Friday, July 05, 2013

Ban school run and make pupils walk': Britain's new public health chief's bid to battle childhood obesity

Ivory tower Fascist

The school run should be banned in a bid to battle childhood obesity, says Britain’s new public health chief.

He argues that parents should not drive children to school but make them walk instead to help them keep fit.

Professor John Ashton, who takes over as president of the Faculty of Public Health today, argues that a century of progress in preventing diseases and lengthening life is stalling as obesity soars.

A lack of exercise and diets dependent on junk food has combined with other factors such as stress and poverty to create a crisis which he says is ‘in danger of writing off a generation.’

Professor Ashton says that British cities should be re-engineered to tackle modern health problems and that fears about a ‘nanny state’ should not stop the government action to improve health.

He said: ‘We’re used to this idea that our children are not going to be as well off as we have been. But I don’t think anybody has really expressed yet that they may not be as healthy either.

‘One of the things we should be doing is really strictly prohibiting cars stopping outside school to drop kids off but having drop-off points, if at all, a few hundred yards away so at least the children get to walk a quarter of a mile each day form the dropping off point... it would make a difference.’

In an interview before taking up his new role, Professor Ashton told the Times that he blamed a poor quality NHS and council leadership for failing communities.

He said: ‘We’ve had 100 years of progress in statistics of longevity and health and wellbeing, and there’s evidence now that things are stalling.

‘The golden generation, now in their 90s, have really benefited from traditional lifestyles — walking to school and work, not going everywhere in the car, not having junk food — but that’s been coupled with the benefits of modern medicine.

‘What we’ve now got is generations coming through where there’s been a deterioration of lifestyles.

‘The Victorian public health movement was driven by one simple idea — the sanitary idea, which was about separating human and animal waste from food and water.

Professor Ashton, the former director of public health in Cumbria, also added that sensible town planning is an important part of giving people the kind of environment that helps keep them healthy.

He added:  ‘Here we’ve got more of an ecological crisis, where we’ve created a habitat for ourselves where people don’t live the way we used to live.

‘We don’t expend 3-4,000 calories a day, we eat high density food, we’re not living in the way the human species evolved.

‘We need to have places where we live that support healthy living, so we do walk for some distance every day, make it easier to take exercise, to cycle, to eat healthily.’

But his radical ideas have been met with sceptics by some parenting groups.’

Justine Roberts, chief executive of Mumsnet, said: ‘I suspect there will be a mixed reaction to this because some people will find it quite hard to manage in practical terms.’


The spinach myth has lessons

Popeye's love of spinach is born out of one of history's easiest mathematical errors.

A mathematician and scientist has revealed that spinach's iron content was miscalculated by a German chemist when he misplaced a decimal point.

His mistake gave birth to Popeye's obsession with the vegetable, which the cartoon character eats in vast quantities to boost his strength.

Popeye's testimony that he is 'strong to the finish, 'cause I eats my spinach' is apparently born from a mistake 50 years before he became popular.

Samuel Arbesman talks about how scientific errors can lead to popular myths in his book, 'The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date'.

In 1870, German chemist Erich von Wolf was researching the amount of iron in spinach and other green vegetables.

When writing up his findings in a new notebook, he misplaced a decimal point, making the iron content in spinach ten times more generous than in reality.

While Mr von Wolf actually found out that there are just 3.5 milligrams of iron in a 100g serving of spinach, the accepted number became 35 milligrams thanks to his mistake.

This caused the popular misconception that spinach is exceptionally high in iron, which makes the body stronger.

If the value was true, eating a generous serving of spinach would be comparable to munching on a small piece of paper clip.

The story goes that cartoon creators aware of spinach's miraculous health properties had the idea that Popeye should eat spinach to increase his strength.

It is believed that the cartoon character is responsible for boosting consumption of spinach in the US by a third.
The myth of spinach's extraordinary iron content led to the creation of Popeye

While Mr von Wolf's error was spotted and corrected in 1937 when someone re-checked his maths, spinach is still popularly thought to be one of the most iron-rich vegetables, perhaps helped by the cartoon character.

In 1981, the British Medical Journal published an article to try and debunk the spinach myth.

Mr Arbesman uses the Popeye story to illustrate how humans have a tendency to ignore re-examining evidence and admitting when we are wrong.

He said that the reason such errors spread and lead to well-believed myths are because it is easier to spread a 'fact' that sounds correct than to delve deeper.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, an 180g serving of boiled spinach contains 6.43 milligrams of iron, compared to a 170g hamburger that contains a maximum of 4.42 milligrams of iron

Spinach also contains iron absorption-inhibiting substances, including high levels of oxalate, which are said to render most of the iron found in spinach of no use to the body


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