SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – July 2003

Enjoy your moment in the sun. How has the sun, long seen as a source of life and wellbeing, come to carry a health warning? Thanks to public health campaigns, skin cancer is now widely perceived as sun cancer. Yet the relationship between exposure to sunlight and the risk of skin cancer seems more complex and controversial than the Department of Health and others would have us believe. Mick Hume in the Times

Fat doesn't necessarily mean unfit. It may be hard for our thin-worshiping, diet-obsessed country to accept that a larger-than-average person--even someone considered obese--can be fit, but studies out of the Baylor College of Medicine, the University of California at Los Angeles and the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, among others, are showing that weight loss is not a prerequisite to being fit. Chicago Tribune

Hyperactivity 'just high spirits'. Children diagnosed with behavioural disorders may simply need to be allowed to "let off steam", an expert has claimed. Professor Priscilla Alderson, an expert in childhood studies at London's Institute of Education, believes conditions such as attention deficit hyperactive disorder and mild autism are being over-diagnosed. She said many children's problems were due to bad parenting, and psychologists looking to "make a quick buck". BBC.

Risky Business. How worried should we be? That depends on how much uncertainty we're prepared to live with. And these days we're prepared to live with less and less. As science, medicine and technology make life safer, healthier and more comfortable, our intolerance of risk is growing. Plenty of dangers have been eliminated — childhood mortality is way down, diseases that were once common have been eradicated, food is more plentiful and nutritious than ever. But these advances have made us even more sensitive to the risks that remain. "Before the umbrella, if it started to rain you got wet," says Raffaele De Giorgi, director of the Center for the Study of Risk at Italy's University of Lecce. "With the invention of the umbrella, the risk of getting wet was born." Time

Ban misleading food claims. Statements like 'fat-free', 'light', and 'high-fibre' would be subject to stricter scientific checks, and vague claims to improve immunity or concentration would also come under the spotlight. All of which is a bit patronising. Do they really think that people don't take such claims with a pinch of salt already? However, if we really want a crackdown on misleading food claims, we could start at the very top. Here in the UK, the Food Standards Agency has in the last few months produced reports stating that we are risk from excess salt, saturated fat and cheap squash. Yet the evidence put forward for these statements is dubious. Perhaps these claims, designed to be taken deadly seriously, should be put to the test properly before the authorities start handing out bans on food labels. Spiked.

Celebrities blamed for promoting irresponsible and gimmicky diets. Celebrities are being "irresponsible" in endorsing fad diets that could be harmful, the British Dietetic Association says today. Health experts are planning an attack against "gimmicky" diet regimes, with a back-to- basics campaign that will urge people to lose weight simply by reducing the amount they eat and exercising more. Independent

Forget drink, drugs and cigarettes, just learn to say no to the addiction addicts. We are becoming a nation of addiction addicts. Our society has become hooked on the habit of blaming human behaviour on some form of addiction. Apparently normal people — doctors, scientists, politicians, lawyers, even journalists — seem incapable of resisting the urge to inject "addict" or "dependency" into any discussion of social problems. Times.

The truth about oxygen There's nothing more amusing than a battle for truth between competing schools of New Age bunkum. See how the Daily Mail gushed over the Elanra ioniser from Equilibra. It is, apparently, "the first ioniser that creates negative ions small enough to be inhaled". So, smaller than your mouth then… "Other ion generators can claim to produce negative ions, but they are NOT small or ingestible, and cannot enter your body." Helpfully Equilibra provides a table of the other ionisers on the market. Snortingly we laugh with it at the large negative oxygen ions of its competitors. Guardian

Could nanobots destroy us? Run for your lives! The nanobots are coming – a swarm of invisible machines that consume all in their path to build more of their kind, eventually subsuming the world in a grey tide. This nightmare was raised recently by the Prince of Wales, who now wants to discuss "grey goo" with experts. If this all sounds like a fantastic storyline for a science fiction novel, that's because it is. Telegraph

Health warning: screening can seriously damage patients. Hi-tech screening services, which promise to detect early signs of heart disease, cancer and other conditions while they can still be cured, are being introduced in Britain despite warnings from doctors that they may do more harm than good…Richard Smith, editor of the British Medical Journal, said a whole body scan had become a fashionable gift in the US for people reaching milestone birthdays of 50, 60 or even 40. "You might be giving your loved one the supreme gift of extra years of life. Unfortunately, you may be more likely to give him or her a lorry load of anxiety and a series of invasive, painful and unnecessary investigations." Independent

At last, astrology. Not content with dragging our morality back to the Victorian era, the Daily Mail continues its campaign to to reduce us all to medieval superstition…the Consumers for Health Choice movement is still going great guns with its campaign against the EU's sensible plans to regulate and label potentially dangerous dietary supplements and herbal remedies…You might be interested to know that the managing director of Holland and Barrett, Barry Vickers, is one of the directors of CHC. Guardian

Challenging the precautionary principle. Regardless of what many might believe, the precautionary principle is not the 'safe option'. It incurs the cost of 'false positives'. That means forgoing many social benefits – most of which tend to make our lives safer rather than less safe. Spiked.