Dietary Meanderings

Make sure you are relaxed when you eat. Do not eat if you're feeling stressed or anxious - Daily Mail, May 21

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Dietary Meanderings of the Daily Mail

– have they got news for us?

Regular readers of SIRC's Media Watch may be aware that certain publications have a tendency to appear regularly within its pages. The Daily Mail, largely due to the fact that the majority of its content is not available on line, has for the most part managed to avoid this dubious honour. Scanning its headlines over the last week, however we feel that the Mail has excelled itself to such a degree that it warrants a special mention.

To coin a phrase from BBC's Have I got news for you, "some headlines, all from this week's guest publication."

The Generation at risk from false teeth. Discussing the findings of a report from the British Dental Association, the Mail (May 27) suggests that according to the report

"Children as young as four are already needing their teeth filled or capped because they guzzle too many soft drinks and fruit juices. The acid in them increases youngsters' chances of tooth erosion at an alarming rate."

Are fizzy drinks friend or foe? From the femail website (May), this article claims to "reveal the truth and myths" behind health advice linking fizzy drinks to "all manner of ills from obesity and asthma to cancer". The article also focuses on claims that consumption of carbonated drinks may lead to hyperactivity in children, the reduction of bone density and that their caffeine content may "cause some people to feel hyper or 'jittery.'" Indeed, the effects of caffeine feature prominently in the first section of the article, interesting when one of the dietary verdicts supplied is that:

"you should try and alternate carbonated drinks with drinks containing calcium – to promote good bone health – such as milk, tea or coffee."

Unlike the previous article, however, this contribution from femail does attempt to seek the advice of nutritional bodies and peer reviewed academic journals and its general advice of moderation appears broadly sensible.

Fertility fears for women who stay too slim (May 27)

"Women determined to keep a lean figure could find themselves unable to have children, a fertility expert has claimed. Combining a low-fat diet with constant exercise can affect a woman's ability to conceive, even if she appears perfectly healthy and is still menstruating."

According to the Mail, Professor Frisch's findings, on which the article is based

"should be a 'wake-up' call for women intent on staying as thin as possible. 'Many women who maintain the body shape made popular on the catwalks throughout the world are completely infertile,' she said."

In a sublime instance of editorial confusion, the femail website offers us this piece in its "Getting in Shape" section. Lose up to ten pounds in a week with our new diet! (May)

"Are you dreaming of lounging on the beach this summer, but worry that a winter's worth of comfort food has left you looking wobbly in all the wrong places? Look no further than our exclusive new diet, Liz Hurley's best-kept slimming secret, the Watercress Soup Diet. "

In the same print edition (May 27) in which Professor Frisch's concerns are aired, comes the headline Lose a stone in just two weeks, by Anne Louise Gittlemen, author of the snappy-titled Why am I so tired?: discover how correcting your body's copper imbalance can keep your body from giving out before your mind does, Get the sugar out and the Fat flush plan. Gittlemen recognises the proliferation of different diets and nutritional messages that exist:

"Like most people, you're probably confused when it comes to choosing a weight-loss plan – bombarded by miracle diets, yet constantly alerted to the health risks associated with these fads. Are carbohydrates bad? Is a high-protein diet good? How much fat is really healthy?"

Yes Anne, we are confused, but it is good to know that the Fat flush plan is not just another fad and can show us

"how to shed unwanted pounds while actually improving your health, thus building a bridge between beauty and vitality."

"Revealing the truths and myths" surrounding dietary health scares is indeed an admirable objective, but the Mail's complete lack of editorial consistency serves only to undermine their aims. Rules for healthy eating (Daily Mail, May 21) told us to

"Make sure you are relaxed when you eat. Do not eat if you're feeling stressed or anxious"

Paying too much attention to the Mail, you might be forgiven for thinking that starvation was close at hand. Conflicting dietary advice is anxiety inducing in itself and this week's offerings from the Mail are unlikely to encourage its readers to be more relaxed about what it is that they eat. Furthermore, sensible dietary messages are being lost and subverted by such obvious contradictions. [see The side effects of health warnings]

Simon Bradley – 27 May 2002