Friday, February 27, 2004

Junk food, kids and TV

Children watch lots of commercials for junk food, sweets and snacks. Those under eight years old are, unsurprisingly, not able to view such adverts critically. But, unless they're sweeping chimneys, where's the money coming from? The only way that children could overindulge on sweets is if adults give them the money and the permission to do so.

Diet of TV junk-food ads tied to obesity in children

Can we please stop eating broccoli?

Researchers at University College, London suggest that the theory that free radicals, produced by white blood cells, cause ill-health may be false. If they are correct, then shovelling antioxidant-rich foods like broccoli down our throats is pretty much a waste of time. Does this mean I can return to my wholesome diet of curries, kebabs and burgers?

BBC NEWS | Health | Doubt cast on free radical theory

A pet hate: Countryfile

This BBC program runs every Sunday morning. It pretends to be about the countryside but seems to be a soapbox for environmentalists.

For example, a recent debate looked at the way in which food is now a global business, with food in supermarkets coming from all over the world. The argument is that there must be something illogical about food travelling large distances, especially if similar food is available closer to home. But as transport costs fall, and the willingness of people to pay a bit more for varied produce increases, so it becomes practical to produce in the developing world with much lower labour costs. This may use up more natural resources than if we ate a more limited range of foods, or produced more at home. But resources are not nearly as big a problem as environmentalists would have us believe.

The real issue is not resource productivity but labour productivity. How do we produce more for less labour input? That, to my mind, is the measure of progress - to allow us to escape physical toil and a battle for survival, freed to do more interesting things, like discussing the state of the world, and its future.

The upshot of a green approach is always to try to reduce the impact of humans on the world - which tends to lead to the conclusion that we should just do less. Surely what we want are longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives, not a conservative desire to stick with what we've got?

And that green approach runs right through Countryfile. Any chance of another point of view?

BBC - Nature Environment - Countryfile#2

A pinch of salt

British food manufacturers and supermarkets have agreed to reduce the salt content in many of their products, in response to government pressure. High salt intake has been linked to high blood pressure, which in turn has been linked to coronary heart disease and strokes. Health officials argue that adults should consume no more than six grams of salt per day - and many convenience meals contain more than half a day's recommended intake in a single serving.

The link between salt intake and blood pressure is more controversial than government advice suggests. A recent report in the British Medical Journal concluded: 'Intensive interventions, unsuited to primary care or population prevention programmes, provide only small reductions in blood pressure and sodium excretion, and effects on deaths and cardiovascular events are unclear. Advice to reduce sodium intake may help people on antihypertensive drugs to stop their medication while maintaining good blood pressure control.'

In short, if you've already got high blood pressure, reducing salt intake might help your hypertension. However, to achieve even these small effects would require large drops in salt intake.

It is easy to forget that salt is crucial to our existence. David Blaine could survive for 44 days without food - but not without salt. Excess salt is not a problem for healthy adults. If we have consumed too much, our kidneys remove it from our blood. If salt is such a big problem, how can it have played a central role in the flavouring and preservation of food for thousands of years?

The kind of reductions proposed by the food industry will almost certainly have no effect at all - except to make our food taste a little more boring, and reinforce the myth that what we eat is slowly killing us

Manufacturers in last-minute deal to cut salt in food, Daily Telegraph, 27 February 2004

Systematic review of long term effects of advice to reduce dietary salt in adults, British Medical Journal, 21 September 2002 [pdf, 320KB]

First published on Spiked's Don't panic page

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

All the rage

A new report claims that cases of 'Tube rage' may increase on the London Underground if air quality does not improve.

According to transport specialists Fereday Pollard, failure to improve ventilation could lead to increased anger and frustration among passengers. Mike Fisher, director of the British Association of Anger Management, told the BBC: 'A reduction in the level of oxygen in an enclosed space leads to increasing feelings of panic.... If on top of this you have the physical distress and discomfort of overcrowding, an individual can experience reactions such as anxiety, aggression, impatience and feelings of sickness.'

Better ventilation would certainly be a step forward for the Tube, especially in the summer when temperatures frequently top 100 degrees fahrenheit - but no amount of ventilation will save our blood from boiling. The train breakdowns, incapacity to deal with marginally adverse weather conditions, the decrepit stations and overcrowding in rush hour will see to that. The remarkable thing is the stoic way in which the majority of people deal with a disintegrating transport infrastructure; it is rare for people actually to lose their rag. Still, this all fits into a fashion where every irritation gets redefined as a rage: air rage, road rage, even pedestrian rage. Not unreasonable reactions to everyday bugbears are treated as new mental health problems; if this whole discussion continues to annoy me, will I suffer from 'rage rage'?

First published on Spiked's spiked bite page