Friday, November 26, 2010

Passive smoking kills 600,000 a year?

This is utter rubbish: The usual epidemiological speculation combined with assuming what you have to prove.

As far as I can tell, all that these do-gooder Swedish epidemiologists did was look at areas where a lot of people smoked and then looked at illness in those places. And, Hey Presto! Places where a lot of people smoked had more illness! But saying that inhaling other peoples smoke CAUSED the illness is totally unproven. It is just assumed.

A much more likely explanation for the relationship they report comes from the fact that it is mostly the poor who smoke these days and poor people have worse health in general.

But be that as it may, what the study completely ignores is much more direct evidence on the question concerned -- such as the fact that non-smoking wives of smokers have no worse health outcomes than average

Passive smoking claims more than 600,000 lives each year around the world - an estimated one per cent of all deaths, a global study has found.

Children are the group most heavily exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke, and about 165,000 of them die as a result, said researchers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) study is the first to assess the global impact of inhaling other people's smoke.

Based on 2004 data from 192 countries, the figures show smoking in that year killed almost six million people, either actively or passively by claiming the lives of non-smokers.

Second-hand smoke was believed to have caused 379,000 deaths from heart disease, 165,000 from respiratory infections, 36,900 from asthma and 21,400 from lung cancer. In addition 10.9 million years of disability-free life were lost globally because of passive smoking.

The findings are published on Friday in an early online edition of The Lancet medical journal.

Dr Annette Pruss-Ustun, from the WHO in Geneva, Switzerland, and her fellow authors wrote: "Exposure to second-hand smoke is still one of the most common indoor pollutants worldwide. "On the basis of the proportions of second-hand smoke exposure, as many as 40 per cent of children, 35 per cent of women and 33 per cent of men are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke indoors. "We have estimated that second-hand smoke caused 603,000 deaths.. worldwide in 2004, corresponding to one per cent of all deaths..

The figures were obtained by analysing data from disease incidence studies and smoking surveys.

More bulldust here.

The academic journal article is here, under the title "Worldwide burden of disease from exposure to second-hand smoke: a retrospective analysis of data from 192 countries"

The Food Police Take Aim

Providing nutritional information is one thing. Trying to outlaw the occasional splurge is quite another.

As people all across this nation prepare to loosen their belts and load their dinner plates high with delicious holiday fare, public-interest groups are busy trying to send us all on a collective guilt trip for unhealthy eating habits.

True, the food-police killjoys at the Center for Science in the Public Interest haven’t yet taken aim at Mom’s stuffed turkey and candied yams. But they do target restaurant meals they think should be off limits. This year’s edition of the CSPI’s annual finger-wag, Xtreme Eating 2010, cites such familiar villains as The Cheesecake Factory, P. F. Chang’s, the D.C. burger mecca (and Obama favorite) Five Guys, and other chain restaurants for offering high-calorie menu items.

Thank God for the CSPI! I mean, without this helpful list, how would Americans know that making a habit of consuming a Five Guys burger with fries and a non-diet drink might be bad for them? How would simple-minded Americans begin to understand that something called the “Chocolate Tower Truffle Cake” might be a little heavy on calories and fat? I mean, without the CSPI, people might mistake The Cheesecake Factory’s cream-and-bacon-laden Pasta Carbonara for health food. As my eleven-year-old niece would put it: Duh!

Of course, some of the information on the list is indeed jarring. Who doesn’t cringe when seeing the 2,000-plus calorie totals for some of these meals? But what the food police at the CSPI don’t seem to understand is that people don’t eat this rich food every day. For most people, treating themselves to a high-calorie restaurant meal is an occasional indulgence.

And while the CSPI implies that these restaurant meals are responsible for America’s obesity problem (and in truth, obesity rates have stayed level for ten years), a recent study released by the Cato Institute found that eating in restaurants has a negligible effect on obesity. The authors found that the calorie difference among those who eat out regularly and those who do not is “too small to account for more than a trivial fraction of the increase in [Body Mass Index] observed over the past several decades.”

If the CSPI were releasing its lists simply to help inform consumers that some restaurant food is high in calories and saturated fat, it would be providing a helpful service to the dining consumer. But the CSPI’s goals go way beyond informing the public; the CSPI wants to browbeat these restaurants into serving only healthy foods.

The CSPI has a long history of beating up on the restaurant industry. It has promoted policies requiring restaurants to provide calorie counts and other nutrition information on menus and poster boards. More recently, the CSPI heralded provisions in the health-care bill requiring chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to display the calorie count and other nutritional information for each menu item. While many restaurants already provide this information voluntarily, the health-care bill will mandate it for all.

The White House cheers these mandates and suggests, wrongly, that such displays help reduce obesity. In a recently released report to the president, the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity included the results of one study that showed that calorie information can help people make more healthy food decisions. But that study was laughably unscientific: It was conducted in one Subway sandwich shop and had only 292 participants, the vast majority of whom were adult white males.

A much larger study conducted by researchers from New York University and Yale University, and published in the journal Health Affairs, considered 1,100 customers at four fast-food restaurants — McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken — located in poor neighborhoods of New York City where obesity rates are high. They found that only half the customers noticed the calorie counts, which were prominently posted on the menu boards. Of those, only 28 percent said the information influenced their ordering, but nearly all of this group (nine out of ten) said they had made healthier choices as a result.

When researchers inspected their receipts, however, they found that these same customers who said they had made healthier choices actually ordered more calories than the average customer had ordered before New York City’s labeling law went into effect.
Increasingly, government is trying to find ways to control the eating habits of Americans, using tactics that range from restrictions on the use of particular ingredients — such as salt, sugar, and certain types of oil — to dictates on how food manufacturers and retailers can market their products to consumers. These efforts are unlikely to succeed, but if they do, they will represent a disturbing increase in government’s interference in our lives.

It’s a fine thing for the CSPI to try to inform the public of the health consequences of a consistently unhealthy diet. But its efforts should stop there: It’s none of the CSPI’s — or the government’s — business if someone wants 2,000 calories’ worth of cake for his birthday.

This Thanksgiving, enjoy the quintessential American freedom to choose to put extra gravy on your potatoes. Go nuts; skip the white meat and have that extra slice of pumpkin pie. Just be sure not to invite anyone who works at the CSPI to your family’s Thanksgiving feast.


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