Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Want greens with that? Hearty McDonald's gets tick of health approval

Health experts have confirmed what kids have been telling their parents for years: McDonald's really is good for you. In what is being touted as a world first, the local arm of the giant fast food chain that feeds 1 million Australians a day has earned the approval of an independent health organisation. The National Heart Foundation yesterday confirmed it would bestow its distinctive red tick of approval on a range of modified McDonald's meals, some of which include the standard hamburger, chicken burger and even the inscrutable chicken nugget. But there is a catch. You can't have fries with that. Or a fizzy drink. And there will be no option for substitution or supersizing.

McDonald's Australia has been working with the Heart Foundation for the past 12 months, modifying its recipes to reduce the levels of salt, saturated fat and kilojoules, virtually eradicate its trans fat use and add more vegetables to each approved meal. The salt content in the chain's deli-style bread rolls had to be cut by more than 40 per cent. And after what the foundation described yesterday as a rigorous system of trial, test and rejection, nine meal combinations eventually met the tick's demands: less than 2 per cent saturated fat, virtually no trans fat, and a minimum 75-gram serve of vegetables in every meal, which in itself must not provide more than a third of an adult's daily energy needs.

Monique Blunden, the communications manager for the foundation's tick program, said the ingredient changes made to the new McDonald's menu, which will come into effect by the end of the month, meant that even the standard Big Mac, fries and soft drink would be marginally more healthy than the original. However, the real health benefits would come through convincing people to substitute this typical fast food order with, for example, the tick-approved meal of lean beef burger, garden salad and orange juice. This would result in a 70 per cent reduction in saturated fat, a third less salt and half the kilojoules. If just 10 per cent of customers make such a swap, collectively they will remove 294 tonnes of saturated fat from their diet each year, according to the foundation.

To maintain the integrity of the tick system, McDonald's will allow twice-weekly independent audits at randomly selected outlets. Ms Blunden said the foundation was not expecting other chains to immediately follow the lead of McDonald's. "Some were more interested than others," she said. "But it was McDonald's who took us seriously."


Now shiftwork gives you cancer!

Theory runs wild

Shiftwork must be examined as a potential trigger of cancer in the wake of the cluster of cases at the ABC's Brisbane studios, experts say. Scientists looking into the breast cancer cluster at Toowong say shiftwork has the potential to disrupt body cycles, possibly triggering dangerous changes.

The call comes as the ABC is expected to officially call for expressions of interest this week to find a more permanent home after a fruitless search for space in Brisbane's record tight office market. The broadcaster was forced to abandon its headquarters last year due to concerns over the high frequency of cancer cases. Of the 10 women who developed invasive breast cancer while working at the Toowong site since 1994, three did shiftwork most of the time, six some of the time and one not at all.

A panel of experts put the likelihood of the cluster occurring by chance at a million to one, but no cause has been identified. However, population health experts said yesterday that shiftwork might be to blame. "There's certainly a biological rationale as to why shiftwork might cause breast cancer because it's related to the whole relationship of hormones in the body," said occupational cancer expert Lin Fritschi, of the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research. "Some of the interesting information has come from flight attendants who have very disrupted sleep/wake cycles."

If shiftwork does put women at heightened risk of breast cancer, many Australians may be affected. In November 2003, 12 per cent of full-time female workers and 14 per cent of part-timers had done shiftwork in the preceding month.

Eminent public health specialist, Professor Bruce Armstrong, said working in an illuminated environment over a long period of time led to suppression of the hormone melatonin. "There's evidence that the hormone melatonin has effects that reduce breast cancer risk," he told the ABC's Health Report. "If it is unusually suppressed then, in principle, the risk of breast cancer is increased." Professor Armstrong, who led the investigation into the ABC cluster, said that although research on female shift workers suggested an increased risk of breast cancer, it was "nothing like the six-fold" spike seen at the ABC.



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? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

Trans fats:

For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The use of extreme quintiles (fifths) to examine effects is in fact so common as to be almost universal but suggests to the experienced observer that the differences between the mean scores of the experimental and control groups were not statistically significant -- thus making the article concerned little more than an exercise in deception


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