Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fat taxed enough already

Easy on the cheddar, chubby! Don't even think about eating those fries, fatty! Do I even have to mention the profiteroles, porky? Are these merely playground taunts? Worringly, they increasingly echo the voice of governments worldwide.

Owing to the rise of so called 'fat taxes', authorities are taking an ever-more active part in what their citizens digest (and what comes out of their wallets, of course). In the last few months alone, Hungary, France and Denmark have all implemented their own 'fat tax'. And whilst, as it stands, no gendarme will be confiscating your next banana-split, authorities, in their paternalistic wisdom, are increasingly frowning upon foods deemed undesirable.

Take Denmark, for example: a range of fatty foods, including even milk and butter, will be subjected to a tax if their saturated fat content is above 2.3%. The price of a pack of butter, for example, will increase by 45% due to the tax. Therefore, so it is thought, those selfish souls who indulge themselves on fatty foods will buy tofu and lentils instead: hey presto, obesity problem solved!

Things are never so simple, of course. The tax has already been received by many Danish firms as a 'bureaucratic nightmare', piling on additional costs to firms in an already tough period. Once more, any tax such as this is going to be inherently regressive; those least able to afford any price increases will be hit the hardest. But what does it matter? The French 'fat tax' is expected to raise an estimated €120,000,000 p.a.. A nice little earner.

Nor are we immune to such government meddling here in Perfidious Albion. Having successfully tackled all our other social, political and economic dilemmas, David Cameron is allegedly so enamoured by the idea of a 'fat tax' that he is toying with the idea of implementing one of our very own, as too are Finland and Romania.

Most are in agreement that obesity is a society-wide problem. The more rotund we become, the more our healthcare costs increase. So what's the solution? Surely not pricing poor people out of the market for fatty foods. We must seek a solution other than 'more taxes' – the default position of any government. Perhaps our BMIs could be helped by making it easier for people to help out at sport clubs without undergoing a raft of CRB checks, or by reforming our health system which currently permits the cost of atrocious health habits to be picked up by someone else.

Sadly the precedent has already been set. When we already allow the government to dictate what we may and may not consume in the form of innumerable drugs, letting them control what we eat is a logical advancement. And it will all be done for our 'own good'.

And nor is this merely a European phenomenon: the world over governments are beguiled with the notion of controlling our bodies. In New York, for example, it is now compulsory to display the calorific content of foods, presumably because people use to think that a bucket of KFC was a healthy snack. How long is it till cars are plastered with images of car-crash victims? After all, cars are dangers, didn't you know?

Along with this, Chicago's new mayor has implemented a mandatory 'wellness programme', in which one can only presume that those unworthy enough to be a few pounds overweight are scolded by their organic-mung-bean-fed superiors.

Can't we be left alone to comfort-eat in peace? Lord knows we need it, considering how grim the new is nowadays. If only someone would implement a tax on bad ideas produced by government.


The MALE biological clock: After 41 your chances of becoming a father 'declines rapidly'

This sounds reasonable but note that IVF to some extent ameliorates the problem. I became an IVF father at 44

It is not just women that have to worry about their biological clock. Male fertility declines with age – with even a year making a difference, researchers have warned.

They say that after the age of 41, a man’s odds of fathering a child decline rapidly. And after 45, those who haven’t started a family and want one should start doing something about it.

But with the likes of Des O’Connor having his fifth child at 72, and Rod Stewart becoming father for the eighth time at the age of 66, other experts said the finding should be taken with a pinch of salt.

The warning comes from a study of IVF patients in which the man’s sperm fertilised an egg from a donor.

In the context of the study, the use of donor eggs allowed the researchers to separate out the effect of the man’s age from that of the woman’s. The donor eggs all came from young, healthy women and so any differences in pregnancy rate must be due to the sperm.

And the difference was clear, with fertility declining by up to seven per cent with each extra year on a man’s age between 41 and 45. After that, it declined even more rapidly.

The average age of the men whose partners got treatment through IVF was 41. But the average age of those in which the IVF was unsuccessful was 45, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual conference heard.

The chances of pregnancy fell from 60 per cent at the age of 41 to just 35 per cent for the 45-year-olds.

Researcher Paula Fettback, of the Huntington Medicina Reproductiva clinic in Brazil, said: ‘Age counts. ‘Men have a biological clock too. It is not the same as for women but they can’ t wait forever to have children. ‘They have to think about having children, especially after 45.’

A second study presented at the conference backed up the warning. There, fertility plummeted in male mice from a year old – equivalent to middle-age in people. Fewer eggs were fertilised and fewer embryos grew long enough to be used in IVF.

Pregnancies took longer to occur and when they did, the miscarriage rate rocketed from zero using sperm from young animals, to over 60 per cent.

The researchers, from the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, said they believed there would be ‘some parallel’ with men. ‘We found an abrupt reproductive deterioration in mid-life, equivalent to humans in their 40s.’

Other studies have found that children of older fathers also run an increased risk of heart defects, autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy, and are almost twice as likely to die before adulthood.

While men constantly make fresh sperm, the ‘machinery’ that makes it can slow down and become defective over time. In addition, genetic errors may creep into sperm as men get older.

But other experts said advised would-be fathers not to worry.
IVF can compensate for many problems in sperm, in a way that it can't with eggs. Dr Richard Sherbahn, of the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago, said that while it is likely that male fertility does decline, any difference is likely to be just a few per cent over decades.

He added that IVF can compensate for many problems in sperm, in a way that it can’t with eggs.

Charles Kingsland, a consultant gynaecologist at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital and member of the British Fertility Society, questioned the quality of the study and added that the quality of a woman’s eggs is far more important.

He advised men who want to stay in good reproductive shape to eat healthily, not smoke, drink only in moderation, keep active and avoid hot baths, as sperm likes cool temperatures. He added: ‘There are a lot of advantages to being a young father. First and foremost, you’ve got energy. But being an older father also confers certain advantages – stability, wisdom, maybe a bit of financial security but you don’t have the energy. ‘I wouldn’t go rushing off to procreate on the basis that tomorrow my fertility might drop.’


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