking oestrogen - or by blocking it. Their impact depends on the dose and their location in the body.
British puberty expert Professor Fran Ebling, of Nottingham University, said: 'Most of the associations in this study were weak and we know that weight is a much better predictor of early puberty. But this is a very well-designed study.
'There really is evidence that the average age girls are starting to develop breasts and pubic hair is getting lower so there's a lot of controversy as to why this is.
'Most of the evidence points at body, but there's a faint suspicion that environmental chemicals could be playing a role too.'
Fast food can be good for you
Some years ago an anti-corporate Lefty spent a month at McDonald's consuming vast amounts of food in a very short period of time—far more than the average person would possibly consume. He then produced a film about the evils of McDonald's, as opposed to the evils of moronic, self-inflicted harm. After this documentary became something of a fad on the Left other people went on McDonalds' diets but with different results.
Soso Whaley decided she would try the same thing but with different rules. For two months she only ate at McDonald's. Instead of eating more than average she paid attention to the calories, eating between 1,800 and 2,000 calories per day. Where the film producer, eating extra meals per day, gained 25 pounds in a month, Whaley lost 18 pounds during her experiment. She ate every item on the menu at least once and didn't restrict herself to salads either. Chris Coleson, of Virginia, at two meals a day a McDonald's over a period of some months and lost 86 lbs. Merab Morgan went on a McDonald's only diet for 90 days and lost 37 lbs.
I tend to eat two meals a day and only do three when I have long days at conferences. And, according to various calorie calculators I can have somewhere around 2,000 to 2,100 calories per day without gaining weight. Based on that it would mean I could have two Big Mac meals per day at McDonald's without gaining weight. The average Big Mac is 540 calories, the average large fries is 500. I drink diet Coke at McDonald's which is zero calories. So two Big Mac meals per day would put right in the zone where I'm supposed to be. I could do worse with a salad actually, depending on the dressing I use. A Caesar salad with chicken and salad dressing could be 560 calories, or 20 more than a Big Mac.
Similarly we have seen people eat at Subway and lose weight and eat at Taco Bell and lose weight.
My schedule is such that during the day I tend to stop for fast food but usually make dinner at home in the evening. About nine months ago I weighed myself and was a bit shocked. I hadn't done so for some time and discovered that I was about 30 lbs heavier than I had assumed. So I started paying attention to calories. I still do fast food every day but I changed how I eat.
My work week is pretty much the same. I like variety so I have five different restaurants I frequent for lunch. I have roast beef sandwich with regular chips and a side salad one day per week. I have a salad bar one day per week. I eat a foot-long sub at Subway one day per week, and eat four tacos at Taco Bell one day per week. And I repeat one of these on another day. Every couple of weeks I even have a large Big Mac meal.
Everywhere I went to only diet drinks with zero calories, which actually helps a lot. I also started drinking non-fat milk at dinner. I cut out doughnuts, except as a rare treat, stopped having bowls of ice cream and chocolate bars. Again, all of this I will eat sometimes. And the result, without any extra exercise, has the loss of between 37 lbs and 38 lbs. Yet I eat at one of those evil "fast food" establishment almost daily.
What all this tells me is that the anti-obesity crusaders, like most prohibitionists, have it wrong. Food doesn't cause weight gain, people do. We have entire campaigns blaming inanimate objects for what people do. Porn doesn't rape. Guns don't kill. Big Macs don't cause weight gain. All these things are what people do. Thinking, rational human beings, make decisions as to how they will use inanimate objects and some make bad decisions. But the fault doesn't lie with the object acted upon but with the human making the choice.
You can lose weight at fast food restaurants if you choose to do so. And you can grow morbidly obese eating only the "healthiest" of foods.
The salad bar I frequent once a week attracts some very obese individuals. And it is something to watch them eat and eat and eat. I get a large plate of salad and add carrots, cucumbers and olives and use the low-fat French dressing. I take two small bowls of grapes. I have three garlic bread sticks and two pieces of a blueberry bread along with diet Coke. That is my meal there.
The beached whales however, frequently end up with two or three plates full of selections from the salad bar. They might consume four or five whole eggs along with copious amounts of breads, pizza slices and the like. Their plates tend to be piled high with foods. I would estimate that some of these people consume more calories in that one meal than they should consume during the full day. Of course, one excuse the obese use to justify their self-destruction is that they are "eating healthy" while ignoring the amounts of food they shovel into their mouth at each meal.
When my weight shot up it was my fault. And when I realized what I had done I changed how I acted and that changed the results. I take responsibility for it.
People are responsibile agents. Objects are not. You can lose weight on fast food diets and you can gain weight on them as well. To blame McDonald's for your obesity, to blame porn if you are a rapist, or to blame guns for crime, is just so much bullshit. Rape is the responsibility of the rapists, not a magazine. The crime is caused by the person holding the gun, not the gun. And it is the piggy shoveling copious quantities into his gut who is responsible for his obesity—not the food that is on his plate.
And now, for me, I'm going to head out for a late lunch at whatever fast food place I can find that is open.
6 April, 2010
Pill-poppers nightmare: All those vitamins might be BAD for you
Do multivitamin pills raise the risk of breast cancer? Tumour threat up by 20 per cent, says study -- but a 20% relative increase is tiny in overall terms and is incapable of supporting causal inferences
Women who take a daily multivitamin pill to ward off illness may actually be increasing their risk of breast cancer, according to a study. Researchers found middle-aged and older women who regularly took supplements were almost 20 per cent more likely to develop a tumour.
They stressed the findings did not prove vitamin pills were to blame for an increase in cancer cases, as it is possible women may be compensating for an unhealthy lifestyle that puts them at increased risk.
However, the experts warned the results were worrying and called for in-depth studies to determine whether or not multivitamins are safe. They believe supplements may trigger tumour growth by increasing the density of breast tissue, a known risk factor for cancer. Studies suggest taking supplements containing vitamins and minerals may increase breast tissue by more than 5 per cent.
It is also possible folic acid found in multivitamin pills could be a factor, as studies suggest high doses may promote tumour growth.
Experts from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, tracked more than 35,000 women aged between 49 and 83 over a ten-year period. They found those who regularly took multivitamins were 19 per cent more likely to have developed a breast tumour.
Even when researchers took account of whether the women smoked, took much exercise, or had a family history of the disease - all strong risk factors - they still found a significant link with multivitamin use. They told the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: 'These results suggest multivitamin use is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. This is of concern and merits further investigation.'
Researchers stressed that, on an individual basis, the risks to women remain small and the vast majority of vitamin users will not develop cancer.
In the study, women did not say what brands of vitamins they took - they simply reported whether or not they took them.
The study could also be flawed as it relies on women to recall whether they took the pills in the past. Studies that ask people to describe past behaviour are vulnerable to a well-known statistical phenomenon called recall bias.
It is estimated nearly a quarter of all UK adults take antioxidant supplements or multivitamins on a regular basis. The market for supplements is worth £500million a year. But in 2007 a study of nearly 300,000 men found those taking supplements more than once a day were 32 per cent more likely to develop an aggressive form of prostate cancer.
And a 2008 Copenhagen University investigation found high doses of vitamin A, vitamin E and beta-carotene appeared to increase the chances of an early death.
Every year around 40,000 women in Britain are diagnosed with breast cancer, the equivalent of more than 100 a day. A woman has a one in nine chance of developing the disease at some point in her life.
Kat Arney, Cancer Research UK's science information manager, said last night: 'Like several other recent studies, this research adds to the evidence that multivitamins may not actually be beneficial for your health. 'Most can get all the nutrients they need from a healthy balanced diet, rich in fruit and vegetables.'
Dr Gilbert Ross, medical director for the American Council on Science and Health, said: 'If you really want to take multivitamins, this study is no reason to stop. Of course, on the other hand, I would advise anyone concerned that there is no good health or medical reason to take multivitamin supplements, except in rare cases of malnutrition.'
The Health Supplements Information Service, funded by supplements manufacturers, said: 'This does not provide any proof that multivitamins are linked to breast cancer.
'Given the low intakes of micronutrients in women across the UK and the continuing lack of improvement in our national dietary patterns, a multivitamin can make an important contribution to the vitamin and mineral intake in this population group.'
For those struggling to lose weight there is a perfect excuse... it is all down to genes
A rare recognition of reality
Slavishly following a diet but not losing any weight? Blame your genes. Research suggests that how well you do on a particular weight loss plan may be down to your DNA. Some women, it seems, are genetically programmed to do better on high-fat diets and others will succeed if they cut down on the fry-ups and stock up on carbs.
The finding, by researchers from Stanford University in the U.S., could help explain why the fat-rich Atkins diet suits some slimmers, while others swear by reducing fat, Rosemary Conley-style. It could also go some way to explaining why some women simply can't lose weight, no matter how closely they follow the instructions.
The researchers took mouth swabs from more than 100 overweight women who had tried various diets and analysed their DNA for five genes linked to how the body uses fat and carbohydrate.
Those whose diet had matched their genotype, or genetic make-up, lost almost a stone on average over a course of a year - almost three times more than the other women.
Waist size also went down by 2.6 inches, compared with 1.2 inches, the American Heart Association's annual conference heard.
Stanford researcher Dr Christopher-Gardner said: 'The differentiation in weight loss for individuals who followed a diet matched to their genotype versus one that was not matched to their genotype is highly significant and represents an approach to weight loss that has not previously been reported in literature.'
He added that using genetic information would 'be important in helping to solve the pervasive problem of excessive weight in our society'.
The study used a £100 test marketed by U.S. firm Interleukin Genetics. Customers are sent a kit they use to swab inside their mouth. After it is posted back to the lab, it is analysed for five genes linked to the body's ability to burn off fat and carbohydrates. Based on the result, dieters are advised to follow a low-fat diet, a low-carb diet, or one that contains a little of both. The firm, as yet, has no plans to sell the kit in the UK, but British dieters need not lose heart.
The split between those who should be low-carb and low-fat dieters is roughly 50:50, with just a few falling in between. This means if you have tried a low-carb diet, like Atkins, and it didn't work, you should try a low-fat one instead.
5 April, 2010
Blonde women are more successful
BLONDE women may be traditionally labelled as fun-loving and less intelligent but a new Australian study reveals they earn seven percent more on average than women with other hair colours. They also marry wealthier men, who earn six percent more than the husbands of other women, the University of Queensland study revealed.
The study, which surveyed 13,000 women, found that the difference in pay remained the same even when factors such as education, height and education were removed.
No other hair colour had the same effect. The research, reported in journal Economics Letters, does not explain just why blondes earned more and have wealthier husbands.
But Dr David Johnston, who led the study, said: "Blonde women are often depicted as being more attractive than other women, but also less intelligent. "But it seems the association between blondes and beauty dominates any perception that they have low intelligence. "This could explain why the 'blondeness effect' is evident in the marriage market."
Olga Uskova, president of the International Blondes Association, said: "Blondes have wealthier husbands because we are more fun and outgoing, and men are more attracted to us. "Blondes also have a lot of confidence so we can date men who are powerful or important. "We also do better in the workplace because when we make a mistake we can say, 'Oh, sorry about that, it's because I'm blonde' and get away with it."
Blood test 'spots breast cancer early' and may save hundreds of lives
A simple blood test that can detect early signs of breast cancer in women could save the lives of hundreds of patients a year, scientists believe. The test can spot tumours much earlier than traditional scans - meaning action can be taken to stop the cancer before it spreads.
The test - which is already available privately - could be in regular use on the Health Service within five years.
The test can pick up a cancer the size of a small seed before a woman has developed any symptoms. Normal screening checks using X-rays detect a tumour only once it is three of four times bigger, by which time it may have started to spread beyond the breast.
More than 45,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK every year.
The test, developed by Norwegian company Diagenic ASA, indicates a tumour is present by looking for raised levels of chemical ' markers' for cancer in blood.
It has been proven to be 75 per cent effective at detecting early cancer in a number of small trials published in the journal Breast Cancer Research.
In younger women, mammography can miss a quarter of cases, and its developers hope the blood test can pick up some of these.
The Diagenic BCtect test is being evaluated by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, and a trial involving 6,000 women at high risk of developing breast cancer is to start next year.
It is currently available at a private Harley Street clinic for 499 pounds. Dr James Mackay, an oncologist and researcher at University College London, said: 'This test will be particularly useful for younger women who are at risk of developing breast cancer. 'They tend to have denser breast material which mammograms cannot easily penetrate.
'What we are suggesting is that they have a mammogram and combine it with this test so that there is a greater chance of detection.'
Women who are found to have cancer by the test will be offered an MRI scan so the tumour can be located, biopsied and, if necessary, removed.
Experts say there have not been enough trials to be sure the test works as well as its makers believe. But if bigger trials are successful and the test is adopted by the NHS, it would be carried out every three years - the same period as for mammograms at the moment.
Dr Mackay said he would advise women at high risk of breast cancer to have the test, which is available at the London Breast Clinic, once a year.
Professor Kefah Mokbel, a consultant breast surgeon at London's St George's Hospital, said: 'We need more trials before this can be taken on by the NHS but it is an interesting development. 'The results so far are interesting and it would be an extremely useful advance which could be combined with a mammogram to find tumours at an early stage.'
Dr Fiona MacNeil, a breast surgeon at London's Marsden Hospital, said: 'The initial research studies show some promise but the usefulness of the test needs to be established by more detailed trials.'
4 April, 2010
Smokers have lower IQs
I had a paper to this effect published years ago but this is an unusually high-quality study. Eysenck saw personality as a mediating factor -- with extroverts more likely to smoke and more likely to engage in risky behaviour. The association betweeen smoking and sexual promiscuity among women was quite strong. So smoking is most likely to be a symptom of a low IQ rather than its cause
That Sartre and his fellow French intellectuals smoked suprises me not at all. They were much more purveyors of attitudes than improvers of knowledge
A cigarette dangling lazily from the mouth was once the telltale sign of an intellectual, but new evidence suggests it may have signalled quite the opposite.
Smokers have lower IQs than those who abstain, with intelligence decreasing the more one smokes, researchers have found. A study of 18 to 21-year-old men revealed that the IQs of smokers averaged 94 – seven points lower than non-smokers on 101.
IQ scores in a healthy population of young men fall between 84 and 116, but those who smoked more than a pack of cigarettes a day averaged just 90 between them.
Researchers in Israel took data from more than 20,000 healthy men before, during and after they spent time in the Israeli military.
About 28 per cent of their sample smoked one or more cigarettes a day, three per cent considered themselves ex-smokers, and 68 per cent said they never smoked.
Professor Mark Weiser, of Tel Aviv University's Department of Psychiatry, said: "In the health profession, we've generally thought that smokers are most likely the kind of people to have grown up in difficult neighbourhoods, or who've been given less education at good schools. "But because our study included subjects with diverse socio-economic backgrounds, we've been able to rule out socio-economics as a major factor."
The study also measured effects in twin brothers – and in the case where one twin smoked, the non-smoking twin registered a higher IQ on average.
Prof Weiser said: "People on the lower end of the average IQ tend to display poorer overall decision-making skills when it comes to their health. "People with lower IQs are not only prone to addictions such as smoking. These same people are more likely to have obesity, nutrition and narcotics issues. "Our study may help parents and health professionals help at-risk young people make better choices."
The study was reported in a recent version of the journal Addiction.
Drinking too much cola could lower men's sperm count
Here we go again: The usual "correlation is causation" fallacy. It is probably working class people who drink most Coke and they are less healthy anyhow. At least the last sentence below is honest
Men who drink around a litre of cola every day could be harming their sperm, according to a new Danish study. On average, these men's sperm counts were almost 30 per cent lower than in men who didn't drink cola.
While most of the sperm counts would still be considered normal by the World Health Organization, men with fewer sperm generally have a higher risk of being infertile.
The link is unlikely to be due to caffeine, the researchers say, because coffee did not have the same effect, even though its caffeine content is higher. Instead, other ingredients in the beverage or an unhealthy lifestyle could be involved.
Kold Jensen, who led the new research, said only a few studies have looked at caffeine's impact on reproductive health in men. The participants have generally been a very select group, such as infertile men, and the results have been conflicting.
Because Danish youth has been upping their consumption of caffeine-containing soft drinks over the last decades, the researchers decided to study how this might affect their reproductive health.
More than 2,500 young men were included in their study. Those who didn't drink cola had better sperm quality - averaging 50 million sperm per millilitre semen - and tended to have a healthier lifestyle. In contrast, the 93 men who drank more than one litre a day had only 35 million sperm per millilitre. However, they also ate more fast foods, and less fruit and vegetables.
When looking at caffeine from other sources, such as coffee and tea, the decrease in sperm quality was much less pronounced. It is still not clear if the cola or the unhealthy lifestyle, or both, is to blame and the scientists said further research was needed.
3 April, 2010
Breastfeeding reduces diabetes risk
There may be something in this but it may also show that people who have poorer health anyway -- perhaps working class mothers or mothers who lead risky lifestyles -- are less likely to breastfeed
MOTHERS who do not breastfeed have a 50 per cent increased risk of developing type-2 diabetes later in life compared with childless women, Australian research has found.
But a mother's likelihood of developing type-2 diabetes was slashed by 14 per cent for every year of breastfeeding, the researchers said.
Lead author Bette Liu, of the University of Western Sydney, said the research involved more than 52,000 women selected randomly from the Australian national universal health insurance database.
About 89 per cent of the women had given birth at least once and 6 per cent had been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes.
All were recruited in 2008 as part of Australia's 45-and-up study.
Dr Liu said breastfeeding a child for three months reduced a mother's risk of developing type-2 diabetes.
The researchers took into account factors such as a woman's age, family history of type-2 diabetes, body mass index, smoking, and alcohol consumption.
Breastfeeding a lifesaver?
The above study is a recent one from Australia. Below is another study from last year in the USA with even more extravagant claims. The same doubts apply -- plus the additional doubt that the data consists of self-reports about events in the distant past. Now that breastfeeding is very fashionable in the USA, maybe elderly middle class mothers exaggerated the degree to which they breastfed in their youth
WOMEN who breastfeed their babies for as little as a month are protecting themselves against heart disease, stroke and even heart attacks in later life, research shows. A study of almost 140,000 women found those who breastfed for more than a year were 10 per cent less likely to develop the conditions than women who had never breastfed.
But even breastfeeding for a month could help cut the chances of women developing diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are all linked to heart disease.
University of Pittsburgh researchers studied women who had gone through menopause; most of whom had not breastfed for 30 years. Those who breastfed for more than a year in total were 12 per cent less likely to have high blood pressure, about 20 per cent less likely to have diabetes and high cholesterol and 10 per cent less likely to have heart disease than women who never breastfed.
"We have known for years that breastfeeding is important for babies' health, we now know it is important for mothers' health as well," report co-author Eleanor Bimla Schwartz said. "The longer a mother nurses her baby, the better for both of them. "Our study provides another good reason for workplace policies to encourage women to breastfeed their infants."
Other studies have shown breastfeeding helps protect mothers against ovarian and breast cancer and osteoporosis in later life.
"These findings build on a growing body of literature that demonstrates that lactation has beneficial effects on blood pressure, risk of developing diabetes and lipid metabolism," Dr Schwartz said
2 April, 2010
HRT 'does NOT raise risk of breast cancer'
Is that discredited scare truly dead at last?
Confusion about the safety of HRT grew yesterday as a study showed it does not increase the risk of breast cancer. Analysis of the health records of millions of British women in their 50s and 60s found no correlation between use of the controversial treatment and rates of the disease.
Fears over the drug’s safety were first raised in 2002, when a major U.S. study linked it to a range of ills, including breast cancer and heart disease.
Following the scare, hundreds of thousands of British women abandoned the treatment, with the number taking hormone replacement therapy to help them through the menopause halving to one million by 2005.
But the Women’s Health Initiative study did not focus on women in their 50s – the most common age for HRT users in the UK. Reanalysis of the data found the health risks may apply only to older women, who have already gone through the menopause and who are not typical HRT users.
However, worries about the treatment – which usually contains a combination of the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone – have refused to go away. Many women are still scared to take HRT and, just a year ago, fears about its link to breast cancer were reignited when a study concluded that taking the drug could double the risk of developing the disease.
It reported that using HRT for as little as two years increased the danger. However, it added that when patients stopped the therapy, their odds quickly improved, returning to normal two years later.
Now, in an attempt to resolve the argument, researchers from Bristol University have looked at whether the rates of various diseases changed during the years that women turned their backs on the drug. If HRT does raise the risk of breast cancer, incidences of the disease should have fallen after 2002 as HRT use declined.
But the scientists found that the treatment’s drop in popularity did not affect breast cancer rates at all, suggesting HRT is not a factor in developing the disease. Similarly, use of HRT was found to have no association with rates of bowel cancer or hip fractures, the Journal of Public Health reports.
Like the U.S. study, the British analysis did suggest that HRT is associated with a higher risk of serious blood clots – but the researchers were not confident the drug was to blame.
However, they did not give HRT a completely clean bill of health, saying that the exercise should be repeated over a longer timescale to detect any cancers or other problems that take a long time to develop.
HRT is used to combat symptoms of the menopause, such as hot flushes, mood changes and night sweats. The treatment can be taken via a range of methods, including tablets, implants, skin gels and patches. Its long-term benefits may include a reduced risk of osteoporosis.
Chinese medicine sellers face regulation crackdown in Britain
It has always amazed me that regular pharmaceuticals are so tightly regulated when "alternative" medical practitioners can give people all sorts of dangerous and damaging stuff
Shops and clinics selling herbal and Chinese medicine are to be regulated for the first time. Health Secretary Andy Burnham has indicated he will tighten the law in an attempt to protect the public from ill-trained and bogus practitioners.
Almost 2,500 qualified herbalists and Chinese medicine practitioners will lose the right to supply a wide range of medicines because they are not signed up to a statutory regulation scheme.
Fears have been raised about the lack of regulation around herbal and Chinese medicine, which is often sold via high street shops, online and in private clinics.
Last month a judge criticised the lack of regulation after hearing of the case of Patricia Booth, 58, who was treated for a skin condition for five years with pills sold by a Chinese herbal medicine retailer - and later suffered bladder cancer and kidney failure.
Mr Burnham said yesterday that he was ‘minded to legislate’ so practitioners supplying unlicensed medicines have to register with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council. However, the CHNC is a voluntary body, unlike the Health Professions Council which oversees statutory regulation of chiropractors and osteopaths.
Further talks are to be held with professional bodies and devolved governments before a decision is made on changing the law.
Fears have been raised about the lack of regulation around herbal and Chinese medicine, which is often sold via high street shops, online and in private clinics. Last month a judge slammed the lack of regulation after hearing of the death of a Patricia Booth, 58, who was treated for five years with cancer-causing pills sold by a Chinese herbal medicine retailer.
Mr Burnham insisted the new register 'will increase public protection' without placing 'unreasonable extra burdens on practitioners'. He has not yet decided whether to regulate acupuncture treatment.
But the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association said the plan was a 'cop-out' because the CHNC lacks the structure, staff, financial resources or legal power to provide statutory regulation.
Chairman Michael McIntyre said 'Herbalists should be regulated like other statutorily regulated healthcare practitioners or the public will lose access to properly regulated herbalists and a wide range of herbal medicines.
'The Government must give detailed assurances that the legal and structural basis of statutory regulation is fit for purpose or it will betray the millions of people who regularly consult herbal practitioners. 'So far the Government has singularly failed to provide these guarantees.'
At least six million Britons have consulted a herbal practitioner in the last two years, according to Ipsos Mori research. As many as one in 12 adults has used herbal medicines obtained from a Western or traditional Chinese practitioner.
Prince Charles, a long-standing supporter of complementary therapies, met Mr Burnham when he voiced his support for formal regulation of herbal practitioners.
Dr Michael Dixon, medical director to the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, said he hoped a full statutory scheme would be introduced because 'light touch' regulation or licensing would fail to protect the public. He said 'It would be an extraordinary combination of carelessness about patient safety with more nanny state interference.
'It could allow those with no more than 4 – 6 weeks basic training to access powerful herbs, prepare their own remedies and offer treatment to the public. That will risk more cases of serious harm to patients treated by inexperienced, inadequately trained practitioners.
'A bizarre consequence of anything less than statutory regulation would be that, combined with EU rules, it would effectively ban even those with full training and qualifications from providing many herbal medicines currently in use. They would not be permitted access to manufactured or pre-prepared herbal remedies.
Emma Farrant, secretary of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine, said 'The CNHC was formed to regulate complementary health practitioners on a voluntary basis, and as currently constituted, is not equipped for statutory regulation. 'The apparent decision to exclude acupuncturists from full regulation is bizarre and regrettable.'
Mike O'Farrell, chief executive of the British Acupuncture Council, said 'It is our belief that statutory regulation is in the best interest of public health.'
1 April, 2010
A high fat bacon and eggs meal is healthiest start to the day (but only first thing)
Another rodent study of dubious generalizability to humans. Let's see a double-blind study of it among humans. Should not be hard. I would actually be rather annoyed if I found that my customary breakfast is "healthy" -- but the annoyance would be shortlived as the next piece of research would say it is "unhealthy"
Bacon, sausages, eggs, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, black pudding... if that's what you had for breakfast, scientists say you've chosen the healthiest way to start your day.
No, seriously. Hot on the heels of yesterday's chocolate-is-good-for-you findings, researchers say a full English breakfast is better for the heart, waistline and blood pressure than carbohydrate-rich cereals, breads and pastries.
It is thought that a fried breakfast sets up the metabolism for the rest of the day, making it easier to burn off other meals and snacks.
Cereal, however, appears mainly to prime the body to break down only carbohydrates, the International Journal of Obesity reports. The U.S. researchers advocate a big, fatty breakfast for optimum health, followed by a smaller lunch and a light evening meal. Indeed, the old saying - 'eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper' - may be the key to a healthy body and mind.
Their study looked at the effects of eating different types of food - and of eating them at different times in the day. Mice fed a high fat meal after waking remained healthy, but those given a carb-rich breakfast, followed by a fatty dinner, did not fare as well. They put on weight and had trouble processing sugar, raising their risk of diabetes.
Blood tests also flagged up other problems that raised their risk of heart disease and strokes.
Dr Martin Young, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said: 'The first meal you have appears to programme your metabolism for the rest of the day. 'This study suggests that if you ate a carbohydrate-rich breakfast it would promote carbohydrate utilisation throughout the rest of the day, whereas if you have a fat-rich breakfast, you (can) transfer your energy utilisation between carbohydrate and fat.'
Co-researcher Professor Molly Bray added: 'Studies have looked at the type and quantity of food intake, but nobody has undertaken the question of whether the timing of what you eat and when you eat it influences body weight.' With most people eating a wide variety of foods throughout the day, the findings have a clear implication for the human diet.
Professor Bray added: 'Our study seems to show that if you really want to be able to efficiently respond to mixed meals across a day, a meal in higher fat content in the morning is a good thing.'
The research is not the first to confirm the importance of a big breakfast. A South American study found that women who ate half of their daily calories first thing lost more weight in the long-term than those who ate a small breakfast.
In contrast to the U.S. study, it said eating carbs for breakfast was beneficial, with a sweet treat, such as chocolate, cutting sugar cravings later in the day.
CDC grants: Government looks to dictate our diets
Just when you thought that the federal government couldn’t possibly usurp more of our individual freedoms, their prerogative shifts to working to micromanage and control the nutrition of its constituents. This governmental campaign seeks to levy “life-style tax hikes” on food items that the government considers to be unhealthy.
In essence, this regulatory program would allocate funds to states and local communities that outline comprehensive strategies that would limit consumption of food items such as “trans-fats, sodium, snack foods and soda.” This grant program, also known as “Communities Putting Prevention to Work,” would be administered by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The funds would be coming from the “stimulus package” otherwise known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. But isn’t this stimulus money supposed to be stimulating job creation and streamlining our economy, as opposed to contributing towards the manipulation of consumer choice?
FoxNews reports on some of the hidden motives of this schema: "While descriptions for some of the latest projects funded under the program sound almost laughable -- what exactly do you think they mean when they talk about “increasing point-of-decision health prompts at stairwells and elevators in public venues”? -- it becomes abundantly clear that this is a concerted effort to advance government control over our consumption decisions when reviewing the CDC’s guideline document for grantees."
Furthermore, FoxNews proceeds to discuss the implications of this program: "Strategies listed range from outright product bans, over zoning, to media and advertising restrictions for “unhealthy” foods and drinks and tobacco products. And when Delaware receives more than $1 million to “educate leaders and decision-makers about the benefits of increasing the price on other tobacco products,” Oregon receives $3 million to “support a policy proposal to increase tobacco price,” your “stimulus” dollars are likely going towards hiring lobbyists to promote tax increases (which by the way would seem to violate one of CDC’s own lobbying restrictions)."
Why does the federal government sincerely believe that they should have the authority to tell the American people what not to eat? This type of government initiative only further reinforces a trend that promotes and allows for an ever-expanding government. Much like the federal government’s newly enacted health care overhaul, as well as their current attempts to pass financial regulatory reform, this CDC grant program also represents an effort on behalf of the federal government that aims to increase revenues and expand its authoritative reach by means of intervening in private lives. More taxes, more government, and a restriction of consumer choice is not the caliber government that the American people want when they vote at the polls. Therefore, it is imperative that this increasing level of government jurisdiction be stopped.
SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"
Where it is not bunk is when it shows that some treatment or influence has no effect on lifespan or disease incidence. It is as convincing as disproof as it is unconvincing as proof. Think about it. As Einstein said: No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.
Epidemiological studies are useful for hypothesis-generating or for hypothesis-testing of theories already examined in experimental work but they do not enable causative inferences by themselves
The standard of reasoning that one commonly finds in epidemiological journal articles is akin to the following false syllogism:
Chairs have legs
You have legs
So therefore you are a chair
"To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact" -- Charles Darwin
"Most men die of their remedies, not of their diseases", said Moliere. That may no longer be true but there is still a lot of false medical "wisdom" around that does harm to various degrees. And showing its falsity is rarely the problem. The problem is getting people -- medical researchers in particular -- to abandon their preconceptions
Bertrand Russell could have been talking about today's conventional dietary "wisdom" when he said: "The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”
"Obesity" is 77% genetic. So trying to make fatties slim is punishing them for the way they were born. That sort of thing is furiously condemned in relation to homosexuals so why is it OK for fatties?
Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:
1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).
2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.
3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.
4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.
5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?
6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.
7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.
8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].
9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.
10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.
11). A major cause of increasing obesity is certainly the campaign against it -- as dieting usually makes people FATTER. If there were any sincerity to the obesity warriors, they would ban all diet advertising and otherwise shut up about it. Re-authorizing now-banned school playground activities and school outings would help too. But it is so much easier to blame obesity on the evil "multinationals" than it is to blame it on your own restrictions on the natural activities of kids
12. Fascism: "What we should be doing is monitoring children from birth so we can detect any deviations from the norm at an early stage and action can be taken". Who said that? Joe Stalin? Adolf Hitler? Orwell's "Big Brother"? The Spanish Inquisition? Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde? None of those. It was Dr Colin Waine, chairman of Britain's National Obesity Forum. What a fine fellow!
More on salt (See point 5 above): Salt is a major source of iodine, which is why salt is normally "iodized" by official decree. Cutting back salt consumption runs the risk of iodine deficiency, with its huge adverse health impacts -- goiter, mental retardation etc. GIVE YOUR BABY PLENTY OF SALTY FOODS -- unless you want to turn it into a cretin
Trans fats: For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.
The "antioxidant" religion: The experimental evidence is that antioxidants SHORTEN your life, if anything. Studies here and here and here and here and here and here and here, for instance. That they are of benefit is a great theory but it is one that has been coshed by reality plenty of times.
The medical consensus is often wrong. The best known wrongheaded medical orthodoxy is that stomach ulcers could not be caused by bacteria because the stomach is so acidic. Disproof of that view first appeared in 1875 (Yes. 1875) but the falsity of the view was not widely recognized until 1990. Only heroic efforts finally overturned the consensus and led to a cure for stomach ulcers. See here and here and here.
NOTE: "No trial has ever demonstrated benefits from reducing dietary saturated fat".
Huge ($400 million) clinical trial shows that a low fat diet is useless . See also here and here
Dieticians are just modern-day witch-doctors. There is no undergirding for their usual recommendations in double-blind studies.
The fragility of current medical wisdom: Would you believe that even Old Testament wisdom can sometimes trump medical wisdom? Note this quote: "Spiess discussed Swedish research on cardiac patients that compared Jehovah's Witnesses who refused blood transfusions to patients with similar disease progression during open-heart surgery. The research found those who refused transfusions had noticeably better survival rates.
Relying on the popular wisdom can certainly hurt you personally: "The scientific consensus of a quarter-century ago turned into the arthritic nightmare of today."
Since many of my posts here make severe criticisms of medical research, I should perhaps point out that I am also a severe critic of much research in my own field of psychology. See here and here
This is NOT an "alternative medicine" site. Perhaps the only (weak) excuse for the poorly substantiated claims that often appear in the medical literature is the even poorer level of substantiation offered in the "alternative" literature.
I used to teach social statistics in a major Australian university and I find medical statistics pretty obfuscatory. They seem uniformly designed to make mountains out of molehills. Many times in the academic literature I have excoriated my colleagues in psychology and sociology for going ga-ga over very weak correlations but what I find in the medical literature makes the findings in the social sciences look positively muscular. In fact, medical findings are almost never reported as correlations -- because to do so would exhibit how laughably trivial they generally are. If (say) 3 individuals in a thousand in a control group had some sort of an adverse outcome versus 4 out of a thousand in a group undergoing some treatment, the difference will be published in the medical literature with great excitement and intimations of its importance. In fact, of course, such small differences are almost certainly random noise and are in any rational calculus unimportant. And statistical significance is little help in determining the importance of a finding. Statistical significance simply tells you that the result was unlikely to be an effect of small sample size. But a statistically significant difference could have been due to any number of other randomly-present factors.
Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology: below:"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.
The intellectual Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) could have been speaking of the prevailing health "wisdom" of today when he said: "The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."
The Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Second Edition says (p. 384): "the threshold for concluding that an agent was more likely than not the cause of an individual's disease is a relative risk greater than 2.0." Very few of the studies criticized on this blog meet that criterion.
Improbable events do happen at random -- as mathematician John Brignell notes rather tartly:
"Consider, instead, my experiences in the village pub swindle. It is based on the weekly bonus ball in the National Lottery. It so happens that my birth date is 13, so that is the number I always choose. With a few occasional absences abroad I have paid my pound every week for a year and a half, but have never won. Some of my neighbours win frequently; one in three consecutive weeks. Furthermore, I always put in a pound for my wife for her birth date, which is 11. She has never won either. The probability of neither of these numbers coming up in that period is less than 5%, which for an epidemiologist is significant enough to publish a paper.