Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Dr Gillian McKeith

Star of Channel Four's You Are What You Eat, and best-selling author of a book by the same name. I have been thoroughly wound-up by her show from the start. Her ideas on TV seemed a bit dubious, but were generally skated over. Subjects would lose weight by eating less and exercising more - hardly surprising. But her book is, in my humble opinion, pure quackery.

McKeith website

Her own website proclaims her to be the World's Top Nutritionist - a grand claim. Professor of Nutrition at Cambridge or Harvard perhaps? Her management list her education as:

PhD, Doctorate in Nutrition; American College of Nutrition (Birmingham, USA)
MSc Nutrition, Masters Degree in Nutrition; American College of Nutrition
BA, Bachelors Degree in Neuroscience Linguistics & Language; University of Edinburgh (Scotland, UK)
MA, Masters Degree in Health Systems Management; University of Pennsylvania Ivy League (Philadelphia, USA)

London School of Acupuncture (London, UK)
Kailish Centre of Oriental Medicine - Kampo Herbology (London, UK)
East West College of Herbs - (San Diego, USA)
Australasian College of Health Sciences (Portland, USA) pending Diploma in Herbal Medicine

A little investigation was required. I could find no American College of Nutrition in Birmingham, Alabama via directory enquiries. No surprise. There is a professional organisation based in Florida of the same name. However, it does not grant degrees.  I phoned the American College of Nutrition in Florida to check whether she might at least be a member or fellow, but they have no record of her. However, I was told that their executive director did write to the 'American College of Nutrition' in Alabama in the 199os requesting that they cease to operate under that name.

Note: in fairness, I have no reason to believe that Dr McKeith has ever claimed to have got her degree from the Florida organisation - but the confusion could easily arise as long as she uses the name 'American College of Nutrition' without the qualification that appears on her management website. The American College of Nutrition in Florida has a good deal of professional standing, so I wanted to be clear which one was being referred to.

Later, the Alabama organisation called itself the 'American College of Holistic Nutrition', which has now become Clayton College of Natural Health. As the Clayton website states, giving its history:

In the late 1970s Lloyd Clayton, Jr., N.D., who had recovered his own health through natural healing, established an eco-friendly herb company. Soon, his new company was inundated by customer inquiries regarding herbs and how to use them.
Delighted to discover such strong worldwide interest in natural health, he and his family members created two distance learning colleges in 1980: The Clayton School of Natural Healing and American Holistic College of Nutrition.

So, could it be that the 'World's Leading Nutritionist' got her PhD from a postal course? And what is the value of such a course?

Moreover, would the people she has accused of 'abuse' on TV, for feeding their kids junk, be so inclined to take such abuse from her if they knew she wasn't an MD? That her PhD is from a self-proclaimed degree-granting institute with accreditation from, it would appear, only other institutions that are self-proclaimed to grant accreditation?

In fact, her qualifications from prestige universities like Edinburgh and Penn seem to have been in subjects unrelated to her present role.

Of course, if she is in fact the World's Leading Nutritionist and can draw on some other evidence to support this claim, I'll gladly add it here.

Dr Gillian McKeith - Official website

Monday, July 26, 2004

Air pollution and health

I've been running, and contributing to, this debate on spiked. Just when you think it's going to be a rational debate which understands that air pollution is a problem, but much smaller than it used to be and limited to vulnerable individuals, along come those who want to exaggerate it...

Anyway, I particularly liked this contribution from Sandy Starr:

As a child growing up in the Swiss Prealps, I came to suffer from severe asthma that still afflicts me to this day. But since I moved to the UK eight years ago, and particularly since I moved to central London five years ago, my breathing has significantly improved. It's nice to be able to run to catch a bus, without hopelessly gasping for breath afterward. It's even nicer to have the choice to catch a bus, or to employ various other modes of transport, to explore the variety and bustle of the capital - rather than being stuck up a picturesque but rather dull mountain.

According to Tony Juniper, 'nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and carbon monoxide aggravate respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis, coughs, and eye, nose and throat irritations'. That may be so, but in my case, it is the flora, fauna, and associated allergens of the Swiss mountains that tend to induce the symptoms that Juniper describes. Whenever I return to visit my family in Switzerland, I find myself coughing and wheezing within a day. Consequently, I have to restrict my visits there to a week at most, before returning to convalesce amid the bracing airs of London.

Debates about air pollution tend to revolve around a false counterposition between the foul metropolis and the rural idyll. This is inaccurate in medical terms - the natural world generates irritants that can easily compete with those generated by transport and industry, as my example illustrates. And this is inaccurate in broader social terms - the convenience of motorised transport and urban living is at least as legitimate a contribution to our quality of life as the purported health benefits of cleaner air.

spiked-health debates Air pollution and health

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Life expectancy and good health

BBC News reports the continuing rise of life expectancy in the UK. In 2001, average life expectancy for women was 80.4 years, and 75.7 for men. However, years lived in good health have not increased as rapidly.

'In 1981, the average man could expect to live in poor health for 6.5 years. By 2001, this had risen to 8.7 years. Women can expect to endure poor health for even longer. In 1981, the average women could expect 10.1 years of poor health, but in 2001 the average figure had risen to 11.6 years.'

for women

Life expectancy 1981: 76.8
Life expectancy 2001: 80.4
Increase: 4.69%

Years of good health 1981: 66.7
Years of good health 2001: 69.8
Increase: 4.65%

for men

Life expectancy 1981: 70.9
Life expectancy 2001: 75.7
Increase: 6.8%

Years of good health 1981: 64.5
Years of good health 2001: 67
Increase: 3.9%

So, the rate of increase in years of good health certainly seems lower for men than the rise in life expectancy, but that does not seem to be the case for women, where the rates are almost identical. Of course, this will mean more actual years of ill-health, which is not good, but for both groups it means more years of good health than before. So why so negative?

Moreover, setting aside all the bullshit about lifestyle for a moment, shouldn't it be a matter of grave concern that simply being a man reduces life expectancy by five years? Perhaps if the many millions being wasted on public health campaigns were devoted to this subject, men could hope to live a little longer.

BBC NEWS Health Poor health blight is increasing

Michael Holick

My spiked colleage, Brendan O'Neill has interviewed sacked Boston professor Michael Holick about how the sun has come to be vilified as a source of ill-health.

'They have vilified the sun - and me', spiked, 23 July 2004