Motherhood in Western Europe

Insights from Western European Mothers

The changing face of motherhood — Western Europe

The accompanying reports combine a review of existing literature with an analysis of original quantitative data derived from a poll of 9,582 mothers from 12 countries in Western Europe, making it one of the largest studies of this kind ever conducted

Child Obesity and Health

An analysis of the latest available data from the Health Survey for England (HSE)

Child Obesity and Health — download the full report in pdf format

In this ‘National Childhood Obesity Week’, the SIRC report, Children, obesity and heath: Recent trends, holds up a true mirror, accurately reflecting the trend towards slimmer, healthier children. more

The Future of Freemasonry

An examination of the role of Freemasonry in the 21st century


This report is, as far as we know, an account of the first ever study that has been commissioned by Freemasons from a non-Masonic body. None of the SIRC members involved in the project are Freemasons, a fact that evoked surprise and welcome in equal measure from the Lodge members we met. more

The Changing Face of Motherhood

Insights from three generations of mothers


The report seeks to answer some specific questions about the changing face of motherhood and determine the extent to which modern ‘solutions’ to motherhood are more or less beneficial than the solutions of the past. more

Related pages

Click here to download a copy of the Lancet report in pdf format. (Free registration required).

Fibre – the pendulum swings

The publication in the Lancet of a study concerned with the effect of dietary fibre on bowel cancer makes interesting, if depressing, reading. Claire Bonithon-Kopp and her colleagues of the European Cancer Prevention Organisation Study Group have obtained findings which appear to challenge long-held assumptions that diets rich in fibre help prevent not only heart disease but also colorectal cancer.

The study involved three randomised groups of patients with a previous history of adenomas – small polyps attached to the wall of the bowel which can be precursors of cancer. One group was given fibre supplements, another doses of calcium, also thought to reduce the incidence of bowel cancer, and the third received a placebo over a period of three years.

At the end of the trial the reoccurrence of the polyps in the 'calcium' group was 16%, compared with 20% for the placebo control group. Among those who had been given fibre supplements, however, polyps were found to have reoccurred in 29% of the group – a statistically significant higher proportion.

The authors of the study express a number of qualifications regarding these results, as we would expect in peer-reviewed journal. They point out, for example, that ". because very few patients developed large adenomas, we cannot exclude the possibility of a beneficial effect of ispaghula husk [fibre] on later stages of carcinogenesis, such as adenoma growth and malignant transformation." They also emphasise ". our findings should not prevent recommendations for high consumption of vegetables, fruits and cereals, because this approach has potentially beneficial effects on other chronic disease, especially coronary heart disease."

The study has been reported in a number of British newspapers, including the Independent and the Express in a generally accurate way. The fact that this was a study of people who already had precursors for bowel cancer in the form of polyps was not always made clear, but a sense of balance has been evident.

What this study really highlights is the near impossibility of providing definitive dietary prescriptions when the body of scientific evidence on which they are, or should be, founded is constantly shifting. High fibre is still good for the heart, but now it is possibly bad for the bowel. Dairy products, once thought to be so essential for good health that some of us still remember being force-fed full-fat milk at primary school, are now seen as potentially hazardous conveyors of cholesterol. And red meat, another alleged villain of cancer causation, is now firmly on the school meals menu to prevent nutritional deficiencies.

It is difficult to find any single food item that has not, at one time or another, been found to be both beneficial and, at others, toxic or carcinogenic. Broccoli, perhaps, is one of the few which has survived the pendulum swings of dietary correctness.

We at SIRC are currently developing a time-line of dietary recommendations to illustrate how quickly things can change, and how quickly people forget that many of things they now avoid on their plate were once thought entirely good for them – and vice-versa. Any contributions to this work will be extremely welcome.

In the meantime, instead of being slaves to whatever dietary fad is currently fashionable, we might take a leaf out of Desmond Morris's book and start to believe that 'A little bit of what you fancy' might actually be good for you as well. Perhaps it is not always food itself which makes us ill. Perhaps it is the fear of food, and the anxieties that people currently experience about eating 'correctly', which will turn out to be the bigger villains.