Wednesday, May 12, 2004

No fun in the sun

'Over a third of parents admit sunburn slip despite warnings.' So declared Cancer Research UK on 9 May 2004, as it published a survey suggesting that, while most parents know that children should be protected from sunburn, many of them do not take the necessary precautions. Also, most parents are unaware how quickly children can start to burn, and 41 per cent think that it is desirable for children to have a tan. According to Cancer Research's press release, 'Children's skin is much more delicate than adults' and research shows that sunburn in childhood can double the risk of getting skin cancer later in life'.

Avoiding sunburn is a good idea for both adults and children, not least because it hurts. But it is doubtful whether avoiding the sun improves life expectancy.

The most common forms of skin cancer (basal-cell or squamous-cell carcinomas) are clearly related to sun exposure. But they are also highly treatable and rarely serious, as the Cancer Research website confirms. The relationship between malignant melanomas, which are far more serious, and sunlight is less clear. For example, melanomas tend to appear on areas of the body that are less likely to be exposed to the sun. Rates for melanoma in Japan are comparable to those in the UK, even though there is no tradition of sunbathing in Japan.

Claims of parental neglect possibly leading to the early death of their offspring are greatly exaggerated. Melanomas in the young are rare. In the case of malignant melanomas, 88 per cent of deaths in England and Wales in 2002 were in patients over 45. So if there is a link at all, it is unlikely to affect people until later in life.

What is striking is how one panic contradicts another, to the extent that it seems there is no safe course of action. Apparently if our children play in the sun they run the risk of skin cancer or abduction - but apparently if they stay indoors, watching TV or playing computer games, they can look forward to becoming obese victims of heart disease or diabetes. There is even evidence to suggest that some exposure to sunshine may be valuable in helping to counteract cancer.

The fact is that health campaigns, for the most part, have been unsuccessful in changing adult behaviour - though they have succeeded in increasing anxiety levels. So now health campaigners seem to be upping the ante, along the lines of, 'If you tolerate this, your children will be next'. Parents would be best advised to use their own judgement and ignore such scaremongering.

Children 'at risk of skin cancer', BBC News, 9 May 2004
Don't panic: Getting burned
Enjoy your moment in the sun, by Mick Hume, The Times (London), 28 July 2003
Vitamin D may have preventive properties against cancer, The Scientist, 24 August 2000

First published on spiked:spiked-central | Panic | Don't panic

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Choking on the trees

Scientists at York University have found that trees in Britain can help to increase levels of ozone in the air in hot temperatures.

When temperatures reach 35 degrees celsius, as they did last summer in parts of the UK, deciduous trees produce significant amounts of isoprene, which acts as a catalyst to convert nitrogen oxide from exhaust fumes into ozone. While ozone in the upper atmosphere protects the earth's surface from solar radiation, at ground level it can be harmful to people with sensitive lungs, like asthmatics and the elderly. 'This phenomenon has been seen before in California and the Mediterranean but, of course, we hardly ever get temperatures like that in the UK and northern Europe,' explained Dr Alastair Lewis to BBC News. The suggestion is that if average temperatures continue to rise, the phenomenon will become more common. How ironic that trees, generally characterised as cleaning up the air, can actually make it harder to breathe in hot weather. Perhaps someone will call for a ban on trees in areas of heavy traffic - a proposal that is no more ridiculous than the usual equation that 'natural' inevitably equals 'good'.

Heatwaves can make trees pollute, BBC News, 10 May 2004

Monday, May 10, 2004

I agree with Nancy Reagan about something...

With husband Ronald now severely afflicted by Alzheimer's, it is good to have a well-known conservative who realises the potential for this research.

BBC NEWS | World | Americas | Nancy Reagan plea on stem cells, 10 May 2004

Salty sandwiches

Apparently, it's National Sandwich Week in Britain (excuse me if I missed the celebrations), but while the industry are trying to ensure we celebrate the Great British Butty, Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) are trying to spoil the party. They claim that many sandwiches contain dangerously high levels of salt. Some chainstore sarnies contain more than the recommended daily intake of salt.

Well, that link between salt and blood pressure is probably the most hotly contested piece of health advice going at the moment, with a surprising lack of consensus in the research. And I doubt we will return to the days when every meal was immediately plastered in salt before even being sample - if only because the fashion seems to be that food is better if you can taste it.

BBC NEWS | Health | Salty sandwiches prompt warning