SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – March 2004

Rich and poor to clash over sugar in WHO’s healthy diet plan. Poor nations whose income is based on producing basic commodities are set to clash with their wealthy, industrialised counterparts when the World Health Organization’s 192 member states gather in May to adopt a global plan to combat obesity that proposes limits on daily sugar intake … Small producers of sugar and other commodities — such as Mauritius and Swaziland — … fear that the plan, which recommends no more than 10% daily dietary intake of sugar, would hurt their economy, and they argue that it benefits the West’s fatter citizens most. John Kunene, principal secretary at Swaziland’s health ministry, wrote to WHO that hunger and malnutrition were major public health problems in his country. "Sugar is one of the cheapest energy sources for dealing with this problem. If we are constrained from increasing the amount of sugar intake beyond the 10% target, then our ability to deal with this problem will be correspondingly reduced," Mr Kunene said. BMJ.

Fat profits. "Obesity researchers have become adept at writing abstracts for their papers which draw highly questionable conclusions about the negative health consequences of being overweight which are not supported by the data. Studies that show no difference between the health risks of overweight and normal weight populations are consistently ignored or under-reported … A population defined as overweight when they are not becomes distrustful of its own eating and vulnerable to industries which profit from their distress. Take the diet industry. It thrives on two notions: that we could all lose a little weight; and that all diets fail. Dieters lose weight, but they can't keep it off … Thoughtful, balanced initiatives that cut against the alarmist thrust that obesity is around the corner for every one of us and our children are a place to start. Hysteria moves government budgets, but let's make sure they are going to the right places." Susie Orbach in the Guardian.

You'll be lucky to live to 60 here. But it's not the third world — it's Glasgow's East End. Shettleston's diet of chips, fags and booze means that life expectancy is actually falling in one of the most deprived parts of the UK … One of the men who has to pick up the pieces is Dr Gerry Spence, a GP for 20 years at the strained Shettleston Health Service … 'People know what's wrong with their diets. They have got the messages: they should eat five pieces of fruit or vegetables a day. But what are they going to do to feed hungry children? A lot of people are on benefits, living from week to week, relying on convenience foods and eating out of the chippy. Give people jobs and the ability to be masters of their own destinies and they will make healthy decisions about their lives … Bob Holman, an English academic who spent 16 years living in east Glasgow working with young people, said: 'This is not rocket science. Poor health is a well-known feature of deprivation. Mothers are not daft and they do know fat and crisps are bad for children but they can't afford the alternative. The Government has to give them the means. Observer.

A really bad habit. Isn't it strange that a culture obsessed with boosting our self-esteem puts so much time and energy into public information campaigns telling us how thoroughly disgusting we are? In February 2004, the British Heart Foundation released controversial and repulsive adverts showing cigarettes dripping with fat, to symbolise the extent to which smoking clogs up people's arteries (some scientists objected that this presentation was not exactly accurate but hey, never let the facts get in the way of a good scare). Now the World Cancer Research Fund has released a series of ads picturing a bloke's fat arse beneath the caption 'Don't look like the back end of a bus', to be plastered – cunningly enough – on the back ends of buses. Spiked.

Fat of the land. The government worries that it should do something to change the way people eat. But diets are already changing. Given mankind's need to fret, it is not surprising that the diseases of prosperity–stress, depression and, increasingly, obesity–get a lot of play in Britain these days…There's no evidence that making fatty foods more expensive would put people off them; and in Sweden, where advertising to minors is already banned, children are as porky as they are in any comparable country. What's more, it is not obvious that the problem will worsen. Shoppers' behaviour suggests the opposite…The spread of big supermarkets, which offer better produce than the mouldy stuff at the corner shop, may improve diets. A study carried out by the University of Southampton on a big new supermarket in a poor part of Leeds concluded that after it opened, two-thirds of those with the worst diets ate more fruit and vegetables…So why isn't all this virtue showing up in the figures? Maybe it is starting to. The average man got thinner in 2002, the most recent available year, for the first time since body-mass-index records began; women's BMI was static. Economist

How science can save the world's poor. Many green activists oppose GM crops on principle. It is difficult to understand what the principle is, since they do not campaign against the production of drugs by genetic modification. Yet the same technique is used to transfer a gene from one species to another to make human insulin for people with diabetes, for instance, as to modify a GM crop. By what principle is it right to make better drugs to protect us from disease, but not to modify plants to make them resistant to insect pests? Why is there such a violent reaction against the genetic modification of plants? Dick Taverne in the Guardian

MMR doctor loses support of researchers. The controversy over the safety of the MMR vaccine reached new heights yesterday when 10 of the 13 authors of the original paper that provoked the scare publicly dissociated themselves from it. The 10 were part of the research team led by Dr Andrew Wakefield, based at the Royal Free Hospital in London, who published their findings of a new inflammatory bowel disease linked with autism, and suggested a possible link with the MMR vaccine, in The Lancet journal in February 1998. Independent.