Friday, August 13, 2004

Are children really inactive?

This research from Lancaster University suggests children aren't nearly as sedentary as is often suggested. However, what is clear is that they have far less independent time away from adults, and they are not allowed to travel as far from home independently as they once were.

BBC NEWS | Health | Child couch potato image 'unfair'

Bird flu: one to watch

Three Vietnamese have died from bird flu, at least one from the H5N1 strain. How long before we see another panic about this disease?

BBC NEWS | World | Asia-Pacific | Three Vietnamese die of bird flu

Kellogg's All Ban

The Danish government has banned Kellogg's cereals and snack bars - because they contain too many vitamins.

Apparently, people in Denmark already consume so many vitamins and minerals that the new vitamin-enriched products would 'have a high impact', according to the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration (DVFA). The products use exactly the same levels of added nutrients used in Kellogg's products elsewhere in the EU, and are well within recommended intakes. But what would health authorities do if they didn't find new ways to prescribe what we eat? While the rest of the world is panicking needlessly about salt and sugar in Kellogg's cereals, the plucky Danes have dared to be different. In the light of this ban, what new restrictions can we expect? How about banning Coco Pops for convincing small children that milk should be brown? A noise abatement order on Rice Krispies? Best of all, maybe they could withdraw All Bran for tasting like freeze-dried rabbit droppings? Now that would be progress.

Food giant is not 'cereal offender', BBC News, 12 August 2004

First published as spiked bite

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Those removed McKeith qualifications

Thank the lord for WebArchive!

Dr. Gillian McKeith

Ben Goldacre joins the lynch-mob against Gillian McKeith

As well as discussing the dodgy doctorate, the Guardian's Bad Science columnist looks into her 'research', too.

'What about the rest of her CV? It has been removed from the web. But, fortunately, you can still see it, in Google's cache ( or on other sites such as How about her research projects? As she says, "Dr Gillian McKeith (PhD), conducts key clinical research, publishes findings." "Studied effects of aphanizomenon-flos aqua on childhood learning disabilities and behavioural problems (Nebraska, USA; and El Salvador school system)" is particularly impressive. It goes on. "Studied effects of stressors on ageing and immunity with Dr Robert Pollack (MD), Temple University Medical School (Philadelphia, USA)." She may well have published findings, but none of these feature on Medline, the universally-used database of academic peer-reviewed research publications, which also, since you ask, includes alternative medicine and nutrition journals.'

Eccentric, brilliant, bollocks

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

An injection of perspective

'Chaos over 5-in-1 jab' declared the UK Daily Mail, reporting that the government plans to replace an existing four-in-one jab, protecting against diptheria, whooping cough, Hib and tetanus, with a new one that adds protection against polio. The new vaccine will also not contain the preservative thiomersal, a mercury compound, which has been linked to autism by studies in the United States - leading to suggestions that the current vaccine is not safe. Campaigners also raised fears of immune system overload in infants coping with five different vaccines at once. Jackie Fletcher, founder of the support group Justice, Awareness and Basic Support (JABS), told the Guardian: 'Increasing the combinations increases the potential for an adverse reaction and restricts choice for parents.'

There are two panics here. The first is that mercury in the old vaccine, in the form of thiomersal, is harmful. The evidence against thiomersal is based on reports condemned by the American Academy of Paediatrics as containing 'numerous conceptual and scientific flaws, omissions of fact, inaccuracies and misstatements'.

The amount of mercury involved is so tiny that it simply could not be toxic, even to an infant. There is no evidence that it is harmful. It is not used in the new vaccine simply because it is incompatible with the polio element that has been added. However, by even implying that vaccines containing mercury should be withdrawn on a precautionary basis, the government has lent credence to the notion that thiomersal could be harmful.

The second panic is that the immune system of infants could be overloaded by a new multiple vaccine. This is similarly without substance. Newborn babies face a large number of potential infections, even in the process of being born. To counter this they already have the capability to deal with many different threats, a capability which develops further within a few days of birth. On the other hand, immune responses to some infections, like Hib, are much weaker in babies than they are in adults. For that reason, the vaccines used are specially designed to encourage immunity by stimulating well-developed parts of the immune system instead. This is also the reason why early vaccination is very important.

A review published in the journal Pediatrics concludes: 'Current studies do not support the hypothesis that multiple vaccines overwhelm, weaken, or "use up" the immune system. On the contrary, young infants have an enormous capacity to respond to multiple vaccines, as well as to the many other challenges present in the environment.'

While it is assumed that multiple vaccines must be more harmful, developments in protein chemistry mean that all the usual vaccines taken today, 11 in all, use fewer immunity-triggering proteins than just one vaccine (smallpox) did in the past. It seems that problems are found even where there has been progress.

Any conceivable harm caused by these vaccines is far outweighed by the harm done by the diseases they prevent. As Jennie Bristow notes on spiked, we can fret about the slim possibility of vaccine damage precisely because of the remarkable success of the vaccination campaign. What this debate requires is an injection of perspective.

Doctors try to head off new vaccine row, Guardian, 10 August 2004
Addressing parents' concerns: do multiple vaccines overwhelm or weaken the infant's immune system?, Pediatrics, 1 January 2002 (pdf format)
Three cheers for the five-in-one jab, by Jennie Bristow, spiked, 10 August 2004

First published on spiked's Don't panic page

Monday, August 09, 2004

New five-in-one jab announced

Here we go again... the government has announced a new five-in-one jab to replace the current four-in-one diphtheria, tetanus, Hib and whooping cough vaccination. Now polio will be given via this route, rather than via an oral route.

This has launched a typical outcry of "It's MMR all over again" from the Daily Mail. Meanwhile, it's sister paper the Evening Standard discusses the fears whipped up earlier in the day by the Mail... it's all rather sordid, really.

Parents begged not to boycott jab

Tilting at windmills

Prince Charles, long recognised as an environmentalist, has caused a stir by describing onshore windfarms as 'horrendous' (1).

According to the Sunday Telegraph, Charles favours renewable energy but thinks that windfarms are a blot on the landscape. This is great news for the anti-turbine lobby - but it will disappoint environmentalist groups who have been pushing wind power as a viable new source of renewable energy, and the government, which has bankrolled subsidies and manipulated planning laws to get such schemes built. However, the least worst thing about windfarms is what they look like. Wind power is an inefficient way to produce electricity that has only been employed at all due to the misplaced reaction against other methods, most notably nuclear power. The Royal Academy of Engineering suggests that while coal, gas and nuclear power is generated at between 2p and 3p per unit, land-based turbines produce electricity at 5.4p per unit (2). We are entering a Wind Age (3). To have windmills, a technology long since outdated, as a symbol of our society is a terrible indictment. Yet those who complain about the presence on land of such turbines are often happy enough to see them sited offshore, despite the fact that the offshore version is even more costly. Never mind the inefficiency, as long as they are out of sight. But to expect a rational discussion of energy policy at the moment seems as deluded as Don Quixote himself.

(1) Prince Charles: wind farms are horrendous, Sunday Telegraph, 8 August 2004

(2) Wind farm claims are so much hot air, Telegraph, 16 July 2004

(3) Welcome to the Wind Age, by Jennie Bristow

spiked-central | Bites | spiked bite

Sunday, August 08, 2004

If I may disagree with Prince Charles once more...

...windfarms look great. Driving to Edinburgh throught the Borders, there is a very substantial windfarm visible from the road. They are utterly incongruent with the landscape, but there's an obsession in the UK with mile after mile of green emptiness. Windfarms provide a fascinatingly alien contrast. What they don't provide is much electricity.

So, please. Leave the windfarms. Just unplug them.

Telegraph | News | Prince Charles: wind farms are horrendous