Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Plans to ban junk food from school lunches are under threat because some local authorities are unable to find a contractor willing to provide healthier meals. New rules for school meals were published by the Government last week, limiting children to two portions of chips a week and requiring schools to offer them two portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Some local authorities, however, are struggling to find suppliers able to meet the new requirements, to be funded with an extra 220 million pounds over three years. Bracknell Forest Borough Council received no bids in a recent tendering exercise for its school meals service, while Sheffield City Council received just one.

Sallie Swann, a senior manager in Sheffield's children's and young people's directorate, said: "A number of authorities have received no bids for contracts that are due to start in September." The biggest deterrent for contractors was the uncertainty about the number of children likely to sign up for school meals, Ms Swann added. Numbers have declined by more than 10 per cent over the past 12 to 15 months, after Jamie's School Dinners, Jamie Oliver's television series that highlighted the poor quality of food served in schools. The Local Authority Caterers' Association, which represents council-run and private caterers, estimates that the number of school meals served has fallen by more than 71 million in the past year. Many parents have withdrawn their children from school meals having learnt just how poor the food can be. However, some children are rejecting the new, healthier options.

The Government's new healthy school meals targets aim to increase the number of school meals eaten by 4 per cent by March 2008, and 10 per cent by autumn 2009; but some contractors believe that they cannot run a profitable service unless the figure increases by 10 per cent by 2008. Kevin McKay, chairman of the caterers' association, said that, with so much uncertainty and insufficient funding, caterers were reluctant to bid for school meals contracts. "Spread over three years, the Government's extra 220 million pounds equates to an increase of just 12p per meal - that's the equivalent of just two cherry tomatoes," Mr McKay said. He added that the expected costs of the improved standards would push the price of a school meal from less than 1.50 pounds to 2 pounds a day. "I would question how many parents would pay this," he said.

Tony Eccleston, director of children's services at Bracknell Forest council, said that, although it had approached eight companies to bid for its school meals service, none had wanted to. "Companies were fearful that parents wouldn't pay for the extra costs," he said. Mr McKay said the situation was less clear for the 13 councils whose policy was to close school kitchens altogether.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Queensland (Australia) kids defy "junk food" ban

This is the junk food rush -- the early-morning and lunchtime fast food fix that makes a mockery of new healthy eating laws at school canteens. As these pictures show, students are lining up before class and during their lunch breaks to feast on fatty fast foods.

Parents say the queues are getting longer as students openly rebel against the healthy menus forced on school tuckshops. ``I saw these kids walking back with bottles of Coke and hot chips. Their parents have dropped them off, giving them lunch money for the tuckshop and now they probably don't have enough to buy it because they bought junk,'' a Gold Coast mother told The Sunday Mail.

Defiant students say the State Government's ban on the sale of junk food in tuckshops will not change their eating habits. ``The attitude is `Who cares?' A lot of people will still go down to Woolies and Maccas and get their stuff there,'' a student said.

Leading nutritionist Michael Georgalli predicted more students would rebel against the Healthy Choices program as it was rolled out across the state. He warned the ban on junk foods would ``fuel the obesity epidemic'' instead of helping students adopt healthier eating habits. ``The process of restriction has been shown to encourage the uptake of the very behaviours that one is attempting to avoid in children,'' he said. Research produced for the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found restricting children's access to certain foods may ``actually promote the very behaviour its use is intended to reduce''. Mr Georgalli said the banning of junk foods at tuckshops could also lead to serious safety concerns. ``These restrictions can lead to children leaving the school grounds and crossing dangerous roads,'' he said.

Confectionery manufacturers argue the ``prohibitionist stance'' on so-called treat foods will fail. They support children having access to all foods so they learn good nutrition from making responsible choices. ``From our point of view, we believe there should be the sale of good nutritious food in canteens and that confectionery is a treat food which shouldn't be seen as a form of meal replacement,'' Confectionary Manufacturers of Australasia chief executive officer David Greenwood said. He said the move to control what food was eaten by students might work at primary schools but not at high schools. ``While this may appear to be a good idea on the surface, it is unlikely to control the eating of older students,'' Mr Greenwood said. ``High school students often have access to their own funds and can purchase foods outside of school grounds. ``Some may even purchase treat foods and then sell them to other students, depriving the canteen and the school of funds.''

The changes to tuckshop menus have also sparked reports of canteen workers resigning in protest. Staff have also been upset by the more labour-intensive preparation of food and greater spoilage required to meet the new rules. Queensland Association of School Tuckshops project officer Chris Ogden confirmed that ``early on there were some complaints''. ``If some have left, to be honest, it's probably better that they did. You're a tuckshop convenor because you care about children's health,'' Ms Ogden said. ``If you're not prepared to make the changes then maybe you're better off looking for alternate employment.''

The above article appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on May 28, 2006

Monday, May 29, 2006

Tomatoes hailed as major health source: "Tomatoes are being hailed as the super food of the decade, with growing evidence they help fight against cancer, heart attack and stroke. Full of vitamins and the anti-oxidant lycopene, tomatoes are credited with deterring cancer cell growth. New research shows tomatoes may also reduce blood clotting, preventing the chance of heart attacks and strokes. Reports from Britain say the tomato can reduce the "stickiness" of platelets in the blood so they flow freely through blood vessels and reduce the chance of a blockage. Clinical trials published in the journal Platelets found that anti-clotting properties were discovered in the yellow fluid surrounding tomato seeds."

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Another beer festival: "Dirndl-clad waitresses weave through the crowds with huge mugs, more beer is finding its way to the floor than to drinkers' lips and even the tables seem to be moving as people sway to folk tunes played by a band. Yes, this is Bavaria. And the only way this beer festival could be more stereotypically Bavarian would be if it was played out against snowy alpine peaks. "Everybody gets together. All boundaries and borders merge into one," says Hans-Christian Brockerhoff as we chat over seemingly endless litres of beer that has been specially brewed for the annual festival called Bergkirchweih. For 12 days, every (northern) spring, the inhabitants of Erlangen, a university town near Nuremberg, forget their daily routines and devote themselves to the serious business of drinking beer - and lots of it. The Berg, as it is commonly called, has been held every year since 1755 and is Germany's second-largest beerfest after Oktoberfest, held in Munich."


Apparently, prejudice against fatties is OK. There is no public health basis for it -- as moderately overweight people live slightly longer

In the past, fat kids only had to worry about the playground bully. Now the politicians, the doctors and their teachers are all out to get them - and their parents. In the next few weeks children aged four and ten are all going to be lined up at school for measurements of height and weight (1). This is necessary because the government, having already set a target for reducing childhood obesity, has realised that nobody knows how many children are overweight. The plan is to repeat these measurements in 12 months' time and then to write to the parents of obese children to warn that they risk long-term health damage unless they lose weight.

Even the government's own health advisers have warned that the mass weigh-in will inevitably stigmatise overweight children and will provoke widespread anxiety and distress among both children and parents. Public health doctors are well aware that it is illegitimate to diagnose individual health risks on the basis of population statistics and that there is no scientific justification for this approach. But, having fostered the obesity panic by promoting scares about fast food and snacks, they are ill-equipped to resist the zealots now driving government policy.

The politicians are now gripped by the dogma that exhorting people to eat less and exercise more will banish obesity. One of the few things that emerges clearly from half a century of research is that this approach simply does not work. While the scale of the problem of childhood obesity remains controversial - and both its causes and consequences are uncertain - it is widely recognised that no form of intervention has been found to be effective.

The crusade against childhood obesity has become dangerously irrational. Like most of the government's most cherished initiatives, it is exempted from the requirements of evidence-based policy. It is driven by the most desperate imperative of New Labour: the need to connect, with at least that section of the electorate that has responded so impressively to the charms of the celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver. In the childhood obesity panic, the insecurities of the nation's elite are projected into our primary schools, reflecting, as American academic Paul Campos observes, a culture that is `ultimately all about fear, self-loathing and endless dissatisfaction'.

Once again this week, the tired metaphors of `epidemic' and `time-bomb' have been mobilised to raise the emotional temperature. Obesity is presented as a modern plague, as a source of contagion and risk, which therefore justifies the sort of authoritarian measures considered necessary to protect society from extreme danger. These metaphors provide new forms of expression for deep-rooted prejudices against ordinary people, particularly against poorer people, who are more likely, in most Western societies, to be overweight. As the Australian educationalists Michael Gard and Jan Wright observe, `the idea of the"obesity epidemic" appears to lock commentators into a view of people as childlike in their stupidity, short-sightedness and utter self-centredness'. To be overweight is to be regarded as being `out of control, undisciplined, deviant, dangerously unhealthy'.

The label of obesity legitimises the public monitoring of behaviour and provides a licence for ridicule and harassment. For politicians and pundits, public health advocacy groups and popular television programmes, parents are a particular focus of condescension and contempt. According to Tam Fry of the Child Growth Foundation, `parents are very ignorant about what a healthy weight is'. In truth, within wide limits, there is no such thing as a healthy (or an unhealthy) weight - a simple fact parents know much better than these self-appointed experts.

The shift in focus of the obesity panic towards children is a particularly invidious development. A younger generation is now being indoctrinated with a deeply misanthropic and neurotic attitude towards the joys of life, such as eating, drinking and playing. As Tom MacMillan of the Food Ethics Council observes, health `neither is nor ought to be [the] main criterion in rational lifestyle choices'.

Eating and drinking are modes of sensual enjoyment and social engagement, ways of expressing individual and group identity, which are impoverished by the narrow preoccupations of the health fetishists. But instead of learning the pleasures of eating and sharing a wide variety foods, children are being coerced into consuming `five-a-day' fruit and veg, even though an authoritative study confirms that this yields no significant reduction in the development of chronic disease. Playing sport for pleasure is now being reduced to taking exercise for health, despite the fact that `no link between school physical education and either the long-term health, body weight or physical activity of children has ever been established'. The crusade against child obesity is likely to produce, not healthy outcomes, but miserable children and anxious parents and epidemics of dieting and eating disorders.


Saturday, May 27, 2006

Booze best for men: "Men who drink alcohol every day have a lower risk of heart disease than those who do not, but the habit does not offer the same protection for women, research suggests. A study of more than 50,000 people indicates correlations between alcohol consumption and heart disease rates in both sexes, with men the biggest beneficiaries of drinking. Researchers found that the risks of coronary heart disease were lowest for the most frequent male drinkers. Men who drank on one day a week had a 7 per cent reduced risk, whereas men who drank daily had a 41 per cent reduced risk. Although women who drank alcohol at least once a week had a lower risk of heart disease than those who drank less frequently, the study also indicated that the risks were similar if they drank daily (36 per cent reduced risk) or weekly (35 per cent)."

Friday, May 26, 2006

Ban ladders!: "More than 80 Australians have died falling from a ladder in the past five years, prompting a warning from the consumer watchdog. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) today released a guide to using ladders safely, after a recent Royal Adelaide Hospital study showed deaths and injuries from ladder falls were increasing. "At least 83 Australians have died during the past five years after falling from their ladder and thousands more have been seriously injured," Commissioner John Martin said. "The majority of these deaths and injuries were suffered by people using a ladder for home repairs and renovation." Mr Martin said the study showed men in their retirement, and working around the home, were the most at risk of death or injury from falling from a ladder."

Danish royals' chef quits in disgust: "Japanese-born Takashi Kondo, 58, who has worked in the kitchen at Copenhagen's Amalienborg Palace for 24 years, said he could no longer bear to feed the monarchs, who occasionally opted for reheated leftovers. "All the soul has gone," said the chef who blamed labour efficiency and time constraints for the shift from fine fare to convenience fodder. "Everyone has to run around and hurry everything." Kondo also criticised budget cuts, which have seen the allowance for the royal menu slashed by _12,000 ($20,370) to just _73,000 ($123,920) per year. "It's all about cost-cutting, it's more beggarly than kingly," he said. "Soon they will end up getting rid of the silver and eating off monogrammed plastic plates."

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Chocolate may boost brain power: "Chocolate lovers rejoice. A new study hints that eating milk chocolate may boost brain function. "Chocolate contains many substances that act as stimulants, such as theobromine, phenethylamine and caffeine," said Dr Bryan Raudenbush from Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. "These substances by themselves have previously been found to increase alertness and attention, and what we have found is that by consuming chocolate you can get the stimulating effects, which then lead to increased mental performance." To study the effects of various chocolate types on brain power, Dr Raudenbush and colleagues had a group of volunteers consume, on four separate occasions, 85 grams of milk chocolate, 85 grams of dark chocolate, 85 grams of carob and nothing (the control condition). After a 15-minute digestive period, participants completed a variety of computer-based neuropsychological tests designed to assess cognitive performance including memory, attention span, reaction time and problem solving. "Composite scores for verbal and visual memory were significantly higher for milk chocolate than the other conditions," Dr Raudenbush said. And consumption of milk and dark chocolate was associated with improved impulse control and reaction time."


Nobody seems to be mentioning that moderately "overweight" people live longest!

Children are to be weighed at the ages of four and ten and their parents warned if they are too fat. The school screening regime is aimed at fighting the obesity epidemic which threatens a generation of youngsters with a lifetime of ill-health. But the plan triggered angry claims that the Government is trying to dictate the size of children. Critics dismissed the weigh-in scheme as misguided, costly, bureaucratic and a dramatic extension of the 'nanny state'. They said pupils branded overweight could be stigmatised and bullied.

Under the programme, children will be weighed and measured as they start primary school and again before they leave. Parents of those judged too heavy will be sent letters warning of long-term health problems unless they lose weight. School nurses will conduct the first checks this summer and the results will be used to create a 'fat map' of the country.

Ministers are understood to be studying a trial scheme in the U.S. which uses three standard letters - one saying the pupil is within healthy limits, a second raising concerns they may be getting out of shape and a third warning that the child is obese. Details of the scheme emerged as a Parliamentary written answer revealed that one in three youngsters aged two to 15 is now overweight or obese, putting them at risk of a host of serious illnesses. Thirty-three per cent of boys and 35 per cent of girls are estimated to be too heavy. [In the opinion of the do-gooders only] ...

Parents are expected to be told how their children's weight compares with healthy youngsters of the same age and height. Public health minister Caroline Flint has insisted that it is parents who 'first and foremost influence what their children eat'. But parents' groups warned that the weigh-in letters could be ignored or deeply resented while psychiatrists warned of a surge in eating disorders among children.

Margaret Morrissey of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations said: "It appears to be more of the 'nanny state' and I don't think it's going to be terribly effective. "What we do in our own homes is our business and some parents may not react particularly well. "We all appreciate guidance on good diets but most of us think we are already doing our best to provide that. "Parents may say 'so what?'. If parents have a particular lifestyle and they prefer it, all the letters home in the world will not make a difference. "This will be extremely expensive to introduce and I do not believe it's the most efficient way of tackling obesity."

Dr Robin Arnold, of the British Medical Association's psychiatry committee, said: "It may well be justified in public health terms but one wonders what it will do to rates of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa in the future."

Sociologist Patricia Morgan said youngsters who were tubby as children often became slimmer naturally without outside interference. She said: "It used to be called puppy fat and it was accepted children would often grow out of it. "This is another piece of surveillance and another layer of bureaucracy. The risk is that people will become less likely to change things on their own initiative." ...

The Children's Commissioner, Professor Al Aynsley-Green, has expressed reservations about the scheme and nurses have warned that it could amount to an invasion of privacy. Chris Etherington, vice-chairman of the Royal College of Nursing school nurses forum, said: "The RCN is not opposed to primary school children being weighed and measured but we have concerns about how it will be done to avoid stigmatising them. "Children will pick up on the tallest, largest and smallest. Is this a positive experience for them to be going through?" ...

More here

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

No sex please. We're French?: "This spring, we are being told that France is turning off sex. This may just be media trend-making, but thanks to a recent survey and new books, we are being told by television, radio and the press that younger French men and women are increasingly doing without sex and that many prefer it that way. To be precise, the survey by Ipsos, carried out in 2004, showed that 25 percent of women and 15 percent of men live in "sexual solitude". Over a quarter of these said that they felt happy abstaining. The thesis of the supposedly new French abstinence is being pushed by Jean-Philippe de Tonnac, author of La R,volution Asexuelle, and by David Fontaine, whose book is called No Sex last year -- la vie sans sexe. The pair, whose works are full of case studies, are making the points that we have been hearing for years from the trend-trackers of the Anglo-Saxon world: People are retreating from the over-sexualisation of society and the pressure to perform. De Tonnac, who starred on last weekend's talk shows says: "Asexuality is a defensive reaction to the terrorism of le tout-sexuel". But France being France, the explanation is more abstract and part of the blame falls on capitalism...."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Brits get "women's wine": "In a marketing ploy that would have Bridget Jones choking on her chardonnay, a reduced-alcohol white wine is to be aimed at women who find conventional brands too strong. According to research by Sainsbury's, many women find that wine, which has crept up to between 12.5 and 14.5 per cent alcohol in strength, is simply too intoxicating. After years in development, the supermarket is about to introduce a new Australian wine, Early Harvest semillon sauvignon blanc, on the basis of its 9.5 per cent alcohol content. It insists that the wine will be indistinguishable from its stronger equivalents in terms of taste and quality. Early Harvest will also have 19 per cent fewer calories than that of the average bestselling wines, according to Sainsbury's."

Bureaucratic British idiocy again: "A council fired its tea lady then hired 200 pound-a-day consultants -- to tell staff how to make a brew. Jill Melvin, 46, was sacked from her 8,000 pounds-a-year post at the Tory-run council in March. Since then staff have been without a trolley service and have to negotiate stairs and fire doors with hot tea on their return from a self-service machine. Some workers ended up injuring themselves. One scalded a hand while brewing up. Another broke a wrist. Bosses at East Herts Council's offices in Bishop's Stortford so called in experts to advise on health and safety at the cost of 200 pounds-a-day. The 150 staff were asked how accidents could be reduced and told bosses to bring back the tea lady.... A council spokesman said: "We've spent 200 pounds in one day reducing the chances of an accident. We could have saved the 200 pounds and risked a payout of thousands if someone had been hurt. "We think very carefully [No sign of it!] about where we spend our budget and our sensible approach has been praised by our auditors as the best in Hertfordshire.""

Japan opts for oxygen fix: "Japan's largest convenience store operator, 7-Eleven Japan, has started selling cans of flavoured oxygen in Tokyo. The new portable cans of oxygen will be able to help customers replenishing their oxygen level whenever they feel fatigue for lack of oxygen, the company said. Unlike normal air that contains 21 per cent oxygen, the oxygen concentration of the new product is 95 per cent, enough for customers to feel invigoration when they breathe it. 7-Eleven Japan is the first Japanese convenience store or supermarket to enter the growing oxygen market. The launch was jointly developed by 7-Eleven Japan and Hakugen, a Tokyo-based lifestyle-related goods manufacturer. The company will sell two types of canned oxygen: "O2supli zuno-kan" with mint flavour and "O2supli karada-kan" with grapefruit flavour. Each can contains 3.2 litres of oxygen for about 35 two-second inhalations, enough for a customer to keep it for a week, using it five or six times a day."


Few people will buy so-called "healthy" food

The salad days are over at McDonald's. The fast-food chain's British outlets are to undergo a "back to burgers" relaunch after years of trying to promote sales of pasta, fresh fruit and salads, under pressure to encourage healthy eating. McDonald's is introducing a giant burger - 40% bigger than a Big Mac - to be launched in time for purchase by television viewers during next month's World Cup. The "Bigger Big Mac" will be followed by more new products over the summer, which the company says will give "a twist on existing burgers".

McDonald's unveiled the healthier options three years ago in response to accusations that its high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar products were fuelling children's junk-food consumption and leading to obesity. Now, however, Steve Easterbrook, the new president of McDonald's UK, has admitted that only a small minority of customers have chosen the healthier items. The initiative attracted unwelcome publicity when it emerged that dressings and croutons on a chicken salad gave it a higher concentration of fat than a Big Mac.

Easterbrook, 38, defended the original decision to bring in healthier menus but admitted that they accounted for less than 10% of the company's sales, which have been flat in Britain since 2002. "We are a burger business," said Easterbrook. "Our traditional menu - hamburger, cheeseburger, Big Mac, quarterpounder, chicken sandwich - is front and centre of our plans. The emphasis has changed." Easterbrook is following the lead set by McDonald's in America, where fast food chains have prospered by concentrating on traditional fare. McDonald's new promotions of cheap burgers there have contributed to a 30% growth in revenue in the past two years. Also in America, Burger King, McDonald's smaller rival, has introduced products such as the 730-calorie "omelet sandwich", with 47g of fat.

Easterbrook's move will undermine attempts by the government to improve children's diets. Last Friday, Alan Johnson, the education secretary, announced that from September, school meals will be required to meet minimum nutritional standards for fat, salt and sugar content, and will no longer be able to use "re-formed" meat products.

The return by McDonald's to the "bad old ways" suggests that the self-congratulation of some campaigners may be premature. This weekend, Eric Schlosser, whose book Fast Food Nation marked the start of a backlash against burger chains when it was published five years ago, was celebrating the premiere at the Cannes film festival of a movie on his campaign to expose unethical practices in the burger industry. A spokesman for Schlosser maintained that the healthy eating message was still making headway. "We are so glad people are beginning to understand their health is at stake if they eat these things," he said.

More here

Monday, May 22, 2006

REALLY healthy milk: "It's a magical liquid 100 times stronger than penicillin in combating bacteria - and it comes ready-made in a pouch. Scientists have found that wallaby milk could be nature's greatest elixir for fighting disease. Doctors believe that an ingredient in the milk that protects joeys - wallaby babies - from infection in their mother's pouch until they are old enough to develop antibodies could one day shield humans from antibiotic-resistant hospital superbugs such as MRSA. The question of how to milk a wallaby will not, however, arise. If it could be bottled, it would, no doubt, leap off the shelves. Instead the scientists plan to synthesise its elements as a medicine."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Athlete tent gives druglike boost: "All athletes dream of reaching great heights - but in a minivan? Top US mountain biker Carl Wecker says his first mentor used to drive up to the top of a nearby mountain every night and sleep in his car to get the endurance benefits associated with high altitude. 'It's not too big a price to pay when you're training hard,' says the Oregon native and four-time participant in the mountain biking world championships. 'It just sounds weird.' Today, Mr. Wecker has a more convenient solution: an altitude tent, which simulates thin mountain air right in his bedroom."

Saturday, May 20, 2006

What a piker! "A young Chinese woman is undergoing medical tests in Beijing after dining on dirt for 11 years. The 18-year-old from Inner Mongolia was taken to Beijing by her parents, who wanted to know why she finds dirt appetizing. She told Chinese television she started the habit when she was just 7 years old when she consumed dirt that was attached to the roots of grass. Yellow mud is her favorite. Her eating habits have caused problems for the family's next-door neighbor, who has a mud roof. Chinese television reported that the woman can't help herself and keeps eating the roof.

Portly piranhas put on a diet: "A shoal of piranha fish on show at a British aquatic centre have had to be put on a diet after putting on weight in captivity, officials said today. Regular mealtimes mean the razor-toothed predators have become a bit podgy in the past month so they are now only being fed half-portions in a bid to shift the excess, Lynsey Thompson, from Birmingham's Sea Life Centre said. Piranha, which are normally found in the River Amazon in South America, are capable of stripping a whole dead pig to the bone within minutes and can literally eat themselves to death, she explained. "Each mealtime has turned into a frantic feeding frenzy as they fight for meaty chunks of trout, prawns and mussels," she added. "In the wild, species of piranha can go for days without any food."

But how gassy is it?: "For those who find baked beans on toast just too messy to put together, help is on the way. Heinz has devised a frozen baked bean sandwich which simply needs to be heated in a toaster. Heinz chief Bill Johnson said the company needed to give people "new ways to use beans". "If people take the time to cook beans and put it on toast, why shouldn't we cut the process for them and give them beans on toast?" he said. The technology is being developed by Heinz researchers in New Zealand."

Beer grief for Germany: "Ii is brown-gold and alcoholic but, then, in the scathing verdict of German beer fans, so is paint thinner. The Germans are furious that Budweiser will be the official tipple for the World Cup, which starts next month. The American lager has secured a near-monopoly of beer sales inside World Cup stadiums and within a 500m radius of the grounds, supplanting more than 1,270 domestic breweries. And what most upsets the fans is that Budweiser - advertised as the "King of Beers" in the US - fails to meet the ancient German standards for purity, which stipulate that beer can be brewed only from malt, hops and water. Budweiser uses rice in its production process and therefore does not qualify as a beer in the German sense. Budweiser's World Cup status is a slap in the face for a country that attaches such importance to beer production."

Friday, May 19, 2006

"Fat" mirror: "For those who dread looking at themselves in the mirror, life is about to get a little bit worse. A bathroom mirror that predicts future weight gain based on personal habits has been developed by technology company Accenture to assist those engaged in the battle of the bulge. The experimental technology dubbed the "Persuasive Mirror" was developed at the company's laboratory in France that specialises in embedding technologies into everyday household items. The prototype is based on a standard bathroom mirror which feeds in information gathered from webcams and sensing devices positioned around the home, monitoring visits to the refrigerator, use of the treadmill, or spending too much time on the couch".

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Why sleeping at work is good: "Ever felt like sleeping on the job? Rather than crumbling into unsightly heaps on their desks, Sydney workers may soon have access to a comfortable and legitimate place to nap at their offices. MetroNaps Australia is this week launching its sleep pods in the foyer of the ABN AMRO building, on the corner of Phillip and Bent Sts in the city. Busy workers are invited to stop in and put up their feet for 20 minutes to relax and rejuvenate in style. Nappers' privacy is secured by the darkness of the dome-shaped pod, which lets them drift into a light sleep to the sound of relaxing music on a pair of headphones. It is a pastime that people in Copenhagen and New York are already starting to enjoy. With Access Economics figures showing a $1.7 billion productivity loss in Australia due to sleep disorders in 2004, MetroNaps' Australian directors Alex Silva and Brendan Torazzi are promoting their sleep pods as a human resource tool. "Our main focus is to emphasise the increase in productivity reaped through proper rest," Mr Silva said".

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Unsafe movies: "Watching many modern movies may be a health hazard, particularly for impressionable teenagers, an Australian researcher suggests. Scientists analysed 87 of the most popular films of the past 20 years, counting 53 sex scenes in about a third of the movies, yet found only one suggestion of using a condom. They found 8 per cent of the blockbusters included scenes involving cannabis, 7 per cent contained episodes of non-injecting illicit drug use, 32 per cent depicted alcohol intoxication and 68 per cent had actors smoking tobacco. They said the movies tended to portray drug use in a positive light and nothing of the consequences."

Unsafe movies: "Watching many modern movies may be a health hazard, particularly for impressionable teenagers, an Australian researcher suggests. Scientists analysed 87 of the most popular films of the past 20 years, counting 53 sex scenes in about a third of the movies, yet found only one suggestion of using a condom. They found 8 per cent of the blockbusters included scenes involving cannabis, 7 per cent contained episodes of non-injecting illicit drug use, 32 per cent depicted alcohol intoxication and 68 per cent had actors smoking tobacco. They said the movies tended to portray drug use in a positive light and nothing of the consequences."

Monday, May 15, 2006

British sauce war: "People in Birmingham are being urged to boycott HP Sauce in an attempt to stop the product's manufacturing operation being moved to the Netherlands. Heinz announced yesterday that it wanted to close its plant in Aston, making 125 workers redundant. Campaigners are furious at the loss of a product "as British as the Houses of Parliament" after which it was named. Britons eat an average of 1.2kg of HP Sauce each a year. Heinz, which bought HP last year, denied that it was reneging on a promise to keep the factory open, adding that the closure would allow the bottling operation for Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce to return to its site in Worcester. But Clare Short, the MP for Birmingham Ladywood, joined calls from a local newspaper for a boycott of HP Sauce to put pressure on the US company. Ms Short said: "This is another closure with good jobs moving abroad."

Obesity shock tactics backfire -- sometimes tragically

The usual unintended consequences of government meddling -- so medical advice is now in conflict with government advice. That Leftist governments should treat children as individuals rather than treat "children" as a lump is of course too much to ask

Shock tactics used in the war against obesity may have backfired, with reports children are being hospitalised because they are too scared to eat. A leading nutritionist has warned government scaremongering may be feeding another crisis with hundreds of children being treated for eating disorders.

Staff at the Royal Children's Hospital in Brisbane say they have been inundated with dozens of calls each week from worried parents of children who are refusing to eat or wrongly believe they are obese. "We have made it scary for everyone," RCH dietetics and nutrition director Judy Wilcox told The Sunday Mail. "I am worried it might be too big of an issue and people are getting a little bit too fearful. "The pleasure and joy dimension of eating is missing and kids are developing an attitude that eating is dangerous. "I have mothers ringing me up in a panic because they think their child is going to die because they won't eat vegetables. "People are bringing their children to see me because they think their child is obese and they are not. "Children are becoming too aware and becoming very, very fearful of obesity and a lot of parents are becoming fearful."

In an alarming new trend, young boys are dieting because they believe "slim is ideal". "In the past month, I have had four to five cases," she said. "We are seeing cases of osteoporosis in children as young as 12 who have dieted."

The hospital has sent letters to childcare centres warning them against confiscating food and giving only fruit and water for snacks. Schools and sporting clubs were also advised against weighing children in front of their classmates because of the potential for psychological harm. But the State Government announced at its Obesity Summit last week that it would start weighing students in schools.

The Wynnum-Manly Junior Rugby League side is already weighing players for an under 35kg representative side. Reluctant parents agreed to let their children diet to make the side for the June's city-versuscountry carnival in Charleville. The youngsters have been swapping ice cream for carrots and dumped P1ayStation sessions for 10-minute treadmill workouts.

Ms Wilcox warned the weighins were dangerous to children's mental outlook. "Everyone is well-meaning but they don't realise there are a lot of physical and psychological consequences to intervention," she said.

The State Government has announced it would send every Queensland household a selfhelp fat-fighting pack as part of a $21 million obesity plan. The Obesity Summit in Brisbane was told that 4 percent of children were severely obese and some kids aged between seven and eight weighed more than 100kg. Premier Peter Beattie said the amount of junk-food advertisements during children's television time was too high and called on the Federal Government to set limits.

The above article appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on May 14, 2006

Food racism?

Racism may not be Discussed

If someone says that what a supermarket stocks shows racial bias are you allowed to disagree? If you are a student at heavily Leftist Syracuse University in New York you are not.

Don't believe it? Go here and read how it happened. In reply to the racist supermarket claim, a student said: "Just because a grocery store doesn't have an aisle of fried chicken, cornbread, and watermelon doesn't mean they are racist". If you think that's a reasonable comment you would be right but where the student went wrong was in saying just WHAT foods might be eaten by a certain racial group. You are not allowed to mention that -- and the student was punished accordingly.

It's a sort of Catch 22 situation, of course: You are not allowed to mention anything that would be evidence for what you are saying.

The most amusing thing about the whole affair, however, is what one of the professors said: "There is a hesitance in people to discuss difficult and divisive issues like racism". I wonder why?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Fiery fart: "A patient's flatulence has been blamed for bringing his hemorrhoid operation to a fiery end. The man suffered minor burns in a brief but dramatic operating theatre fire. The patient was at the Southern Cross Hospital in Invercargill, New Zealand, to have hemorrhoids removed when the accident happened. A hospital source said there was a sort of flash fire. The hospital confirmed a fire did occur, and has ordered an investigation. [Sounds like an urban legend]

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Cyberchondriacs: "You can pick up a thousand cures for cancer, diagnose glandular fever in your tea break and identify any number of diseases likely to strike in the next 24 hours. But while the internet may be a mine of medical information, it is not always good news for your health. Concerns about people using the internet to self-diagnose - leaving GPs overwhelmed with visits from "cyberchondriacs" - has prompted doctors to set up a website offering independent and jargon-free health advice. The website,, was officially announced yesterday by the British Medical Journal in an attempt to help patients struggling with myriad sources of information on symptoms and therapies on the internet. The website covers information on more than 120 different conditions ranging from long-term disorders such as cancer, back pain and depression, to acid reflux, wisdom teeth and infant colic. It not only covers symptoms, treatments and questions to ask the doctor, but current evidence on medical research."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


For 60 years the tinny jingle of Greensleeves that announced the arrival of the ice-cream van has been an indelible memory of childhood, but that sound may soon be removed from suburban streets. Health lobbyists have decided that ice-creams are too much of a danger to children's health.

MPs and health officials are planning a series of measures across the country that are already forcing Mr Whippy and his helpers into meltdown. Under an amendment to the Education and Inspection Bill to be put forward this week, local authorities will be given new powers to stop ice-cream vans from operating near school gates. The move comes as operators claim that they are already being forced out of business by an over-zealous health lobby.

Local authorities have in recent weeks banned ice-cream vans from using pay-and-display parking spaces and set up "ice-cream-free"exclusion zones around busy shopping streets. Newham council, in east London, informed vendors last month that it would fine van owners up to o80 if they used pay-and-display bays. Greenwich council, in southeast London, has banned the vans from its streets altogether, while in Scotland, West Dunbartonshire council has introduced an exclusion zone around schools for vans.

Mark Gossage, the director of Ice Cream Alliance that represented 20,000 van owners in the 1960s and now has 700 members, said that many of his members can no longer make a living. "Many schools have already stopped arrangements for vans to sell to pupils," he said. "They are wiping us out."

There are about 5,000 ice-cream vans in Britain. In times gone by they would have parked at the side of most roads; but times have changed. The amendment would grant local authorities the power to ban ice-cream vans from parking near schools. One dietitian told The Times that a ban on ice-cream vans near schools would be a draconian policy that may drive children to buy even less healthy foods at nearby shops. Catherine Collins, the chief dietitian at St George's Hospital, Tooting, south London, said: "This is the kind of blanket ban that gives the health lobby a bad name. A healthy diet can factor in a sugary treat such as an ice-cream. It is the frequency of that treat that is an issue. Most choices from an ice-cream van would provide fewer calories and fat compared to a free choice from a newsagent."

Horse-drawn vans selling flavoured ices were first seen on cobbled streets in the 19th century. Motorised vans followed in the 1950s, selling hard, scooped or soft ice-cream. By the 1980s the business had become so lucrative that gangs fought over the right to sell to certain streets. In 1984 a row between Glasgow-based gangs led to the murder of six members of the Doyle family, who had run the Marchetti ice-cream company. The sector has since declined because of the availability of ice-creams from shops and garages. The few vendors left said last week they would be out of business if the amendment was passed.

John Barrowclough, whose Iced Treats van stops outside schools around Wolverhampton, said he had been forced to sell one of his two vans. because of a clampdown. "We sell a lot of ice-creams near schools," he said. "Of course no one wants to see fat kids, but most children have an ice-cream once a week, not every day." Sefer Huseyin, whose family have run Five Star Catering ice-cream vans in Camberwell, southeast London, since the 1960s, said that his vans had been banned from schools. "Telling vendors they are not allowed near schools is the wrong message," he said. "They have been going there for years and their livelihood is being taken away from them."

However, the amendment is supported by some health campaigners. Chris Waterman, the executive director of the Confederation of Education and Children's Services Managers, said ice-cream vans should be restricted. "There are millions going into healthy food in schools, yet kids are rushing to spend their money on food from mobile vans," he said. [Odd that!]



Don Quixote would feel at home there

Jordan Mitchell glared playfully at friend Elizabeth Sanchez as Mitchell clutched a 20-ounce bottle of Sprite Remix. "She got the last Diet Coke," Mitchell announced as Caddo Magnet High School students swarmed around them at a row of vending machines outside the school cafeteria Friday.

Mitchell and Sanchez are aware of major soda retailers' plans to eliminate sugary soft drinks from school campuses in the next three years. Mitchell shrugs at what amounts to a vending revolution. "I really don't have a problem with it," Mitchell said. "It's still a choice, and you can still drink one that you got from the gas station on the way to school in the morning."

Anna Hamiter, another friend, disagrees with the plan. "I would rather have a choice of diet or regular," Hamiter said. "It would be more like a democracy." Substitute teacher Anthony W. Fabio agrees in theory with the retailers' agreement, but his family embodies the reality of a soda-guzzling world. "We can't live without soda pop," Fabio said as he held a regular Sprite. "I sneak sodas in to my twin daughters who are students here. One daughter, Siobhan, drinks milk. The other, Kaitlin, religiously drinks soda pop, and it must not be diet. She's addicted to Dr Pepper."

The national retailers' agreement goes far beyond a 2005 state law that sought to limit high-calorie foods and beverages on school campuses. State Sen. Diana E. Bajoie, D-New Orleans, said she's pleased with the plan. Bajoie, in 2005, co-sponsored a law that limits what soda and snack venders can offer at schools. "We've had several schools that volunteered to participate," Bajoie said. "It shows we were ahead of the curve. It's going to help the children in the long-run. It's not so much the food they eat. Some children, they drink four and five sodas a day, and that's a lot of calories and carbohydrates."

The 2005 law requires that at least half of beverages on high school campuses be milk, water, juice or sports drinks, with a phase-in as existing soft drink vending contracts expire. Local principals aren't arguing healthy choices are better, but they question how the new guidelines would be phased in and if this focus on vending machines is really addressing the obesity problem.

Wednesday's announcement by the soft drink retailers brought back old feelings for Airline High Principal Kim Gaspard. Gaspard testified before a legislative committee on behalf of himself and other schools already in long contracts with beverage dealers when legislators consider the new state law in 2005. "We've not seen any (national) law yet, so it's hard to comment on how it would affect us," Gaspard said. "But I've signed a contract with Coca-Cola that has to be considered. It's hurting us in the pocketbook and it will take some time for kids to get used to buying the other products."

With changes inevitable, Coke has already made several switches in the machines at Airline, including 100 percent fruit drinks, added Gaspard. Water has become the number two seller behind Coke, with Diet Coke third. And at Broadmoor Middle School in Shreveport, some students are responding to healthier beverages. A machine that dispenses low-fat flavored milk sweetened with sugar substitutes joined the familiar soft drink machines in a hall near Broadmoor Middle School's cafeteria and gym this year. The varieties include flavors named after popular candy bars. "That Three Musketeers is da bomb," said Charles Antwine, a sixth-grader.

Cope Middle School Principal Judy Grooms believes for the most part, students will choose from what's available. Children can buy from the vending machines for 10 minutes during the lunch shift. The school gets quarterly payments that range from $250 to $300, which go toward a variety of things, including academic incentives, ink cartridges, the library and school events. Just like the income, interest in the vending machines by children has always been consistent, but not huge, which makes Grooms question if restocking beverage vending machines is the answer. "The children buying beverages are not necessarily overweight," Grooms said. "And if you went into our cafeteria, while they're trying to improve their nutritional value of their meals, they do sell extras that are not particularly healthy choices, like slushy drinks and ice cream. The school lunch program gets the money from that."

Education in choices should be more of the focus, she believes. "It's not quite the answer as much as the lifestyle in our homes and what we choose. An occasional soft drink is not bad, but a soft drink every day is not good."

Some middle schools set stricter limits on sweets and sodas. Ridgewood Middle School in Shreveport opens its soda machines after school, and then only to children who walk home. Students can buy only sports drinks and fruit drinks during the day after physical education classes. Opening soda machines only to walkers is a way to discourage bus riders from violating a rule against food and beverages on buses, said Gerald Burrow, Ridgewood principal. Ridgewood continues to offer regular soft drinks after school despite signing a new vending contract after the 2005 law was passed. The 2005 state law requires middle schools to offer only fruit juices, water and milk -- but Burrow said local Pepsi officials told him Ridgewood was exempt from the law because contract negotiations were underway before the law went into effect.

Green Oaks High School Principal Cleveland White isn't sure what will show up in his school's vending machines in the future. Green Oaks just inked a three-year contract with Coca-Cola's Shreveport bottling company. The school will receive $5,800 a year, a percentage of machine sales, free products for fundraisers and among other incentives. White worries that he'll lose extra money for football uniforms and copier supplies if students turn up their noses at diet soft drinks. "They have been an asset to the school financially, as far as our operating budget and providing scholarships and donations to athletics," White said.


McDonald's: why the parents of autistic kids are lovin' it

Ignore the food snobs - for some of us the Golden Arches are a godsend

By Dr Michael Fitzpatrick

"Elitists have always looked down at fast food, criticising how it tastes and regarding it as another tacky manifestation of American popular culture." Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, Penguin 2002.

McDonald's is the fast-food chain that Guardian readers love to hate, but for many parents of autistic children there are few more welcome signs than the double arches. We were recently sitting with our son James at McDonald's in Leighton Buzzard near where he goes to school, when we spotted another family also struggling with an autistic daughter. When James suddenly decided he wanted to go to the toilet, he started pulling down his trousers well before he reached the door. As I chased after him, I passed the mother of the autistic girl and we exchanged a smile of mutual recognition.

'Isn't McDonald's great', she said. 'It's so reassuring to know that however badly your child behaves, it probably won't be the worst that the staff have seen that day.'

It's true that the staff are one of the best things about McDonald's. Critics like Eric Schlosser, whose latest diatribe against McDonald's - Chew On This - is published this month, complains that the company exploits teenagers. I am sure that their wages are not extravagant, though I doubt whether pay and conditions are any worse than those of comparable British firms.

I cannot judge the quality of staff training, but I find that they are always cheerful and welcoming and tolerant of James' unpredictable behaviour. On one occasion when he started jumping up and down and squealing - as he does when he is excited - the manager rushed around from behind the counter. When he appeared he was carrying a party hat and a balloon.

The food at McDonald's is fast - a very attractive feature for children who have a limited tolerance for waiting, and even more attractive for their parents who have to contain their children's impatience. Small things make a big difference. For example, because the French fries are only 8mm thick (a feature of McDonald's much-derided industrialised production techniques), they lose heat quickly, thus enabling a child who has no concept of allowing food to cool before attempting to eat it to avoid burning his mouth.

James likes Chicken McNuggets (apparently made from chicken breasts!), French fries and Coke. I share his lack of enthusiasm for McDonald's burgers, which, as a fan of American cuisine, I always find a big disappointment. I find the coffee excellent, much better than those bitter-tasting free-trade varieties in trendier chains. But I'm not much impressed by the recent attempts by McDonald's to present itself as something it isn't: a health-food outfit. If I wanted carrot sticks, I would buy a carrot.

Like many health zealots, Schlosser wants a ban on advertising to children of foods high in fat and sugar. This will make no difference to James who is oblivious to advertising, and also to McDonald's promotional toys (he wouldn't even wear his Ronald McDonald party hat). However, it could be a problem for promoters of breastfeeding who also, through advertising and other means, encourage mothers to provide their babies with a substance that is rich in fat and carbohydrates, vital nutrients for growing children. The high fat/high carbohydrate food available at McDonald's is often particularly valuable for children with autism who are notoriously fastidious eaters.

For parents of children with problems of continence, one of the most important features of any public facility is the toilets - and those at McDonald's are excellent. They are well designed, with easy access, plenty of space and they are kept scrupulously clean.

Perhaps some would prefer a good old greasy spoon British caff, with filthy toilets, filthy kitchens, surly staff and grumpy customers. Others might opt for the trendy whole food restaurant, with even dirtier toilets and kitchens, even more miserable and ill-looking staff and a food snob at every table. Not for me and my family - give us McDonald's any day.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Folate leads to multiple births: "Women undergoing in-vitro treatment who take large doses of folic acid, a supplement designed to prevent foetal defects, may be far likelier to give birth to twins than to singletons, a study suggests. Only about one in every five attempts at in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) results in a live birth, so doctors often try to boost the success rate by implanting several embryos at a time. But multiple pregnancies run a higher risk of congenital abnormalities, foetal growth retardation and miscarriage, so understanding the causes and risks of twinning and reducing it if possible is useful. In a paper that appears in next Saturday's issue of The Lancet, researchers at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, recruited 602 women undergoing IVF treatment and assessed levels of folic acid in their blood. The study sought to establish the correlation between high levels of folic acid and multiple pregnancies and only speculated as to possible underlying causal links. Folic acid, also called folate or vitamin B9, is widely recommended as a supplement for women who want to conceive, as it protects against spina bifida and other so-called neural tube abnormalities. The investigators found women with high levels of folic acid in their blood plasma were 52 per cent likelier to have twins than singletons, in cases where multiple embryos were implanted". [Twins are usually greatly treasured so this is not a disaster story]

Kicking the Pepsi Can: Hard truths about soft drinks

The latest study claiming that soft drinks are the driving force behind childhood obesity has prompted the usual silly responses. The aptly named Barry Popkin, an academic at the University of North Carolina, has mused about the need for tobacco-like surgeon general's warnings on soft-drink cans and bottles. Popkin's idea has been endorsed by Michael Thun of the American Cancer Society. Meanwhile, the misnamed Center for Science in the Public Interest continues to threaten legal action against the food industry based on the spurious claim that food advertising to children for products such as soft drinks is deceptive.

The much-headlined new study in the journal Pediatrics, from Boston's Children's Hospital, is a poor piece of research. Among its many limitations is that it studied a staggeringly small number of teenagers. A mere 103 teens were divided into two groups, an intervention group and a control group. The teens in the intervention group received home deliveries of noncaloric beverages (e.g., diet soft drinks, iced teas, lemonades, and bottled water) for 25 weeks in an effort to reduce soft-drink consumption. Not surprisingly, these kids reduced their pop consumption by a massive 82 percent.

Equally surprising, but unmentioned in every media report, was the fact that there was no statistically significant difference at the end of the six months between the Body Mass Index (the standard yardstick for obesity) of the group that the noncaloric beverages and the group that continued with their regular soft-drink consumption. In other words, an 82-percent reduction in soft-drink consumption did not make the kids thinner, which makes it difficult to see how this study indicts soft drinks as a principal cause of obesity.

The Boston study is also flawed by the fact that it failed to control for, or report on, any of the other aspects of the two groups' respective diets. We have no idea, for example, what the daily caloric intake was for any of the participants in the study. Without this information it is difficult to know, first, whether the two groups were in fact identical except for their soda pop consumption and, second, whether it was the elimination of regular soft drinks that really caused the small weight loss that was found in the most obese participants. Given that there are dozens of supposed risk factors for obesity, it is somewhat disingenuous to claim that removing one risk factor, without controlling for the others, suggests that the one removed is a cause of obesity.

What is really odd, however, about the Boston study is its simplistic assumption that there is a unique caloric effect that results from removing soft drinks from someone's diet. Removing any source of calories - whether from soft drinks or anything else - and not replacing them will result in fewer calories and perhaps fewer pounds. Does one really need an expensive research study to confirm something so blindingly obvious?

The real problem with this study is the fact that it is contradicted by most of the published scientific literature about the connection between soft drinks and childhood obesity. For example, a recent study which looked at the supposed link between obesity and diet in 137,000 children in 34 countries found that being overweight was not associated with the intake of soft drinks. This study confirmed research from Harvard University, published in 2004, that followed the eating habits of 14,000 children for three years. It found that there was no association between snack food consumption, including soft drinks, and weight gain.

Similar evidence was found by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just last year. They reported that, "Evidence for the association between sugar-sweetened drink consumption and obesity is inconclusive.[N]ational data showed no association between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and Body Mass Index." In another study from 2005, which used data from the National Health Examination Surveys, the authors found no association between regular soft drinks and Body Mass Index, noting that regular sort drinks "accounted for less than 1 percent of the variance in Body Mass Index" among American children.

The media continues to give air time and column inches to obesity studies, especially those about soft drinks, so riddled with methodological flaws that their alarmist conclusions are worse than useless. All of which suggests that if the discussion about childhood obesity is going to be based on science, rather than science fiction, it needs to move beyond kicking the can.


Toxic fungus found at La Jolla hospital

This is another one in my crazy headline series. The headline above is taken from the good old "Sacramento Bee" again. In the body of the article we read of the fungus concerned: "It is harmless to healthy people". So much for "toxic". Most things are toxic in some dose and to some people, of course. Are peanuts "toxic"? They kill a lot of people who are allergic to them.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Now red meat is good for you: "Replacing two or three slices of bread or a handful of pasta a day with a small serving of lean red meat may help people lower their blood pressure, Australian research suggests. The findings are expected to fuel the debate surrounding how much red meat should be included in people's diet, particularly given the study was funded by Meat and Livestock Australia. University of Western Australia nutritionist Jonathan Hodgson, who led the research, said the study was the first of its type looking at the effect on blood pressure of increasing animal protein at the expense of carbohydrates. He studied 60 non-smoking men and women with high blood pressure over eight weeks, randomly selecting them to either follow their normal diets or to swap a small amount of carbohydrates each day with lean red meat - equating to replacing about two slices of toast with a 180g steak".

The Food Police Go to the States

When we think about the men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 to craft our Constitution, we usually picture the greatest men of their age, putting aside self interest and struggling to shape the blueprint of a nation. This is a worthy and honorable portrait and in many ways, an accurate one. But too often we forget that there were concrete events that provided the impetus for their gathering, and many related to commerce. The pre-Constitutional national government had proven completely inept when it came to managing affairs between the states, and merchants found it increasingly difficult to conduct business as a result of the myriad of often-conflicting state laws and regulations. Large states were able to impose their will on regions or even the whole country.

Today, we're starting to see a similar development in the world of food. Having failed to achieve any of their objectives at the federal level, food police groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest are turning to the states. And they're finding willing allies, especially in California, where trial lawyers and Attorney General Bill Lockyer have embraced their cause with gusto. Under a 1986 initiative called Prop 65, companies doing business in California must put warning labels on products that MIGHT contain a chemical that the state thinks COULD be a carcinogen or reproductive toxin. The fact that the chemical has been shown to be safe to humans in laboratory tests is irrelevant. So are the health benefits of the food or drink that must carry the label.

The list of "dangerous chemicals" contains more than 1,000 substances. And until recently, California assigned new chemicals to the list not by the scientific method but by lottery. Each chemical was assigned a number, which was then matched against that day's drawing in the California lottery. When a chemical's number came up, it magically became "dangerous."

Once a chemical makes it on the list, the trial lawyers take over. They can sue any company they suspect has a listed chemical in one their products. The companies almost always settle, and the trial lawyers cash big checks. The more important impact, however, is that these settlements, no matter how frivolous the complaint, force the companies to go back and reformulate their products - not just for California, but for the whole country. And if California ever forced a company to put a warning label on a product, the same warning label would have to be added to the product nationwide. Otherwise, the company would face lawsuits from trial lawyers in all fifty states.

Unfortunately, California isn't alone. The New Mexico legislature is currently considering a bill that would require warning labels for products containing aspartame, or ban it outright. Aspartame, of course, is the primary sweetener in diet soft drinks and a range of other beverages. New Mexico's campaign against aspartame comes in spite of a recent announcement from a federal panel of experts that the substance is perfectly safe. Needless to say, it also ignores consumers who enjoy diet soda and choose it as a healthier alternative to high-sugar, high-calorie drinks.

No single state should be able to impose its will on the whole country - especially California and New Mexico, states that are famously out of step. Fortunately, there's a bill before Congress to restore sanity and stop the food police and the trial lawyers in their tracks. It would do for food warning labels what's already been done for nutrition labels, agricultural products and the like - establish one clear, national standard and preempt state laws like Proposition 65. It's called the Uniformity for Food Act, and it recently passed the House. Now it's waiting for Senate action. Here's hoping they get busy. Otherwise, it won't be long before food packages have more disclaimers than drug commercials.


Saturday, May 06, 2006

A dog's dinner for all: "An award-winning Italian chef has become a chum of pampered dogs everywhere by devising cordon bleu "canine recipes". Bruno Barbieri, of the Michelin-starred Arquade restaurant at the Villa del Quar, a 16th-century hotel at Pedemonte, near Verona, said the recipes were so good that you could share them with your dog. "You eat them at the table, he eats them from his bowl." Signor Barbieri, 44, who honed his culinary skills on cruise ships before moving to the hotel amid the vineyards of Valpolicella, has created 51 "sophisticated recipes for dogs and their owners". He said he his own dog, a schnauzer named Alima, had enjoyed them all."

Let them eat cake! "Australians are being told to eat cake as part of International No Diet Day. Young Women's Christian Association spokeswoman Shannon Rees says too many young women are dieting and it could have long term implications for their health. "The community needs to take notice of these issues and step up and address body image and to say dieting is bad and to get out there and accept women for the sizes that they are," she said. Ms Rees says the day will highlight the problems like eating disorders among young women and promote healthy eating habits. "What we're asking women to do this morning is to get a group of girlfriends together, to go out and have breakfast or have lunch and if they're having lunch, to say, 'OK, lets eat cake,' because we're encouraging healthy diets but a part of that is also having cake as well," he said."

Rare sanity from the nervous Europeans! "Aspartame, the artificial sweetener used in thousands of foods and drinks, does not pose a cancer risk, contrary to the findings of a scientific study, the European Union's food safety agency said yesterday. Aspartame, which is 200 times sweeter than sugar, is used in a wide range of lowcalorie products from Diet Coke, Lucozade and Robinson's fruit squashes, to Muellerlight yoghurts, Walkers prawn-flavoured crisps, sugar-free gum and many puddings and desserts. It is marketed under trademarks including NutraSweet and Canderel and is thought to be consumed by one in fifteen people worldwide every day."

Friday, May 05, 2006

Asthma wisdom now found to be wrong: "Medical guidelines on dealing with asthma attacks may have to be rewritten after researchers discovered that doubling a person's medication does not help and could be dangerous. Queensland researchers tested the common medical practice of doubling an asthmatic's preventative medication during an attack and found in most cases it was not effective. The study, funded by the Asthma Foundation of Queensland, tested lung capacity after using oral steroids, preventative medication and a placebo on separate occasions and in varying amounts. Researchers found taking the double amount of preventative inhaler was as unsuccessful as using a placebo.... The study found a marked improvement in those who took oral steroids, confirming the view they were the best form of treatment for acute asthma."


Bill Clinton has managed to persuade the giants of the U.S. beverage industry to agree to take an active part in the fight against childhood obesity. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Cadbury Schweppes and the American Beverage Association, the country's top drinks distributors, have opted into the program and have promised to reduce the amount of calories and sizes of some of their most popular products sold in schools.

This effectively means that for 35 million U.S. public school children in future the number of calories in school beverages will be capped at 100 except for certain milks and juices; a can of regular Coca-Cola has 140 calories.

Under the agreement, sugary and calorific drinks will no longer be available in vending machines and cafeterias, or at after-school activities held on school grounds. The restrictions will also apply to drinks schools buy from the distributors for sales at sporting events and fundraisers.

Clinton a self-confessed "fat kid" clinched the deal which was revealed at his New York-based foundation.


Since the permitted milk and fruit juices are highly calorific, nothing will be achieved

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Ban cooked vegetables!: "Cooking vegetables in certain ways can make them as acidic as tooth-eroding fizzy drinks, scientists say. Eggplants, green capsicums and zucchinis turn very acidic when roasted in the oven, while red capsicums become heavily acidic when stewed, a study at the University of Dundee in Scotland found. But the acidity level of onions or tomatoes does not change with the cooking method, it said. The researchers studied how different methods of cooking a vegetarian dish like ratatouille could affect its acidity. Ratatouille was acidic no matter how it was cooked, but oven-roasting significantly increased the acidity of the dish, compared to stewing. Head researcher Graham Chadwick said: "The acidity of ratatouille prepared by oven-roasting is the same as that of some carbonated drinks that, when consumed in excess, are believed to contribute to the development of dental erosion.""


Recent media coverage of levels of obesity among children in Britain continues to inflate the scale of the phenomenon by using statistical methods that are fundamentally flawed. Over the weekend, the Guardian, for example, claimed on the basis of data from the Health Survey for England (HSfE) that '26.7 per cent of girls and 24.2 per cent of boys [aged 11-15] qualified as obese'. And yes, that is what the short release from the NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre said as well.

The problem is that these figures are based on the now outdated UK National BMI standards for defining obesity in children - cut-off points that have been described by leading experts in the field as 'arbitrary' and 'confusing'.

In a letter to the British Medical Journal back in October 2001, Susan Jebb and Andrew Prentice, both of the MRC Human Nutrition Research Group, said that the choice of cut-off points used to create these figures 'effectively inflates the number of overweight and obese children.. Exaggerating the absolute prevalence of obesity is ultimately unhelpful since it leads to confusing discrepancies in the transition from children to adults.'

This issue was also recognised by the authors of the government's reports on the HSfE some time ago. In the 2003 Summary of Key Findings, they noted that: 'About one in 20 boys (5.5 per cent) and about one in 15 girls (7.2 per cent) aged 2-15 were obese in 2002, according to the international classification.... In comparison with the international classification, obesity estimates derived by the National BMI percentiles classification were much higher (16.0 per cent for boys and 15.9 per cent for girls).'

Simple arithmetic shows that the National BMI standards used in the Health Survey for England reports exaggerate the prevalence of obesity in boys by nearly 200 per cent and in girls by over 100 per cent. Strangely, however, subsequent reports from the HSfE have not even mentioned the definitional problems and have simply quoted statistics based on the old national standards without any qualification. It is not surprising, therefore, that people, including journalists, get confused.

There is no excuse for presenting data in this way when even organisations such as the International Obesity Task Force, who developed the international standards in the first place, are urging everybody to stop doing so.

There is, of course, still evidence of an increasing prevalence of obesity among children whichever set of statistics one uses. But a 'real' shift from 3.9 per cent in 1995 to around 7 per cent in 2004 has very different implications from the reported 11.5 per cent to 18.5 per cent rise. The Guardian's headline 'Child obesity has doubled in a decade' was also particularly misleading and unhelpful in this context, because neither set of figures shows that.

Inflating the figures in this way does not help us to develop sensible strategies for tackling the issues. It allows people to get away with the use of terms such as 'public health time bomb' and gory predictions such as the one from Diabetes UK that 'we will soon be seeing our children growing up losing limbs and going blind'. As Jebb and Prentice concluded:

'Public health policy will best be served by a single definition of overweight and obesity in children and young people, which is consistently applied. We urge health professionals, scientists, and editors to adopt the International Obesity Task Force's proposed reference standard for obesity in children.'

Let us hope that the next reports from the Department of Health take heed of this advice.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Vitamin miracle: "Young offenders are to be given vitamin pills in a bid to control their criminal behaviour after the Scottish Prison Service agreed to a 2 million pound study by scientists from Oxford University. Previous similar experiments have recorded significant reductions in anti-social activity by inmates when their diet was supplemented with vitamins, fatty acids and trace minerals.... Last night, the groundbreaking research was also welcomed by former Chief Inspector of Prisons in Scotland Clive Fairweather and the Soil Association, which represents the organic food movement. The study will be spearheaded by Bernard Gesch of the department of physiology, anatomy and genetics at the University of Oxford. In a previous experiment involving 231 inmates at Aylesbury YOI, Buckinghamshire, Gesch's team noted remarkable results. A group whose diet had been enriched committed an average of 26 per cent fewer violations of the prison code than before the experiment began. Serious breaches - which usually involved an element of violence - dropped by 37 per cent." [One hopes that placebo/Rosenthal/Pygmalion/Hawthorne effects are being controlled for. No mention of it, regettably]

More medical dogmatism: "A Toowoomba paediatrician says he has noticed an unusually high number of genital defects in baby boys on the Darling Downs, west of Brisbane, and is linking it to water supplies. Doctor John Cox says the problem is being caused by phthalates, which are found in polystyrene plastics, insecticides and cosmetics and are released into water supplies during the break down process. Dr Cox has been involved in research work in the UK that is looking at the chemical and its links with hyposapdius, which is a deformity of the penis. Dr Cox says there is too much phthalate in water supplies and that must be changed. "The water supply level here is accepting too high a level," he said. "I mean they keep saying our water supply fits the Australian Standards, but the Australian level of hyposapdius is three times what it was when I came to Toowoomba. "So obviously the level has been set too high for what we accept. "It's got to be brought down to a lower level." See here for what the good doctor has overlooked

Your skin-cancer cured by a herb: "Early clinical trials of a new gel to treat skin cancer have returned promising results. The gel, developed by Brisbane-based company Peplin, can be rubbed on to the skin to treat certain types of skin cancer. Initial trials show just two applications of the PEP005 Topical gel on two consecutive days cleared up 71 per cent of basal cell carcinomas, or BCCs, the most common type of skin cancer. The trials on 60 people throughout Australia built on an early study by Peplin in 2002 using the common garden weed, petty spurge. "That was a very different study and that was just using the raw sap of petty spurge," said Michael Aldridge, Peplin's managing director and chief executive. "This is the same company and we have now identified the molecule responsible for that activity and we have put that into a formal development program, formulated a gel and developed a manufacturing technology. "We ran a phase one study in the US, two phase-two studies looking at sunspots, and this is our third phase-two study looking at basal cell carcinomas." Mr Aldridge said it was the first time the molecule from petty spurge had been used to treat BCCs, which are usually surgically removed. "We've seen some very, very impressive results," he said."

Drug no good: Makes you fat: "In recent years, psychiatric researchers have been experimenting with a bold and controversial treatment strategy: they are prescribing drugs to young people at risk for schizophrenia who have not yet developed the full-blown disorder. The hope is that while exposing some to drugs unnecessarily, preemptive treatment may help others ward off or even prevent psychosis, sparing them the agonizing flights of paranoia and confusion that torment the three million American who suffer schizophrenia. Yet the findings from the first long-term trial of early drug treatment, appearing today in The American Journal of Psychiatry, suggest that this preventive approach is more difficult to put into effect - and more treacherous - than scientists had hoped. Daily doses of the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa, from Eli Lilly, blunted symptoms in many patients and lowered their risk of experiencing a psychotic episode in the first year of treatment, the study found. But the drug also caused significant weight gain, and so many participants dropped out of the study that investigators could not draw firm conclusions about drug benefits, if any."

Chocolate benefits mythical: "Chocolate may inspire cravings but it is neither addictive nor an anti-depressant. Addicts have long consoled themselves with the belief that it is cheaper than therapy and you don't need an appointment. But, say Gordon Parker and colleagues from the Black Dog Institute in Sydney, a thorough review of the scientific evidence fails to substantiate that belief. Far from lifting a bad mood, eating chocolate may prolong it, the team says in Journal of Affective Disorders. That's enough to induce a bad mood on its own. "Any mood-state effects of chocolate are as ephemeral as holding a chocolate in one's mouth," Professor Parker says. Many claims have been made for chocolate's healthy properties, attributed to a range of pharmacologically active constituents such as serotonin, theobromine, phenylethylamine, caffeine and magnesium. Italian researchers have even claimed that women who enjoy chocolate have a better sex life than those who don't."