Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Taxing fast food won’t persuade people to eat lentils and mung beans

By Richard Littlejohn

Doctors are calling on the Government to take urgent action to tackle Britain’s obesity ‘epidemic’. They are demanding ‘bold and tough’ measures aimed at the fast food and soft drinks industries.

This would involve an exciting new range of ‘fat taxes’ and a ban on advertising and sponsorship by the likes of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.

Manufacturers would also be required to label their products with health warnings detailing the amount of salt, sugar and calories in everything from pizzas to popcorn.

The idea is that if food and drink companies were prevented from backing sporting events such as the Olympics and football’s Carling Cup, people would stop stuffing their faces with burgers and guzzling beer.

Some hope.

No one tucks into half-a-dozen Big Macs and fries because they think it is going to turn them into Usain Bolt, or downs eight pints of lager in the vain hope that they will be able to play football like Robin Van Persie. They do it because they are stupid and greedy.

The poverty lobby is already bouncing up and down about the decision to slap VAT on pasties. They have dubbed it a ‘tax on the poor’. So what will they make of a huge, government-imposed increase in the price of fish and chips and takeaway chicken korma?

As for exclusion zones preventing fast-food chains and burger vans setting up shop near to schools, that’s been tried and has failed spectacularly. When Jamie Oliver attempted to improve the quality of school dinners, parents were queuing up to pass bags of chips through the railings to their ravenous children.

The medical profession is right in one respect. Britain is the Fat Man of Europe. We have overtaken our Continental neighbours and caught up with the Americans in the obesity stakes.

It is estimated that by 2030, half the population will be dangerously overweight and at risk of an early grave thanks to diabetes and assorted cancers.

But calling it an ‘epidemic’ is to suggest that obesity is something which can be ‘caught’, like measles or the flu. Demanding firm action from the Government also implies that the legions of lardbutts waddling the streets are somehow the Government’s fault, the Government’s responsibility and therefore deserving of a Government ‘cure’.

This is part of the depressing modern ‘victim’ culture, which strips people of any responsibility for their own actions and wellbeing. In all but a handful of cases, involving glandular malfunction and mental disorder, obesity is not an illness.

It is the inevitable result of uninhibited gluttony and a lack of willpower and self-restraint. Self-appointed ‘experts’ think that if only the public were ‘educated’ about the calorific content of deep-fried pizzas, they’d stop eating them and embrace a virtuous diet of lentils and mung beans instead.

Don’t be daft. People eat greasy fast food because it tastes good and provides cheap, cheerful instant gratification. They’re actively looking for the sugar rush, not trying to avoid it.

Cigarette packets are plastered with pictures of diseased lungs, skulls and crossbones and grim health warnings in lettering the size of the Hollywood sign. But millions still smoke and the Government is content to keep ramping up the prices and pocketing the proceeds.

Higher taxes on fast food would simply disappear into the vast black hole of state spending, or get frittered away hiring another army of useless, interfering healthy eating co-ordinators from the jobs pages of The Guardian.

Britain’s existing battalions of taxpayer-funded ‘five-a-day’ workers have been conspicuously unsuccessful in persuading the great unwashed to switch from French fries to fruit and vegetables.

When councils forced chip shops to cut the number of holes in salt shakers in a doomed attempt to reduce consumption, the punters simply unscrewed the caps.

As for the other ‘bold and tough’ measures, banning sponsorship and advertising by food manufacturers would be an intolerable intrusion on free speech and freedom of choice.

Driving food and drinks firms to the wall at a time of recession and high unemployment is the economics of the madhouse.

If the state really wants to encourage hideously fat people to lose weight, there’s a simple solution. The easy way to save the hundreds of millions of pounds being spent on treating the obese is to stop indulging them. We’ve all read reports of social workers buying fast food, fizzy drinks and sweets for ‘clients’ too fat to get out of their own beds.  If the morbidly obese were left to wallow in their own filth they might get round to losing weight.

We learned recently that some clinics are widening their doors so that  their XXXL patients can squeeze through. Why? Tell them that if they can’t get in, they won’t get help.

The NHS shouldn’t have to buy reinforced ambulances and heavy-duty maternity beds to support self-inflicted gutbuckets. Nor should the fire brigade be forced to use forklift trucks and winches to rescue 40-stone monsters from their own homes.

And why should the Health Service budget be expected to stretch to fitting gastric bands to people lacking the willpower to lose weight by eating less and exercising more?

Banning burgers isn’t the answer. There’s nothing wrong with a quarter-pounder, eaten occasionally and in moderation.  Why should the rest of us have to pay more for our fast-food treats because some of our selfish fellow citizens are slowly, and not so slowly, gorging themselves to death?

Let them eat cake. It’s their funeral.


Sound wave treatment that zaps prostate tumours could double men's chance of avoiding debilitating side effects

Sounds hopeful

Men with prostate cancer could soon be offered sound wave treatment that almost doubles their chance of avoiding debilitating side effects.  The therapy closely targets tumours, causing much less damage to healthy tissue than conventional surgery or radiotherapy.

High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) is already used in some NHS hospitals and private clinics, often to treat the entire half of the prostate where the cancer was situated.  But it is now being used in a more targeted way to treat areas of early-stage cancer just a few millimetres in size.

Experimental research shows this dramatically cuts the number of men suffering incontinence, impotence and other complications due to nerve damage caused by treatment.

Men undergoing traditional treatment – radiotherapy or surgery to remove the whole prostate – have a 50 per cent chance of a ‘perfect outcome’, avoiding the side effects and achieving good cancer control a year after therapy.

In a new trial, men treated with HIFU had a nine in ten chance of achieving the best result. None of the 41 men in the trial had incontinence and just one in ten suffered from impotence after 12 months. Altogether 95 per cent of the men were cancer-free after a year, a report in the medical journal Lancet Oncology says.

HIFU focuses high-frequency sound waves on to an area the size of a grain of rice.  The sound waves cause the tissue to vibrate and heat to about 80c, killing the cells in the target area.  The procedure is performed in hospital under general anaesthetic and most patients are back home within 24 hours.

Dr Hashim Ahmed, who led the study at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and University College London, said: ‘We’re optimistic that men diagnosed with prostate cancer may soon be able to undergo a day case surgical procedure, which can be safely repeated once or twice, to treat their condition with very few side-effects.  That could mean a significant improvement in their quality of life.

‘This study provides the proof-of-concept we need to develop a much larger trial in the NHS in the next two years, hopefully backed by the Government, to determine whether it is as effective as standard treatment in the medium and long term.’

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. In the UK, more than 37,000 men are diagnosed each year and the condition leads to approximately 10,000 deaths.

However, men with early-stage prostate cancer can live for years without their disease getting worse and many face the dilemma of opting for therapy that may lead to side effects.

Standard treatments can damage surrounding healthy tissue, with up to a quarter of men suffering urinary incontinence and two-thirds having erectile difficulties as a result.

But the latest trial, funded by the Medical Research Council, the Pelican Cancer Foundation and St Peter’s Trust, used focal HIFU therapy, meaning it targeted the exact areas of cancer using two highly sensitive diagnostic techniques, MRI and mapping biopsies.

Professor Mark Emberton, who leads the research programme at UCLH and UCL, said similar techniques to preserve tissue had been successful in breast cancer treatment, where women have been offered a lumpectomy rather than mastectomy.

Owen Sharp, of The Prostate Cancer Charity, said: ‘We welcome the development of any prostate cancer treatment which limits the possibility of damaging side effects such as incontinence and impotence.

‘However, we need to remember that this treatment was given to fewer than 50 men, without follow-up over a sustained period of time.’

Prostate Action chief executive Emma Malcolm said: ‘Today, men being treated for prostate cancer face a daunting range of side effects, having a 50/50 chance of getting through a year without experiencing incontinence, impotence, or having their cancer spread.  ‘[This] research suggests high-intensity focused ultrasound could cut this risk ... giving thousands of men a better quality of life.’


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