Saturday, November 06, 2004

The poisonous campaigns of the NSPCC

Nothing winds me up like watching an NSPCC advert. They pretend to be about preventing child abuse, but the effect is to distort the relationships between parents and children, encourage the view that anyone is capable of abuse, and suggest that normal parental discipline cannot be sharply divided from abuse - it's all a matter of degree.

This article by Frank Furedi is an excellent review of the changed role of the NSPCC:

spiked-life | Article | A danger to the nation's children

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The pylon panic

'Pylons "double child cancer risk",' says BBC News, reporting on research from the Childhood Cancer Research Group at Oxford University. 70,000 children under 15 were studied for the report, half of whom had cancer of various types. For most types of cancer, whether children had lived near power lines had no effect. However, the rate of leukaemia for those relatively few children born or living near power lines was 1.7 times higher than for other children. The report author, Dr Gerald Draper, believes that power lines may be responsible for 20-30 cases per year that would not otherwise have occurred.

Even the report author believes caution is required in interpreting these figures. 'The findings have been surprising, it has made us want to figure out the reasons for these results, and whether power lines might be to blame. But I feel strongly that we have not yet found out conclusively that this is the case,' said Dr Draper.

There are around 500 cases of leukaemia per year in children in the UK, so the risk for any particular household is low. Doubling a tiny risk is still a tiny risk. Even if this new report were accurate, it would suggest an increase in the risk of leukaemia from about 1 in 1400 to around 1 in 700 for the relatively small number of families who actually live near power lines. According to John Brignell, discussing a similar finding in 2001 on spiked, that amounts to an extra case of leukaemia every other year.

In any event, the overall risk is so small that it is very possible that this figure is just a statistical artefact and there is no real effect at all. Moreover, no-one has yet managed to put forward a convincing mechanism for how the fields created by power lines might cause cancer.

Other research has shown no link. For example, in 1999, UK Childhood Cancer Survey found no link between the strength of electromagnetic fields in the home and cancer. This would seem to be a superior study in that the strength of such fields was actually measured, rather than simply assuming that fields were higher in homes near pylons.

Families may very well not want to live near pylons because they tend to spoil the view, but there is little evidence they will cause cancer.

Pylons 'double child cancer risk', BBC News, 30 October 2004

Pylons safe, says 'definitive' research, BBC News, 3 December 1999

Power cables - what risk?, by John Brignell, spiked

spiked-central | Panic | Don't panic

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Another example of contradictory health panics

This week: organic food (supposed to be good for you) vs. processed food (supposed to be bad for you). What happens when you buy processed organic food?

'Organic food may not be quite as healthy as its supporters claim. Some of the products bought by shoppers in Britain's biggest supermarkets contain levels of salt and fat as much as three times higher than non-organic versions of the same product, it has emerged.
Checks carried out last week by The Sunday Times on organic meat, milk, soup, mayonnaise, chocolate and breakfast cereals showed they had higher levels of fat and some had higher salt content than conventionally produced counterparts. '

'Many consumers are ready to pay a premium for what they see as the health benefits of organic food at supermarkets.
Organic food is produced without the chemical fertilisers and pesticides used in conventional food production. There may be a downside, however.
The label on a pot of Sainsbury's organic Greek-style yoghurt showed it contained more than three times more saturated fat than the regular alternative - despite having a 53% higher price tag. Tesco's organic pork mince contained twice as much salt and 27% more fat; its mayonnaise had 50% more saturated fat. Organic milk had 10% more fat and cost almost 20% more.'

Or you could just eat your food and be grateful that you can take the availability of plentiful, nutritious food for granted.

Times Online - Sunday Times, 31 October 2004

Will they blame McDonalds for South Africa, too?

Apparently, obesity levels in South Africa are just as high as in the United States, but with the added irony of large numbers of people going hungry. Clearly, this is an expression of culture: in both the black and white communities, there is an emphasis on being big as a sign of wealth and health. And anyone who's ever visited the US from Europe will recognise the desire to prove the quality of the welcome by the size of the portions.

So, errr... what's our excuse in the UK?

BBC NEWS | World | Africa | S Africans 'as fat as Americans'