Saturday, April 23, 2011

Big Government talking down to big Australians

The Australian government is bent on making fat people slim in the most condescending way possible. Last month, an incredibly juvenile media campaign was launched to encourage Australians to make healthier lifestyle choices. The “Swap it, Don’t Stop it” campaign is a multimedia extravaganza, featuring television, print and radio ads, an iPhone app and Facebook page.

I feel stupider for receiving healthy lifestyle tips from a simple-minded balloon called Eric. Some pearls of wisdom from the portly blue balloon include swapping “big for small” portions on your plate and “often for sometimes” in regards to naughty treats.

The campaign reaches its nadir with the audacious promise that you can “lose your belly without having to lose out on the things you love.”

Eric doesn’t want to end up with cancer, type-2 diabetes and heart disease, much like a non-balloon person. But diet and exercise is a personal choice and I would be staggered if anyone adopted a healthier lifestyle because the government tells them to.

With the budget bottom-line looking perilous, the taxpayer shouldn’t be funding an enormous health campaign imploring us to swap four scoops of ice-cream for a calorie-light two. It’s an expensive way to inform Australians of the completely obvious.

A utilitarian might rationalise that a costly public health campaign is justified if a healthier public reduces the burden on the government-funded health system. As the saying goes, prevention is cheaper than a cure.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon referred to the cost of obesity when announcing the “Swap it, Don’t Stop it” campaign—claiming that it cost Australia $58.2 billion in 2008 alone. Fat people are not only cardiovascular time-bombs but, according to these figures, economic vandals too.

Roxon’s claiming, in effect, that a healthy society is responsible economic management. But the obese aren’t a great burden on the government’s finances—simply because unhealthy people tend to die prematurely. A healthy pensioner, after all, costs the government more than a dead one.

I’m not saying that a healthier society isn’t an end in itself but that economic considerations shouldn’t be used to justify government health campaigns when all the data isn’t included in their headline-grabbing figures.

The “Swap it, Don’t Stop it” campaign also raises the important issue of whether the government is overreaching, especially when we presently have all the information we need that eating junk food is bad for you and exercise good.

Even the empty-headed understands the virtue of brown bread over white, a regular morning walk and pitfalls of a KFC Double Down burger. There is no information vacuum around these simple lifestyle choices and no such thing as an unwitting glutton.

A constant criticism of Labor is that it doesn’t know what it stands for but I would argue it does.

Since the Rudd government was elected in 2007, Labor has demonstrated an ideological commitment to big government. It’s a uniquely Labor trait for the government to impose itself on the country.

The Labor government suffered from delusions of grandeur in economic management, stimulating the economy in 2008 with malfunctioning pink batts, overpriced school halls and cash handouts for everyone; it intends to build; operate and monopolise a $36 billion national broadband network; it re-regulated the workplace via the Fair Work Act; it imposed a gratuitous new tax on the mining industry without consultation; it hiked taxes on cigarettes and is legislating to deprive smokers the right to choose an aesthetically pleasing brand—for an entirely legal product, mind you; it’s seeking to de-carbonate the economy; and now wants to protect us from ourselves in relation to diet and lazy lifestyles.

Maybe the government should stick to its core functions and leave people with the responsibility to lead relatively healthy lives.

If people want to be gluttons, so be it—they’ll suffer the consequences.

Anyway, few people are going to eat less or exercise more because the government says so, especially when its spokesman is a balloon.


Jab to reverse Alzheimer's: Breakthrough vaccine could be available within two years

Let's hope one of these miracle cures does work eventually

A revolutionary jab that could stop the onslaught of Alzheimer’s disease may be available within two years. The vaccine has been proved to halt and even reverse the damage caused to the brain by the mind-robbing condition. Although it would not be a cure, it is regarded as one of the biggest potential breakthroughs in years in the search for Alzheimer’s treatments.

It is one of only two vaccines for the condition to have reached the final stages of testing, known as phase three. This means it has passed initial safety hurdles and been shown to be effective. It is now in the final stages of clinical trials and is being tested on more than 10,000 patients around the world, including hundreds in the UK.

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect more than 800,000 Britons, and the number is expected to double in a generation as the population ages.

Existing drugs can delay the progress of Alzheimer’s, but their failure to tackle the underlying cause in the brain means that their effect quickly wears off and the disease soon takes its devastating course.

In contrast, the bapineuzumab jab prevents or even reverses the build-up of amyloid, the toxic protein that clogs the brain in Alzheimer’s, destroying vital connections between cells. It is hoped this will dramatically slow the progress of the disease. In one early test, it cut the number of amyloid plaques by a quarter.

The development of tests which can detect Alzheimer’s in its earliest stages would allow the jab to be given at the first possible opportunity.

This would enable it to save thousands from the most devastating effects of the incurable disease, which leaves sufferers unable to walk, talk and even swallow, making them totally dependent on others.

Although vaccines are traditionally thought of as preventing disease, bapineuzumab is designed as a treatment. Dr David Wilkinson, from Southampton University’s Memory Assessment and Research Centre, was involved in some of the earliest research into Alzheimer’s vaccines in the 1990s.

He said: ‘Hopefully the vaccine will make a big difference to Alzheimer’s treatment. If we can give it early – before major brain impairment is seen – it may have an important part to play. ‘If it can clear amyloid plaques from the brain and we can give it very early in the disease process, it may prevent some of the damage.’

A treatment capable of dramatically slowing the condition’s progress could also have huge financial benefits, with experts estimating that half of the £17billion spent on Alzheimer’s in Britain each year could be saved if patients developed the disease five years later than they do now.

The three drug firms behind the vaccine, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Elan Corporation, are expected to seek marketing approval when testing is completed towards the end of next year.


The jab targets amyloid, the toxic protein that clogs the brain in Alzheimer’s patients. As the clumps of amyloid get bigger, they stop the brain cells from ‘talking’ to each other, disrupting memory, mood and behaviour.

The vaccine contains an antibody that zeroes in on amyloid and tries to flush it out of the body. It is hoped this will dramatically slow the progress of the disease.

Because the vaccine contains the antibody, rather than prompting the immune system to make its own supply, patients would need injections every few months.

However, some experts are unconvinced that amyloid is the key villain in Alzheimer’s, and early tests show that the jab will not help everyone.

The cost of the vaccine is likely to be decided only if drug licensing authorities in the UK and Europe give it the go-ahead, possibly within the next two to three years. It is likely that the treatment for each patient will cost several thousand pounds per year, with patients being given regular injections every few months for the rest of their lives.

Experts stress that there is no guarantee the vaccine will work for everybody.

Dr Wilkinson’s own research shows that getting rid of the amyloid plaques does not always prevent the disease. And tests show that the jab has little effect on patients carrying a gene that raises the odds of the disease.

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said the vaccine could be a significant breakthrough if further trials show it not only clears brain deposits but also prevents dementia.

‘It’s too early to tell whether bapineuzumab could benefit people until the results of this trial are known,’ he said. ‘But any new drug that tackles the disease itself has got to be better than what we have at the moment. ‘Existing drugs don’t touch the disease process. They help with the symptoms but not the underlying loss of brain cells. ‘We desperately need to see more treatments being tested if we are to have the best chance of tackling the condition.

Dr Ridley added: ‘This means it’s vital that we invest in more research.’ He said trials had highlighted side-effects in some patients given high doses of the vaccine. Some developed a condition called vasogenic cerebral oedema, a form of swelling in the brain.

Professor Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘Finding the right vaccine would be a life-changing matter for people living with Alzheimer’s.

‘However, this is early days and a substantial amount of research is needed. ‘Dementia research is desperately underfunded and to make the breakthroughs we need, we must invest now.’

The jab is one of several that are under development that could provide a potential bonanza for drug companies around the world.


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