Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cupcake saviour

Weeks have passed since Michael Benjamin's fling as a cable news sensation, but the Democratic assemblyman from the Bronx insists he hasn't figured out why people cared so much about his battle to save the cupcake.

When he first heard that several Long Island school districts were forbidding parents from bringing the frosted treats to their children's birthday parties, Mr. Benjamin never anticipated that his decision to take action would forever brand him as the nation's leading cupcake advocate.

"I was ticked that people had the temerity of banning food products," he said in a recent interview. In his opinion, the Long Island superintendents were "robbing children of pleasant childhood memories."

His solution was, of course, a legislative one. He cranked out a bill to make cupcakes the official state children's snack and thereby thwart the bans. In days, he was passionately standing up for the little cupcake before a national audience, appearing on Fox News, NBC Nightly News, and the "The Daily Show."


A third of passive smokers have lung damage

These findings don't seem very robust: Small sample; doubtful diagnoses; no real baseline

One third of people who breath in high levels of secondhand smoke have damage to their lungs similar to that seen in smokers, doctors say. They used a special kind of magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, scan to look at the lungs of non-smokers who had high exposure to other people's cigarette smoke and found evidence of the kind of damage that causes emphysema. "We interpreted those changes as early signs of lung damage, representing very mild forms of emphysema," said Chengbo Wang, a magnetic resonance physicist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who led the study.

"Almost one third of non-smokers who had been exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke for a long time developed these structural changes," Dr Wang said. "To our knowledge, this is the first imaging study to find lung damage in non-smokers heavily exposed to secondhand smoke. "We hope our work strengthens the efforts of legislators and policymakers to limit public exposure to secondhand smoke."

Dr Wang, who presented his team's findings to a meeting of the Radiological Society of North American in Chicago, said 35 per cent of US children lived in homes where someone smoked regularly. The team studied 60 adults between ages 41 and 79, 45 of whom had never smoked. The non-smokers were considered to have high exposure if they had lived with a smoker for at least 10 years, often during childhood. "It's long been hypothesised that prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke may cause physical damage to the lungs, but previous methods of analysing lung changes were not sensitive enough to detect it," said Dr Wang.

His team used a technique called long-time-scale, global helium-3 diffusion magnetic resonance imaging. "With this technique, we are able to assess lung structure on a microscopic level," Dr Wang said. They found 57 per cent of the smokers and 33 per cent of the non-smokers with high exposure to secondhand smoke had signs of early lung damage as measured by the scan. In February, US researchers reported that up to 20 per cent of women who developed lung cancer have never smoked.


Australia: Kids must not run in park

Obesity, anyone?

A GROUP of children have been nabbed for running around a park and threatened with fines by their council. Glen Eira Council has ordered these cute "crooks" out of a Caulfield park and threatened to hit each one with a $250 fine if they return. The children and their parents are furious after they were challenged by Glen Eira officers last Thursday and ordered out of Princes Park during after-school exercise.

The council says it is trying to protect the drought-affected park by making it off limits to any organised sporting groups without a permit. However local families say the fun police are a bad joke. In recent weeks, about eight children and parents from the three families have been meeting at the park after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The energetic youngsters run a lap of the three-oval park and play games.

Dad Grant Cohen said they were approached last week by a Glen Eira local laws officer who told them organised groups weren't allowed on the grounds. "It's ridiculous -- we're just three families who all live five minutes away," Mr Cohen said. "We started coming down here because the kids would be getting home after school and playing computer games all arvo. We wanted to give them a chance to run around. "This park should be full of kids doing exactly that."

Now the kids have gone from running around to being on the run -- forced to be fitness fugitives. "We rang the council and they said that even if we went down the road to Caulfield Park, as long as we were in a group we'd still be fined," Mr Cohen said. The group were told even a single family of eight kids would not be allowed to run around together.

Glen Eira director of community relations Paul Burke said the by-law banning unauthorised groups from parks had been in place since 2000, and council had stepped up enforcement because of the drought. While Mr Burke wouldn't say the minimum number that constituted an organised group, he stuck by the decision to ban the kids.



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].

9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.

10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correla-tion coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic condi-tions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his anal-ysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic condi-tions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.


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