SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – February 2001

Fat is not a disease, so don't try to cure it. Dieting has become an epidemic. At any one time, two in five women in Britain are on a diet. One in ten, according to some estimates, ends up dying in a desperate attempt to lose fat – hardly surprising, when you consider that some popular diets advocate starvation rations of 1,000 calories a day. In the world's poorest countries, such as India, women consume on average more than 1,400 calories a day. So, fat may or may not be a "feminist issue", the mantra of Susie Orbach, but it is certainly a big business issue. Even by conservative estimates, the fat business has an annual worth of around $38bn. New Statesman.

New Class of Self-Righteous Eaters Obsessed with health. Do you spend more than three hours a day thinking about healthful food? Do you care more about the virtue of what you eat than the pleasure you receive from eating it? Have you found that as the quality of your diet has increased, the quality of your life has correspondingly diminished? A yes to one or two of these questions means you have a touch of what the authors of "Health Food Junkies: Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating" call orthorexia, an obsession with eating "healthfully" that becomes so strong it leads to progressively rigid dieting that eliminates crucial food groups and nutrients. San Francisco Chronicle.

Here comes Prohibition (again!) "In mid-February 2001, a survey of the consumption of 'alcohol and other drugs' by European schoolchildren – purporting to show Britain's youth heading the league tables of abuse – prompted newspaper and TV accounts of the evils of binge-drinking and other forms of excess … The real danger arises from the measures that follow from the promotion of the myth that the nation's youth is in the grip of an epidemic of alcoholism and drug addiction. Young people are being bombarded with patronising and stupefying 'education', informing them that such activities are bad for their health. The universal experience of such campaigns in the USA is that they are not merely ineffective, but counterproductive, provoking teenage interest in forbidden fruit." – Mike Fitzpatrick in Spiked!.

Flying round the world, no seat is first class. "According to recent scare stories, people on the 27-hour flight to New Zealand have a simple choice. You can either die of deep vein thrombosis or you can die of cancer which is caused by radiation in the upper atmosphere reacting with the aluminium skin of the aeroplane. Both options are better than surviving." Jeremy Clarkson in the Sunday Times.

Up with weeds. Individuals who believe that the movie, "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" is a documentary for what will happen if genetically modified foods are ever allowed to run wild, in well, the wild, should be relieved by the findings of a study recently published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, which convincingly demonstrates exactly the opposite. Washington Times.

Expect to Live to 100? Guess Again! Even if we all eat right and exercise like we're supposed to, it's unlikely that our life expectancy will shoot up to 100 any time soon, say University of Chicago scientists. Yahoo.

Fat is not a government issue. They must all be losing weight at the National Audit Office, so hard and late do they work. What has been the subject of their toil? … they have been investigating fat, and they think there's too much of it around … What on earth has the weight of British citizens got to do with the National Audit Office? Its task is to probe the efficiency and effectiveness of what government does, not what people do … it is none of its business to probe how we eat and live – let alone advise us on either matter. A better subject would be the cost to the taxpayer of its report. Telegraph Leader. (See also SIRC's Quis custodiet?).

The protective effect of childhood infections…thus, having many older siblings; attending day care at an early age; growing up on a farm and in frequent contact with cattle, poultry, and cats; and having childhood measles and orofaecal infections such as hepatitis A are all helpful (directly or by association) in promoting normal immunological maturation and in preventing atopic disease. By contrast, living in a small family group in hygienic conditions and taking antibiotics in early life may promote the development of asthma and atopy. BMJ Editorial.

Revealed: why so many Americans are fat (it's not the food) The mystery as to why Americans have become the fattest people on the planet has been uncovered by public health experts, who say that decades of uncontrolled suburban sprawl conceived around the motor car have left them unable to walk even if they wish to. Such delicacies as the stuffed crust pizza and triple bacon cheeseburger have played their part, but the main culprit for the ever-expanding American waistline seems to be the way modern suburbs are built. Researchers for the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention are preparing to test the theory with a series of experiments to find out how far Americans actually walk. In Atlanta, Georgia, they plan to equip 800 people with satellite tracking devices to follow their daily routine step by step. Telegraph.

Greenpeace promises not to halt trials of GM vitamin rice. Greenpeace has promised not to sabotage a forthcoming trial on genetically modified (GM) rice, because of the strong moral arguments in favour of producing a staple crop that could alleviate childhood blindness. It is believed to be the first time that the environmental activists, who have spearheaded attempts to sabotage and disrupt GM crop trials in Britain, have accepted the questionable morality of destroying something aimed at preventing children from going blind. Independent.

Grains of Hope. The widespread perception that agricultural biotechnology is intrinsically inimical to the environment perplexes Gordon Conway, the agricultural ecologist who heads the Rockefeller Foundation. He views genetic engineering as an important tool for achieving what he has termed a "doubly green revolution." If the technology can marshal a plant's natural defenses against weeds and viruses, if it can induce crops to flourish with minimal application of chemical fertilizers, if it can make dryland agriculture more productive without straining local water supplies, then what's wrong with it? Of course, these breakthroughs have not happened yet. But as Potrykus sees it, there is no question that agricultural biotechnology can be harnessed for the good of humankind. The only question is whether there is the collective will to do so. The answer may well emerge as the people of Asia weigh the future of golden rice. Time.

GM super-weed fears 'unfounded'. Fears that GM crops will turn into super-weeds and invade the countryside are overstated, according to a 10-year study of crops that have been modified to be resistant to herbicides and insects. The survey of four types of genetically modified crops planted in different sites across Britain found they do not survive well in the wild, and are no more likely to invade other habitats than their unmodified – "natural" – counterparts. Telegraph, BBC.

Mobiles 'are not a cancer hazard' The biggest scientific study yet made into the health hazards of using mobile phones has concluded that their use does not increase the risk of certain forms of cancer. "This first-ever nationwide study of the incidence of cancer among mobile phone users does not support the hypothesis of a link between the use of these phones and cancers of the brain, salivary glands, central nervous system or leukaemia," said the pioneering report, carried out by the Danish Cancer Society. Financial Times.

Fears over food poisoning. A report published by the Food Standards Agency says that five million people believe they have suffered from food poisoning…Three quarters of people living in the UK are worried about food safety the study also reveals, a statistic blamed on two decades of food scares. BBC.

Critics of Biotechnology Are Called Imperialists. Last year, with five million people in Kenya facing starvation because of a severe drought, opponents of agricultural biotechnology urged the Kenyan government to reject corn donated by the United States and Canada because some of it was genetically modified. And when the United States sent corn and soy meal to India after a 1999 cyclone that killed 10,000 people, a prominent biotech critic in that country accused Washington of using the cyclone victims as "guinea pigs" for bio-engineered food. New York Times.

Saying no to good advice. If you can't smoke, take drugs, drink, eat tasty, fattening food and fornicate when you're young, when can you do it? Guardian.

Best cure for a bad back is to ignore it. The best treatment for a bad back is to ignore it, a wide-ranging review of the evidence has concluded. Staying in bed can make it worse. Independent.

The days of wine and chocolate. Earlier this month, it finally happened. Two authoritative sources – the Food and Drug Administration and the Journal of the American Medical Association – issued diametrically opposed recommendations on food and health…Nothing delights me more than ''expert'' advice on food and diet. As Julia Child, one of the few holdouts against nutritional correctness, once remarked, ''People will believe almost anything, particularly if it sounds medical.'' Given the media-medical complex's penchant for playing up all manners of food news, it's a miracle that people don't have a nervous breakdown every time they face down a plate of victuals. Boston Globe.