Thursday, September 04, 2003

More on lunchboxes

This article for spiked brings together the two recent surveys about lunchboxes. It argues that the health problems are over-stated. There are problems associated with morbid obesity, but to extrapolate them to bigger-than-average kids is not warranted. Moreover, lots of assumptions are made about diet which don't seem to be borne out - for example, that dietary habits from childhood are ingrained.

Thinking outside the lunchbox, spiked, 3 September 2003

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

A passive smoker's big night out

An article in the Evening Standard today (sorry, not on their website as yet) shows how much smoke you breathe in during a night in the pub. Three people were tested before and after their session. On average, their cotinine levels rose by 6.7 nanograms per litre on average, as opposed to a rise of about 10 nanograms per litre after smoking a cigarette. Carbon monoxide levels rose by 3.6 parts per million over the night on average, compared to 6-10 ppm for smoking a single cigarette.

What can we conclude? Well, we can't conclude, as the writer does, that is all terrible and deadly. In fact, it shows just how little smoke we breathe in. Basically, less than the equivalent of one cigarette. And most people wouldn't go to the pub more than a couple of times a week. So, there may be a rise in cancer and heart disease rates as a result - but it is likely to be small.

The association between smoking and lung cancer was first pointed out in the 1950s when people smoking much stronger cigarettes usually without filters, more often, with less ventilation. Oh, the joy of the top deck of the average bus in winter: windows shut, the intrepid passenger walked upstairs into a cloud of smoke. How much lower will exposure be today?

A long, hot summer

2003 was not the hottest summer on record, according to this story on BBC News. In fact, 1976 retains the record, a summer I remember very well at primary school, creating in my mind the belief that the UK was always 32o Celsius every summer.

For the record, we had the fifth-hottest August of all time (behind 1995, 1997, 1975, and 1947). It was the fourth-hottest summer behind 1976, 1826, and 1995.

The long, hot summer, BBC News, 2 September 2003

Is three the magic number?

A new study from Greece suggests that any benefit from consuming fruit and vegetables may level-off after a daily intake of three portions. However, the study does suggest that there is a significant protective effect, with a 70 percent reduction in heart disease risk. Three portions of fruit and veg per day is tantamount to "a little bit of everything does you good" levels. So, what did we need the epidemiologists for?

Of course, all such studies beg questions like 'What are the confounding/extraneous factors at work here?', 'A reduction in heart disease risk for how long?' and 'How many extra years of life would be obtained?'

The medical authorities in the UK are standing by their "five-a-day" advice. I'm standing by my "life's too short to worry about this stuff" advice.

Three fruit and veg may be enough, BBC News, 2 September 2003

Monday, September 01, 2003

Ban on junk food adverts in kid's programmes

Never mind that kids are kept indoors too often, driven everywhere and allowed to snack all the time. The problem of obesity is all down to advertising, apparently. Hence the proposal to ban adverts for kids food during childrens programmes.

Interesting to note two things:

(1) Commercial TV has enough trouble funding children's programmes as it is. Now, the government proposes to take away half their advertising revenue. Which will mean either fewer original programmes, or more commercial tie-ins, or both. How has that served the public good?

(2) The whole thing reeks of paternalism. Check out this quote: Professor Sue Fairweather-Tait of the Institute of Food Research said: "We have a pretty good idea what a healthy diet consists of and the big question is how you get consumers to follow it."

Junk food ads face children’s TV ban, Sunday Times, 31 August 2003

More on children's lunchboxes

Last week we found out that children often throw out the 'healthy' stuff in their lunchboxes, but rarely bin crisps and chocolate. Now the Food Standards Agency reports that most lunchboxes contain too much sugar, salt and fat. Quelle suprise. Parents realise that kids can be fussy eaters, so they give them things that they will eat. That way they'll grow up healthy and have enough energy to concentrate in class.

Parents were children once, too. They remember that they used to turn their noses up at healthy foods when they were children. They grew out of it. So will their children.

Presumably, there are some people at the Food Standards Agency who are parents, too. They must therefore realise that their advice will fall on deaf ears. So, what is the point of it, except to set a moral framework of guilt for everyone else?

Children's lunchboxes 'unhealthy', BBC News, 1 September 2003