Friday, November 07, 2003

Driving to the supermarket to save the environment?

According to Transport 2000, the fact that supermarkets get delivery from a small number of very big lorries actually cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions, as compared to local shops which get deliveries from a number of smaller vans. Not that I think that the greenhouse effect is nearly as important as is usually stated, but the local-is-worse conclusion here is kind of ironic.

Save the planet by driving to the supermarket

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Andrew Prentice in the Guardian

Prentice argues that obesity is the fastest growing epidemic in the world (presumably because, apart from AIDS, most epidemics are in decline or stable). He does point out that there is no need for a metabolic explanation of obesity - fat people just eat more than skinny people, generally. He believes we are getting fatter because we have evolved to store food, but there is no need to do that in a situation of plenty. He also notes that cosmetic reasons have been a useful check on increasing weight.

Guardian | The fat controller

SARS: the shrinking epidemic

If the Aurora 'virus ship' panic was SARS-as-farce, recent figures have shown that even SARS was not the epidemic it was cracked up to be.

Reports from China on 27 October suggest that the number of SARS cases in the southern province of Guangdong was overstated. It was originally thought that there had been 1274 cases, but blood tests showed that only 1062 had SARS, the rest being pneumonia or flu cases (1). In Taiwan, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has revised the number of deaths down from 180 to just 37, because many of those originally listed had died from another cause while suffering from SARS (2). In Hong Kong, the reaction to SARS may have led to persistence with an ineffective treatment, with dangers of its own. According to Reuters: 'Almost all SARS patients in Hong Kong were treated with the anti-viral drug ribavirin and steroids earlier this year, but many health experts said at the time the efficacy of the NEWCOLUMN combination was unproven and could lead to serious side-effects.' (3) Now, some patients are reportedly suffering from avascular necrosis, a bone-weakening disease associated with steroids.

When the SARS epidemic was first declared in March 2003, the WHO talked about a 'worldwide health threat', and press reports speculated wildly about how many might die. There have been no new cases since June 2003 and the WHO now states that were just over 8000 cases with 774 deaths, the vast majority in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan - roughly the same as the annual TB figures for Hong Kong alone. The lesson seems to be that it is wise for everyone concerned to ignore the hype and take a measured approach based on medical facts, not doomsday scenarios.

(1) SARS cases reported misdiagnosed in China, Guardian, 27 October 2003

(2) Taiwan hails WHO for axing SARS death toll to 37 from 180, Agence France-Press, 1 October 2003

(3) SARS drugs tied to bone disease, MSNBC, 10 October 2003

Is food toxic?

David Katz, who lives on multigrain bread and dried fruits, apparently thinks so. 'We live in a toxic nutritional environment of our own making,' said Katz, speaking at the annual Canadian Cardiovascular Congress. 'It is a sea of calories in which we are drowning.'

The discussion of food-as-toxic has nothing to do with food and everything to do with a disgust at everything human. Nutrition is a biological necessity but enjoying food, even to excess, is a human pleasure. I really don't care that the likes of Katz is appalled by the eating habits of others. Such ascetic attitudes have been around for millennia. But please don't turn them into public health policy.

Doctor attacks 'toxic' takeout culture

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Junk food TV ads

Nick Higham from the BBC points out that the Food Standards Agency report on junk food and advertising merely pointed to 21 reports that it said demonstrated a link between junk food consumption and advertising, out of 29,000 examined by researchers.

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | TV and Radio | Confusion over 'junk food' ads

Monday, November 03, 2003

Water shortage

According to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), Africa faces massive water shortages in the future. There will be a substantial increase in demand in the next twenty years or so, and action is required to improve the efficiency of water usage as soon as possible. Ninety per cent of water in Africa is used in agriculture.

The changes required are probably not technically difficult. By using better irrigation methods, and crops which use less water, water usage per head could be cut substantially.

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Thirsty Africa faces food crisis