SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – October 2003

Gym won't fix it. More than five million people joined fitness centres last year. It was a 12% increase on the figures for 2000 and numbers are predicted to grow again this year, as the gym holds out its eternal promise of bodily salvation. Gym membership has increased every year since the initial boom of the early 80s when Jane Fonda urged us all to pull on the leggings and go for the burn. Guardian

Dietary fads blamed as childhood rickets returns. Vegan and macrobiotic diets have led to the return of rickets in Britain, according to experts. They say cases among children are rising, more than 50 years after the disease was virtually eradicated by better health and nutrition … Brian Wharton, an adviser to the Government and the World Health Organisation on child nutrition, highlighted the return of rickets in a paper published in the medical journal The Lancet. He said: "An old problem of nutritional child health, once thought vanquished, has resurfaced." Independent.

The Barefoot Doctor, live online. [Questioner 1] 'Given that 95% of what you preach is superstitious nonsense and that the Observer effectively pays you to plug your products (available at an incredibly over-inflated price at a Boots near you!), how do you sleep at night?' [Answer] 'thankyou for asking – generally on my right side so the blood can go more easilly into my liver, there to be purified as i sleep – this is the taoist sleeping position known as coiling of the five dragons – it's advisable as it tends to prevent an overload of blood to the heart, which would produce unsettling dreams and possibly even waking delusions the next day.' [Questioner 2] 'Does it depress you when you go in Boots and see your products reduced for quick sale? Last year, you wrote an article about the sensation of treading in dogshit while barefoot. Is this a feeling you want others to share when they read your column?' … Etc. Observer.

Is weight awareness good? Concerns over the population's soaring obesity rates have seen a stream of health drives to try to alert the nation to its weight problems. At the same time dangerous addictions related to dieting are also believed to be rising among youngsters…So could campaigns which push weight awareness also increase children's risk of developing eating disorders? BBC

'Bad' foods that are really good. Many of our favorite foods that nutrition experts once warned us against eating for the sake of our health are now making a comeback and may deserve a spot at your next meal … These nutritional underdogs may have gotten a bad rap in the past, but new research shows that they may not be bad for you as once thought. In fact, they may even be better for you than what you're eating now. WebMD.

Scared silly. The public – and politicians – are being panicked by stories of health risks that are unlikely to affect them, research out this week claims. The BBC is preparing guidance for journalists on reporting stories involving risk to help editors ensure that scare stories are kept in perspective. The informal checklist will advise on interpreting complex statistical data and help editors decide the right time to pull out of a scare story – after the news has been aired but before it spins too far out of proportion. The initiative comes as a King's Fund report, Health in the News. Guardian.

(!) Murderer can be forced to take medication to become sane enough to be executed. The US Supreme Court has let stand a ruling by a federal appeals court in February that officials in the state of Arkansas had the right to force a convicted murderer to take drug treatment to make him sane enough to be executed. BMJ.

GM vandals force science firms to reduce research. Half of scientific research centres claim GM crop vandalism is resulting in work being lost to rivals in the United States and the Far East. The wrecking of experiments is also costing firms thousands of pounds in extra security and insurance … The report states: "The threat of vandalism has affected research plans in half of the responding institutions. Because the possible risk of vandalism appears to be impingeing on planning, expenditure, morale and willingness to participate in research, questions are being raised about the UK as a site of research and the future of those engaged in it" … The survey was compiled by Tracey Brown, director of Sense about Science. Further work is being conducted to show how scientific research has become a political battleground and is being undermined by a hardline group of animal rights activists. Times.

Banning GM crops not enough to save wildlife. Genetically modified crops are now grown in more than 16 countries. In 2002, farmers around the world planted 60 million hectares of land with dozens of varieties of GM crops. Yet in the UK, the decision to approve or reject the technology could hinge on the results, out on Thursday, of four-year trials involving 280 fields of three GM crops. Although these farm-scale evaluations are being portrayed as a test of the environmental credentials of GM crops, it is really the weedkillers to which they are resistant that are on trial. New Scientist.

Diet and exercise 'do not affect' cholesterol. Exercise and a healthy diet are almost a waste of time for people with high cholesterol, a leading cardiologist claimed yesterday … "Healthy diets and exercise, of course, are good but they don't lower cholesterol an awful lot," Dr Brady, from the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, said. "It's sort of a popular misconception that lots of exercise is good for your cholesterol. It reduces it a wee bit but if you run higher cholesterol you can reduce it by only 8 or 10 per cent if you go nuts on your diet." "Cholesterol is made by the liver, and it's very much something you're born with." Independent.

The homeopaths strike back. One last thing. I have received, from the director of the Society of Homeopaths, what is possibly the longest letter ever written to any newspaper on any subject. How any alternative therapist who has ever read a newspaper in Britain could possibly claim that they get a bad deal, considering that dark ages superstition has now become the contractually-enforced journalistic norm, baffles me, but in the spirit in which this epic letter was clearly intended I present it here diluted one part in one hundred thousand, in the vain hope that it has more impact on you than it does on me: "Placeb…" Guardian

Fatty diet not linked to stroke. Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health monitored the diets of almost 44,000 healthy middle-aged men for 14 years. Although 725 men had a stroke during the period of the study, the researchers found no link to dietary intake of any type of fat. The research is published in the British Medical Journal. The researchers also found no significant link between stroke and consumption of foods that are rich in both fat and cholesterol, such as red meat, nuts and eggs. BBC

Fat kids are not our fault. Parents supply about 90% of the family's food requirements and so they control the diet (TV ads blamed for rise in child obesity, September 26). The view that children make their parents' lives unbearable by asking for advertised items is not supported by recent research with 1,500 parents. They acknowledged "pester power", but recognised that this is part of a child's development. More than 80% said they did not accede to immediate demands. Guardian