Sunday, April 30, 2006

Male contraception trial proves successful: "A Sydney scientist working on male contraceptives has found further evidence a hormone based treatment can switch on and switch off sperm production. Doctor Peter Lui conducted a trial of the treatment three years ago in Sydney and has now collated the results of trials from the United Kingdom, United States, China, Indonesia and Melbourne. He has found a 100 per cent success rate with the injections and pills of male hormones, which prevent sperm production. Doctor Lui says all the studies showed male sperm production returned to normal three to four months after the treatment. "The main thing that we worry about long term is the reversibility - so that's no longer an issue," he said. "In terms of acute side effects, there are very few regardless of the formulations. "Now what is unanswered are the long term side effects." Doctor Lui says he hopes the contraceptive will be on the market in five to 10 years."

Friday, April 28, 2006

Bacteria secret to gas-free beans: "Two strains of bacteria are the key to making beans flatulence-free, Venezuelan researchers reported today. They identified two bacteria, Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus plantarum, which can be added to beans so they cause minimal distress to those who eat them, and to those around the bean-lovers, Marisela Granito of Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, Venezuela and colleagues reported. Flatulence is gas released by bacteria that live in the large intestine when they break down food. Fermenting makes food more digestible earlier on. Writing in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Ms Granito and colleagues found that adding the two gut bacteria to beans before cooking them made them even less likely to cause flatulence."

This is great news for the food freaks who use potassium salt instead of ordinary table salt: "A new study has found that high potassium levels are causing nerve damage in people with kidney disease. Doctors at the University of New South Wales and the Prince of Wales Hospital tested patients with kidney problems who suffered loss of feeling in their body. After dialysis, in which excess potassium was removed, doctors found the patient's nerve function improved. Associate Professor Matthew Kiernan says patients were told to avoid eating potassium-rich foods such as bananas, peanuts, soy, dried fruit and soft drink. "Nerve dysfunction and nerve failure is very prevalent in patients who have kidney disease," he said. "It's about 70 and 100 per cent of patients who require dialysis have evidence of neuropathy. "This is a significant advance because it shows that if you can try and control the amount of potassium, you can preserve nerve function."


Two reports:

Experts stunned by tubby tots

Children as young as four are battling obesity, research shows. And children appear to be losing the fat fight as they get older. A Royal Children's Hospital study found almost one in five kindergarten kids (19.5 per cent) are overweight or obese. And just a year later 21.1 per cent were battling the bulge. Dr Joanne Williams, of the hospital's Centre for Community Child Health, said young overweight children were likely to still have weight problems as adults. "We're just watching the rates go up and up and up, and nothing's being done about it," Dr Williams said. "These kids get teased at school, their self-esteem is low, they have a poor quality of life and there are huge consequences later on in life."

Researchers measured the waistline, height and weight of 340 children aged four to six for the study, which has been submitted to the International Journal of Obesity. Dr Williams said advertising led parents to falsely believe they were feeding kids healthy foods when their diet was packed with sugar and fat.

Health Minister Tony Abbott has refused to crack down on junk food ads during children's television hours. He said parents, not the Government, should be responsible for what their children ate. But Deakin University nutrition lecturer Dr Tim Crowe said junk food TV advertising should be outlawed from 4pm-6pm to remove some temptation from households. "We have to acknowledge we are dealing with a health problem so serious that a group of children are not going to outlive their parents," he said.

Many parents did not seem to recognise when children were overweight. "We are not sure of the reasons why. Perhaps it is because they look at other kids and think their own are not fat," he said. [It's because the mothers themselves are fat!]

More here.

OF COURSE kids are getting fatter on average. It is predominantly overweight working class women who are giving birth these days. Huge numbers of slim bourgeois women now consider themselves too grand to have kids. And obesity is highly hereditary. So the increasing prevalence of fat kids is exactly what you expect now that fat women are the main ones having kids. Going on about the evils of junk food or the wickedness of advertisers is flailing at the air.

Schools to put cap back on soft drinks

Water and milk will be the only drinks allowed in some Victorian schools. The primary schools plan to scrap sugary soft drinks this year. Children will be urged to bring water bottles to class in the government-backed trial. Parents will be encouraged to pack only water and milk with lunches. Program co-ordinator and child health researcher Dr Lisa Gibbs said regular water drink breaks would improve students' attention span. Promoting water and milk was also good for teeth, Dr Gibbs said. Six government and private schools in the western and northwestern suburbs will be selected for the trial under the Go For Your Life campaign. The project could spread if successful.

"The idea in the first stage will be that if a student brings a drink into the classroom it can only be water," Dr Gibbs said. "If you have brought a soft drink, it will have to be kept in your bag during class times and only drunk at lunch time. "The eventual aim would be that you would only be allowed to bring water or milk to school." The plan coincides with a ban on sales of high-sugar soft drinks from canteens and vending machines in government primary and secondary schools by year's end.

More here

And what good is that going to do? Milk is extremely calorific and hence fattening. The kids would probably get fewer calories out of drinking fizzy drinks

Thursday, April 27, 2006


It came almost two years after the Boston Globe exposed it, but the Washington Post on April 6 acknowledged that the number of HIV/AIDS cases in Africa has been grossly exaggerated by the United Nations in order to generate money through the world body to spend on the disease. In an April 10 editorial, the Post admitted, "The United Nations' credibility on AIDS will now suffer." So should the credibility of the media for taking the world organization seriously.

The Post editorial declared, "It's been clear for a while that UNAIDS, the agency responsible for these statistics, was reluctant to contemplate good strategies for fighting AIDS lest these undermine global support for expanded funding." The Post found the U.N. guilty of publishing "dubious AIDS data."

The FAIR Foundation, which stands for Fair Allocations in Research, had known about and exposed the dubious data. On its website, it highlighted how the UN AIDS office, the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Institutes of Health, and AIDS activists "continually speak of AIDS decimating the world and use that argument to argue for more research funding." It had posted the John Donnelly Boston Globe article of June 20, 2004, explaining how the figures had been exaggerated. "Recent studies in Kenya have confirmed millions of Africans previously thought to have AIDS are disease free," noted the FAIR Foundation. In Kenya, as the BCC reported on January 9, 2004, estimates had put the figure at 15 percent, when a subsequent survey found only 6.7 percent infected.

That's January 9, 2004-more than two years before the Post published its correction of the record. What the Post didn't acknowledge is the role it played in this fiasco. But writing in Human Events, Tom Bethell commented, "Back in 2000, the Washington Post was one of the main sources of hype about AIDS in Africa."

He explains: "The wildly exaggerated claims promoted by the mainstream media created an atmosphere of crisis. Guided by U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and Secretary of State Albright, the Clinton Administration took the issue of impending population collapse to the U.N. Security Council. African countries weren't going to be able to field armies or defend themselves because so many young men would soon be on their death beds." Bethell says his new book, the Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, deals with this manufactured "crisis" over AIDS.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006


To the patriots of Bromham, a hearty English breakfast seemed the perfect way to celebrate St George's Day. Some 300 villagers were planning to tuck in to the fry-up in their community centre. But yesterday's charity event was cancelled at the last minute - because of a health and safety warning against frying eggs. The local council's guidelines state that volunteers should not prepare "protein-based foods" without proper training. Furthermore, the centre did not have the correct facilities to "chill, prepare and store" the food. Faced with not being able to serve eggs, cheese or milk, organisers abandoned the event.

They had been hoping to raise 500 pounds for St Nicholas Primary School in the village near Chippenham, Wiltshire. Peter Wallis, 39, chairman of the school's parents and teachers association, said: "I was astonished to discover that we had to adhere to health and safety regulations to cook people breakfast. "We have to provide evidence that whoever is handling the food has been trained to do so. "We spoke to other schools in the area and decided that because people were not properly qualified in food preparation we had to cancel the event. "This is just plain daft. These breakfasts have been going on for many years and we've never poisoned anyone. "We are looking at sending some of our parents on training courses but with the turnover of members each year that could be too expensive."

The school, which has 85 pupils aged between four and 11, has held fundraising breakfasts for some 15 years. This year ten parents had promised to help cook and serve the fry-ups. School governors now fear the guidelines could lead to the cancellation of their summer fetes and Christmas parties. The events raise 2,500 pounds a year to be spent on books and teaching equipment.

Tory MP Philip Davies said the guidelines were "bonkers". "It is barmy that parents who want to celebrate St George's Day and raise a bit of money for their local school are prevented from doing so by ridiculous rules and regulations," he said. "Do mums and dads really need to spend valuable time learning how to fry an egg? I'm sure they do it most mornings without training. "These potty rules are one reason people are discouraged from celebrating St George's Day."

Mr Wallis, whose seven-year-old son Sam attends the school, added: "The regulations also say the eggs have to be chilled literally from when we buy them to when they are cooked to be eaten. "What we have done for years and years is to buy them and take them home overnight to someone's home but that is not allowed any more. "Keeping them at some parent's house overnight is not sufficient evidence they have been stored properly." Councillor Mark Baker, vice-chairman of education on Tory-held Wiltshire County Council, said the authority's health and safety guidelines were not legally-binding.

The breakfast rumpus is the latest in a string of healthy and safety controversies. Last week grandfather Brian Heale, 73, was ordered off a bus in Cardiff because he was carrying a tin of paint. Earlier this month a lifeguard instructor and her husband were banned from taking their three children into the toddlers' pool at Sedgemoor Splash in Bridgwater, Somerset. Keren and David Townsend were told their children needed individual supervision.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Electrify your brain: "A growing body of evidence suggests that passing a small electric current through your head can have a profound effect on the way your brain works. Called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), the technique has already been shown to boost verbal and motor skills and to improve learning and memory in healthy people - making fully-functioning brains work even better. It is also showing promise as a therapy to cure migraine and speed recovery after a stroke, and may extract more from the withering brains of people with dementia. Some researchers think the technique will eventually yield a commercial device that healthy people could use to boost their brain function at the flick of a switch."

Chocolate for your heart: "Heart patients at a leading London hospital will be treated with chocolate if a revolutionary experiment is approved. Roger Corder, a professor of experimental therapeutics, is so convinced of the possible benefits of eating dark chocolate that he has asked for permission to test the theory as part of the treatment for 40 cardiovascular patients. While the idea that chocolate can be good for you is not new, this will be the first time it has been used on heart patients. The key, scientists argue, is in its molecules, or polyphenols - especially the largest group, flavonoids. Flavonoids have an anti-oxidant effect that acts on the body's LDL-cholesterol - the so-called "bad cholesterol" found in the blood, which hardens arteries and causes blockages and eventual strokes and heart attacks. To this extent, flavonoids found in chocolate are said to act like aspirin in the way they prevent clotting. At least one recent US study found that eating 25 grams of dark chocolate a day resulted in lower platelet activity, the particles of blood which stick together to form clots."

Monday, April 24, 2006

Sex is good for you: "It does not take a degree in medicine to work out that sex is good for you. Anything that is free, feels fabulous and leaves you glowing is plainly a good idea. But scientists are now beginning to understand that the perceived feel-good effects of sexual intercourse are merely the tip of the iceberg. Sex, they are discovering, can offer protection from depression, colds, heart disease and even cancer. The latest addition to the body of evidence came last month when Professor Stuart Brody of the University of Paisley published a study showing sex can lower blood pressure. "We're not just talking about the immediate effects of having had nice sex. The beneficial effects could last at least a week," says Professor Brody. One theory is that intercourse stimulates a variety of nerves, most notably the "vagas" nerve, which is directly involved in soothing and calming. But you have to go the whole heterosexual hog. According to Professor Brody, studies show "penile-vaginal intercourse is the only sexual behaviour consistently associated with better psychological and physiological health". [Now, whom would that leave out?]


"America is fat and getting fatter. Today 140 million American adults are overweight or obese. Their bodies carry 4 billion pounds of excess fat, the result of eating 14 trillion excess calories. Numbers of this size belong in the domain of economists, not physicians. And therein lies the solution.

Medical and public health attempts to control obesity should continue, but it is time to add marketplace approaches. The first step is realizing that, nationally, weight gain is not a medical problem, it's a pollution problem.

Food calories are so pervasively and inexpensively available in our environment that they should be regarded as a pollutant. Just as an asthmatic can't help but inhale pollutants in the air all around him, we Americans cannot help but ingest the calories present in the environment all around us. Our Stone Age biology is optimized to survive famine by triggering eating at the slightest provocation. We are not optimized to eat prudently in an environment of cheap and easy calories.

Public policies have succeeded in reducing air pollution. They can teach us how to reduce calorie pollution. Tradable emission allowances, for example, establish markets where permits to emit air pollutants can be bought and sold. Market forces then provide incentives to reduce pollution emissions.

A program for tradable emission allowances could target foods with a high caloric density, that is, foods with a high number of calories per ounce. These foods are more likely to produce weight gain than foods with a low density of calories. It's easier to eat 1,000 calories in dessert than in vegetables, because the calories in dessert are concentrated.

A food's caloric density generally depends on its water and fat content. Dry, fatty foods have the highest caloric density, because water has weight but no calories and because fat has more calories per ounce than proteins and carbohydrates. For example, butter, which is fatty and dry, has 195 calories per ounce. Frozen spinach has seven calories per ounce.

A specific example illustrates how tradable emission allowances could work. Suppose the calorie-emission allowance is set to 100 calories for each ounce of food emitted into the environment (i.e., sold). A four-ounce food item having more than 400 calories could not, therefore, be sold unless "calorie credits" were purchased to cover the excess calories. So a standard four-ounce stick of butter, containing 780 calories, could not enter the marketplace until the butter producer acquired 380 additional calorie-credits from someone having credits to sell.

On the other hand, the producer of a four-ounce block of frozen spinach would emit only 28 calories into the environment and could sell the unused 372 calorie-credits to the butter producer.

With such a program, high-density foods would become more expensive and low-density foods would become cheaper. Unlike a tax, the program could be designed so the net cost change to consumers was zero. Thus, consumers who alter their eating habits need pay no more to eat the same number of calories. The hope, which should be tested, is that the number of calories eaten would drop, owing to the difficulty of consuming large numbers of calories from low-density foods. This would then reduce food costs and, ultimately, health-care costs."

More here

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Mediterranean diet gets another plug: "A "Mediterranean" diet was associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease among Americans participating in a new study, researchers reported. A Mediterranean diet is one with plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals, some fish and alcohol, and little dairy and meat. Previous studies have also linked the diet with longer lives, and other health benefits. In the new research, Nikolaos Scarmeas of Columbia University Medical Center in New York City and colleagues studied 2,258 older New Yorkers for a period of four years. During that time, 262 were diagnosed with Alzheimer's-a devastating, progressive degeneration of the brain, estimated to affect 4 million Americans. But "higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with significantly lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease," the researchers reported. The findings appear in the April issue of the research journal Annals of Neurology. [Funny that Mediterraneans don't live any longer than anyone else, though!]

Friday, April 21, 2006

Big discovery! Sexy women distract men!: "Catching sight of a pretty woman really is enough to throw a man's decision-making skills into disarray, a study suggests. The more testosterone he has, the stronger the effect, according to work by Belgian researchers. Men about to play a financial game were shown images of sexy women or lingerie. The Proceedings of the Royal Society B study found they were more likely to accept unfair offers than men not been exposed to the alluring images. The suggestion is that the sexual cues distract the men's thoughts, preventing them from focusing on their task - particularly among those with high natural testosterone levels."

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Herbs have a win: "Herbal remedies are effective in treating lower-back pain and in some cases work just as well as pharmaceutical drugs. A review of 10 different studies conducted around the world in recent years has found three herbs - Devil's Claw, White Willow Bark and Cayenne - all reduced back pain significantly more than a placebo, or dummy pill. And two of the herbs, Devil's Claw, also known as harpagoside, and White Willow Bark, also known as salicin, were just as effective as Vioxx - a member of the newest class of anti-inflammatory painkilling drugs, collectively known as Cox-2 inhibitors. The findings on the three herbs were released yesterday by the Cochrane Library, an international collaboration that seeks to iron out contradictions in medical evidence by examining a large number of studies looking at the same topic. The Cochrane reviewers found 10 previous studies involving 1567 patients aged 18 or over with chronic or acute lower-back pain".

New antibiotic: "Wallabies could hold the key to developing the next generation of super-drugs to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. An Australian team of scientists have found that the milk of the female tammar wallabies contains a molecule that is 100 times more effective against bacteria such a E.coli than the most potent form of penicillin. In recent years scientists have been concerned that over-prescribing penicillin has increasingly made bacteria resistant to the drug and this was potentially leading to the creation of "super-bugs". The findings, in the latest issue of New Scientist, were presented at the US Biotechnology Industry Organisation 2006 meeting in Chicago last week. But the research director in animal genetics and genomics for the Victoria Department of Primary Industries in Melbourne, Dr Ben Cocks, said the molecule in the wallaby milk, called AGG01, is effective against a range of bacteria and one type of fungus".

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Generation Ouch: "For America's baby boomers, a generation weaned on Jack LaLanne, shaped by Jane Fonda videos and sculpted in the modern-day gym, too much of a good thing has consequences. Encouraged by doctors to continue to exercise three to five times a week for their health, a legion of running, swimming and biking boomers are flouting the conventional limits of the middle-aged body's abilities, and filling the nation's operating rooms and orthopedists' offices in the process. They need knee and hip replacements, surgery for cartilage and ligament damage, and treatment for tendinitis, arthritis, bursitis and stress fractures. The phenomenon even has a name in medical circles: boomeritis. "Boomers are the first generation that grew up exercising, and the first that expects, indeed demands, that they be able to exercise into their 70's," said Dr. Nicholas A. DiNubile, a Philadelphia-area orthopedic surgeon, who coined and trademarked the term boomeritis. "But evolution doesn't work that quickly. Physically, you can't necessarily do at 50 what you did at 25. We've worn out the warranty on some body parts. That's why so many boomers are breaking down. It ought to be called Generation Ouch."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Government and the obesity "Epidemic"

Obesity is an increasingly common problem around the world, and especially in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), two-thirds of the U.S. population is overweight, and nearly half of those are heavy enough to be considered obese. The proportion of obese children in the United States will almost double over the next four years, according to projections. By 2010, nearly half of all children in North and South America will be obese, according to a recent report in the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity.

Medicaid and Medicare bear significant costs for treating health conditions associated with obesity, including diabetes and cardiovascular problems. A 2001 Surgeon General's report put the social cost of obesity at about $117 billion per year. Because of all this, public health advocates are increasingly calling for government intervention to slow the increasing incidence of obesity. They are trying to remove from schools foods and drinks they consider unhealthy. Trial lawyers have explored suing fast food restaurant chains. One of the more extreme proposals is a so-called "fat tax" to offset government medical expenditures and raise the cost of unhealthy foods.

Current government efforts to control obesity largely take the form of consumer education and food industry requirements for transparency in nutritional information. The federal government has required food producers to disclose nutritional information for years. The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (1966) required all consumer products involved in interstate commerce to have labels that are both accurate and informative. The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 further enhanced labeling requirements. Many of the larger restaurant chains and fast food establishments make the nutritional information of their menus available on Web sites or on printed menus or posters.

Could government do even more? Economists generally agree government should intervene when the costs of one person's actions are borne by others. However, most also say government should not interfere when the cost is borne primarily by the individual. The reason economists give is that individuals are better than government at making choices that best fit their preferences. For example, even though we might prefer to be slender, we value the taste of food in the present more than we dislike the added weight that will accumulate in the future. Hence, we are only as fat as we want to be.

But USDA researchers Fred Kuchler and Nicole Ballenger argue not all of the bad consequences ("negative externalities") of obesity are borne solely by the individual. Some, they note, are absorbed by society in the form of higher health care expenditures. That problem could be remedied by charging higher health insurance premiums to obese people. The fact insurers have not done so is probably because it is not worth the effort to underwrite populations in this way.

Economist Arnold Kling, author of the forthcoming book Crisis of Abundance, suggests there is an additional role for government, but it is limited. In an interview for this story, he said, "The impression I have is that we do not have knowledge in these areas that is sufficiently definitive to provide a basis for a major policy initiative." He continued, "I believe that the main contribution of the government at this point would be to continue to support research concerning the causes, consequences, and treatments for obesity."

As Kling points out, to fight obesity we must first understand what causes it. Obesity is a complex medical condition and likely related to a number of different factors. People often blame overeating, too much fast food, and sedentary lifestyles. Other theories include increased automobile use and living in suburban neighborhoods where people walk less than in other areas. Carbonated beverages and sweeteners made from corn syrup are often mentioned as contributing factors. But not everyone agrees preventing obesity is simply a case of counting calories consumed and subtracting those that are burned.

Sandy Szwarc, a registered nurse who has worked with international obesity researchers and eating disorder clinicians for years, says the evidence for obesity being directly caused by diet and exercise is less clear than people often believe. Szwarc says, "It's easy to accept the popular beliefs that inactivity, gluttony, and eating the wrong foods are the cause of fatness, and to believe that exercising and eating 'right' will keep us slim. But researchers, using a variety of methodologies, have shown time and again for more than 50 years that it isn't consumption of fat, sugars, or any 'bad' food; 'overeating'; or even exercise that predicts and precedes the onset of obesity. It is primarily our genes and restrictive eating," Szwarc concludes, with the latter term referring to caloric restriction diets. Szwarc points to work by the prominent researcher Jeffrey M. Friedman, head of the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics at Rockefeller University, who finds obesity has a hereditary basis similar to a person's height.....

Another important observation is that obesity has increased largely due to the stroke of a bureaucratic pen. Dr. Eric Oliver, an associate professor of political science at the University of Chicago and author of Fat Politics: The Real Story Behind America's Obesity Epidemic, argues the obesity epidemic is largely a creation of the diet industry. Over the past 30 years, the weight of the average adult American has risen by only 8 to 12 pounds. At the same time, however, the definition of what is overweight was lowered by the National Institutes of Health.

As Oliver told Health Care News, "The only reason that over 60 percent of Americans are 'overweight' and roughly 25 percent are 'obese' is because these definitions are set at unreasonably low levels. In fact, the official definitions of overweight and obese are based on dated and inaccurate data linking body weight to mortality and were written by a handful of doctors with extensive financial ties to the weight loss industry. The most recent scientific evidence suggests that the optimal weight for mortality is what we consider 'overweight' (i.e., a BMI between 25 and 29)."

It's easy to see there is no simple fix for the obesity "epidemic." Many of the factors behind obesity are desirable to society: lower rates of smoking, higher standards of living, less expensive foods, and technology that makes food cheap and work easy. These are indicators of economic development, and most Americans see them as worth carrying a few extra pounds for. To achieve the goal of making Americans reach an unreasonably low body mass standard, anti-obesity advocates will increasingly have to confront this reality.

More here

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Men don't find out if vasectomy worked: "Many men who undergo vasectomy fail to get the follow-up test that shows whether the procedure worked, a new study suggests. Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation found that of 436 vasectomy patients they followed, one-quarter never returned a semen sample to confirm that they were indeed sterile. And half didn't get a second semen analysis, as their surgeon had advised. In all, only one-fifth of patients followed the full instructions to have two consecutive sperm-free semen samples in the months following surgery, according to findings published in the journal BJU International."

Friday, April 14, 2006

Better booze coming: "It could be the perfect tipple: a drink that makes you merry without turning you into a slurring, stumbling liability on course for the mother of all hangovers. If drinks containing PAs, or partial agonists, become a hit it could save many lives, as well as countless scenes of drunken embarrassment, according to the scientist who devised them. PAs mimic the popular effects of alcohol, but not the least popular. Although at the proposal stage, drinks using PAs could be produced with existing technology. A professor of psychopharmacology at Bristol University in England, David Nutt, said although alcohol made people feel sociable, it had the all-too-familiar side-effects of impairing senses, ruining co-ordination, making us aggressive, and harming our livers, hearts and brains. Advances in pharmacology mean that scientists are able to unravel the complex neurological responses to alcohol and find which reactions lead to positive, enjoyable effects. According to New Scientist magazine, PAs produce only the desirable effects of alcohol".

Pill-loving burglar dies: "An intruder has been found dead and naked in the house he broke into after apparently overdosing on prescription drugs he had found inside. The 60-year-old resident of an Adelaide property found the body yesterday after being away for two days. Police said the dead man appeared to have taken the resident's diabetes tablets, vomited in the toilet and then used the shower before collapsing. Detective Senior Sergeant Brian Kimber, of Elizabeth, said the intruder, aged in his 20s, had been known to police. "It appears he climbed in through the roof. There were tiles smashed and broken and he has got in through the kitchen ceiling," he said. "I can't speculate how long the man had been in the house but it appears he has been dead between 12 and 24 hours."

Windy beans no myth: "It's a "factual reality" that beans make you break wind, South Africa's advertising watchdog has revealed. A TV advertisement for sweet onions showed a rugby player eating beans that made him smell "stinky." The ad claims that "with sweet onions there are no tears, no burn and definitely no stink". The country's Dry Bean Producers Organisation complained about the ad on the basis that the "stinky" charge was untrue, but the Advertising Standards Authority threw out the charge and said it was widely known that beans produce gas. "It plays on an objectively determinable factual reality which cannot be denied," the ASA said on its website."

Thursday, April 13, 2006


There's no doubting the popularity of Jamie Oliver right now. Having previously been the often-lambasted frontman for a laddish food culture, he has reinvented himself as social entrepreneur by training unemployed kids at his restaurant Fifteen - and his ascension to secular sainthood was confirmed by last year's TV crusade, Jamie's School Dinners.

The result of the Channel 4 series was an extra o280million from the government to be spent over three years, increasing food budgets to 50p per head in primary schools and to 60p per head in secondary schools. Many parents seem to believe that school meals are now better than before. A BMRB poll reported in the UK Observer suggests that three-quarters of parents think school grub has improved, and almost half think Oliver was the biggest factor in changing things.

However, the results of this poll are at odds with parents' actual response to the TV series - and Jamie is not a happy bunny. Far from increasing uptake of school meals, the series seems to have put many parents off them completely - even in areas where 'healthy' options have been introduced. This fall in numbers taking school dinners is not so surprising, however, if one recalls the overblown horror stories Oliver cooked up (see Hard to swallow, by Rob Lyons).

For example, officials in Gloucestershire, one of the first to make the switch to healthier dinners, have watched the numbers of primary school children taking meals falling from 11,600 to 9,800 out of a total of 40,000 pupils. The biggest decrease was in Suffolk, where the total number of school meals served last year fell from 19,000 to 13,000. In the country as a whole, 400,000 children have reportedly turned their backs on school meals - a 12.5 per cent fall. There are now concerns that with so few children taking hot meals, the service may soon cease to be viable (1).

Many parents are choosing to send their kids to school with packed lunches instead. Kevin McKay, chair of the Local Authority Caterers Association, told the Independent on Sunday: 'People's perception of meals is what they saw on TV. Many authorities were already doing healthy meals. They also saw a decrease. More and more children are now bringing their own packed lunches in, which have been proved to be not as healthy.' (2)

Jamie Oliver was more forthright. Packed lunches 'are the biggest evil. Even the best packed lunch is a shit packed lunch', he declared (3). A bog-standard packed lunch apparently consists of a white bread sandwich, a packet of crisps, a chocolate bar and a fizzy drink - just the kind of low-fibre, high-salt and high-sugar combination that sends the food police apoplectic.

Thankfully, packed lunches are not (yet) under the control of government inspectors, and so parents have control over what goes into them. And given that parents aren't around during school hours to force their kids to eat things they don't like, it's no wonder they tend to play safe and make sure the boxes are full of stuff that will be eaten. Parents have to make a judgement call on these kind of things - and it is precisely that judgement which is called into question by the likes of Oliver.

He seems to think that parents cannot be trusted to feed their kids properly. Jamie's School Dinners featured plenty of asides about how we must feed children better at school because we don't know what they get at home. And Oliver is not alone. There has always been a school of thought in authority that looked down on the efforts of parents - particularly working-class parents - to bring their children up in the appropriate manner. However, having battered us into submission with panics about obesity and educational underachievement caused by additives and malnutrition, parents are more open to such intervention into their parenting behaviour than ever before.

It must be a source of considerable wonderment to Oliver that human beings survived for thousands of years without olive oil and broccoli. In fact, true nutritional deficiency is very rare in Britain today. Even so-called 'junk' food contains plenty of protein, vitamins and minerals - and just to be on the safe side vitamins are added to all sorts of foods, from breakfast cereals to sugary drinks. For all the furore about food, children eat better now than ever before.

It is true that children are getting fatter on average than in the past, but the numbers involved and the risks associated with obesity are hotly contested (4). The diminishing opportunities for independent exercise and play must be at least as important in that process as the food children eat.

Getting children to eat better food is no bad thing. But for Oliver and others, there seems to be only one right way to raise children. Parents who haven't provided their kids with five portions of fruit and veg a day, or who insist on providing convenience food over home-cooked organic meals, are increasingly seen as deficient.

While Oliver bangs on about re-introducing compulsory cooking lessons to schools, the real lesson of the day is that experts are keen to butt into the most basic aspects of our lives, even how we feed our children. We should tell them to get lost - and when it comes to schools, we should be worrying far more about the paltry fare being dished up in classrooms than what children are scoffing in the canteen.


No food panic in the Australian government

As he completed a charity bike ride raising more than $300,000 for diabetes research, the federal Minister for Health, Tony Abbott, ruled out a ban on junk food ads on children's television. The rate of diabetes, mostly caused by poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle, is soaring in line with children's obesity.

However, Mr Abbott said children's eating habits were an issue for parents and schools, not government nor the advertising industry. "The only person responsible for what goes into my mouth is me, and the only people who are responsible for what goes into kids' mouths are the parents. "What we really need is more responsible dietary behaviour from parents, from individuals and school canteens. I won't at this point in time, or I suspect down the track, be demanding that they ban ads." Mr Abbott was among more than 80 cyclists who rode from Brisbane to Sydney to raise money for a diabetes research laboratory at the Westmead Millennium Institute.

The Greens yesterday released the findings of a survey showing that teenagers who watch a lot of television ads are not only more likely to eat more junk food but are less likely to favour healthy food. "It is time for [Abbott] to admit what everyone else has known for years: junk food advertisements work and we need to protect children from them," the Greens leader, Bob Brown, said.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Now beer is good for you: "Researchers in Austria and the Czech Republic -- two nations that drink more than their fair share of suds -- have just released studies that suggest that beer is an anti-inflammatory and can slow the aging process. In a study published in the March issue of International Immunopharmacology, scientists at Austria's Innsbruck Medical University found that hops, a key ingredient in beer, affect the production of neopterin, a telltale sign of inflammation, and levels of the amino acid tryptophan (low levels are associated with more inflammation.) Like red wine and green tea, whose health benefits have been widely reported, beer was found to reduce neopterin production and suppress degradation of tryptophan, according to the study".


Any student of psychopathology will be aware that self-deception is a very common human frailty. So it is not particularly surprising when I and many others like me constantly point to inconvenient facts (such as the large influence of heredity) that Leftists ignore. Ignoring facts is very widespread generally, not only among Leftists. It may be useful to point to some other instances of it.

Perhaps the most amusing is the way people are always fussing about their diet. There is a constant stream of talk about what food is and is not good for you. And what is good for you today will almost certainly be bad for you in ten year's time -- and vice versa. Wicked Thoughts often reports such ups and downs as part of his coverage of humorous items in the news. But regardless of the details, almost everyone is convinced that eating "healthy" food and exercising more will make you live longer. Except that it doesn't. All the longditudinal studies of lifestyle change (including diet change) show no effect of such change on longevity. See here for just the latest such study. Fussing about your food is unlikely to add one extra day to your life. But people like to feel that they have some control over their health so the fussing will go on forever as far as I can see. And, sadly, some well-intentioned dietary changes are actually bad for you -- e.g. salt restriction.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Now chocolate is good for you!: "For centuries chocolate has been regarded as a vice but now it could become a life-saver. A leading professor is to administer confectionery to heart patients to test its health benefits. Scientists believe there is growing evidence that eating dark chocolate can relax the blood vessels, help to prevent blood clotting and stave off heart attacks. To test the thesis Roger Corder, professor of experimental therapeutics at Barts and The London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry, is applying for ethical approval for a trial of dark chocolate on 40 patients with cardiovascular disease. Corder believes there will soon be enough evidence that flavanol molecules found in dark chocolate fight heart disease for doctors to recommend a daily portion of about four squares as part of a healthy diet."


New statistics suggest San Francisco has the highest percentage of gay men among major cities in the world, with a quarter of them HIV-positive, a top city health official said on Friday. "Despite an overall loss in the population in San Francisco in the last five years, we think there has been an absolute gain in gay men," William McFarland, head of HIV/AIDS statistics at San Francisco's Department of Public Health, said in an interview. "From all the data I have seen ... it's the gayest city in the world."

McFarland has compiled the city's first survey in five years on gay men and HIV to be presented at a meeting next week to discuss HIV/AIDS prevention. He said it found an estimated 63,577 gay males aged 15 and above in San Francisco, a city with a total population of 764,000. That figure represents nearly one in five of the city's males above the age of 15. 0ne out of every four gay males -- 25.8 percent -- is infected with the HIV virus, giving San Francisco an estimated total of 16,401 HIV-positive men, said McFarland, an epidemiologist who has also worked on studies in Uganda, Zimbabwe and Egypt.

More here

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Aspartame now OK again: "A huge federal study in people takes the fizz out of arguments that the diet soda sweetener aspartame may raise the risk of cancer. No increased risk was seen even among people who gulped down many artificially sweetened drinks a day, said researchers who studied the diets of more than half a million older Americans. A consumer group praised the study, done by reputable researchers independent of any funding or ties to industry groups. 'It goes a fair way toward allaying concerns about aspartame,' said Michael Jacobson, head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which had urged the government to review the sweetener's safety after a troubling rat study last year. Findings were reported Tuesday at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research."

Soda and the Sin Tax

In the intellectual battle for liberty, sometimes it's a good idea to skip the latest high-brow attack on capitalism from the Left or Right and instead poke fun at a ridiculous news article. A recent AP story, "Scientists in food fight over soda," provides a perfect target. The article begins by informing us of new reports in science journals that "add evidence to the theory that soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks don't just go hand-in-hand with obesity, but actually cause it." The point is important because "proving this would be a scientific leap that could help make the case for higher taxes on soda, restrictions on how and where it is sold - maybe even a surgeon general's warning on labels."

Before continuing, I note with dismay that I am old enough to remember when libertarians and conservatives would object to government interference with tobacco and alcohol by asking, "What next? Will the government start taxing fatty foods and put warning labels on fettuccine alfredo?" I can honestly remember that the proponents of the "serious" regulations dismissed this particularly slippery slope argument as absolutely absurd, that nobody would ever advocate a tax on fatty foods. And yet now, Barry Popkin at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill defends the taxes on soda by pointing out, "We've done it with cigarettes."

The news article, in a nod to fairness and balance, naturally quotes people who are scandalized by the proposals. For example, Adam Drewnowski, director of nutritional sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, says, "The science is being stretched." Ah, but don't worry about his view, because immediately after the quote the article tells us, "[Drewnowski] owns stock in beverage companies and has done extensive research in the field, much of it financed by industry but also some by government."

There are all sorts of things that bother me about that last bit. First, do you mean to tell me that the reporter couldn't find one single qualified scientist who opposes these new regulations, and yet doesn't own stock in beverage companies? The way the article currently reads, the only scientists who oppose the taxes are the stooges of the corporations. Besides Drewnowski, the article quotes a Richard Adamson who said it's "laughable" to compare obesity with lung cancer, but the reader is quickly told that Adamson is "a senior science consultant to the American Beverage Association."

Second, what about the government funding of all of the pro-tax scientists? These connections are ignored; for example, the article didn't mention that Barry Popkin of UNC Chapel Hill is an employee of the government. If we are to automatically assume that anyone who is funded by the beverage industry would therefore oppose taxes on soda, why shouldn't we also assume that anyone who is funded by the government would support taxes on soda (and everything else)? Note that I don't simply mean the vague connection between tax receipts and scientific funding out of tax revenues; I am being far more cynical and suggesting that the government might be more willing to fund those scientists who get behind programs that expand the government's power.

But by all means, let us move on to the evidence behind this scientific link. For example, we are told that soft drink consumption rose "more than 60 percent among adults and more than doubled in kids from 1977-97," and that "the prevalence of obesity roughly doubled in that time." Now get ready: "Scientists say these parallel trends are one criterion for proving cause-and-effect."

I don't really know that I need to ridicule that last sentence; just quoting it should be sufficient. But in case you don't see what the big deal is, let me spell it out: Did we really need scientists to tell us that when two things happen at the same time, it suggests that there might be a cause-and-effect relationship? And, I'm sorry to say for these scientists, mere association is never ever proof of causation. The other "criterion" besides the "parallel trends" would be the complete absence of kids who drink more soda and don't gain weight. Of course such counterexamples exist; there are indeed people who drink a lot of soda and aren't obese. Whoops, there goes the possible proof of a strict cause-and-effect relationship.

But let's go back to the precious statistics: "[A study] of 548 Massachusetts schoolchildren found that for each additional sweet drink consumed per day, the odds of obesity increased 60 percent." What exactly does this statement even mean? It surely doesn't mean that if you drink two cans of soda per day, you have a 120 percent chance of being obese. So it must mean that of the 548 Massachusetts children who drank zero soft drinks, a certain percentage A were obese. Then if you look at the sample children who drank 1 soft drink per day, a certain percentage B were obese. Of the children who drank 2 sodas per day, C percent were obese, and so on. Now do you mean to tell me that B=(1.6)A, while C=(1.6)B, D=(1.6)C, etc.? In other words, do we really believe that the increase for "each additional sweet drink consumed per day" was 60 percent regardless of the number of initial drinks to which we add one? Of course not; even that figure of 60 percent must itself be an average. And for all we know, the initial percentage could be very low, so that even drinking 200 sodas per day gives you a 1 percent chance of being obese. (Naturally I don't think that's the case, but it could be, for the scant information provided by the news article.)

Our good friend Popkin also tells us that sugar-sweetened beverages "may be psychological triggers of poor eating habits and cravings for fast food." To this end, he studied the dietary patterns of 9,500 American adults in a federal study and found that those "who drank healthier beverages - water, low-fat milk, unsweetened coffee or tea - were more likely to eat vegetables and less likely to eat fast food." On the other hand, "fast food consumption was doubled if they were high soda consumers and vegetable consumption was halved."

You don't say, Dr. Popkin. Can I get some federal money too? I have a strong hunch that plastic sporks cause people to eat the unhealthful offerings at Taco Bell. In a follow-up study, I'll examine the psychological triggers of their Mild and Hot sauce packs.

After giving a nod to the other side - but again, not without reminding the readers that they are all funded directly or indirectly by the beverage industry - the article closes with "[o]ne of the nation's leading epidemiologists who has no firm stake in the debate, the American Cancer Society's Dr. Michael Thun." This august scientist adds the following to our understanding of this important social issue:

"Caloric imbalance causes obesity, so in the sense that any one part of the diet is contributing excess calories, it's contributing causally to the obesity," Thun said. "It doesn't mean that something is the only cause. It means that in the absence of that factor there would be less of that condition."

Did you get that, folks? Soda causes obesity in the sense that soda has calories, and so if you drink more soda and don't cut back on other sources of calories, you'll have more obesity. Who would've thought?

More here

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Not so ecstatic: "Doctors from London University have revealed details of what they believe is the largest amount of ecstasy ever consumed by a single person. Consultants at the addiction centre at St George's Medical School have published a case report of a man estimated to have taken 40,000 pills of MDMA, the active ingredient in ecstasy, over nine years. The heaviest previous lifetime intake on record is 2000 pills. Although the man, now 37, stopped taking the drug seven years ago, he still suffers from severe physical and mental health side-effects, including extreme memory problems, paranoia, hallucinations and depression. He also suffers from painful muscle rigidity around his neck and jaw that often prevents him from opening his mouth. The doctors believe many of these afflictions could be permanent. The man, referred to only as Mr A in the report in the scientific journal Psychosomatics, started using ecstasy at 21"


Let's not bother with the evidence about whether "organic" is good for you!

Veggies at the University of California, Berkeley, got a little greener with Monday's debut of what campus officials say is the first certified organic salad bar at a college or institution. Berkeley, which started serving organic carrots, dressings, kidney beans and other salad fixings at its Crossroads dining commons, joins a number of colleges nationwide offering organic food.

What makes UC Berkeley different is that it has certification, which means it follows a detailed set of rules governing everything from how dishes are washed and pests chased out to how food is prepared. Organic produce is kept separate from the moment it arrives on the loading dock under a meticulous system that includes color-coded cutting boards and a food processor earmarked for organic produce only. "It shows just that much more effort toward being dedicated to serving organic and making sure the product is as organic when it's in the counter here as it was when it left the farm," said Jake Lewin, director of marketing and international programs at Santa Cruz-based CCOF, which issued the certification.

A key challenge for campus officials was adding organic products, which can be more expensive, without pushing up fees, said Shawn LaPean, director of Cal Dining. They were able to do that by negotiating with vendors.

Berkeley officials hope to expand the salad bar to all four dining halls and are looking into offering more organic options. At the Organic Trade Association, based in Greenfield, Mass., spokeswoman Barbara Haumann said a growing number of colleges are going at least partially organic, but it appears Berkeley is the first to get certification. "It definitely gives a guarantee and assurance that procedures are being used so from the OTA perspective, yes, it's certainly important," she said.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Booze bad for you again: "Most studies that suggest moderate drinking staves off heart disease are flawed, according to Australian funded research released here. In the suspect studies, people who had cut back or quit drinking because they were ill, frail or on medication were counted as "abstainers," whose death rates were compared to that of drinkers, an international team of researchers says. The comparisons indicated that those who knocked back up to four drinks a day tended to live longer than abstainers. The mortality difference could have been due to the shabby health of those compelled to give up booze rather than health benefits of alcohol, according to a research team led by universities in San Francisco and Victoria, Canada. "These findings suggest that caution should be exerted in recommending light drinking to abstainers because of the possibility that this result may be more apparent than real," said Tim Stockwell of the Centre for Addictions Research at the University of Victoria."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Aromatherapy bites the dust: "Aromatherapy is a "New Age marketing con" that does nothing more than burn a hole in your pocket, say researchers. Psychologists claim to have debunked the idea that aromatherapy oils can relieve pain and alleviate ill-health. The growing popularity of aromatherapy in Britain has led to a 20 million pounds-a-year industry in oils bought over the counter, plus a booming business in spas and health farms. Surveys show three out of four people believe the treatment works. But a psychologist who specialises in the power of scent says his experiments expose a massive marketing exercise which has no scientific basis. Rather than relieving pain, aromatherapy could even make people experience pain more intensely, says Dr Neil Martin, of Middlesex University. In his study, volunteers were asked to plunge their arms into freezing water to see if a pleasant lemon smell could mitigate their discomfort, or if the unpleasant smell of machine oil would make it worse. In fact, the lemon and the machine oil performed equally badly. In fact, the volunteers not exposed to any odours at all were best off".


The case of a 12-year-old Longueuil boy suspended from school when his mother refused to give him Ritalin has sparked concerns over who is in charge of the medicine cabinet. Do parents have the right to say "no" when their child's school says they need prescription drugs? "Absolutely, they do," said Montreal family law lawyer Alan Stein. However, Stein said, some parents second-guess themselves when a teacher or school social worker recommends Ritalin, a drug that stimulates the central nervous system and is used mainly to treat attention deficit disorder.

Stein was reacting to the case of Gabriel Lavigueur, who was suspended from Ecole Secondaire St. Jean Baptiste in Longueuil on March 20. He remains out of school. After two meetings last week with the boy's mother, Danielle Lavigueur, Stein said he will petition to file a class-action suit this week in her name and on behalf of Quebec parents who believe they have been bullied into putting their children on Ritalin. The Quebec-wide suit is expected to tap into growing concerns about the long-term consequences of the stimulant that has been called "kiddie cocaine," and on how Quebec schools have become increasingly involved in the Ritalin prescription process.

To date, parents have been fighting the troubling trend on a case-by-case basis, said Richer Dumais. Dumais is the executive director of a Montreal-based non-profit parents' rights group, the Commission des citoyens pour les droits de l'homme. Over the past year, his group has received 81 complaints of parents being pressured to put their children on Ritalin by a teacher, school principal, board social worker or psychoeducator. The group has documented 13 individual cases involving mostly boys, age 8 through 12, and in schools in Montreal-area school boards, among them the Commission scolaire de Montreal, the Commission scolaire Marguerite Bourgeoys and the Commission scolaire Marie-Victorin. In protest, he said, the group has written letters to the school boards involved, the Quebec College des medecins and to the provincial Education Department.

In Quebec, prescriptions for Ritalin doubled between 1999 and 2004, according to IMS Health, a Montreal-based company tracking prescription drug sales. Dumais said those increases mirror the success of the Quebec government's education department's 2000 action plan, a research and community-based program designed to identify schoolchildren at risk and help them succeed. Over the past two years, according to the Education Department, 148,147 Quebec children have been identified as "at risk."

Ritalin may be part of their individualized education plan, said ministry spokesperson Francois Lefebvre, but if it is, the drug is prescribed by a doctor. That's well and good, Dumais said, but when a parent is told his or her child will be expelled from school if he or she doesn't take Ritalin, that's coercion. "We're going to see a lot more cases of this kind of thing," he predicted. In one instance documented by his group, he said, "the parent was told by his son's teacher that his son had problems with the neurons in his brain." The parent responded: "Are you a doctor?"

In the case of Gabriel Lavigueur, his mother had signed a "plan d'intervention" that identified him as "at risk" and included prescription drugs along with other school, community and home initiatives. But she said she stopped giving her son Ritalin at the beginning of January when he started suffering side effects, including insomnia, loss of appetite and aggressiveness. Simultaneously, she said she also stopped giving him Paxil and another medication, two other drugs he had been prescribed but which are not approved by Health Canada for anyone under the age of 18. At that time, Lavigueur said, her son, who is bright but has been labelled hyperactive with attention deficit disorder, became less agitated. His appetite and ability to sleep returned.

But school officials said they also noticed a change in his behaviour. They maintain Gabriel Lavigueur became unmanageable. He was given repeated two- and three-day suspensions in January and February and was eventually suspended indefinitely.

Francois Houde is the lawyer representing Commission scolaire Marie-Victorin. Ritalin, Houde said, had nothing to do with Lavigueur's indefinite suspension. Houde said the boy repeatedly failed to follow the school's regulations pertaining to dress, hair colour, behaviour and school performance. He added the school is open to allowing the boy to return if he is willing to follow its ''code de vie" and the intervention plan his mother signed.

However, George Mentis, president of National Parents Association, another Montreal group compiling cases, said "it's a Catch-22." When he hears the term "code de vie," he said, "it means medicate your child or else." "It's an alarming trend," Mentis said. On Friday, Mentis and Danielle Lavigueur met with Houde, the board's lawyer and other school officials involved in the case. "They keep saying drugs are not the issue," Mentis said. "But they also say Lavigueur can't come back to school until he follows the intervention plan that mandates drugs."


Monday, April 03, 2006

Fewer bubs for potheads: "The use of marijuana by either the man or woman before fertility treatment could reduce the likelihood of success, a study suggests. "If these study findings are confirmed by additional research, we would recommend that physicians tell couples to not use marijuana for at least one year before starting fertility treatment," says Dr Hillary Klonoff-Cohen of the University of California. With colleagues, she investigated the possible effects of marijuana use on the outcomes of 221 couples who underwent in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) treatment for infertility. The findings are published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. At least 10 per cent of men and women smoked marijuana in the year before the fertility procedure, the authors report, and 3 per cent of women and 0.5 per cent of men reported smoking marijuana the day before the procedure. Longer marijuana use over a woman's lifetime reduced the number of eggs that could be retrieved and the number of embryos that could be transferred, the results indicate. Compared with women who didn't smoke marijuana, the researchers note, women who smoked marijuana during the year before the procedure had 25 per cent fewer eggs and about one less embryos transferred."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Now vitamins can be bad for you: "Taking vitamin supplements could increase the risk of pre-eclampsia for pregnant women rather than decrease it as previously thought, new research suggests. The nationwide study said that mothers-to-be who are at risk of the potentially fatal illness should avoid large doses of vitamin C and E. Vitamin-takers are also at risk of having a baby with a low birth weight. Up to 25,000 British women a year are affected by pre-eclampsia, which causes blood pressure to rise to dangerous levels. It is believed that it kills about 10 women and as many as 1,000 babies every year. In 1999 research by Tommy's, the baby charity, suggested that anti-oxidants such as vitamins C and E could counter the problem. But the new study, also by Tommy's and published online by The Lancet medical journal today, found that the reverse appeared to be true."

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Cats are good for you: "Children brought up with cats may be less prone to develop allergies than those in feline-free households, according to a new study. Research has found that unless children already showed symptoms and a family history of allergies such as asthma, eczema or hayfever, they were likely to develop a stronger immune system if they had a feline friend. Sydney pediatrician Catarina Almqvist has conducted a study of 516 children born in Sydney hospitals from 1997 to 2000. Tests last year showed that 29.3 per cent of the children, whose families had acquired cats in the past five years, had atopy, or a positive skin prick test for allergy. This is compared to 47.2 per cent who had atopy but lived in a feline-free household. There were similar findings for dog-owning families, with 51.8 per cent of kids without dogs testing positive for atopy and only 39 per cent positive if they had a dog. However, the study focused on cats because some of the families already had dogs at the time the children were born. None of the families involved in the study had a pet cat at the time of their child's birth. The results were in line with similar studies carried out in European countries, said Swedish-born Dr Almqvist, who now works for the Woolcock Institute for Medical Research at the University of Sydney. "Children who are exposed to pets or children who grow up on a farm have a reduced risk of atopy," she said. "The theory is it is some sort of modulation of the immune system.""

California students lead push to weaken school soda law: "Some students at Shasta High School want to return soda pop to their campus vending machines -- and they're preparing a statewide ballot measure to do it. Even though California high schools have until July 2007 to start replacing soda with water, juice and sports drinks, many -- including Shasta and high schools in Oakland and San Francisco -- have already switched over. Rocky Slaughter, 18, who is president of the Shasta High Student Union, thinks it's better to have a choice -- but be encouraged to choose wisely. 'Now it's like the Prohibition movement, and we all saw what happened with that,' Slaughter said on a tour of his school's vending machines and cafeteria. 'You take away certain things, and they become more desirable.' Under Slaughter's proposed initiative, half of school vending machine space would be devoted to sodas, the other half to drinks that would be labeled "healthy choices." Nutritional information about the different beverages would be posted on vending machines so students could make an informed choice. "We're allowed to drive a car. We're allowed to shoot guns. These are dangerous activities. So why can't we make decisions about nutrition?" asked Slaughter, who is now collecting money to turn his idea into an initiative and place it on the ballot."