Monday, September 05, 2011

The obesity scare raises its weighty head again

Ignore the doomsayers, and eat what you darn well please. Now for the wine, duck and Armagnac... 

By Terry Wogan, a "leading media personality" in Britain

Hardly has the dust settled on urban rioting, than we’re faced with another, apparently major, crisis. Obesity. Don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring! This scare raises its weighty corpse from the dead every three years or so, when the public is perceived as breathing a little more easily. How long ago was it that young women, and girls particularly, were being warned against eating too little, and endangering their health? Now, they and the rest of us are being warned that we’re eating ourselves into an early grave, and worse, costing everybody, including the undeserving fit, a fortune in medical care.

I remember casting aspersions on the sanity of some utter dumbbell of a politician, whose name escapes me, but who, unless the old memory is playing hide and seek, counted obesity as great a danger to the human race as global warming. He’d already claimed that the same global warming was a bigger danger to mankind than terrorism. The logical conclusion: being overweight was more dangerous to life on earth than terrorism.

This time around, the bleating of the doomsayers is well up to speed: the British public should eat only as instructed, and those rotters, the food producers, should be similarly forced to come up with only what some expert has decided is good for us.

Yet doctors, dieticians, scientists and every deranged health-food guru have been at odds about what exactly is good for us since people could afford to be worried about what the next meal was going to be, rather than if there was going to be one.

In the tranquil area of France from which I write at present, the diet of the man in the street with the beret and baguette is one of wine, duck in all its forms (including the fat), lots of bread, and Armagnac to wash it all down. Heart attack on a plate, the rocky road to obesity? The inhabitants of this d├ępartement live longer than any others in France.

In Spain, I was regularly presented with a chunk of country bread, grilled on an open fire, on which I was invited to spread liberal amounts of lard, until my stomach thought my hand had gone mad. I know, I know. The “experts” will tell me that this is “good” fat, far better for the children of Britain than an oven-baked chip, or a cheap pizza.

Maybe, but what is certain is that nobody, however qualified, has the right to tell anybody else what they should be eating. Or drinking. President Sarkozy of France, a great man for jumping on a bandwagon, is proposing a tax on fizzy drinks. What about human rights? The idea that tax should be levied on “wrong” food and drinks smacks too closely of dictatorship. It is the inalienable right of every man and woman in a free society to go to hell in their own handcart, as long as nobody else gets hurt.

Obesity is not catching, it’s up to you. And only you.


New £2.50-a-day stroke pill 'will help 1 million patients'

Almost anything would be better than warfarin. It's a very dangerous drug if you get the dose just a bit wrong. They poison rats with it

A stroke drug hailed as the biggest advance in blood-thinning for almost 60 years goes on sale today. More than a million Britons could benefit from Pradaxa, which is up to a third more effective than warfarin, the gold-standard blood-thinner, when it comes to preventing strokes.

The £2.50-a-day drug is the first of a new generation of anti-clotting medicines. Its release follows news of a similar drug, apixaban – also known as Eliquis – which was also found to be better and safer than warfarin.

The traditional treatment, which has been in use for more than half a century, is very effective but reacts with countless foods, alcohol and other medicines, with sometimes fatal consequences.

Pradaxa could vastly improve patients’ quality of life by allowing them to eat what they want without fear of upsetting the levels of medication in their blood and triggering a stroke or haemorrhage. It would also remove the need for the frequent blood tests associated with warfarin, which is also used as rat poison.

From today, Pradaxa, which is also known as dabigatran etexilate, can be used to thin the blood in people with atrial fibrillation, in which erratic beating of the heart raises the odds of stroke five-fold.

In a trial with more than 18,000 sufferers of the condition, it was 35 per cent better than warfarin at preventing strokes. Overall, around three-quarters of strokes were prevented. It also had fewer serious side-effects – although some patients struggled with indigestion.

One of the biggest advantages will be its ease of use. Warfarin users have to undergo blood tests as often as every two days to ensure they don’t accidentally take too much or too little of it. Most of them – including many pensioners – must make regular visits to their GP, even when they have been on the drug for years.

Some 1.2million Britons suffer from atrial fibrillation – which is blamed for more than 20,000 strokes a year – but many do not take warfarin because of its associated problems.

Trudie Lobban, of the Atrial Fibrillation Association, said: ‘Our members live in fear of suffering a disabling or fatal stroke. They have waited years for an alternative to current treatment.’

Professor John Camm, of St George’s Hospital in London, added: ‘This is a big leap forward. There are very few interactions with Pradaxa, so patients don’t have to be monitored every few weeks and they still get significant protection. It’s win-win.’

It remains to be seen whether the drugs rationing body, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, will judge the treatment, made by Boehringer Ingelheim, to be a good use of taxpayers’ money. Warfarin costs less than £15 per year.

A ruling on NHS use in England and Wales is expected by the end of the year. The equivalent body in Scotland is set to decide within two weeks.


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