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Health, Nutrition and Science Reporting Around the World

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SIRC Media Watch – The Pick

Boredom, work and other illnesses. In our increasingly healthy world, people are coming up with ever-more imaginative ways to be sick, says John Naish. We all carry the germs of hypochondria. We evolved mild doses of it as a survival tool. Our Neanderthal brains are hard-wired to be obsessed with threats. We relish tales of strange and deadly illnesses like horror stories on a winter night. Thanks to modern sanitation and medicine, those dangers are no longer anywhere near so real. But civilisation has given us more time, cash and energy to fixate on sickness. So the Western world has enjoyed a huge drop in mortal illness – and witnessed a leap in new diagnoses. Telegraph

Diets: 'If I have to die, I'd rather die happy'. Health chiefs fear the childhood obesity campaign is backfiring. And to listen to these teenagers, they have every reason to….an internal Food Standards Agency report….warns that the drive to alert teenagers to the dangers of obesity is backfiring, because the "healthy eating" message is boring and negative. Independent

Food: the new religion that eats into our souls . Scare stories in the past few weeks have highlighted salt, sugar and even salad as potential killers. Our anxious correspondent tries to find out what we can safely eat. The past few weeks have been full of extraordinary, bewildering food warnings, with confusing and contradictory claims about what is safe to eat. The only certain consequence has been to turn what should be a great pleasure into, increasingly, a source of unease and guilt. Times

'Snacks not cause of obesity in children'. The booming industry in chocolate bars and crisps, often blamed for the rise in childhood obesity, is not in fact responsible for weight gain in children, according to research by scientists at Harvard University. Independent

obesity  Milk overload in obesity war. A glut of school milk is being thrown away because of a lack of Government "joined-up thinking", the head of one of Wales' largest school meal providers claimed yesterday. Sue Eakes, Cardiff County Council's operational manager for catering services, said schools were "awash" with milk following the introduction of three separate healthy eating strategies. Her comments came during a seminar to discuss the alarming problem of childhood obesity … Ms Eakes pointed out that Welsh schoolchildren can now start the day with milk-drenched cereal as part of school breakfast club schemes, before being given additional milk as part of the free school milk scheme and then being provided with even more milk as part of lunchtime healthy eating schemes. She said, "They're awash with milk and they're throwing it away. I could take you to schools across the city where they're throwing milk away. It's coming out of their ears! Western Mail.

Watchdog seeks controls on scary gene tests. Strict controls are needed to prevent the "marketing of fear" by companies developing gene tests which do not with any certainty predict that a healthy person will develop diseases. Guardian

Jabs and junk science. Parents-led anti-vaccination groups are becoming hugely influential. But the information they provide is often extremely dodgy, argues Michael Fitzpatrick…At a time when many parents are deeply distrustful of official advice, groups such as "The Informed Parent", "What doctors don't tell you" and "Jabs" (Justice, awareness and basic support) purport to offer the sort of impartial information parents are looking for, and they are being listened to. Their voices are tagged on to almost every news report about vaccinations. Sadly, considering how much impact they have, the information they offer is often suspect.Guardian

Science and Health Media Watch The wonder drug that can transform a story. The press's fascination with health scares and miracle cures is enough to make you feel queasy…Medical journalism is a branch of news journalism, living in the world of government policy and advice, of health care and treatment, of research and development. It is here that two cultures collide. Research into new drugs and forms of treatment is a slow and on-going process of hypothesis, experiment, testing and, sometimes, breakthroughs. It is incremental. Journalism is about events, outcomes, results, news. How often do we see the words "miracle cure" in popular newspapers, or "breakthroughs", or "new hope for"? How often do we read about any number of "dangers" in food and drink, the air we breathe, the activities we undertake? Is it surprising that the reaction of the non-experts (most of us) ranges from advanced hypochondria to a weary ignoring of all advice on the basis that everything is risky? Peter Cole in the Independent

Doctors' body accuses drug firms of 'disease mongering'. The Royal College of General Practitioners has accused drug companies of "disease-mongering" in order to boost sales. The college, whose members include many of Britain's 37,000 GPs, says the pharmaceutical industry is taking the National Health Service to the brink of collapse by encouraging unnecessary prescribing of costly drugs. In evidence to a parliamentary inquiry, the college accuses the companies of over-playing the dangers of conditions such as mild depression or slightly raised blood pressure. Telegraph

Feeling pure won't help the world's poor. "As a fervent advocate of ethical consumerism, I seriously suggest that you consider flying long haul, wearing Levi's and drinking coffee at Starbucks. The fact that no one else seems willing to give the same advice is a sad indictment of the ethical consumerism movement. For what should be one of the most important moral campaigns of our day has been hijacked by woolly-minded, anti-scientific, eco-narcissists." Julian Baggini in the Guardian.

Why we're addicted to diets. Susie Orbach, author of many books on food and fat, believes the "obesity debate is contributing to people's anxieties around food." Recent reports have inflated the health risk for the overweight, suggesting that having a Body Mass Index – the key measure of body fat – of 25 (10 ½ stone for an average-sized woman and 12 ½ for men) could make people prey to a spectrum of fatal conditions. Professor Harvey Levenstein, a food historian from McMaster University in Canada, says that the recent creation of overweight (a BMI between 25 – 29.5) as a new category to the index has triggered a panic among people who were previously unconcerned by obesity. While medical dangers of being overweight remain unclear, the potential profits from weight-loss products has been spelt out by among others, Paul Campos in his book The Obesity Myth. The overall effect of our preoccupation with obesity says Professor Jeya Henry, a nutritionist at Oxford Brookes University, "is to make us a paranoid society. You can't enjoy your food without being seen as a glutton." He says that 80 per cent of women in the UK have been on a diet but only about 5 per cent should reduce their food for medical reasons…when people want a quick fix – one that doesn't involve changing habits by eating less and doing more exercise – they are prepared to believe almost anything. We persist in our gullibility and insist that regimes have magical properties.But as nutritionist Brigid McKeith says: "If a diet actually worked, then we wouldn't need a new one." Financial Times [registration required]

The BBC must not be led by the shock tactics of the Mail. Careless TV costs lives, as the over-hyped vaccine scares have shown. August is when phoney flammed-up stories fill the empty dog-days of summer. New Labour duty ministers used to prime the holiday-starved media with a daily grid of news, but now such conspicuous spin is over. And look what happens instead. "Chaos Over 5-in-1 Baby Jab" screams the Daily Mail, delighted by a chance to repeat its weird and lethal campaign against vaccines…Never mind if the new vaccine is yet safer and simpler – the Mail was in full scare mode. It would matter less if the BBC's Today programme hadn't rushed in to give this non-story legs — starting with another unscripted breathless early morning scare/chaos report. Polly Toynbee in the Guardian

Warning on complementary therapy. The public must not place too much faith in the ability of complementary medicines, a leading expert has warned. Edzard Ernst, the UK's only professor of complementary medicine, said most therapies were unproven. Some of the few that had been vigorously tested did work, but others did not, he told a briefing on Monday. Professor Ernst highlighted cancer websites peddling potentially dangerous therapies, and the risk of herbal medicines damaging conventional drugs. He said: "If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Don't believe ridiculous claims." BBC

social issues research  Scientists still seeking cure for obesity. In spite of billions of dollars spent and decades of research, scientists at the University of Chicago said Monday that the scientific community is no closer to finding a cure for the potentially fatal disease of obesity … "I came down with obesity two years after I got married," 41-year-old Oklahoma City resident Fran Torley said. "I know it was hard for my husband to watch me suffer from this disease. When he caught obesity a year later, he got so depressed, he couldn't do anything but sit on the couch. Some days, we sit and watch television from dawn till dusk, hoping for news of a breakthrough." The Onion.

Ofcom rules out ban on child junk food ads. The television watchdog, Ofcom, ruled out a ban on advertising junk foods to children yesterday, saying the role of advertising in obesity was small compared to that of other factors such as exercise and family habits. It said any other action would have to wait for the government's public health white paper in the autumn. The decision to kick the issue into the long grass sets Ofcom on collision course with the growing campaign to curb marketing to children. Guardian.

Dangers in war on fat, says expert. New Zealand's anti-obesity message risks encouraging dangerous dieting among women and could increase eating disorders, a researcher says. Dr Maree Burns, who completed her PhD research in psychology at Auckland University and now works in England, said women who were already concerned with being thin justified their radical diets as healthy because they were getting rid of fat. "By focusing on the 'appearance of health' – that is, being a certain weight – health promotion messages are unintentionally supporting unhealthy behaviour," she said. NZ Herald.

A hint of paranoia in every mouthful. At a time when more is known about nutrition than ever, the number of overweight, underweight, obese, anorexic, bulimic Australians has hit epidemic levels because of increasing fetishism about eating that turns food into the enemy. Sydney Morning Herald

Healthy Eating: So, what exactly IS good for you? Experts promised mackerel and salmon made for healthy eating. Now the food watchdog says otherwise. Conflicting evidence on foodstuffs and medicines leaves the consumer baffled. Independent.

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SIRC Media Watch – Scares and Miracles

Pupils told to wear goggles for conkers .Children at a primary school have been banned from playing conkers unless they wear safety goggles. Their headmaster bought two pairs after pupils came back from a field trip weighed down with conkers and asked if they could play. Telegraph

Warning: medical websites damage your health. Health obsessives will be breaking out in a sweat when they read the latest research: browsing medical websites can be bad for you…the health profession has coined the term cyberchondria for people using the internet for self-diagnosis and presenting this misinformation to their GP. Independent

A life of being bossed about can lead to adult diabetes . Life is much more stressful at the bottom than the top, according to a long-running study. Men who spend their working lives being told what to do by others are almost three times as likely to develop diabetes as are their bosses. Times

Obese more likely to die in accidents. Obese people who are the victims of a car crash or other accidents are significantly more likely to die of their injuries than other patients, research claimed today. A US study focused on almost 250 patients who were admitted to intensive care after a blunt trauma incident, dividing them into obese and non-obese groups. Daily Mail.

Living on your own could be the key to avoiding obesity. Researchers may have discovered the key to avoiding obesity – live on your own. An American study found that women living in households with four or more people were significantly more likely to be obese than those who lived by themselves. Scotsman.

Sun-starved Britons face increased risk of cancer. Pale-faced Britons who do not get enough sun during the winter months are left with insufficient levels of vitamin D, increasing their risk of cancer, diabetes and bone diseases, experts said yesterday. Grey skies and short days from October to March mean 60 per cent of the population are deficient in the vitamin by the end of the winter, a government survey has shown. Independent

Turn off TV and lose weight Singing in the bath, trying to make someone laugh and turning off the telly could help you lose weight. There's no calorie counting and it could even help you quit smoking. Sun

Are school uniforms making kids ill? Parents are today warned that their children's school uniforms could be making them ill. Children are being exposed to toxic and cancer-causing chemicals used to make some types of school uniforms. As tens of thousands of Welsh children return to school this week after the long summer break, WWF Cymru urged parents to check their children's clothing labels for man-made chemicals, which are known to contaminate people and wildlife. Western Mail

Watching TV 'harms back muscles'.Slumping in front of the television or a computer for hours at a time may damage important back muscles, according to scientists. Australian researchers studied a group of 19 young men who spent eight weeks in bed. They found that the lack of movement weakened the muscles that support and protect the spine … BBC.

Short tempered? Check your ears. Next time you find yourself in a row with a stranger, check to see if they have symmetrical ears. Researchers in the US found that the less symmetrical a person's body is, the more likely that person is to become aggressive. Mail.

Sex change can cause headache. New research involving male-to-female transsexuals lends further credence to the theory that sex hormones are involved in migraine generation, physicians report in the medical journal Neurology. Reuters.

MoD doctor calls for ban on soldiers' tea and football. Army recruits should be banned from drinking tea and playing football or rugby, according to a medical expert hired by the Ministry of Defence. Telegraph.

Secrets to a longer life: buy a cat, avoid main roads, get married (and stay married). If you want to live longer, get a cat. Calm down, think positively, stop eating rubbish, lose weight, go to college, make some more friends and find a husband or wife who will make you happy. Do all these things, scientists declare in their latest research, and you could live up to 30 years longer than someone who doesn't. Oh, and it helps (although it's probably a bit late to be told) if you can be born in Andorra. Independent.

Power of lunch to save the planet. … the typical lunch of sandwiches and a can of fizzy drink is implicated in environmental destruction on a global scale, according to the environmental group WWF … It says that choosing a sandwich with mayonnaise dressing could have dire consequences for the toucan and the jaguar in South America, the type of bread which you eat could impact on the orang-utan's survival chances in south-east Asia and some salad fillings are threatening the Iberian lynx. Scotsman.

The Fat Virus: Could Obesity Be Contagious? A "fat virus" may account for some 30% of the world's obesity problem, according to new research. But don't freak out just yet: Not all scientists are buying this theory. Web MD.

Why chopsticks can be harmful. Research carried out in Beijing suggests that the repetitive movement of pinching the chopsticks together to pick up food can cause joint problems in the fingers and hand. More than 2,500 Beijing residents aged 60, who ate using chopsticks, were assessed for signs of bone damage in their hands by the Boston University School of Medicine. BBC

Apple a day may poison children. Children who eat an apple or pear a day may be exceeding the pesticide safety threshold because of residues on the fruit, according to research. Guardian

U-turn puts WI cake back on menu. A Women's Institute's cakes are back on the menu at an Essex hospital after a ban on their treats was lifted.Members of a local WI group had been told their cakes could pose a health risk to patients at Saffron Walden Community Hospital. But Uttlesford Primary Care Trust has now overturned the ban after examining the issue in "greater depth". BBC

WI cakes a health risk, says hospital. A hospital has banned cakes baked by a Women's Institute because of fears they could present a health risk to elderly patients. Radwinter WI in Essex supplied 12 cakes a month for patients at Saffron Walden Community Hospital. However, hospital administrators halted the supply because they could not guarantee their safety. Guardian

Broccoli plus tomato staves off cancer. A combination of broccoli and tomatoes eaten together may become the latest strategy in the fight against cancer. Researchers have found that eating the vegetables at the same time was better at preventing prostate tumours than consuming them separately. It was also found to be even more successful than a new anti-cancer drug that is being developed. Times.

Dogged search for clear-cut vision. It seems like a case of the visually impaired leading the blind. Tests in guide dogs which have recently completed or are still in training suggest that just under one in seven of them is shortsighted. Guardian.

Staying fat can make you blind. Obesity has emerged as one of the biggest health threats ever to face the NHS. We all know being overweight raises the risk of heart disease and strokes. But it can also lead to blindness, depression and cancer, warns Dr Ian Campbell of the National Obesity Forum. The Sun.

Warning: nicotine seriously improves health. Nicotine could soon be rehabilitated as a treatment for schizophrenia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, as well as hyperactivity disorders. Research shows that the chemical that has addicted millions to smoking has a powerful impact on brain activity in patients who suffer from psychiatric and degenerative disorders. Observer.

A coffee can make you forgetful. A cup of coffee each morning may wake you up, but a new study suggests caffeine might hinder your short-term recall of certain words. Caffeine made it harder for people to find a word that they already knew – the "tip-of-the-tongue" phenomenon. BBC.

Change in UK diets 'could trigger mental health crisis'. Changes in British diets are going to lead to an explosion in mental health problems, medical experts said yesterday. They warned of a crisis even bigger than the epidemic of obesity afflicting the UK. Independent

Oral sex linked to mouth cancer. Some cases of mouth cancer could be caused by a virus contracted during oral sex, scientists have warned. &#8230 But they stressed people did not need to alter their behaviour. BBC.

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SIRC Media Watch – Comment

A flurry of dietary nonsense — here, here and here
… in brief archive

Know Your Place – Headmap manifesto and the spatialised internet revolution. "there are notes in boxes that are empty.
every room has an accessible history
every place has emotional attachments you can open and save
you can search for sadness in new york"
Headmap manifesto
No, these words are not bad poetry. Nor are they song lyrics. They aren't even from an advertisement for mobile phones. They form part of a technological vision of the future, heralding an age in which our spatial experiences can be overlaid with a rich layer of information – images, text, sound – through GPS capable mobile WiFi devices and a lot of community spirit. This is the Headmap manifesto, an exploration of the technological, and more importantly the social, potential of an 'outside internet' – external, spatialised computing. Full article.

The desire for desiresWhy reports of the death of boredom have been greatly exaggerated. Our frantic attempts to avoid boredom uphold a lucrative corner of the entertainment industry, while the variety of books, websites, TV programmes and videos aimed at children and called "Boredom Busters" suggests that ennui has no age restriction. This is no new development — obsessive texting is hardly on a level with watching lions rip gladiators to shreds for entertainment, and, as the British public seem to be moving on to a stage where fox-hunting is no longer seen as a justifiable, fun diversion, we must be doing something right. However, some pundits have recently pointed out that obsessive avoidance of boredom (apart from being quite dull in itself — have you ever tried to have a decent conversation with an extreme sports enthusiast?) denies access to the certain kind of mental space which boredom brings and in doing so leaves us creatively and spiritually malnourished. In other words, boredom is becoming 'a lost art form'. Full article.

Sponsoring the obesity crisis. Now we know that the tragic death of a three-year-old girl weighing 40 kilos was due to a rare genetic disorder and not, as the media had almost universally concluded, to gross parental neglect and cruelty. The Commons Select Health Committee chose to highlight this death as an example of children "choking on their own fat" in their 146 page report on obesity &#8230 What this sad piece of inappropriate opportunism reflects is the level of near panic that characterises the current discussion of obesity issues &#8230 specialists in food-related disorders have drawn attention to the potentially damaging consequences of the increasingly irrational and politicised obesity debate &#8230 The psychoanalyst, Susie Orbach, author of Fat is a Feminist Issue &#8230 places the blame for much of the hysteria currently surrounding body size on those who stand to profit from it most directly &#8212 the diet and fitness clubs, slimming magazines and the pharmaceutical companies who manufacture weight-loss drugs. Full article.

"Love e, Love e not …" Why the UK's ambivalence towards new technologies should be treasured. Looking around any crowded train carriage in Britain, one would be justified in thinking that our culture has whole-heartedly embraced the benefits of mobile technology. Letting your loved ones know that yes, you are on the 5.20pm train and shall indeed be home for dinner, is now nationally recognised as a token of responsibility rather than a mindless waste of money and privacy. A night out in a strange city is no longer complete if the gory details are not discussed loudly on a mobile during the next day's journey home. If these are the phenomena we observe just on public transport, then we can assume that the average UK punter's private life is equally mobile-saturated. And, given that British mobile phone ownership increased from 27% of the population to 73% between 1998 and 2001, that would be a fair conclusion. However, recent studies on British attitudes to new technologies, including workplace IT and home mobile technology, suggest that as a demographic we are deeply suspicious of new developments. Full article

Policy Analysis Market and the Political Yuck Factorwhy Americans shied away from a geopolitical futures market.The Pentagon unit DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Unit), almost immediately after the WTC attack, formulated a plan for an on-line market in Middle-East futures, hoping that the lure of massive financial rewards for correct bets on, say, the likelihood of a biochemical attack on Israel, would attract investors with genuine inside information.The market, known as the Policy Analysis Market, or PAM, never got off the ground. Democrat politicians in the Senate uncovered the plan in July 2003 and it was dropped amid public outcry…So what is it about the Policy Analysis Market that could raise so much ethical condemnation in a country where holding non-American citizens without trial in Guantanamo Bay is seen as a realistic and justified response to the threat of terrorist attacks? Full article

Poverty and obesity. Coverage of obesity in the British press has doubled in the past year and threatens to become an 'epidemic' in its own right. It is almost impossible to pick up a daily or Sunday paper without being exposed to headlines featuring words such as 'time-bomb' and ill-founded assertions that the present generation of children will die before their parents. The sounds of wringing hands and admonishments to eat 'properly' have become almost deafening … Amidst this disoriented casting around for culprits and simple solutions, driven hard by media hype, it was refreshing to read in the Observer a thoughtful article by David Smith that for once dealt with some of the real issues underlying the rise in obesity — poverty and disadvantage. It has become fashionable to believe that in the modern Blairite Britain such features of British society have are no longer with us &#8212 that we are all now 'middle class' and that the old social and economic distinctions that were once an intrinsic feature of our culture have been consigned to history. Not so, sadly, for the people of Glasgow's East End where life expectancy is around 60 and falling and where the average diet is about as unhealthy as it can get. Obesity is but one of the symptoms of the impoverishment that plagues their lives. Full article.

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The Social Issues Research Centre continually monitors the world's press to determine trends in the food, health and science fields. Media editor Simon Bradley makes a selection of items of particular interest.

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