SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – March 2001

Women's new diet magazine is 'grim'. A new celebrity-obsessed slimming magazine has been accused by the Minister for Women of causing young women torment … Celebrity Bodies was launched yesterday by Emap, the company behind FHM, with a picture of a rake-thin Geri Halliwell, the former Spice Girl, on the cover. It is filled with diets and exercise tips designed for women who wish to emulate the bodies of their favourite stars. Times.

Reducing dietary fat has little effect on cardiovascular disease. Half a century ago it was suggested that dietary fat causes heart disease and that reducing or modifying dietary fat intake will keep us healthy. This theory is still a mainstay of population "healthy eating" strategies and individual risk reduction advice. Hooper et al present a systematic review of randomised controlled trials of dietary fat reduction or modification (including 40 intervention arms, 1430 deaths, and 1216 cardiovascular events). The review shows only modest reductions in cardiovascular events in those remaining on diet for over two years. The authors found little evidence for optimal intakes of total or individual fats. BMJ.

Suffering – the magic ingredient that makes a feast of every meal. "You can tell an irreligious man by how he eats. All the atheists I know are vegetarians who pick at their food, uncertain what it's for. The self-engrossed – those who have made little gods of themselves – resent the contents of their plates, prod at it with their knives, stab at it with their forks (trying to kill again what is dead already), as though every morsel is an affront to them. The trivial eat peas. The material like white fish. The terminally pointless – models, television presenters, disc jockeys – start from the colour red on a table as though they have seen the plague." Howard Jabobson in the Independent.

Global Hysteria: Fear of Food People are being terrorized by breakfast, lunch and dinner. Food is poison. Food is filth. Food is full of salmonella furiously searching for a place to spawn. Food will hurt you, maim you, kill you, and, worst of all, make you fat. I personally have switched to a diet comprised entirely of unfertilized and unsprayed grasses grown in my backyard. The new rule: Eat only that which can be mowed. Washington Post.

The Queniborough CJD cluster. " … scientists need to focus their attention on the underlying biological processes, rather than engaging in wild speculations on the basis of precisely measured, but basically useless, data. This is further justification for a prophylactic (and humanely executed) cull of epidemiologists to curtail further eruptions of panics about mad cow and other diseases." Mike Fitzpatrick in Spiked!.

Gene Revolution. Why biotech phobia will only keep tomorrow's Indians hungry. Speaking at a conference in Delhi recently, Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug voiced the obvious when he warned against ignoring biotechnology in agriculture … Fundamentally this requires rational, informed debate-not hysteria. While it is true that long-term consequences of GM foods are not entirely known, such crops have been grown on 40 million hectares of land in a dozen countries over the past five years. They have led to no scientifically proven disaster. India cannot reject this evidence-nor its own compulsions. India Today.

Air fare. We have come to accept the fact that everything we eat - however apparently healthy - is certain eventually to be decreed to be bad for us. Eggs, cheese, tuna… all stand condemned. Keeping fit is equally perilous. Aerobics, so often praised in the past as the ideal way to stay healthy, is now often dismissed as more damaging than helpful … An Australian study published yesterday suggested that basketball players with air cells in their heels are four times more likely to be injured than players wearing airless shoes. Soon, the final truth will be out. Slobbing out will be proved to be the ultimate healthy option. Wait for the survey that proves that, to stay healthy, we should all spend our days eating take-aways in front of the TV. Independent.

The whole country is not in crisis. There is no national emergency, just a crisis in one small industry. You'd think there was a war on. Special prayers were said in churches yesterday. The Prince of Wales has piously cancelled his holiday. William Hague has absurdly called for a special "crisis cabinet" to be convened every day … What there is is a serious and traumatic crisis in one industry, fortunately a relatively small one … Compared with what has happened to the coalmining, steelworking, car-making, shipbuilding and related industries over the past 20 years, foot and mouth is very small beer indeed. Telegraph.

Europe is freaking out. Spend a little time in Europe, and you start to feel nothing is safe. Over here, cellphones cause brain damage and T-bone steaks are lethal. Flying economy class gives you blood clots. Even that plastic toy bobbing in the bathtub is toxic. At least that is what Europeans are told. These days, hardly a week goes by without another health scare sweeping the continent. Never mind that many of the warnings are absurd, or based on flimsy science. Europeans are now so jittery, so convinced that modern life is a minefield, that the merest whiff of risk sends them scurrying for cover. National Post.

Health Check: Risk is the price we pay for essential research. Experimenting on humans is risky. Last week, we learned just how risky. The horror of what happened to the sufferers of Parkinson's disease who submitted themselves to brain transplants using foetal tissue received wide media coverage on both sides of the Atlantic. Independent.

This vaccine won't hurt at all. Because they love and care for their children, parents have always been vulnerable to health scares. Intentional or not, drumming up hysteria without reasonable supporting evidence unfairly plays on parental fears, blinding parents to the real risks they and their children face. For parents to make an informed choice, they need to understand both the vaguely possible risks in administering the vaccine and the concrete probable risks in withholding it. While avoiding the MMR vaccine is unlikely to prevent autism, such action makes the recurrence of epidemic diseases such as measles or rubella more likely. National Post.

Grain of hope. Greenpeace calls "golden" rice fools' gold but many scientists and nutritionists believe it could save millions of people's lives. It is a type of rice into which genes for beta-carotene have been inserted – and it is being made to carry a crushing load of ideological baggage in the GM debate. These tiny grains reflect the worst sides of the participants. Guardian.

Free trade is the best hope for the world's poor. Slowly, the governments of rich countries are learning. Not so much how to tackle world poverty, but how to tackle well-meaning, counter-productive demonstrators who try to block the very measures most likely to lift the world's poor out of their oppression … Anyone interested in promoting sustainable development ought to recognise that international agreements are the main means by which the world's poor can be enabled to help themselves. Indpendent.

Contrary to popular belief, natural foods - not artificial additives - account for the majority of allergic reactions. When it comes to food allergies, myths abound, experts say, mainly due to a lack of knowledge. MSNBC.

Minister: precautionary principle has 'got out of hand'. Michael Meacher, UK minister for the environment, today conceded that, in responding to the foot-and-mouth outbreak, 'the precautionary principle perhaps got out of hand because we did not understand all of the issues'. Spiked.

Fear of frying: power lines and cancer. Those in the media who believe that high voltage power lines and pylons cause cancer in children are like the plucky, armless black knight in Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail: they just won't give up. Last week they thought their Christmases were all about to come at once when they got wind of a report not yet published that was "expected to show" that the power lines were killers. Even better, among the authors of the report was none other than Sir Richard Doll, whose every mention noted that he was the first to show conclusively the link between smoking and lung cancer. These electricity doomsayers were about to be vindicated over their perennial story by the Mike Tyson of epidemiology: if Doll said there was danger, there was no turning back. Except for one tiny problem-ette. The then unreleased report was not actually going to say that. BMJ.

Was Selby really such a freak? Roger Harrabin asks why we shrug our shoulders when we hear that it was a road accident … Skewed media priorities on road and rail safety directly inform the political debate. After a rail crash the media always call for the system to be made safe, whatever the cost. As a result, we spend 50 times more to save each life on rail than we spend to save a life on the roads. This is an insult to road crash victims and wasteful for the taxpayer.New Statesman.

Pig Phooey. In that charming wartime spirit which has Britons falling over themselves to ‘do their bit’, the countryside this week has embarked on an orgy of responsible behaviour. Ashbourne’s Shrovetide football match has been cancelled…On the face of it, this all seems a bit of a fuss to make over the bestial equivalent of athlete’s foot. Visions of animals dropping dead by the dozen from foot-and-mouth disease are far-fetched: if animals led human lives, their flaming corpses would not now be lighting the night sky; they would merely spend a couple of weeks at home, scoffing choccies, watching daytime telly and bathing their cloven hooves in bowls of warm water before bounding back to work in a fortnight’s time. Spectator.

Power lines 'link to child cancer' – or? A report by Oxfordshire-based researchers is expected to officially link high voltage power lines to cancer. A study due to be published this week will show children living near electricity pylons run a small but significantly increased risk of falling victim to the disease. But Oxford University professor Colin Blakemore, a member of a group which carried out an analysis of results of a number of studies, dismissed reports in a Sunday newspaper that children or adults were at risk, if living near overhead power cables in this country. Prof Blakemore said: "We say the level of exposure that could cause a danger to health is such that no-one would be expected to be at risk in the UK." Oxford Mail.

Shiva's Little Green Book. [Vandana Shiva's] prescriptions are deeply worrying. She would sweep away the green revolution of the past half-century – a revolution that doubled world food production faster than world population could double. She is right that the revolution reduced crop biodiversity. Yes, the gains in grain production tonnages were often at the expense of other crop products such as straw and green manure; and yes, the revolution required huge and often unsustainable inputs of chemicals and water. But without it, would the world's stomachs be anything like as full as they are today? It seems unlikely. The warnings of the early 1970s that billions could be dying of starvation before the 20th century was out could indeed have come true. Times Higher Education Supplement.

Running around like headless chickens. The problem is not panic buying so much as panic living. As the national epidemic of panic spreads, and the search for scapegoats grows more feverish, it seems a wonder that no compensation lawyer has suggested posthumously suing the sheep accused of spreading foot-and-mouth. No doubt a rival firm would launch a class action on the sheep’s behalf against the pigs said to have started the outbreak. Sunday Times.

Why accidents don't happen any more. We are witnessing the death of the accident. For a few tragically unlucky travellers, the Selby rail crash destroyed lives. For a few unlucky farmers, foot-and-mouth disease is destroying livelihoods. For them, as for the rest of us, they are victims of accidents. Yet we seem unable to handle them as such. We have been schooled into not believing in accidents. The concept of no-fault disaster is as old hat as medieval pestilence, from which modern technology and jurisprudence have supposedly delivered us. In place of the accident is the vastly more rewarding god, blame. Times.

The myth that modern farming brought us foot and mouth. There ought to be a word for it: postjudice. Nothing else can explain the rush to judge the foot and mouth outbreak as a damnation of intensive farming. We have been so brainwashed into thinking that small-scale, old-fashioned farming is better that we immediately assume that all disasters in the countryside can be attributed to modernisation. Telegraph.

In Europe, the Ordinary Takes a Frightening Turn. Health Scares Confound Continent. A bowl of cornflakes can kill you – not to mention a ham sandwich or a T-bone steak. Getting vaccinated can kill you. Flying economy class can kill you, and business class isn't much better. The rubber duckie in your bathtub can kill you (and your children). And put down that cell phone, before it kills you! Washington Post.

Moral Maze. Our increasing aversion to risk is putting us in danger. Half term last week and the roads were empty. We fear for our children and drive them to school, no matter that the risk is infinitesimal and the result is un-streetwise, overweight children living narrow lives. Months of chaos to make the railways risk-free are mocked by a train disaster, today, that no repair or regulation could prevent. Life is a risky business: why can we no longer seem to accept and live with it? Realise that there are dangers that we can not legislate away or consequences for which there is nobody to blame. BBC Radio4

Sir Robert May. "We also live in a time when an increasing number of lobby groups and so called non-governmental organisations provide a livelihood and a way of expressing passionate convictions held by many people, and many of which I share. That is a feature of today's world. Many of these lobby groups are entirely worthy and express causes I often agree with … Some of them, on the other hand, are not beyond using whatever tactic will advance the cause they espouse … an organisation like Greenpeace, which frankly and honestly says it's not primarily interested in science, sees some of these issues as a metaphor for delivering a wider agenda." ePolitix.