SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – October 2000

Vegetables 'don't fight cancer'. A healthy diet full of fruit and vegetables may not be doing people quite as much good as they previously thought. Researchers conducting two of the world's biggest health studies have found that those who eat more fruit and vegetables do not have a lower risk of bowel cancer. The same researchers recently concluded that fibre also has no protective effect against the disease. BBC.

Blair calls for 'sensible' BSE risks debate. Tony Blair is calling for a "sensible and reasonable" debate on the balance to be struck between risk and public protection measures in the wake of the BSE outbreak. He told the Commons at Question Time that having to strike that balance was going to be a "growing problem" across a range of subjects faced by government in the coming years. Ananova.

Will chocolate be as intensely craved and taste as richly luscious if it is no longer viewed as a sinful treat, but, quite the contrary, a health food? Indeed, chocolate and cocoa drinks, it turns out, contain an abundant dose of flavonoids, potent antioxidants that have been found most notably in red wine, green tea and fruits and vegetables, and have been associated with a decrease in the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. With Americans consuming chocolate at the rate of 3.3 billion pounds a year, researchers have taken a keen interest in whether chocolate may also lower risks of heart disease. New York Times. (Free registration required.)

Welcome to the Fat Slob Way of Life. Never mind the length, Theodore Dalrymple is more concerned about the quality of our lives. There are many reasons to take with an unhealthy pinch of salt the warning from Yvette Cooper, the minister for public health, that the life expectancy of today's children will be years lower than that of their parents. New Statesman.

Weather and climate are different things. "It must be tempting this week, especially for the inhabitants of Bognor Regis and Selsey, to believe that the weather is getting more extreme. It has already passed into folklore that global warming means wetter downpours, windier storms and drier droughts. But is it true? Lots of journalists and environmentalists say it is … [But] journalists and environmentalists have a vested interest in claiming such a link, because weather leads to stories about climate. To persuade a journalist to quote him, an environmentalist needs to say something alarming; to persuade a news editor to run his story, a reporter needs to include such quotes. So there is an inherent bias: you are unlikely to read of anyone saying that nothing much has changed and that the latest storm has nothing to do with climate change." Matt Ridley in the Telegraph.

Claims of bra link to cancer dismissed. A British surgeon has denied claims that his study into breast pain has found any link between wearing a bra and developing cancer. BBC.

TV is not bad for children – official. Well, almost official, as results of a unique study show that people not programmes affect behaviour. Observer.

Unhealthy disinterest. Health is often what we obsess about most when we lack those very things which make life truly transcendent – politics, sex, God … "Those who place too much emphasis on healthy eating display a fear of both life, in all its messiness, and death, in all its inevitability. And I've got to say that the muesli-munching middle classes, last time I looked, didn't even throw up half as many appealing physical specimens as the junk-crunching proles, from where we recruit our best examples of beauty and athleticism: Moss, Campbell, Lewis, Beckham." Julie Birchill in the Guardian.

Fatty diets 'not linked to breast cancer'. Scientists have produced evidence to debunk the widely held belief that a high fat diet increases the risk of breast cancer in older women. The theory is that a high fat diet increases production of the female sex hormone oestrogen – high levels of which are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. A team from Harvard Medical School carried out the largest and most detailed study ever to test the theory. They found no evidence that a high fat diet was linked to oestrogen production. In fact, they found just the opposite. BBC.

When fear is the opponent, science doesn't stand a chance. "Little or nothing is needed in a scientific vein to initiate health scares, and even less to perpetuate them indefinitely. Indeed, they become inevitable and play themselves out with a certain relentless predictability … Eventually the anxiety-of-the-decade will fade, to be replaced in our minds and our newspapers by a more up-to-date apprehension. It would be nice to think that eventually we'll outgrow the cycle, but I have to defer here to my late mother, who was a lay expert on anxiety. The time to really worry, she used to say, is when things seem so good you have nothing to worry about." Technology Review.

The danger of being too careful. Everyone knows that life is risky and that we constantly take risks that affect both ourselves and others. We also know that scientific development can be risky and that rail accidents do occur. But, because of BSE and the spate of recent rail tragedies, the public is increasingly demanding risk-free solutions from state regulations. Understandably, this is particularly the case in areas over which the public has no control. Financial Times.

Warning: you're risking death by being alive. Why don't we have more common sense? Why don't we just accept that we're going to die one day and that some of us will be luckier than others? Why can't scientists, politicians and – yes – journalists be more responsible about evaluating the risks? We need to make sensible decisions about what really is dangerous, formed on the basis of weighing up the facts rather than public hysteria. Telegraph.

Cot deaths: who do we listen to? A stomach infection, might, it's suggested, be a cause of cot death. The new research, reported in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood, suggests a link between the stomach bug Helicobacter and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)…On the other hand, something completely different may be responsible for each, some, or all of the 400 or so deaths in Britain each year that are put down to SIDS…Little wonder that many parents have difficulty in navigating their way around the likely, the unlikely and the downright impossible. Independent.

Frankenfoods are on the ropes but biotech is due for a comeback. If you live in Europe it is easy to believe that genetically modified crops are finished. Skilful media campaigns by activist groups have made these "frankenfoods" about as popular as nuclear power stations. Supermarkets and restaurants proudly announce themselves "GM free" and protestors trample fields of test plantings of modified crops with impunity. In North America too, despite earlier acceptance, a backlash is under way. With GM crops on the ropes, it seems a strange time to announce that they could have a really bright long-term future. But if you read the signs, honestly assess the world's future food needs, and look at the safer, greener, genetically modified crops we could produce, then the conclusion is exactly that. New Scientist.

Wasting Shots on Worried Well? Doctors are reporting that the worried well are intent on getting flu shots despite a vaccine shortage this year that could leave more desparate cases unvaccinated and in danger. ABC News.

Study says Halloween's real peril is cars, not razor blades. The risk from razors pushed into apples and candy -- the most talked-about Halloween hazard -- is so exaggerated it borders on being an urban myth, a Canadian medical journal reports. National Post.

 Exercise may cure grumpiness. For all those who have remained in their rocking chairs despite the evidence that exercise fights disease, researchers now say activity makes older people just plain happy. Health Central.

The truth about fat. Fat seems to be the scourge of the Western world; the enemy which many battle constantly. The rise in eating disorders and the popularity of slimming clubs, gyms and low-fat ready meals are symptoms of our fixation with this so-called evil. However, scientists are now realising that fat benefits our bodies, and without adequate fat stores, our lives would be much less healthy. Scotsman.

Let us be angry, and not fearful. A culture of anger can help us to regain control over our lives. A culture of fear sends us striving pointlessly for a risk-free life…It seems as if the longer we live and the safer our lives are, the more we tremble, the more we shake. Any report of any kind of disaster - even one with incalculably tiny risks - seems to spawn a flurry of desperate anxiety. A little girl is killed, and everyone's children are kept at home. A rail accident kills four passengers, and rail travel is deemed a "lottery". An aircraft crashes, and all the planes like it are grounded. Ask not for whom the front page speaks, it speaks for thee. Independent.

Wanted: a vaccine to fight fears over the health of children. Public confidence in the safety of immunising millions of British children each year has reached an all-time low and could lead to epidemics of crippling childhood diseases, doctors warned yesterday. Independent.

Covering up the breast. The National Cancer Institute decides not to publicize the results of a publicly funded implant study. What's the deal? Salon.

Seeds of dissent. Is the party over for genetically modified crops? Some scientists are afraid it might be. But molecular biologist Richard Jefferson thinks the GM revolution is only just warming up. Jefferson heads CAMBIA, a non-profit plant biotechnology research centre in Canberra. New Scientist.

Brain's disgust centre identified by researchers in Britain, while French scientists prefer to map the brain's sexual arousal area.

Greenpeace gets in bed with its foes. Greenpeace has struck a controversial alliance with the marketing services group run by Lord Bell, adviser to Monsanto, British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) and General Pinochet, among others. Indpendent.

Truths and myths: the cancer report. "…The conclusion propounded was that meat-eating was the problem. Not so. A recent piece of research by the ICRF found that vegetarians are just as likely to die of bowel cancer as meat eaters. Nor was there any difference in breast, prostate, lung or stomach cancer. 'Our analysis suggests that meat itself may have little effect on the development of the disease,' says the ICRF's Dr Timothy Key. Observer.

Fixation with image drives teenage girls and boys into needless dieting.British teenagers of both sexes are increasingly fixated with their weight as a combination of low self-esteem and concern about image drives them into unnecessary dieting, a study said yesterday … "Children should be educated to make them question what they are presented with by the media rather than striving to conform." Independent.

School meals that bring on anorexia. Schools are helping to create anorexic children by denying them fatty foods such as chips and burgers, an expert in eating disorders claims. The promotion of healthy eating may be doing more harm than good. Dr Dee Dawson said that the incidence of anorexia was doubling every decade and now affected about one per cent of all schoolgirls. Many begin worrying about their weight as young as seven. Express.

Was morality just an evolutionary phase? "Poor people can't afford ethics; rich people don't need them." Western morality shares more than a passing similitude with nutrition. Consider how the language of religious morality – "sin", guilt", indulgence", etc. – has been adopted by diet faddists and commentators (possibly as a way of subtly inducing failures of willpower, thereby insuring diet industry profits, by painting the Enemy Food as forbidden fruit). Both morality and healthy nutrition function as irritants in the lives of many people – something they'd rather not bother with but feel obligated about, periodically genuflecting by skipping the chocolate dessert in favour of a low-fat Heart Savr(TM) salad, or donating a modest sum to whichever cause-of-the-week caught their sympathy. Their guilt assuaged, they resume their gluttonous/amoral lifestyles. Spark-online.

Virtual vegetables for couch potatoes. The virtual allotment has arrived for city types who prefer clicking a mouse to wielding a spade. A new web site allows would-be gardeners to sit at their laptops, order up a vegetable patch, and then watch online as they get updates and pictures of their parsnips, potatoes and beans sprouting. When the vegetables, grown by professionals on a Suffolk farm, are harvested they will be delivered weekly to the computer gardener's home. It costs almost £500 a year for a standard plot on, rising to £995 for an organic patch with an additional five speciality vegetables. Telegraph.

Women 'obsessed by their bodies'. Women are obsessed by their bodies, and even many of those who are of normal weight wish they could be slimmer, a survey suggests. The survey of 5,000 women commissioned by Top Sante magazine found that 85% of women in the UK think about their size and shape every day. … An overwhelming 98% of women who are overweight are unhappy with their size and their shape. And even 78% of women who fall within normal weight limits for their height still wish they were slimmer – by an average of 10lbs. BBC.

You'd be better off skipping the wine and having a spliff. … who is more likely to commit a public order offence? A man who – like the leader of the Conservative party once did – regularly drinks 14 pints a day. Or lawbreaking Johnny Dopehead who regularly smokes a spliff and then eats 14 packets of Monster Munch? (For the answer, ask your local Casualty department). Johnny is doing less harm to his health than he would by drinking heavily. While the harm William may do to others is quantifiably greater … The Dutch have shown that decriminalisation of cannabis is an effective way to tackle the drugs issue, which we ignore at our peril. Meantime, there are teenagers condemned to the scrapheap because of being arrested with a joint; and there are people suffering from MS and the misery of chemotherapy who say cannabis helps and who risk arrest to try and alleviate their symptoms illegally. Express.

You can't tell a girl it's OK to be a virgin. The government was yesterday accused of naivety over plans for a £2million campaign to tell teenagers: "It's OK to be a virgin." Campaigners warned that the message, which will form the basis of nationwide adverts next month, will not work and that the millions of pounds will effectively go "down the plughole". Express.

Avoid Added Sugars: Good Dietary Advice or Another Red Herring? It's time to differentiate between good and bad diets rather than simply good or bad foods. ACSH.

Go on, have a biscuit. Are we over-obsessed with making sure our children eat healthily? There's nothing wrong with a little bit of chocolate, says Anne Karpf. "I am a lapsed food purist, an ex-paragon, and last week's article by Joanna Blythman on parents and sugar induced in me such a rage that only a new dark chocolate Mars bar could assuage it." Guardian.

Uphill fight for GM trials. Spot the difference between the following two approaches to biotechnology: Example one: "Farm-scale crop trials, possible accidental gene transfer and genetic modification of animals are top of the agenda for a new commission." Example two: "Genetic modification could lead to zombie farm animals programmed to feel no pain or stress, government advisers warned yesterday." Example two, from the Daily Mail, went on to warn of animal vegetables and "Frankenstein farmyards". Scotsman.