Sunday, February 10, 2008

Heavy cellphone use tied to poorer sperm quality

I think this just proves that real men don't spend a lot of time on the phone. Women are certainly great phone-users so maybe effeminate men are too

Spending hours on a cellphone each day may affect the quality of a man's sperm, preliminary research suggests. In a study of 361 men seen at their infertility clinic, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found an association between the patients' cell phone use and their sperm quality. On average, the more hours the men spent on their cell phones each day, the lower their sperm count and the greater their percentage of abnormal sperm.

The findings, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, add to questions about the potential health effects of cell phones and other wireless devices. Some studies, for example, have linked long-term cell phone use to a higher risk of brain tumors, though many other studies have found no such connection. The concern is that, over time, the electromagnetic energy emitted from mobile phones could theoretically harm body tissue -- by damaging DNA, for example.

However, the new findings do not prove that cell phones somehow damage sperm, according to the researchers. "Our results show a strong association of cell phone use with decreased semen quality. However, they do not prove a cause-and- effect relationship," lead researcher Dr. Ashok Agarwal told Reuters Health.

He and his colleagues based their findings on semen samples from 361 men who came to their infertility clinic over one year. All of the men were questioned about their cell phone habits. In general, the researchers found, sperm count and sperm quality tended to decline as daily cell phone hours increased. Men who said they used their phones for more than four hours each day had the lowest average sperm count and the fewest normal, viable sperm. "We infer from our results that heavy cell phone use ... is associated with a lower semen quality," Agarwal said. But whether cell phones somehow directly affect men's fertility is not clear.

Agarwal said he and his colleagues have two studies underway aiming to shed light on the issue. In one, they are exposing semen samples to electromagnetic radiation from cell phones to see what, if any, effects occur. The second is a follow-up to the current study that is assessing a larger group of men. Agarwal said this study is more rigorously designed and will account for certain other factors like lifestyle habits and occupational exposures that might affect sperm quality.


Let's call a ceasefire in the 'war on obesity'

In tackling an imaginary fat epidemic, the British government is intruding into our lives, guilt-tripping parents and stigmatising chubby children

New year, same old obesity panic. Yesterday, the UK government launched its latest strategy document on tackling fatness, Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives (1). Like every other measure the government has ever announced on obesity, it promises greater intrusion and regulation of our everyday lives, and to make our society a more fraught and joyless place.

The report opens with a smiling prime minister, Gordon Brown, assuring us that: `Heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes have taken the place of nineteenth-century diseases as the illnesses that curtail life prematurely, cause long-term incapacity, reduce quality of life, and on which we focus our healthcare resources.' These diseases `represent as big a threat to our ambitions for world-class services as a lack of investment in the National Health Service did 10 years ago', he says - a neat double-whammy of fearmongering and self-congratulation for his government's health spending.

So how bad is the `obesity problem', or `epidemic', as the government likes to call it? The new strategy document says it is on a par with that other planetary emergency that is pushing us towards oblivion: `[We] are facing a public health problem that the experts have told us is comparable with climate change in both its scale and its complexity.' Climate change is now the new model of how to build a social panic to justify government intervention, as we have noted previously on spiked (see The dangers of fried food and a fried planet, by Rob Lyons). With `global warming' implanted in the public consciousness as a product of man's greed and folly, a phenomenon that could end up killing off humanity, it has become a cheap, easy fallback phrase for our scaremongers-in-chief who want to issue dire warnings on everything from terrorism to bird flu to overeating.

In truth, however, there is no `obesity epidemic'. What really lies behind the government's obsession with our waistlines is not a burning necessity to slim down an apparently waddling nation, but rather a deeply unhealthy urge on the part of officialdom to monitor our lifestyles and attitudes.

Some critical experts question whether there is an `obesity problem' to be solved at all. Of course a small percentage of the population is very fat. These morbidly obese individuals do struggle with a range of health problems because of their weight. They need help - although many of the current solutions for morbid obesity, like surgery to reduce stomach size, seem to be as risky and severe as the problems they're designed to fix.

However, the vast majority of people, from `normal' weight through to the mildly obese, do not face any particular difficulty as a result of being overweight. In fact, the definitions of `overweight' and `obese', and the way the two terms are used interchangeably in popular discussion of the issue, blur the distinction between normal body shapes and the morbidly obese. In adults, these definitions are based on body mass index (BMI) (basically, a ratio of weight to height). A BMI of 25 or more is defined as `overweight', while a BMI of 30 is regarded as `obese'. But most of the population has a BMI greater than 25, so by definition, most of us are `ill'. As it happens, recent statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest there is little difference in mortality figures for those with a wide range of BMIs, including those who are at the lower end of the `obese' range (see Who's afraid of. being fat?, by Patrick Basham and John Luik).

For children, the situation is even more complicated because their bodies are going through rapid changes. As a result, adult definitions of obesity are generally regarded as unsuitable for children. In the new report, government ministers state `a third of children are either overweight or obese'. Apart from the familiar problem of blurring `overweight' and `obese' to produce a more startling number, it is worth noting that the figures used are based on an outdated definition. A different and more widely accepted definition of childhood obesity suggests fewer children are affected. (For further discussion of this area, see Fattened statistics by Peter Marsh.)

As the American academic Paul Campos neatly put it, maybe the best way to win the war on obesity is to stop fighting it; to stop waging war on actually quite normal people who enjoy eating nice, rich foods.

Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives argues that the problem of obesity is, at core, an imbalance of `energy in' (food consumption) with `energy out' (our metabolism plus our physical activity). We all have to take responsibility for our weight, the authors argue, but there are also `genetic, psychological, cultural and behavioural factors which. have an important role to play'. In other words, as well as having to tolerate the ongoing tsunami of advice and lectures from government advertising campaigns, media health experts and doctors about our personal behaviour, we should also expect to see big changes in our environment and culture in the name of tackling the illusory obesity epidemic.

The reorganisation of aspects of society around the war on obesity is already happening, and it is undermining parents and unnecessarily stressing out children. There have been changes to school meals that dictate much more rigidly what children eat during the day, and there are regular inspections of kids' lunchboxes to check that they aren't secretly consuming chocolate or fizzy drinks. Such measures not only deny children the sugary perks of childhood that the rest of us enjoyed; they also implicitly undermine parental authority. If a teacher or other school employee rifles through a child's lunchbox and sends a stern letter about the contents to mum or dad, what message does it send to the child? That your parents cannot be trusted; that the health-aware and caring authorities know better than your mother how you should be brought up.

The weighing and measuring of children's BMI has now been institutionalised in some schools. Children are given a letter for their parents, like a school report advising mum and dad on little John or Jane's `progress' in the subject of weight and healthiness. As Dr Michael Fitzpatrick has argued on spiked, these public weigh-ins, effectively designed to measure children's obedience to New Labour's new health regime as much as their weight, will cause distress to perfectly happy and healthy children who may simply be carrying a bit of puppy fat or childhood chubbiness: `The mass weigh-in will inevitably stigmatise overweight children and provoke widespread anxiety and distress among both children and parents.' (See Stop bullying fat kids, by Dr Michael Fitzpatrick.)

Meanwhile, the ban on junk food advertising during kids' TV programmes exposes the illiberal edge to the war on obesity. You may not care very much whether massive corporations like Coca-Cola can book a 30-second slot during Dora the Explorer, but we should be concerned when the authorities take it upon themselves to control the dissemination of images and information in the name of protecting us from our own worst instincts. It is censorship of the most patronising kind (see Advertising is a free speech issue, by Brendan O'Neill).

On top of these developments, Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives outlines some new and pointless proposals. The document suggests there should be a unified system of colour-coded food labelling to warn people of the fat, salt, sugar and calorific content. Cookery classes will be made compulsory for 11- to 14 year-olds, even though many schools simply don't have the facilities to host such classes. UK health secretary Alan Johnson, displaying the anti-obesity crusader's dictatorial instincts once more, says he wants to use planning legislation to prevent burger bars being built in the vicinity of schools. Yet according to the Local Government Association: `There is no evidence that where fast-food joints are located makes the slightest bit of difference to obesity.' (2)

From turning home economics into a pious lecture on good food/bad food, to marking every fatty or salty food product in supermarkets with a red warning label, to restricting the building of burger joints. it seems the government wants to win the war on obesity by making eating food - one of the everyday joys of our lives - into such a tedious and scary task that we all might just give it up.

The war on obesity is a joyless and fear-underpinned initiative. Its effects could well include making parents feel guilty and chubby children feel isolated (possibly even making them the victims of anti-fat bullies); and the war will likely turn the everyday pleasure of eating into a fraught task, while making society and TV ever-more tightly policed arenas. New Labour, a government without any wider vision of how to lead or change society, has become obsessed with micro-managing our lives. And its micromanagement is increasingly backed up by some fairly nasty measures. At the start of this month, Gordon Brown indicated that patients could be denied treatment if they didn't stop smoking, lose weight or exercise more, as part of a NHS `constitution' (3).

It is time there was a ceasefire in the war on obesity - and time that the government decommissioned and put beyond use its weapons of fearmongering and fatty-bashing.



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 correlation 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 conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions 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.

"What we should be doing is monitoring children from birth so we can detect any deviations from the norm at an early stage and action can be taken". Who said that? Joe Stalin? Adolf Hitler? Orwell's "Big Brother"? The Spanish Inquisition? Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde? None of those. It was Dr Colin Waine, chairman of Britain's National Obesity Forum. What a fine fellow!


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