Saturday, August 28, 2004

Obesity, health and women's emancipation

This article argues that the two driving factors in the increase in obesity rates are greater female participation in the workforce, leading to less cooking at home and more fast food, and the decline in the number of people who smoke. The rise in restaurants and fast food has been driven by the role of women at work, not the other way round. I've always thought the obsession with obesity was misplaced, if for no other reason that it is a sign of a well-fed, healthy society. We should be thankful for plenty, not obsessed by it.

TCS: Tech Central Station - Obesity: a Sign We're Doing Things Right

Friday, August 27, 2004

The rise in asthma and other allergies

This study suggests that after rising for some years, asthma diagnosis rates have now levelled off - further suggesting that air pollution is probably not the cause.

BBC NEWS | Scotland | Asthma problem 'levelling off'

Cigarettes and youth

'Young smokers are five times more likely to have heart attacks', says The Times, reporting on work by Finnish researchers published in the journal Tobacco Control. World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics were studied for 132,000 men and women between the ages of 35 and 64 in 21 countries. Of these, 23,000 suffered non-fatal heart attacks. In the 35-39 age group, 80 per cent of heart attack patients were smokers. The researchers emphasised the importance of helping younger smokers to quit, especially since they may believe that their risk of heart attack is little different to that of non-smokers. 'Our data indicates that half of non-fatal heart attacks in men and women younger than 50 years - even more in younger age groups - would be preventable if smoking cessation programmes were successful.'

Smoking is certainly not good for you. It massively increases the risk of lung cancer in later life and substantially increases the risk of many other conditions, including heart attacks. However, even with smoking it is important not to overstate the risks, especially where younger people are concerned.

The most significant factor in both heart attacks and lung cancer is age. Of the 23,000 heart attacks in this study, just 800 - about three percent - were among people in the younger age group. But even this underplays the degree to which age is a factor. In England and Wales, for example, around 80 per cent of coronary disease deaths occur after the age of 65 - in other words, older than anyone covered by this research. So in 2002, around 2,500 people under the age of 44 suffered heart attacks in the UK - or about one in 7,000 of the 17million people between 25-44 years of age. Even if a disproportionate number of these people were smokers, the risk was still very low.

Even the term 'younger people' is rather disingenuous. Most of those in the 35-39 age group will have been smoking for 20 years. However, today there is a particular spin put on any reported research that emphasises the future risk to young smokers, to try to scare them into giving up now. This is misguided, because it fails to appreciate that young people consider themselves, with some justification, indestructible - and it misrepresents the content of the research. What this research actually reminds us is that the absolute risks of smoking, as opposed to the relative risks, are quite low for younger people, and that quitting before your thirties will probably mean your misspent, nicotine-ridden youth has little long-term impact on your health.

'Young smokers are five times more likely to have heart attacks', The Times(London), 24 August 2004

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Are fears of drug-taking teenagers overstated?

This report suggests that being seen to take to have taken drugs is more important to young people than actually doing so. One wonders if all those stories in the past about the numbers of young people who've tried drugs might be exaggerated?

Young People Talking Not Taking Drugs

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Gillian - if you're going to remove your qualifications, do it from everywhere...

Gillian McKeith

Being seen to be green

Toyota's eco-friendly Prius hybrid-powered car is a must-have for environmentally-conscious celebrities this year. But are their purchases more about image than politics?

Fans of the Prius include Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz, while the brains behind Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, have used their Prius purchases to deflect any suggestion that they're becoming fat cats. Yet, an article in the Washington Post notes that sales of Honda's Civic hybrid have been much weaker than for the Prius, even though it's technology is similar and it is almost as fuel-efficient. So what's the difference? 'The Prius is a fashion statement,' said Art Spinella, a consultant with CNW Marketing Research who surveys car-buying trends. 'It looks different. Other people know the driver is driving a hybrid vehicle. It clearly makes a bigger statement about the person than does the Civic, which basically looks like a Civic.' Spinella added that hybrid buyers in focus groups gravitate to the Prius 'because of its unique design and will candidly admit they expect to receive some acclaim from friends, relatives, co-workers for their concern about the environment and/or fuel efficiency.' Green is the new black, as it were. Hopefully, they'll all be driving gas-guzzlers before too long.

Toyota's Prius Proving to Be the Hotter Ride in Hybrids, Washington Post, 23 August 2004

Monday, August 23, 2004

Meatless Mondays

So, hamburgers are apparently 50 per cent fat now?

From an interview with Robert Lawrence in New Scientist: So what does meat do to you?

No matter how lean the cut of meat you still take in saturated fat, and the saturated fat content of the American diet is much, much higher than it should be. The cholesterol story and the saturated fat story have been around a long time, and the meat industry says that for 30 or 40 years they have been breeding leaner cattle. But when they talk about lean cuts of meat, they don't acknowledge the vast quantities of beef consumed that is in the form of hamburger, and that typically has about 50 per cent fat. In fact, they take the meat that is not used for steaks and chucks and things like that, the part that raises concerns about BSE. Some of that meat is actually quite lean, but then they take some of the trimmed fat, grind it up and add it back to the meat so that the beef patty in McDonalds or Wendy's or Burger King will retain some moisture and juices because a very lean patty ends up being pretty dry.