Saturday, October 14, 2006


Fat maps, Labour's latest wheeze, reveal that the Department of Health will go to extraordinary lengths to preach their healthy-eating message. We must all be kept in line and patronised as inadequates who don't know how to feed ourselves. Caroline Flint, the self-righteous Public Health Minister, has even suggested that supermarkets show us how to eat and cook fruit and vegetables.

One way that the DoH has taken to crusading is through third-party "agents of persuasion". After all, it is not a given that the nanny state should have an automatic right to micromanage its citizens' most intimate activities, from how many pieces of fruit they eat a day to what they put in their children's lunchboxes. It is no surprise, then, that the department has a head of broadcasting strategy, and that a new phenomenon - "policy placement" - is ever more apparent on our television screens.

Take a cursory look at the TV schedules and you will find they are littered with programmes that uncritically regurgitate government messages on public health. Scaremongering about the supposed obesity epidemic, while challenged by many researchers as over-hyped, is accepted as a given in programmes such as Supersize Kids on Channel 4, Fat Families on ITV or Chubby Children on Living TV.

But the doyen of all of them is St Jamie Oliver. The DoH must adore him. I rather agreed with Boris Johnson's swipe at the TV chef. I also cheered when a couple of mums from Rotherham rebelled and told Salad Boy to stop telling the nation's children (and their parents) what not to eat. The great and the good of politics, however, flocked to Jamie's defence. Perhaps one reason why a TV pundit seems to have become such an untouchable Messiah is because he - and a new breed of lifestyle "experts" - have become the saleable face of "health correctness" and the unwitting popularisers of the nanny state.

You can see why politicians enjoy the prospect of outsourcing their policy messages to TV presenters. Arguments that, when presented by politicians, might be unappetising become pukka when pushed by a trendy campaigning chef. Ms Flint could not get away with deriding ordinary parents as "f***ing tossers", even though this is the implicit message behind so many of new Labour's health promotion initiatives.

But while all governments use whatever means necessary to get their policy priorities into the nation's living rooms, broadcasters seem blind to the way their programmes mesh with Government propaganda. The BBC's recent Fat Nation, a "fully integrated pan-platform campaign" across television, radio and online services, admitted that, although "the nation is bombarded by messages . . . from the Government", too many individuals have concluded that the obesity warnings do not affect them personally. Therefore Fat Nation offered to help, presenting itself as a "motivational service" aiming "to provide guidance and raise the nation's awareness of the issues; to change attitudes of people . . . and to motivate them to change their behaviour through diet and exercise over an extended period".

In the commercial sector, the Government regulator, Ofcom, now run by Tony Blair's former media adviser, Ed Richards, is threatening draconian bans on advertisements for "junk food" aimed at children. This is despite Ofcom's own research indicating that such advertisements have only a "modest direct effect on children's food choice". Ironically, while there is no shortage of programmes about unhealthy kids, according to the TV industry's campaign Save Kids TV, the ban means that fewer programmes will be made for children because of the loss of income from advertising. Apparently children's creative undernourishment is unimportant as long as they get the right messages about fatty foods.

While there is a fashionable queasiness about the big bad corporations influencing children to adopt unhealthy lifestyles, there is little queasiness about TV delivering the Government's messages. Celebrity endorsements of crisps, cola and sugary food by the likes of Gary Lineker are denounced as a shocking manipulation of children's minds. But somehow it is not shockingly manipulative when the Food Standards Agency advocates that broadcasters use - guess what - celebrities and cartoon characters to sell children 5 A DAY (five portions of fruit or vegetables a day) messages.

BBC Worldwide uses CBBC characters such as the Teletubbies and the Frimbles to brand food products deemed nutritionally sound. It appears that Ofcom's problem is not about using cartoon characters or celebrities to influence children's diet or lifestyle per se. Rather, if they are to be used, they have to endorse the right diet and lifestyle. And what is "right" is increasingly dictated by the State.

Policy placement threatens journalistic integrity and political accountability. When policy issues are the focus of current affairs programmes, the journalists must adhere to strict guidelines of veracity. The Paxmans and Snows keep a rein on the wilder claims of politicians. Such stringent broadcasting criteria do not apply when policy messages are delivered through entertainment formats. Kris Murrin, presenter of the misanthropic Honey We're Killing the Kids, can get away with terrifying hapless parents into believing they are poisoning their offspring by letting them munch on a bag of crisps, without any cross-examination of her "facts". Where is the evidence to back up Sainsbury's poster boy's litany of ill-founded contemporary prejudices against modern food? Shouldn't St Jamie be challenged to explain how our digestive systems distinguish between the nutritional content of ciabatta with a drizzle of olive oil versus bread and dripping?

Policy placement is not just about diet. Just when Tony Blair focuses the domestic agenda on "the politics of behaviour", we have a flurry of reality TV shows about changing people's behaviour. The message is that private lives need mentoring and monitoring by third party "experts". The TV equivalent of the Government's Sure Start and Every Child Matters policies include Nanny 911 or Supernanny. As for the preoccupation with yobbish behaviour, Channel 4 has commissioned both Mind Your Manners and The Nightmares Next Door.

As Boris Johnson has found to his cost, challenging orthodoxies can get you into trouble. But it's time to drag the politicians out from behind the celebrity TV stars and hold both to account for the policies they peddle


Walnuts 'combat unhealthy fats'

What next?

Eating walnuts at the end of a meal may help cut the damage that fatty food can do to the arteries, research suggests. It is thought that the nuts are rich in compounds that reduce hardening of the arteries, and keep them flexible. A team from Barcelona's Hospital Clinico recommend eating around eight walnuts a day.

The study, which appears in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, also showed walnuts had more health benefits than olive oil. The researchers recruited 24 adults, half with normal cholesterol levels, and half with levels that were moderately high to the research, which was partly funded by the California Walnut Commission. Each was given two high-fat salami and cheese meals, eaten one week apart. For one meal, the researchers added five teaspoons of olive oil. For the other, they added eight shelled walnuts.

Tests showed that both the olive oil and the walnuts helped to reduce the sudden onset of harmful inflammation and oxidation in arteries that follows a meal high in saturated fat. Over time, this is thought to cause the arteries to start to harden - and increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, unlike olive oil, adding walnuts also helped preserve the elasticity and flexibility of the arteries, regardless of cholesterol level. Arteries that are elastic can expand when needed to increase blood flow.

Lead researcher Dr Emilio Ros said eating high fat meals disrupted production of nitric oxide by the inner lining of the arteries, a chemical needed to keep blood vessels flexible. Walnuts contain arginine, an amino acid used by the body to produce nitric oxide. The nuts also contain antioxidants and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid with health giving properties.

Dr Ros is starting a new trial to see whether the ALA in walnuts can help people with abnormal heart rhythms. He warned against people assuming they can eat what they like so long as they accompany it with walnuts. "Instead, they should consider making walnuts part of a healthy diet that limits saturated fats."

Professor Robert Vogel, of University of Maryland in Baltimore, said: "This demonstrates that the protective fat from walnuts actually undoes some of the detrimental effects of a high-saturated-fat diet, whereas a neutral fat, such as olive oil, does not have as much protective ability. "This raises a very interesting issue because many people who eat a Mediterranean diet believe the olive oil is providing the benefits. "But this research and other data indicate that's not true. "There are probably other factors in the diet, including that it is a relatively rich source of nuts. "This is not to say that olive oil is bad, but it's not the key protective factor in the Mediterranean diet."


American walnuts good for you too!

They have shown that eating lots of nuts changes your blood chemistry. The net effects of that are however speculative

A new research study from Loma Linda University (LLU) shows that adding just a handful of pecans to your diet each day may inhibit unwanted oxidation of blood lipids, thus helping reduce the risk of heart disease. Researchers suggest that this positive effect was in part due to the pecan's significant content of vitamin E. "Plant foods, including pecans, are rich sources of phytochemicals that can have a unique effect on the body," says LLU researcher Ella Haddad, DrPH, associate professor, department of nutrition, School of Public Health.

Pecans contain different forms of vitamin E - known as tocopherols - which protects fats from oxidation. Pecans are especially rich in one form of vitamin E - gamma tocopherol. "We found that eating pecans increased levels of gamma tocopherol concentrations in the blood and subsequently reduced a marker of lipid oxidation," adds Dr. Haddad. Oxidation of fats in the blood - a process akin to rusting - is detrimental to health. When the "bad" cholesterol becomes oxidized, it is more likely to build up and result in arteriosclerosis.

These latest research findings on pecan's healthfulness were published in the latest issue of Nutrition Research, just released this week. They are from the second phase of a research project designed to evaluate the health benefits of pecans, according to Dr. Haddad. She analyzed blood samples from study participants (a total of 23 men and women between the ages of 25 and 55) who ate two diets: one that contained pecans and one that did not. Participants were randomly placed on either the American Heart Association's Step I diet or a pecan-enriched version of the Step I diet. (The pecan-enriched diet was similar to the Step I diet but replaced 20 percent of calories with pecans). After four weeks on one diet, they then switched to the other diet.

In the laboratory analysis of blood samples from the research subjects, Dr. Haddad's team found that the pecan-enriched diets significantly reduced lipid oxidation (by 7.4 percent) versus the Step I diet. Oxidation levels were evaluated using the TBARS test, which measures oxidation products. The researchers also found that blood levels of tocopherols were higher after participants were on the pecan diet. Cholesterol-adjusted plasma gamma-tocopherol in the study participants' blood samples increased by 10.1 percent (P < .001) after eating the pecan diet. The researchers concluded that these data provide some evidence for potential protective effects of pecan consumption in healthy individuals.

Another key research finding, beyond the reduced level of blood lipid oxidation, was that the various phytochemicals found in pecans seem to be protective of the pecan's high levels of unsaturated fat. All unsaturated fats in foods can be prone to oxidation themselves (which some may describe in foods as rancidity). So, did eating pecans lead to an increased risk of oxidation? No, according to this analysis, which found that pecans, while high in unsaturated fat, are "self-protective" due to their vitamin E content (tocopherols) and relatively high content of complex phytonutrients, some of which have been identified as proanthocyanidins, or condensed tannins, which are recognized for their ability to slow the oxidation process. "We concluded that even though the pecan diet was high in unsaturated fats, which one may think would increase blood oxidation, that did not happen. We found the opposite result: the pecan diet showed reduced oxidation of blood lipids," states Dr. Haddad.

The dramatic initial research findings from this research project were published earlier in The Journal of Nutrition by LLU's Joan Sabate, MD, DrPH, professor and chair, department of nutrition, School of Public Health. He found that the pecan-enriched diet lowered levels of LDL cholesterol by 16.5 percent - more than twice as much as the Step I diet. Similarly, the pecan-enriched diet lowered total cholesterol levels by 11.3 percent (also twice as much as the Step I diet).



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? [/sarcasm].


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