Friday, April 30, 2010

CA: County wants to stop kids getting toys

What nasty minds they have! This all hinges on the unproven claim that McDonald's food is unhealthy. And the major assumptions underlying that claim -- that vegetables and a low fat diet are good for you -- have in fact been shown by recent research to be false

County supervisors in California have proposed that toys included in fast-food restaurant meals for kids be banned, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Officials in Santa Clara are convinced that luring kids into eating foods with high sugar, sodium and fat by using toys will make them overweight and cause long term health problems.

This proposal is believed to the first of this type, and would ban the inclusion of a toy in any kids meal with more than 485 calories, 600 mg of salt, or high amounts of sugar or fat. These guidelines would cause all McDonald’s happy meals—even those with apple sticks instead of French fries—to be served without a toy.

Supporters of the ban argue that it will force restaurants to offer nutritious foods to kids. Others have said this is another case of the government getting too involved in parenting decisions.


Soft drink may make you old -- if you are a mouse

Drink champagne instead? Mouse studies often do not generalize to humans

A LIKING for fizzy drinks could make you old before your time, scientists have warned. Research shows that phosphate, which gives many soft drinks their tangy taste, can accelerate ageing.

The mineral, which is also added to processed meats, cakes and breads, was found to make the skin and muscles wither and could also damage the heart and kidneys.

Although the experiments were carried out on mice, the Harvard University researchers believe the results show the potential consequences of high doses of the mineral.

Gerald Weissmann, of research journal FASEB, which published the results, said: "Soda is the caffeine-delivery vehicle of choice for millions of people worldwide, but comes with phosphorous as a passenger. "This research suggests that our phosphorous balance influences the ageing process, so don't tip it."

The study is not the first to raise concerns about carbonated colas, which have been linked to brittle bones, pancreatic cancer, muscle weakness and paralysis. Two cans a week are thought to raise the risk.

In the latest study, Dr M. Shawkat Razzaque, of Harvard's dentistry school, looked at the effects of phosphate on three sets of mice. The first group was genetically engineered to have a gene called klotho, leading to higher than normal phosphate levels. They lived eight to 15 weeks, suffering a range of problems linked to premature ageing.

The second group lacked klotho, leading to phosphate levels closer to normal. They lived for 20 weeks. The third group was bred to be like the second group, but fed a high-phosphate diet. All died by 15 weeks, like those in the first group. This, the scientists suggest, indicated the phosphate diet had toxic effects.

They warned the mineral could age skin and muscles and might trigger or exacerbate kidney and heart problems. "Humans need a healthy diet and keeping the balance of phosphate in the diet may be important for a healthy life and longevity. Avoid phosphate toxicity and enjoy a healthy life," the researchers said.

A US study this year found two or more soft drinks a week could almost double the chances of pancreatic cancer.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Double blind study ends fish oil myth

But there is a lot of face-saving going on

Parents who buy fish oil tablets to boost their children’s brain power are wasting their money, the largest study of its kind suggests. An analysis of primary school pupils found that reading, spelling and handwriting were not improved by taking omega-3 ‘clever capsules’.

It contradicts a raft of other research which has credited the pills and powders with boosting mental ability and exam grades.

But the academics say their study is more thorough than many others. Rather than just giving fish oils to all the children, some were given dummy pills instead, a technique that allows for a truer picture of any resulting benefits.

For four months, 450 children aged eight to ten at 18 schools in South Wales took either omega-3 supplements or placebos. The children, parents, teachers and even the researchers were unaware of who had taken what until the end of the study.

The results of a battery of tests revealed the fish oil pills did not improve the youngsters’ work – although it did appear that those taking them were more attentive.

Researchers also found that around 30 of the 450 children had very low levels of omega-3 fat in their blood to begin with.

Researcher Professor Amanda Kirby said the study was bigger than any other of its kind. She said that while supplements might help some youngsters who have trouble concentrating in class, the conclusion for parents of children who are not having problems at school is that healthy eating is all that is needed.

She said: ‘The primary message always has got to be to start with a good diet. ‘We have to look at eating more fish and less processed food. ‘It is not just that children are eating less fish, they are eating more rubbish as well. ‘If children have a relatively varied diet and don’t seem to have problems, it is probably not going to help them.’

For youngsters with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or learning difficulties, fish oils are ‘worth a try’, she said.

Professor Kirby, of the University of Wales, said that more research was needed into the wider benefits of omega-3 pills, which cost from £3 to £15 for a month’s supply.

Abundant in fish such as herring, mackerel, salmon and fresh tuna, the fats have been credited with health benefits from staving off heart disease, cancer and depression, to warding off Alzheimer’s disease.

The professor said: ‘Fatty acids make up 20 per cent of the brain and are going to have an effect in a number of different ways. ‘Some of the studies on cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease are pretty convincing, but we need more research.’

Last week, a British study questioned the ability of fish oil supplements to keep the mind sharp into old age. Researcher Alan Dangour, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, studied 900 volunteers aged 70 to 80 from England and Wales. Those who took fish oils had far greater levels of omega-3 in their bloodstream but fared no better in the tests.

Dr Dangour said: ‘Although this is the longest trial of its kind ever conducted, it may be that it was not long enough for any true beneficial effects to be detected.’

Last night, manufacturers said that although it is unclear if fish oils give healthy children an extra boost, they play an essential role in the development of brain and body. With few children eating the recommended two weekly portions of fish, supplements can help youngsters reach their potential, they say.

Dr Carrie Ruxton, a dietician, warned against a message that encouraged parents to throw fish oil supplements in the bin. ‘Parents need to know there is an option if they can’t get their children to eat fish,’ she said.


British Boy, two, left in tears as nursery staff confiscate his 'unhealthy' cheese sandwich

Disgusting fanatics -- particularly since the "benefits" of eating fruit and veg. have recently been scientifically disproved. But ideology trumps science every time

When little Jack Ormisher opened his packed lunch, he was delighted to find inside a cheese sandwich his mummy had made for him. But before he could tuck into the meal, staff at the nursery he attended snatched it away - leaving him in tears.

Apparently, the sandwich broke their 'healthy eating' rules. Instead, the two-year-old was offered fruit and vegetables.

Later when Jack's father arrived to pick him up from the Westfield Children's Centre in Pemberton, near Wigan, staff told him that if his son wanted sandwiches in future they must include lettuce or tomato.

Jack's mother, Dorothy Gallear, 32, was so incensed she has now enrolled him at a different nursery. 'I think it is absolutely pathetic and these people are playing Big Brother with people's lives,' she said yesterday. 'The attitude of the nursery was ridiculous. They were looking down their noses at me.

'When I told people at his new nursery what had happened all over a cheese sandwich some laughed with shock and others were horrified.'

Mother-of-two Miss Gallear said Jack started at Westfield in September last year, spending three afternoons a week there but she decided to make him his own sandwiches after he developed several stomach bugs. 'He was having what they prepared for him to eat.

'It was fruit mostly so I decided that I would prepare something for him at home to take in so I knew exactly what he was eating.

'This was the first time I'd sent in my food. They said it was fine as long as it was a healthy snack. He did have some veg and a piece of melon in his box. 'But my partner went to pick him up and they told him that if we were going to bring sandwiches in it had to have at least a piece of lettuce on it.'

The nursery's list of acceptable 'healthy options' includes various fruit and vegetables plus rice, pasta and potatoes.

A spokesman for Wigan Council, which runs the nursery, said: 'The centre has a list of recommended healthy food, according to national guidelines, which children are encouraged to eat. 'A cheese sandwich would not feature on the list.'

Miss Gallear and her partner, Harry Ormisher, transferred Jack to a nursery in nearby Orrell.

Westfield's manager, Aukje Clegg, said: 'The decision to remove the child from the centre was taken by the parents. 'We have informed them that a place is still available for their child at Westfield should they reconsider.'


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Genes for alcoholism found

Those pesky genes again!

Scientists have identified new genes and pathways that influence an individual's typical pattern of brain electrical activity, a trait that may serve as a useful surrogate marker for more genetically complex traits and diseases. One of the genes, for example, was found to be associated with alcoholism.

A report of the findings by researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, appears online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"This important advance sustains our hope for the potential of genome-wide association techniques to further the study of complex genetic disorders such as alcoholism," notes NIAAA Acting Director Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) allow researchers to rapidly scan the complete set of DNA of many individuals to find genetic variations associated with a particular disease or condition.

"One of the challenges in identifying the genes that underlie alcoholism is the large degree of genetic and environmental variability associated with the disease," explains first author Colin A. Hodgkinson, Ph.D., a geneticist in the NIAAA Laboratory of Neurogenetics. "Such variability has impeded even GWAS efforts to identify alcoholism genes. To overcome those difficulties, we used GWAS techniques to search for genetic variants related to EEG, or brain wave, patterns in a comparatively small sample of several hundred Native American individuals."

As unique as an individual's fingerprints, EEG (electroencephalogram) patterns are highly heritable, and have been associated with alcoholism and other psychiatric disorders. The high degree of genetic similarity and common environmental exposure shared by the Native American individuals that comprised the study sample aided this search.

Working with David Goldman, M.D., chief of the NIAAA Laboratory of Neurogenetics, Dr. Hodgkinson and colleagues identified multiple genes that were associated with the amplitude, or height, of two of the four characteristic electrical frequencies that make up the wave patterns found in EEG recordings.

One of the genes, for example, was found to account for nearly 9 percent of the EEG theta wave variability seen in the Native American sample. Theta waves are relatively low-frequency brain waves, and previous studies have shown that their amplitude is altered among alcoholics. The researchers then showed that the same gene accounted for about 4 percent of theta wave variability in a sample of North American whites. The gene's diminished effect among whites, they noted, was likely a reflection of the greater genetic variability present in that sample. In the same study Dr. Goldman's group went on to show that genetic variation in one of the genes identified for theta wave variability was also associated with an altered risk for alcoholism.

"While our main findings are for genes that influence EEG wave patterns, this study represents an important step toward the use of EEG as a surrogate marker for alcoholism," notes Dr. Goldman. "It also reveals new molecular pathways involved in addiction processes."


Fresh fears for games addicts

You can overdo anything. Even drinking too much water can kill you. In general, however, games are pro-social, just as harmless as drinking normal amounts of water. Those who do use games excessively may be using them as non-drug therapy for problems -- which could be desirable. Better than heroin, anyway

PLAYING computer games is as popular as watching TV, but some gamers have developed an addiction that can be as costly and debilitating as drug and alcohol dependence.

A study by the Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, conducted online among 1945 participants, showed 8 per cent were identified as problem gamers. These players admitted to gaming for extended periods - in some cases more than eight hours a day - had fewer friends in real life and had even lost a significant relationship as a result of excessive play.

Other problems extended to craving more play time, and restlessness or irritability if they couldn't get back to the controller. Some also said their gaming activities interfered with school or work performance while others identified physical issues including sleep reduction, back pain and sore eyes.

The survey also revealed a financial fallout with some problem players spending excessive amounts of money to have the latest games, hardware and virtual currency to pay for their addiction.

Psychiatrist Guy Porter, who co-wrote a paper based on the survey's findings for the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, said the syndrome of video game dependence was similar to drug and alcohol addiction. "Any pleasurable activity has the potential to become addictive or to form a repetitive pattern of use," he said.

"Games are very enjoyable and provide a very positive experience for most people who use them. "But there are a small number of people out there - those who are playing for eight hours plus a day - who have got a problem with it."

There have been cases in Asia where people have died after marathon sessions, lasting days, playing games such as World of Warcraft and Starcraft.

Dr Porter said that aside from the duration of play, other issues needed to be examined. "The issue is whether it is the actual game they are playing or an underlying mental-health problem that the person has," he said.

"Someone could have anxiety or depression, social problems, marriage problems, out of a job, financial problems and the only stress relief they have is playing a game. "A lot of games, in particular online games, can offer a sense of achievement in the virtual world which outweighs the sense of achievement in real life. "A lot of people find it more rewarding to achieve online objectives in a game rather than real-world objectives."


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pressure to publish may bias scientists

This is a well-known process but it is nice to see it convincingly documented. It does help explain the heap of epidemiological garbage that keeps pouring out. A much more extensive treatment of the subject here

The qual­ity of sci­en­tif­ic re­search may be suf­fer­ing be­cause scholars are un­der pres­sure to get their work pub­lished in scientif­ic jour­nals, a new anal­y­sis sug­gests.

The study found that the frac­tion of U.S.-pub­lished re­search papers claim­ing “pos­i­tive” re­sults—those that may in­di­cate an actu­al dis­cov­ery—is im­mensely high­er when the au­thors are from states whose aca­demics pub­lish more of­ten. The dif­fer­ence ranged from less than half, to over 95 per­cent.

The find­ings were re­ported in the on­line re­search jour­nal PLoS One on April 21, by Dan­iele Fan­elli of the Uni­vers­ity of Ed­in­burgh in Scot­land.

“Pub­lish or per­ish,” an aphor­ism widely known in ac­a­dem­ia, ex­presses the very real fact that sci­en­tists must pub­lish their work con­tin­u­ously to se­cure jobs and fund­ing, Fan­elli not­ed. Ca­reers are judged based on the sheer num­ber of pa­pers some­one has pub­lished, and on how many times these are cit­ed in lat­er pa­pers—though this is a hotly de­bat­ed meas­ure of sci­en­tif­ic qual­ity.

But pa­pers are more or less likely to be ac­cept­ed by jour­nals, and to be cit­ed, de­pend­ing on the re­sults they re­port. Like a hit song, more in­ter­est­ing re­sults tend to make fur­ther head­way. Thus sci­en­tists are “torn be­tween the need to be ac­cu­rate and objective and the need to keep their ca­reers alive,” Fan­elli said.

Fanelli an­a­lysed over 1,300 pa­pers claim­ing to have tested a hypoth­e­sis in all dis­ciplines, from phys­ics to so­ci­ol­o­gy, from U.S.-based main au­thors. Us­ing da­ta from the National Sci­ence Founda­t­ion, he then checked wheth­er the pa­pers’ con­clu­sions were linked to the states’ pro­duc­ti­vity, meas­ured by the num­ber of pa­pers pub­lished on average by each ac­a­dem­ic.

Re­sults were more likely to “sup­port” the hy­poth­e­sis un­der investi­ga­t­ion, Fan­elli found, when the pa­per was from a “productive” state. That sug­gests, he said, that sci­en­tists working in more com­pet­i­tive and pro­duc­tive en­vi­ron­ments are more likely to make their re­sults look pos­i­tive. It’s un­clear wheth­er they do this by writ­ing the pa­pers dif­fer­ently or by tweak­ing the un­der­ly­ing da­ta, Fan­elli said.

“The out­come of an ex­pe­ri­ment de­pends on many fac­tors, but the pro­duc­ti­vity of the U.S. state of the re­searcher should not, in the­o­ry, be one of them,” ex­plained Fan­elli. “We can­not ex­clude that re­search­ers in the more pro­duc­tive states are smarter and bet­ter equipped, and thus more suc­cess­ful, but this is un­likely to fully ex­plain the marked trend ob­served.” The study re­sults were in­de­pend­ent of fund­ing avail­abil­ity, he said.

Pos­i­tive re­sults were less than half the to­tal in Ne­vada, North Da­ko­ta and Mis­sis­sip­pi. At the oth­er ex­treme, states in­clud­ing Mich­i­gan, Ohio, Dis­trict of Co­lum­bia and Ne­bras­ka had be­tween 95 per­cent and 100 per­cent pos­i­tive re­sults, a rate that seems unrealistic even for the most out­stand­ing in­sti­tu­tions, Fan­elli said.

These con­clu­sions could apply to all sci­en­tif­ic­ally ad­vanced countries, he added. “Aca­demic com­pe­ti­tion for fund­ing and positions is in­creas­ing ev­ery­where,” said Fan­elli. “Poli­cies that rely too much on cold meas­ures of pro­duc­ti­vity might be low­er­ing the qual­ity of sci­ence it­self.”


Addicted smokers at mercy of their genes, find scientists

This does raise the theoretical possibility that the lung cancer is the result of the genes rather than of the smoking. That would however be discounted if smokers without the risk genes also had high rates of cancer. We should not forget that many smokers live into advanced old age

NEW research suggests smokers who find it hard to cut down or quit may be at the mercy of their genes.

Scientists have identified three genetic mutations that increase the number of cigarettes people smoke a day.

Several also appear to be associated with taking up smoking and one with smoking cessation.

Some of the findings will now be incorporated into risk factor DNA tests developed by the Icelandic company deCODE, which took part in the research.

A previous study two years ago found a common change in the genetic code linked to nicotine addiction and lung cancer risk.

The new research, which combined data on more than 140 thousand individuals, confirmed this discovery, and pinpointed two more genetic variants that seem to increase cigarette consumption among smokers.

Results from the three studies have been published today in the journal Nature Genetics.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Desalinizing America

Public health groups want Uncle Sam to start separating us from salt for our own good -- along with saturated fat and sugar. Uncle Sam is listening -- and doing. Call it the blanding of America. Or call it another blow by the nanny state for freedom -- freedom from our undisciplined appetites. Freedom from personal responsibility. Freedom from choice. Why, even freedom from freedom.

Look, freedom from freedom works for zoo animals, doesn't it? The zoo is the new model for human society. We need only open our bourgeois eyes to see. At any zoo, Americans will find tigers and lions and bears that are housed, fed, and tended to medically.

Our benevolent Maximum Leader, Barack Obama, has his dreams -- dreams grander than his father's, one dare say. He wants to turn the United States into one big, happy zoo. The president and his sharp left-wing policy wonks are working overtime to get the "housed, fed, and medical care" thing down pat.

But Mr. Obama hasn't quite figured out how he can actually feed us and keep all that salty bad stuff from our mouths. Yet by using big government -- through the auspices of the Food and Drug Administration -- to make what passes our lips less bad is a nice interim step. (Can sorely-needed punitive junk food taxes be far behind?) And though baby steps on the road to serfdom isn't typically the Obama Way, when it comes to salt, baby steps appear to be just dandy.

But naysayers and tea partiers (thinly disguised right-wing militiamen and women or their shills) might counter -- with boring predictability -- that government has no place regulating what we eat or drink other than to make sure that our food and drink are uncontaminated by arsenic and rat droppings. Goes the argument, if middle- and lowbrow Americans want to eat gobs of Fritos, that's their choice. Americans can mind their own kids' diets, too, say conservative troglodytes. And if consumers' food choices lead to bad health, then they can pick up their own medical tabs. Such heartlessness.

But what do overweight, artery-clogged adults really know about their diets -- or anything else, for that matter? Parents managing their kids' diets? Don't make our svelte president howl with laughter between drags on his coffin nail (might trigger an awful coughing fit).

In fact, fat kids are a threat, of sorts, to our national security. Perhaps not on the level of al-Qaeda, but darned close. The Pentagon's politicized generals say so, so it must be so. It goes like this: Just like sea levels rising due to global warming, military recruitment centers will one day -- very soon -- be swamped with patriotic fat kids looking to serve their country. Military budgets being tight, Jenny Craig isn't in the cards for enlistees. And the brass doesn't want to make pound-dropping basic training too rigorous.

So the Pentagon -- doubtless with White House prodding -- is rah-rahing FDA food inspectors' and minders' plans to relentlessly pursue profit-lusting execs at Frito-Lay and Slim Jims, among many other bottom-feeders who are poisoning us and "the children" with foul salty foods. Expect the overworked but saintly Congressman Henry Waxman to crank up another one of his media-friendly witch hunts (I mean committee investigations) into the whole sordid world of snack and processed food manufacturing. A word of warning to Kraft Food execs: If you guys have a corporate jet, ditch it now.

And if Henry Waxman is hot on the trail of snack food capitalist exploiters, can the otherwise-media-shy Senator Chuck Schumer be far behind? With Waxman and Schumer leading the fight, count on mainstream media institutions "60 Minutes" and "20-20" to weigh in with brilliant exposés on the cynics and manipulators who are enticing us all with slick advertising to eat one too many Little Debbie Snack 'n Cakes (lest we forget the sinister hidden salt in processed sweet treats).

For most of us Americans, who can't resist the snap and crunch of a briny Vlasic pickle or a gooey slice of DiGiorno pepperoni pizza, two words: Take heart. Uncle Sam's current assault on salt is only the opening salvo in a much longer war to eradicate sodium-laced edibles.

Won't Uncle Sam eventually do to salty food what he's doing to one of President Obama's favorite treats, cigarettes? How about plain packaging for all snack and processed foods? How about skull-and-crossbones warning labels? Shouldn't grocers be required by law to put every bag of Cheetos Cheese Puffs and Rold Gold Pretzels, every Marie Callender potpie and Swanson's Macaroni and Cheese entrée, behind counters? Before store clerks hand over the Oh Boy! Oberto Beef Jerky, shouldn't proof of age be required?

And like the cigarette wars, let's cue the trial attorneys, shall we? These vigilantes for wronged and aggrieved Americans need to begin to rustle up -- or gin up -- citizens who have suffered prolonged exposure to Spam (a salt lick if there ever were one). Besides, putting more trial attorneys to work will buff up employment numbers, won't it? A little more stimulus never hurt anyone.

Knuckle-dragging conservatives might counter that tobacco is a different animal from, say, Top Ramen Instant Noodles. It's certainly right and defensible to keep tobacco out of the hands of minors. Penalties for lax or crooked grocers and c-store operators who dole out Marlboros or Camels to the underaged deserve the law's comeuppance.

Yet dense conservatives fail to make critical connections. If cigarettes cause cancer, and salty processed food contributes to obesity and hypertension, and both could kill consumers, then why shouldn't the latter be regulated something like tobacco?

Certainly, at this point, our nation's food angels are too clever -- or scared -- to stand between hungry football or hockey fans and their Doritos. The key is to nudge food regulations along, tightening the noose slowly enough so as not to ruffle slow-witted consumers. Then one fine day, after months -- perhaps years -- of gradually taking the salt out of processed foods, consumers won't even fuss that their Lays Potato Chips taste like cardboard. Palates adjust, don't they? Snackers may not even care that their old favorite treats have been swept from store shelves.

Though statistically, we Americans are living longer than ever before, we know that our lifespans are bound to tailspin at some point if we don't forsake our long-running infatuation with everything salty -- and everything sweet, everything fatty, and everything not tofu and bean sprouts.

But cheer up, Americans. Restricting or banning naughty foods is for our own good. Uncle Sam knows best. And there's still booze, and if advocates have their way, legalized pot is in the offing in trendsetting California. Dean Wormer (National Lampoon's Animal House) may have been right that fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life. But for Uncle Sam, drunk and stoned may soon be okay.


British food fanatic praises McDonald's

The home of the Big Mac and fries has received plaudits from the unlikeliest of sources - Jamie Oliver. The champion of healthy eating heaped praise on McDonald's despite accusations that it is one of the driving forces behind the rising global tide of obesity and ill-health.

He said: 'McDonald's in the UK is very different to the U.S. model - the quality of the beef, they only sell free-range eggs, they only sell organic milk, their ethics and recycling is being improved and improved.

'And I can't even believe I'm telling you that McDonald's UK has come a long way, but actually, it probably puts quite a lot of gastropubs to shame, the amount of work they're doing in the back end.

'Also, they've just had their best commercial year in four years, so they're proving that being commercial and caring can work. Actually, it's the future.'

Oliver suggested the Government and schools could learn a lot of lessons from McDonald's. 'I gave a strategy for training dinner ladies in England that was totally ignored,' he said. 'The current one doesn't work.

'The current model of school dinners all served in one room with loads of subservient kids sitting in rows eating in an hour is very old-fashioned.

'It needs to be brought up to date and to reflect the businesses succeeding in this country right now, which frankly are Pret A Manger, McDonald's and a bit of old-fashioned dining.'

This a very different message to the one delivered by Oliver in 2005 while filming Jamie's School Dinners - a programme campaigning for better meals for pupils. At the time, he said: 'We're in a very important time right now, where we can connect kids with better food, and a knowledge of where the stuff comes from, in a really fun way.

'Or we can carry on being commercial and end up like America, which is extremely scary - where you've got McDonald's sponsoring canteens, where sugar drinks are bringing in revenue-and headteachers are making decisions based on a few quid that they should be getting from elsewhere.'

Oliver's praise for the fast-food giant follows fellow celebrity chef Marco Pierre White's decision to endorse products by Bernard Matthews - hitherto another byword for unhealthy eating.

Interviewed for the Mail on Sunday's Live magazine, Oliver stressed that his conversion to McDonald's does not mean he has given up the fight against obesity.

He has just fronted a TV series in the U.S. trying to improve the diet of that nation's children.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Genetics 'not to blame for obese kids'

This claim runs against a lot of other evidence. There are plenty of sex-linked genes and the findings below may simply indicate that some genes responsible for obesity are among them

CHILDREN become obese because of the influence of their same-sex parent, not as a result of genetics, a new study by British scientists claims.

Scientists from Peninsula Medical School at the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth say if a young girl has an overweight mother she is more likely to become obese, with the same applying to boys and their fathers. The findings suggest that it is behavioural rather than genetic factors that have a greater influence in determining whether children become obese.

According to the study of 226 British families, the scientists found that obese mums were 10 times more likely to have obese daughters. Obese dads were also six times more likely to have an obese son.

However, the same trend did not exist between mums and their sons and fathers and daughters.

"Any genetic link between obese parents and their children would be indiscriminate of gender," the study's director Professor Terry Wilkin said. "The clearly defined gender-assortative pattern which our research has uncovered is an exciting one because it points towards behavioural factors at work in childhood obesity."

Prof Wilkin said the findings could dramatically affect government policies on dealing with childhood obesity and its current focus on an apparent genetic link.

"Money and resources have focused on children over the past decade in the belief that obese children become obese adults and that prevention of obesity in children will solve the problem in adulthood," he said.

"(The study's) evidence supports the opposite hypothesis - that children are becoming obese due to the influence of their same-sex parents and that we will need to focus on changing the behaviour of the adult if we want to combat obesity in the child."


British watchdog under fire as number of IVF blunders soars

The HFEA are just bureaucratic animals. They were too busy trying to "get" Britain's most successful IVF doctor -- Taranissi. They hated him because his was a private clinic and they did their damnedest to close him down -- with help from the BBC. But he eventually beat them in the courts and they finally gave up their attack on him in Sept., 2008. The BBC paid him nearly a million for libelling him in June last year. Doing anything useful is beyond the HFEA. It would be interesting to know how many of the errors below were made at government hospitals. Most of them, I'm betting

The number of blunders made at IVF clinics has nearly doubled in the past 12 months. The serious mistakes, which affect couples desperate for children, include cases where embryos have been lost or placed in the wrong woman, or incidents where eggs have been fertilised with the wrong sperm.

Figures released by the IVF watchdog reveal the number of reported incidents increased from 182 in 2007-08 to 334 in 2008-09, prompting calls for it to get tougher on failing units.

The figures do not show which fertility clinics were the worst-performing, but include centres throughout England and Wales where 50,000 IVF procedures took place in the past year.

A leading embryologist said the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) was not adequately enforcing the rules on fertility treatment.

Sammy Lee, from University College London, said: ‘I think the key failure of the HFEA is that when they ask clinics to put in special procedures, they’re not enforcing them. ‘It’s important that when you’ve identified a weakness in a procedure, you quickly enforce it, and don’t wait a year to do so.’

The figures include all reported incidents and near misses to the HFEA during 2008-09. Examples include fridges containing eggs being switched off accidentally, or consent forms not being signed by two clinicians, which is against the rules.

The blunders are revealed on Donal MacIntyre’s BBC Radio 5 Live show tonight.

The programme features an interview with one woman, identified only as Clare, who was told by clinicians at the University of Wales IVF clinic in Cardiff that two of her remaining three embryos created during her first cycle of fertility treatment had been ‘lost’.

She says the only explanation staff could offer was that they may have ‘slipped off the straw’ during the freezing process.

Clare, who had been trying for a baby for seven years with her partner Gareth before beginning treatment at the clinic in 2008, said: ‘I was waiting to go in and have a transfer and they said I only had one embryo remaining – the other two had gone missing. Those were two potential babies.’

The clinic said it would not comment on individual cases but its overall rate of frozen embryo recovery was ‘high’ by international standards.

Lawyer Guy Forster, who is representing Clare and who has dealt with similar cases in the UK in the past year, called the situation ‘deeply disturbing’.

The HFEA said it did not accept it needed reform. A spokesman said: ‘In embryology, as in all areas of clinical care, it is not possible to guarantee 100 per cent success.’


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Obama's FDA is a rogue agency

It's run by Obama appointees who hate drug companies

What happens when one of the most powerful regulatory bodies in the country orders a business to violate the agency's own rules? If they don't want to make waves, company executives follow the order, cross their fingers and hope the regulators won't punish them later. But this month, one company will have the courage to go to court and tell the regulators they've gone too far.

On April 26 California-based drug manufacturer Allergan will seek a court ruling that the Food and Drug Administration may not ban the distribution of truthful information about safe and effective uses of medicines that the agency has already approved for other conditions. It could be years before the case is finally resolved, but an Allergan victory would be a huge boon for millions of American patients who rely on so-called "off-label" uses.

Before they can be sold in the U.S., every new medicine must be certified by the FDA as safe and effective for a specific, or "on-label," use. But, once approved, physicians may legally prescribe drugs for any safe and effective off-label indication.

Allergan's drug Botox has been approved for treating muscle spasms in the neck and eyes, as well as for its more popular cosmetic purposes. But it is widely used off-label to treat various other muscle spasticity conditions, as well as speech impediments and migraine headaches.

Last September the FDA ordered Allergan to send detailed safety updates to physicians who prescribe Botox for both on-label and off-label indications. But fully complying with the order could violate an FDA ban on promoting drugs for off-label uses. Ironically, doctors will have less information about patient safety if Allergan follows the FDA's off-label rules.

Botox isn't unique. By some estimates, at least 20% of all prescriptions written are off-label, and those uses often constitute the medically recognized standard of care. The practice is ubiquitous in cancer and cardiac treatment, where as many as half of all prescriptions are for off-label uses. If not for off-label prescribing, millions of patients would have fewer treatment options, and many would die.

Off-label prescribing is controversial with regulators and some politicians, who view it as a way to shortcut clinical testing and skirt the FDA approval process. But the American Medical Association says that "physicians have the training and experience to determine the best or preferred method of treatment," and that off-label prescribing should often be considered "reasonable and necessary medical care, irrespective of labeling." In fact, doctors can be subject to malpractice liability if they do not use drugs for off-label indications when doing so constitutes the standard of care.

Still, the FDA uses its authority over drug labeling and promotion to prevent manufacturers from disseminating almost any information about off-label uses, even to doctors. Drug firms may send peer-reviewed medical journal articles and excerpts from medical text books to physicians. And, in some circumstances, they can answer questions asked directly by physicians. Nearly everything else is forbidden.

The FDA and federal prosecutors take these restrictions very seriously, charging violators with both civil and criminal sanctions. In 2009 drug manufacturer Pfizer pleaded guilty to criminal charges and paid a record $2.3 billion to settle allegations of promoting 14 of its products for off-label uses. And Eli Lilly was forced to pay $1.4 billion for promoting its schizophrenia drug Zyprexa for off-label use.

Earlier this year the FDA even sent a warning letter to a Florida dermatologist for mentioning in interviews with Elle and Allure magazines and NBC's Today show that an anti-wrinkle drug she was testing had shown positive results and that "early data shows it may last longer and kick in faster than Botox."

You can see why Allergan was hesitant to comply with the FDA's order. Sending doctors information about patient selection, dosage and appropriate injection sites for off-label uses could subject Allergan to millions of dollars in fines and threaten the company and its employees with criminal penalties.

These restrictions raise serious constitutional questions, however. In 1999 a federal district court held that the FDA's near-blanket ban on the dissemination of truthful and non-misleading information about off-label uses was an unconstitutional restriction of commercial speech. The agency only avoided having its regulations totally invalidated by claiming that they did not really ban most forms of off-label promotion. Aside from the journal article exemption, though, the FDA won't tell anyone what is and is not permitted. And, in practice, the agency refuses to permit distribution of any other kinds of information about off-label uses.

That surely is why Allergan felt it had no other choice but to seek clarity from the courts. The company acknowledges that the FDA may forbid false or misleading claims, but has petitioned the court to hold the FDA's near total ban on truthful and non-misleading information unconstitutional. In a landmark 2002 case involving advertising by pharmacists, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that the "First Amendment directs us to be especially skeptical of regulations that seek to keep people in the dark for what the government perceives to be their own good."

It is long past time for the FDA to admit that permitting truth in advertising really is the best medicine.


Earth Day myths, lies and downright stupidity

by John Stossel

Every Earth Day brings out new scaremongering from silly people.

This year, one scare is that BPA, a chemical in plastic, causes "obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, brain disorders, such as attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder, liver disease, ovarian disease, disease of the uterus, low sperm count in men." That's according to a new documentary called "Tapped." So you better not drink bottled water!

Yes, huge amounts of BPA fed to rats cause problems, but there's no good evidence that tiny amounts, locked into plastic, hurt people. In fact BPA saves lives, by stopping botulism.

"Tapped" claims that many other dangerous chemicals poison bottled water. Toxicologist Dr. Stephen King says in the film that we should be "horrified" at all the chemicals in bottled water. But when we called him, he sent us a study that says: "testing" reveals a surprising array of chemical contaminants in every bottled water brand analyzed -- at levels no different than routinely found in tap water.

The director of Tapped, Stephanie Soechtig, claims that cancer rates are up as a result of these chemicals, but that's another myth. Cancer incidence rates are flat. They would have declined, if not for new screening methods.

Life spans are up, too.

So ignore the Earth Day alarmism. Economic progress is what makes life better.

Tapped also suggests that because bottled water companies take water from the earth, the world will run out of water! But over the last 20 years, thanks to economic progress, a BILLION people GAINED access to improved drinking water, according to the WHO.

Even if we were running out off fresh water, modern technology would be the answer, not the problem. One desalinization plant in Florida converts 9 billion gallons a year – more than is used for all the bottled water sold in the US.

"Tapped" does get one thing right: bottled water is a waste of money. Tests I've done show it's not healthier or better-tasting.

On my FBN show, tonight at 8pm ET, I'll confront director Stephanie Soechtig about the myths she's pushing.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Spanking causes aggression, study shows

The usual epidemiological rubbish. All that the results show is that more aggressive parents have more aggressive children -- for whatever reason, including genetic inheritance

SMACKING disobedient three-year-olds can turn children into bullies before they reach school, with new research suggesting corporal punishment makes kids aggressive.

Toddlers smacked at least twice a month are at higher odds of being aggressive by the time they are five. Instead, doctors believe "time out zones" are the most effective way to discipline a naughty child.

A study published in the Pediatrics journal has added to the argument made by many psychologists that smacking can harm children.

Of 2500 children studied, almost half were deemed with "higher aggression" and had been spanked more than twice a month. Regular smacking doubled their chances of adopting bullying behaviours compared with those children who have never been hit.

New Orleans' University of Tulane public health researcher Catherine Taylor said there was growing evidence smacking kids did not work. "This evidence suggests that primary prevention of violence can start with efforts to prevent the use of corporal punishment against children," she said.

While experts and most families are divided over whether spanking is damaging, many acknowledge that the occasional spank on the bottom won't permanently hurt a child.

Child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Greggs said parents should never hit a kid over the head or with an implement. "The single most effective way to discipline a three-year-old is time out. The second most effective way to modify their behaviour is to notice every time they act in a pro-social way," he said.

Port Macquarie mum, Raylene Alford, uses time out zones and reward charts to discipline her three-year-old son Cameron. "We didn't want to get into the habit of smacking Cameron when he did something wrong," she said. "He responds well to the time-out or naughty step and afterwards we ask him to explain what he did wrong."


Violent games make you smarter - study

I don't know that the logic here is conclusive but it does seem to put the onus of proof on the videogame haters

VIOLENT videogames like Call of Duty and Resident Evil can make you smarter, new research suggests. The Sun reported the study said shoot-to-kill videogames improved quick-thinking and made players more able to cope with the demands of modern life.

It refutes claims videogames turn teenagers into violent criminals - and argues parents should encourage their kids to enjoy a bit of virtual blood-and-guts.

The team of researchers from the Netherlands also suggested that games consoles should be installed in nursing homes.

Assistant professor Dr Lorenza Colzato, of Leiden University's psychology department, said: "If elderly people had a lot of problems with their thinking they could play videogames to improve their minds. "This could become a common nursing home activity; it would be a successful strategy."


Thursday, April 22, 2010

The war on salt goes national

Earlier this year, New York City Mayor and prominent food nag Michael Bloomberg announced a "voluntary" effort to reduce the salt content in restaurants and processed foods by 25%. Later, a New York State Senator proposed a ban on the use of any salt in restaurant kitchens. Now, the Washington Post reports:
The Food and Drug Administration is planning an unprecedented effort to gradually reduce the salt consumed each day by Americans, saying that less sodium in everything from soup to nuts would prevent thousands of deaths from hypertension and heart disease. The initiative, to be launched this year, would eventually lead to the first legal limits on the amount of salt allowed in food products ...

Officials have not determined the salt limits. In a complicated undertaking, the FDA would analyze the salt in spaghetti sauces, breads and thousands of other products that make up the $600 billion food and beverage market, sources said. Working with food manufacturers, the government would set limits for salt in these categories, designed to gradually ratchet down sodium consumption. The changes would be calibrated so that consumers barely notice the modification.

The hubris here is staggering. The federal government is going to analyze the salt content in countless different types of processed food, establish limits (and based on what? How much salt is good for me? You? Someone with hypertension? I have low blood pressure; I don’t need to cut back.), and calibrate the limits so that consumers "barely notice". Give me a break.

The science behind the federal government's war on salt is shaky. There is no "right" amount of daily salt consumption. Some people should cut back on salt, but others don’t need to. A study in Current Opinion in Cardiology found that people who ate low-salt diets were 37 percent more likely to die of cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Michael Alderman, head of the American Society of Hypertension, America's biggest organization of specialists in high blood pressure, wrote in a review of the science in 2000:
The problem with this appealing possibility is that a reduction in salt consumption of this magnitude has other—and sometimes adverse—health consequences ... Without knowledge of the sum of the multiple effects of a reduced sodium diet, no single universal prescription for sodium intake can be scientifically justified.

No matter. The government will use its mighty sledgehammer anyway.


Grim weather increases risk of prostate cancer

Some very long chains of inference here. It's all theory. There are many differences between North and South other than the weather

Cold and cloudy weather in northern countries such as Britain may make men more prone to prostate cancer, new research suggests. Scientists believe a combination of cold temperatures and lack of sun could help explain higher rates of the disease in northerly parts of the world.

Poor exposure to the sun's rays can lead to vitamin D deficiency, which may increase prostate cancer risk, it is claimed. At the same time, cold weather might help to slow the degradation of cancer-triggering industrial pollutants and pesticides, said US researchers. Cold temperatures were also believed to help the chemicals precipitate out of the atmosphere and fall to the ground.

Dr Sophie St-Hilaire, who led the scientists from Idaho State University, said: "We found that colder weather, and low rainfall, were strongly correlated with prostate cancer.

"Although we can't say exactly why this correlation exists, the trends are consistent with what we would expect given the effects of climate on the deposition, absorption, and degradation of persistent organic pollutants including pesticides".

Around one in six men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. Across the northern hemisphere, reported incidence of the disease is greater in higher latitudes, according to the scientists. The rate varies by about five per cent.

Each year in the UK, around 35,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and 10,000 die from the disease.

It is known that some pollutants can cause cancer, said the researchers writing online in the International Journal of Health Geographics.

Experts believed that cold weather slowed the chemicals' degradation and caused them to precipitate to the ground. Rain and humidity were also thought to play important roles in their absorption and degradation.

Dr St-Hilaire said: "This study provides an additional hypothesis for the north-south distribution of prostate cancer, which builds on the existing supposition that individuals at northern latitudes may be deficient in Vitamin D due to low exposure to UV (ultraviolet) radiation during the winter months.

"Our study suggests that in addition to vitamin D deficiency associated with exposure to UV radiation, other meteorological conditions may also significantly affect the incidence of prostate cancer".

The scientists analysed prostate cancer data for every US county between 2000 and 2004.

They found that lower temperatures correlated with higher rates of prostate cancer, after adjusting for UV radiation, local pesticide use, rainfall, snowfall and other factors.

"We hypothesise that temperature may be associated with the incidence of prostate cancer by modulating exposure to POPs (persistent organic pollutants), some of which have been linked to the disease," the researchers wrote.

Organic chemicals tended to exist in a solid rather than a gaseous form at cold temperatures, they pointed out. This would cause them to fall to earth. Temperature also affected the degradation of POPs in the soil and atmosphere.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Brain training" programs don't boost IQ

Surprise, surprise!

Brain training games do nothing to keep the mind nimble, according to Cambridge University researchers. The scientists concluded that while we get better at the complex computer exercises with practice, there is no evidence that this is of any use in everyday life.

Brain training games, like those played on the Nintendo DS or other computers, do not improve IQ, say scientists - and you'd be better off eating a salad

Endorsement by the likes of Nicole Kidman and Patrick Stewart has helped make brain training a multi-million-pound industry but studies into how well it works have given conflicting results.

Faced with the tantalising prospect that simple puzzles of maths, memory and logic could keep the mind sharp into old age - and even help stave off dementia - the researchers sought to come up with a definitive answer.

Working with the BBC's Bang Goes The Theory programme, more than 11,000 healthy men and women aged between 18 and 60 were set a battery of highly-sensitive memory tests.

Some were then given a series of brain training games to play for at least ten minutes a day, three times a week. The others were set general knowledge questions and asked to find the answers by surfing the internet. After six weeks, they re-took the initial memory tests.

The results, published in the prestigious journal Nature, showed that those who simply surfed the internet did just as well - if not better.

Dr Clive Ballard, of the Alzheimer's Society, said: 'This evidence could change the way we look at brain training games and shows staying active by taking a walk, for example, is a better use of our time.'


Substance Found in Breast Milk Kills 40 Types of Cancer Cells

Sounds promising -- but odd that it has been known for years yet has only recently been tested on humans. What are we not being told?

Swedish researchers have discovered that a substance found in human breast milk has the ability to kill cancer cells, according to a study published in the PLoS One Journal.

The substance known as HAMLET (Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor cells), was discovered years ago, but has just recently been tested on humans.

In the trial conducted at Lund University in Sweden, patients suffering from bladder cancer were treated with HAMLET. After each treatment, the patients excreted dead cancer cells in their urine, healthy cells remaining intact.

Previous laboratory experiments showed that HAMLET has the ability to kill 40 different types of cancer cells, but this was the first test conducted on humans. The next step will be to test the substance on skin cancer and brain tumors.

The trial breakthrough increases the hopes that HAMLET will be developed into a cancer treatment medication in the future.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Social workers condemn fast food

Now that's REAL expertise for you. That a Big Mac meal consists of meat, salad, bread and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet -- seems to have escaped these fluffy-heads. They should be congratulating Maccas for feeding the poor so well and so cheaply

UNHEALTHY lifestyles dominated by fast-food diets are killing 1700 Queenslanders a year and costing taxpayers billions, a new report reveals. The Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS) report found battlers forced to live on takeaways, because they couldn't afford fresh food, were having their life spans reduced by an average of four years.

The state's health bill could be cut by nearly $2 billion a year if more was done to help struggling families get healthier food and live a better lifestyle, the report said.

QCOSS president Karyn Walsh said poor families had come to rely on fast food because it was cheap, easy and available. She said many mums were faced with searching for a meal with just $5 in their pockets. "You can't walk into a fruit and vegetable shop and get a meal for that," Ms Walsh said. "Even if you are vegetarian you need more money.

"Grabbing something quick from a fast-food store for under $5 would seem like a good option, but it's not the best option health-wise. "Fast food is supposed to be a supplement to a healthy diet, not your diet itself."

Fast-food companies are pushing family value deals – with McDonald's advertising a pack to feed four people for less than $20. One pizza advertisement features a family in front of a mound of pizza ingredients before suggesting it is quicker, easier and cheaper to buy the meal from them.

But without fresh food, particularly fruit and vegetables, other health problems only became worse, Ms Walsh said. [Rubbish! Quite recent research shows otherwise]

In disadvantaged areas, it was often fast-food shops that were the last to close, whereas shops selling healthy food were hard to find, she said.

A survey by Queensland Health in 2006 found it would cost $457 a fortnight to feed a family of six adequately. With more than one in seven families in Brisbane surviving on less than $500 a week, thousands are struggling to find grocery money once rent is taken out, QCOSS said.

It's even tougher in Wide Bay, where more than a quarter of families try to manage on less than $500 a week. In West Moreton, the figure is one in five.

University of Queensland lecturer Dr Paul Henman said low income earners had little option but to swap healthy food for cheaper, filling – but less healthy – options. "Fresh fruit and vegetables have risen quite significantly in recent years," he said.

The QCOSS report said the Queensland hospital budget could save more than $1.9 billion a year by tackling the underlying causes of ill health among the state's battlers. [Based on provably false assumptions]

In some lower socio-economic areas, obesity rates were double the state average and smoking rates were 90 per cent higher. And alcohol abuse was killing 80 per cent more people, the report said.

But Aloysa Hourigan, from Nutrition Australia, said the argument that fast food was cheaper than home-cooked meals was false. The nutritionist said families could find healthy meals that were cheaper than takeaway options, but it took time and planning.

She said that aside from hot chips, takeaways were more expensive than home-cooked meals, despite what the fast-food advertisements suggested. "The marketing around a lot of fast food is about 'two for the price of one', or feed your family for so much money. "They are cheaper types of food that are high in salt and sugar," she said. [How awful! But both are very common natural products]


How olive oil helps 'switch off' genes which lead to conditions including heart disease and arthritis (?)

This is all based on a tiny sample of very ill people. Generalizability probably nil. It's another example of the "Mediterranean" mania. No-one mentions that Australians live longer than Greeks etc. despite having an almost opposite diet

Olive oil's health-giving benefits stem from its ability to help 'switch off' genes that inflame conditions ranging from heart disease to arthritis, claim researchers. Their discovery shows how the much-praised Mediterranean diet can suppress chronic disorders.

Spanish researchers identified almost 100 genes whose inflammatory activity is dampened by consumption of olive oil, in particular extra virgin olive oil.

Greeks are the biggest consumers of olive oil in the world - eating 20 times more than Britons - while Italians eat ten times as much. Eating healthy mono-unsaturated fats such as olive oil is known to lower the risk of heart disease.

In Britain, which has one of the highest heart attack rates in the world, much higher levels of animal or saturated fats are eaten.

In the study, 20 patients with metabolic syndrome, which puts them at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, were asked to eat breakfast foods covered in two types of olive oil. One was extra virgin olive oil high in phenol compounds - natural antioxidants - while the other type of oil had low levels of phenols.

The volunteers had to avoid drugs, vitamins and other supplements for six weeks before the study started.

Dr Francisco Perez- Jimenez, from the University of Cordoba, said: 'We identified 98 differentially expressed genes when comparing the intake of phenol-rich olive oil with low-phenol olive oil. 'Several of the repressed genes are known to be involved in pro-inflammatory processes, suggesting the diet can switch the activity of immune system cells.'

Olive oil contains omega-6 fats, a form of 'healthy' polyunsaturates known to block the body's response to inflammation in chronic conditions such as heart disease and arthritis.

But the latest study, whose findings are published today in the science journal BMC Genomics, provides a gene-related explanation for some of the anti-inflammatory effect.

Dietitians say a Mediterranean diet also appears to improve vascular function - the flexibility of cells lining the walls of blood vessels, particularly in the heart and circulatory system.

Eating meat increases the risk of bladder cancer, according to research by scientists at the University of Texas. Xifeng Wu, the 12-year study's lead author, said: 'People who eat a lot of red meat, particularly well-done red meat, seem to have a higher likelihood of bladder cancer.'

More than 10,000 Britons are diagnosed with bladder cancer every year.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Fast food is stirring us all into a hurry?

An extraordinary instance of extravagant inferences. Is there no such thing as scientific caution any more? I showed years ago that delay of gratification generalizes only very weakly from task to task and delay in many tasks does not generalize at all.

All that aside however, These mindreaders seem to have decided that they JUST KNOW why a logo of McDonald's made students jittery. It wouldn't be because they live in an environment that demonizes McDonalds would it? And might that demonization have aroused them in various ways?

YOU may think a takeaway burger is just something to stuff down when you are in a hurry, but scientists claim that fast food can make one crave instant gratification, become increasingly impatient and even lose the impulse to save money.

Participants in experiments became jittery even when shown the logo of the McDonald’s burger chain on screen for such a short instant that they could not recognise it.

Although each individual sighting of a logo has only a short-term subliminal effect, researchers fear [Fears are evidence?] that walking daily past numerous burger bars and sandwich shops could have a cumulative “behavioural priming” effect, making people hurry whether or not they are pushed for time.

“Fast food represents a culture of time efficiency and instant gratification,” said Chen-Bo Zhong, assistant professor of organisational behaviour at Toronto University in Canada.

“The problem is that the goal of saving time gets activated upon exposure to fast food regardless of whether time is a relevant factor in the context. “For example, walking faster is time-efficient when one is trying to make a meeting, but it’s a sign of impatience when one is going for a stroll in the park. “We’re finding that the mere exposure to fast food is promoting a general sense of haste and impatience regardless of the context.”

For the study, to be published in the journal Psychological Science, Zhong and his colleague Sanford DeVoe monitored the behaviour of 57 volunteers. While some were placed in a control group, the rest were shown six logos from fast-food chains, including McDonald’s and KFC.

They were shown the images so quickly that they could not consciously see what they were, but the subliminal effect was marked.

Their speed of reading a 320-word passage was measured before and after seeing the logos and it was significantly faster afterwards. In subsequent experiments there were similar results. In one, participants preferred time-saving products — for example three-in-one skincare treatments rather than the separate versions — after seeing the logos.

In another, they were asked whether they would accept a smaller sum of money instantly or a larger amount in a week’s time. Again they opted for the instant gratification after being exposed to the logos.

“You’re constantly confronted by fast food advertising,” said DeVoe. “Chronic exposure to it throughout the day is going to have a long-term effect. “When I sit in a fast food restaurant, I find myself gobbling my Big Mac down at this incredible speed, even though there is no rush at all.”


MIT student develops $3 cutting-edge healing device

The new device could radically improve healing times for tens of millions, at a cost of $3.

No one really knows why, but for an open wound, simply applying suction dramatically speeds healing times. (The theory is that the negative pressure draws bacteria out, and encourages circulation.) But for almost everyone, that treatment is out of reach--simply because the systems are expensive--rentals cost at least $100 a day and need to be recharged every six hours.

No more. Danielle Zurovcik, a doctoral student at MIT, has created a hand-powered suction-healing system that costs about $3. The device is composed of an airtight wound dressing, connected by a plastic tube to a cylinder with accordion-like folds. Squeezing it creates the suction, which lasts as long as there's no air leak. What's more, where regular dressings need to be replaced up to three times a day--a painful ordeal--the new cuff can be left on for several days.

Zurovcik originally intended to field-test the device in Rwanda, but then the Haiti Earthquake struck. At the request of Partners in Health, an NGO, she traveled to Haiti with 50 of the pumps.

Currently, Zurovcik is verifying the healing benefits of the device, and developing a new model that can be readily carried and concealed. The one technical hurdle that remains is ensuring the bandage seals tightly--but after that, the device could benefit a huge portion of the 50-60 million people in the developing world that suffer from acute or chronic wounds.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Multivitamin link to breast cancer

Another nasty one for the health freaks. The absolute risk involved is small but such weak effects underpin most dietary advice.

The study is utter rubbish anyway. 1). It's based on self-reports; 2). It commits the "correlation is causation" fallacy. WHY were some women taking supplements? Probably because they felt less healthy anyway.

The abstract is here. The title of the article is "Multivitamin use and breast cancer incidence in a prospective cohort of Swedish women"

WOMEN who take a daily multivitamin pill are nearly 20 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer, a major study has revealed. The shock finding has rattled Australia's $2.5 billion complementary health industry, which is urging consumers not to panic.

In a 10-year study of more than 35,000 women, researchers discovered those who regularly took a multi-vitamin pill increased the risk of developing a tumour by 19 per cent.

They said the result was concerning and needed investigation as many women used multi-vitamins in the belief they prevented chronic diseases such as cancer.

A "biologically plausible" explanation was that taking vitamin and mineral supplements significantly increased the density of breast tissue, a strong risk factor for breast cancer. Folic acid, often present in a potent form in multi-vitamins, may also accelerate tumour growth.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among females in Australia, affecting more than 12,000 and killing more than 2,700 women every year. One in nine women will be diagnosed with it by the age of 85.

The study, conducted by Sweden's Karolinska Institute and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has been greeted with interest and caution by Australian experts.

Women who took a multivitamin pill in the study had higher breast tissue density than those who took no vitamin supplements. "Results from this prospective study suggest that the use of multivitamins may increase the risk of breast cancer," the lead author of the study, Susanna Larrson, said.

Multi-vitamins are big business in Australia, with leading maker Blackmores posting a before-tax profit of $30.6 million last financial year. Some nutritionists and dietitians argue supplements are unnecessary, as people absorb nutrients far better from food.

Kathy Chapman, of the Cancer Council Australia, told The Sunday Telegraph the study would add to a growing body of evidence that multi-vitamins were "not all they're cracked up to be". [Like you die earlier from taking them]

"It reinforces the importance of eating fresh fruit and vegetables rather than people thinking they can get more of their nutrition from a pill," she said. "What we've learned over time in cancer is that quick fixes aren't a good idea." Taking a multi-vitamin pill was linked to a smaller increase in breast cancer risk than being overweight or drinking too much alcohol, she said.

The Complementary Healthcare Council of Australia said "consumers need not panic" at the findings. It cited "concerns over limitations to the study", such as its reliance on self-administered questionnaires and failure to look at the bioactivity of multi-vitamin ingredients.

Blackmores advised customers "not to be alarmed" by the study, which it claims is inconclusive and conflicts with other research.

Professor John Boyages, director of the Westmead Breast Cancer Institute and spokesman for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, said he "wouldn't put any weight" on the study, as there were many complicated risk factors involved in breast cancer.

Delaying pregnancy until the age of 35, drinking alcohol every day and early-onset periods may each raise the risk by as much as 30 per cent, he said.

Nutrition Australia (NA) advocates getting vitamins and minerals from a varied diet rather than supplements. "Your body will absorb vitamins and minerals so much better from food," NA dietician Nicole Frederiksen said.


Antibody hunts, kills prostate cancer

Rather amazing news. Let's hope it passes double-blind studies in people

US RESEARCHERS have found an antibody that hunts down prostate cancer cells in mice and can destroy the killer disease even in an advanced stage.

The antibody, called F77, was found to bond more readily with cancerous prostate tissues and cells than with benign tissue and cells and to promote the death of cancerous tissue, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found.

When injected in mice, F77 bonded with tissue where prostate cancer was the primary cancer in almost all cases (97 per cent) and in tissue cores where the cancer had metastasised around 85 per cent of the time.

It recognised even androgen-independent cancer cells, present when prostate cancer is incurable, the study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania showed.

F77 "initiated direct cell death of prostate cancer cells ... and effectively prevented tumour outgrowth,'' it said.

But it did not target normal tissue, or tumor tissues in other parts of the body including the colon, kidney, cervix, pancreas, lung, skin or bladder, the study showed.

The antibody "shows promising potential for diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer, especially for androgen-independent metastatic prostate cancer", which often spread to the bones and was difficult to treat, the researchers wrote.

The five-year survival rate for metastatic prostate cancer was just 34 per cent, according to the study.

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men, claiming half a million lives each year worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

The excessive cleanliness nonsense is not dead yet

If excessive cleanliness is responsible for autoimmune diseases, how come one of the least hygienic people on Earth, Australian Aborigines, have high rates of asthma and diabetes? See here

Put away the hand sanitizer. It's not necessarily the grime, dust bunnies, cat dander or pollen causing those miserable springtime allergies. The culprit actually may be too much cleanliness.

"Allergies have become widespread in developed countries: hay fever, eczema, hives and asthma are all increasingly prevalent. The reason? Excessive cleanliness is to blame," said Dr. Guy Delespesse, an immunologist and director of the Allergy Research Laboratory at the University of Montreal.

The school released new findings on the topic Wednesday.

While family history, air pollution, processed foods, stress and other factors can trigger allergic reactions, Dr. Delespesse is concerned by "our limited exposure to bacteria" — even cautioning parents to lighten up when their children drop toys on the floor.

"There is an inverse relationship between the level of hygiene and the incidence of allergies and autoimmune diseases," he said. "The more sterile the environment a child lives in, the higher the risk he or she will develop allergies or an immune problem in their lifetime."

The sneezing, itching and coughing is widespread.

Some 50 million Americans suffer from allergic conditions and the numbers are increasing, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. The cost of treating allergies and asthma stands at about $32 billion a year. And there is much misery: 60 percent of allergy sufferers say they were unable to find ways to stamp out the seasonal ills, according to a survey released this week by Consumer Reports National Research Center.

Dr. Delespesse also frets about the burgeoning allergic population. He noted that 10 percent of people in developed countries suffered from allergies two decades ago. Today, the percentage has increased threefold to 30 percent, with one in 10 children suffering from asthma. Deaths from that condition are also increasing, he said.

"It's not just the prevalence but the gravity of the cases," Dr. Delespesse added.

Well-intentioned hygiene can backfire, particularly with youngsters.

"The bacteria in our digestive system are essential to digestion and also serve to educate our immune system. They teach it how to react to strange substances," Dr. Delespesse explained. "This remains a key in the development of a child's immune system."

Cleanliness does reduce our exposure to harmful bacteria, he said. But it also limits our exposure to beneficial microorganisms. As a result, the bacterial flora of our digestive system isn't as "rich and diversified" as it used to be in less-paranoid times.

As a homestyle panacea, Dr. Delespesse recommends yogurt — which contains its own spate of microorganisms, or probiotics — "to enrich intestinal flora," and consequently the immune system itself.

"Consuming probiotics during pregnancy could help reduce allergies in the child," he said, adding that some studies found that women who ate yogurt in the last third of their pregnancy may reduce the impact of allergies during the first two years of their childs life by 50 percent.

"Probiotics are not a miracle remedy, yet they are one of many elements that improve our diet and our health," he said.


Dieting really CAN harm your health: Slimmers at higher risk of heart disease and cancer

A nasty one for the obesity warriors

Going on a diet could increase your risk of developing potentially deadly conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, a study has revealed.

It found that those who controlled their calorie intake produced higher levels of the harmful stress hormone cortisol.

And it claimed that exposure to the hormone actually made some dieters put on weight, which could explain why so many Britons fail to shed fat despite slashing their food intake.

The researchers also warned that far from making people feel better about themselves, dieting could actually damage their mental health.

Many suffered increased psychological stress when they were constantly forced to count calories and monitor what they ate.

Doctors should think twice before putting their patients on strict diets because of the possible long-term damage to their health, they said.

'Regardless of their success or failure (in losing weight), if future studies show that dieting increases stress and cortisol, doctors may need to rethink recommending it to their patients to improve health,' the researchers said.

'Chronic stress, in addition to promoting weight gain, has been linked with coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. Dieting might potentially add to this stress burden and its consequences would best not be ignored.'

The study, by California University in San Francisco and Minnesota University, looked at 121 women who were put on a standard three-week diet of 1,200 calories a day - around half a woman's recommended daily amount of 2,000 calories.

Each patient was asked to provide a saliva sample before and after the study to test for cortisol levels. The results showed a significant increase in the amount of the hormone after three weeks on the programme.

The study, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, said one reason for the increase in cortisol could be because it is used in the body to increase energy levels.

If a person is not eating enough calories to provide their body with energy, then they automatically begin releasing the stress hormone.

The volunteers were also asked to keep a diary of everything they ate and how they felt during the three weeks. It showed many reported higher levels of psychological stress - perhaps because they were constantly reminded that they were depriving their bodies of food.

Catherine Collins, chief dietitian at St George's Hospital in London, said that sticking to a diet of 1,200 calories a day was too severe for the body to cope with.

Instead, dieters should aim to restrict their calorie intake to between 1,500 and 1,800 calories a day, combined with regular exercise.

'Very low calorie diets do cause problems and it's not that unexpected that cortisol levels went up,' she said. 'We need cortisol for "fight or flight" situations.

'But chronic exposure to it over a long time can affect our cholesterol levels, increase blood pressure and even raise the risk of depression.

'We already know that people on strict diets often fall victim to depression. For many people, food is a comfort and so they are being asked to curtail the very thing that relieves their stress.'

Around one in four adults in the UK is classified as clinically obese - so overweight that it threatens their health.

Research has shown that being overweight increases the risk of a range of deadly conditions including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and some kinds of cancer.

Although a combination of healthy eating and exercise is recognised as the best way to ditch extra pounds, experts have warned about the dangers of 'yo-yo' dieting.

Research has shown that dieters who lost weight quickly only to put it back on again produce lower levels of white blood cells, stopping their body's immune system from working properly.


Friday, April 16, 2010

The pot calls the kettle Afro-American

Mephedrone ban shows how politics contaminate science, says Lancet -- failing to mention its own hysterical criticisms of George Bush and the Iraq war. Politics certainly contaminated science there. Typical Leftist "principles" of convenience

A ban on the drug mephedrone brought in by the Government this month was a rushed decision that further exemplifies how politics is “contaminating” science and the work of government advisers, according to a leading medical journal.

An editorial in The Lancet strongly criticises the way ministers moved to ban mephedrone and pressured its advisory body to produce the necessary evidence to act.

The former “legal high” drug was given Class B status and banned after reportedly being linked to 25 deaths. Yet the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs report that recommended the ban acknowledged that there was no scientific evidence of a causal link between the deaths and the drug.

The editorial describes the decision as motivated more by “political and media pressure” and draws parallels with the ACMD’s troubled recent history.

In October 2009 the council’s former chairman, Professor David Nutt, was sacked for criticising government policy on cannabis and ecstasy. His dismissal triggered the protest resignation of five other members.

Commenting on the latest decision, led by its new interim chairman, Professor Les Iverson, The Lancet notes: “Alarmingly, the report, which was only a draft, was still being discussed by the ACMD when Iverson rushed out of the meeting to brief Home Secretary Alan Johnson of their recommendation in time for a press briefing.”

The editorial also observes that a report on tackling alcohol and tobacco abuse by young people was “conveniently buried” by the furore over mephedrone.

A former ACMD member, Eric Carlin, who resigned over the mephedrone decision, wrote on his blog: “We were unduly pressured by media and politicians to make a quick, tough decision to classify.”

On the same day that the council issued its mephedrone recommendation, it released a report entitled Pathways to Problems that looked at drug use by young people. The report contained some “potentially unpalatable conclusions”, including the claim that not enough was being done on alcohol and tobacco, said The Lancet. It also called for a review of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.

But the report received no media attention and prompted no response from the Home Office. “Instead it conveniently got buried under discussions on the legal status of mephedrone,” said the editorial.

The ACMD did not have sufficient evidence to judge the drug’s harmfulness, the journal added. It said: “It is too easy and potentially counter-productive to ban each new substance that comes along rather than seek to understand more about young people’s motivations and how we can influence them. “We should try to support healthy behaviours rather than simply punish people who breach our society’s norms.”

The ACMD affair signalled a “disappointing finale to the Government’s relationship with science”, said the editorial. It concluded: “Politics has been allowed to contaminate scientific processes and the advice that underpins policy.

“The outcome of an independent inquiry into the practices of the ACMD, commissioned by the Home Office in October 2009, is now urgently awaited. Lessons from this debacle need to be learned by a new incoming government.”


Bizarre: Cancer link found in turning on light for night-time bathroom trips

What next will the mice-men churn out in the way of extravagant extrapolations?

SIMPLY turning on a light at night for a few seconds to go to the toilet can cause changes that might lead to cancer, scientists claim. Researchers in the UK and Israel found that when a light is turned on at night, it triggers an "over-expression" of cells linked to the formation of cancer.

Previous research has linked an increased risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer in workers exposed to artificial light on night shifts. But researchers said the latest research was the first that showed even short-term exposure could be linked to cancer.

The tests were carried out on mice at Leicester University by geneticist Professor Charalambos Kyriacou.

During the trial, a group of mice was exposed to a light for an hour. When compared with mice kept in the dark, changes were found in brain cells responsible for the circadian clock which controls bodily functions.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

More (indirect) vindication of APCs

You wouldn't believe it. I documented just a few days ago (here. See also here) how in the old days users of the now banned and demonized APCs, which contained a lot of aspirin, used to get relief from migraines by getting APCs into themselves promptly. But what do I read now? See the latest wisdom below

People who suffer migraines should take more than the standard recommended dose of aspirin to combat a debilitating headache, a review of medical studies suggests today. Taking up to three tablets — up to 1,000mg — in one go could leave one in four (25 per cent) sufferers pain-free within two hours, researchers from the University of Oxford said.

A standard tablet contains about 300-350mg of aspirin, and adults are commonly advised not to take more than two in one go. But for more than half (52 per cent) of patients who took a higher dose of 900-1,000mg, symptoms went from “moderate to severe” to mild over the same time.

Migraine affects about 18 per cent of women and 8 per cent of men in Britain, with most sufferers aged between 30 and 50.

The latest review, published by the respected Cochrane Collaboration, analysed 13 previous studies involving 4,222 people in total. It found that aspirin also helped to prevent nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light commonly caused by migraines — but sachet formulations combining another anti-sickness drug, metoclopramide, worked best at this.

David Kernick, a spokesman on headache for the Royal College of GPs, said that most people could manage their migraines with over-the-counter medication — two paracetamol for pain, 600mg of aspirin for inflammation and another drug, 10mg of domperidone, for sickness.

But many experts recommended a higher dose of aspirin, such as that recommended by the Cochrane researchers, despite exceeding the licensed use of the drug.

He said that medication worked best if taken as soon as possible after the onset of symptoms, because stomach cramps can slow the absorption of drugs. He added: “There is a risk of internal bleeding with aspirin, but you are unlikely to get it with a single dose. The longer you leave it, the less likely it is to work.

More here

Night shift work linked with cancer

Groan! Just because the Danish government has fallen for a statistical fallacy, it doesn't mean that anyone else should. It is mostly poor people who work night shifts and they have worse health anyway

THE Cancer Council is urging people not to panic over the link between breast cancer and shift work, following a government's decision to offer compensation to victims.

It follows the Danish Government's ruling to start awarding compensation to women who have developed breast cancer after years of working on the night shift. So far, 40 women have received payouts after the Danes responded to research conducted by the World Health Organisation.

A report in 2007 placed shift work along with diesel engine exhaust fumes as a "possible human carcinogen".

But Cancer Council NSW CEO Dr Andrew Penman said the research was still inconclusive. "While on theoretical grounds some have suggested that disturbances to the sleep-wake cycle may increase cancer risk by affecting melatonin levels, in reality it is difficult to disentangle shift work from many other lifestyle factors among people with cancer," he said.

"So we are more cautious in our interpretation of the evidence used in the International Agency for Research on Cancer report. The evidence is far from compelling."

The report placed shift work one level up from category one risks such as asbestos. It is believed that shift work effects the body clock and the release of the hormone melatonin. At night, melatonin is released and helps regulate sleep patterns. It also lowers the level of the female hormone oestrogen, a development which is known to encourage the growth of certain cancers.

If a person spends too long in artificial light, such as a shift worker, researchers believe this could affect the amount of melatonin released, therefore increasing the risk of breast cancer.

While other countries, including Australia, are yet to act on the research, the Danes are offering payouts to women - even though it is believed you would need to have worked regular shift work for 20 to 30 years.

"The Cancer Council is not a compensation specialist, so I cannot comment on the Danish Government's decision to compensate women," Dr Penman said. "That is a choice they made based on their own judgment.

"The point is, these types of lifestyle factors may play a major role in causing cancer, however much more research is required in this area before we can scientifically link breast cancer to a woman's shiftwork patterns."


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The great Phenacetin folly

Phenacetin was once a widely used pain-relieving drug that was particularly good at relieving rheumatoid arthritis (joint pain caused by an autoimmune reaction). It was once widely used as one of the drugs in APCs (compounds of aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine) but it is now banned from most applications -- for very dubious reasons.

There is NO double-blind evidence that I can find showing that phenacetin is harmful in humans -- but there is certainly strong epidemiological evidence that heavy use over very long periods does do some harm to a small minority of people -- causing kidney failure in extreme cases. So it has been banned from most pharmaceutical use and is no longer available in "over the counter" (OTC) medications such as APCs.

It is however an excellent analgesic (pain reliever) and antpyretic (it reduces temperatures when you have a fever). It is also now in some parts of the world widely used as an illegal drug as part of street cocaine!

The definitive study of the evils of phenacetin appears to be this one. It is a 20 year follow-up of 1244 women, half of whom were regular phenacetin users and half of whom were not. Keep that "20 year" figure in mind. At the end of the period 12% of the phenacetin users had died, versus 4% of the control group. The logic then is that phenacetin killed 8% of its regular users over a 20 year period

It is however flawed logic. The study was epidemiological, not experimental. So why were the women regularly taking phenacetin in the first place? Obviously because they had a lot of aches and pains. So is it at all surprising that, over a 20 year period, women with lots of aches and pains were 8% more likely to die than women who did not have lots of aches and pains?

Among the 74 phenacetin users who died, however, there was an exceptionally high incidence of kidney disease so the reasonable assumption was made that phenacetin did that. But wait a minute there too: The comparative incidence of kidney disease among users was much higher than the incidence of death! What does that mean? It would seem to mean that, although phenacetin was bad for the kidneys in a small minority of women, it also had some health-protective effects elsewhere. It was very bad for the kidneys of some women but good for preventing other causes of death.

With such evidence in mind, the normal, logical course of action would be to allow continued use of phenacetin but periodically monitor its effect on the kidneys of those using it. Its damaging effect on the kidneys is obviously so slight in normal usage that it develops only over long periods so annual (say) testing should provide a sufficient warning to the minority whom it might be harming. Instead of such a rational approach, however, phenacetin has been banned outright in most countries.

Let us compare that logic with the logic governing the use of another class of painkillers -- NSAIDS such as Naproxen -- sold over the counter in the USA as Aleve and in the UK as Feminax. I won't bore you with the very long list of names under which NSAIDS are sold, but, whatever you are using, you should look it up -- as we shall see: NSAIDS can give you acute kidney failure within 30 days of taking it. Forget 20 years, think 30 days! So which would you rather be taking? Phenacetin or NSAIDS?

I will leave that question hanging in the air as mute testimony to the insanity of modern medical regulations. Bring back phenacetin!

But wait! There's more (as the steak knife salesmen used to say)! As I pointed out, the evidence mentioned above is epidemiological and, as such, is heavily reliant on inferences and assumptions ("guesswork", to be blunt). What about direct experimental evidence? Remember the role of phenacetin in APCs as I leave you with this little gem from 1967:
"Dr. Laurence F. Prescott, who was doing clinical investigation at Johns Hopkins University, tested four ingredients in widely used analgesics, alone and in combination. He reported in The Lancet that healthy volunteers who took ten aspirin tablets a day began to excrete damaged kidney cells, reflecting at least temporary kidney injury. Surprisingly, this effect was less marked with APCs. It was also less conspicuous when he tested phenacetin alone, and still less so with medicinal caffeine. Dr. Prescott's conclusion: phenacetin alone is not the primary villain in analgesic kidney damage."

NOTE: This article is a follow-up to my recent article on the heavy use of Bex APC in Australia. And I may have more to say yet. The deeper I get into the evidence on this, the worse it looks.

I would attempt to draw all this to the attention of the FDA but I know better than to waste my time banging my head on the defensive brick wall of a vast bureaucracy -- all the more so now that President Obama has appointed two highly politicized people to run the agency.

Official British food advice for schools does a big turnaround

But some myths remain, of course -- such as the evils of salt. Salt deficiency is in fact far more dangerous than salty snacks

Toddlers are being fed too much fruit and insufficient carbohydrate to maintain their energy levels, according to a survey of English nursery schools.

Children are also given too much salty food, and the size of portions varies: some are big enough for 10-year-olds and others so small that they lack key nutrients. Parents are also blamed for putting pressure on staff to ban key sources of nourishment such as whole-fat milk and red meat.

The findings are released today by the Local Authority Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) which asked trading standards officers in 29 councils, including Cumbria, Hampshire and Leicestershire, to check on the lunches and snacks offered by 118 nurseries over a five-day period.

The results provide a nationwide snapshot of the food offered to more than 600,000 children who spend up to ten hours a day at nursery.

One surprise is the lack of food in mid-morning and the afternoon. Some children received only half an apple or pear to keep them going until lunch. In the afternoon some were not offered a snack at all, and for those that were, it was often banana pieces or grapes.

There was no evidence of children starving and most nurseries tried to offer a good diet. However, too many meals were based on ham, sausages and other processed meat. Overuse of packet mixes for gravy and other sauces were blamed for the high salt content of meals.

Some nursery schools were also criticised for serving too much bread, and others for excessive use of cheese, which can be high in salt. Too many lunch plates were also short of green vegetables, pulses, eggs, oily fish and red meat, which are good sources of iron, zinc and calcium for a child.

Council chiefs now want guidance for nurseries, childminders and parents on suitable food.

Paul Bettison, LACORS chairman, said: “Most people assume it’s all about beating obesity, but nutrition problems can also be caused by not giving children enough of the types of food they need. For many adults, drinking skimmed milk, eating no red meat and loads of fruit is wonderful, but it’s not what a growing body needs.”

Most nursery schools were independent, he said, and if parents were unhappy, they would move their children.

“Nurseries have a dilemma — do they do what they know is right or do they do what parents think is right? A diet for mum and dad is not the diet for a three-year-old. Parents need to be taught what is best for their children.”

Helen Crawley, of City University, London, is director of the Caroline Walker Trust, which promotes good diet. She said: “This highlights the need for new guidance for under-5s. But it depends on each child, how long they spend in a nursery and what they eat at home. I am part of an advisory group to make recommendations to the Government by the summer.”

The Basingstoke College of Technology nursery was giving children insufficient carbohydrate but has changed its snacks to fruit or carrot sticks plus crackers, bread sticks, toast, oatcakes, scones, flapjacks, cheese cubes, houmus or fromage frais.