Thursday, 5 March 2015

Aseem Malhotra's war on reality

Our old friend Dr Aseem Malhotra of Action on Sugar was feeling pleased with himself on Tuesday after rubbing shoulders with the public health minister Jane Ellison. Read about it and weep.

It is not clear whether she said 'yes' because she fervently agrees with his anti-scientific clap-trap or if she said 'yes' to humour him before wandering off to find someone else to talk to, as you would with a mentalist at a bus stop. All we know is that he was so delighted with this coup that he was still banging on about it yesterday...

Physical activity not linked to obesity? Physical activity no good for weight loss? As fact-checking goes, this is real fish-in-a-barrel stuff. Do we really need to cite evidence for the laws of thermodynamics? If people like Malhotra are being taken seriously, perhaps we do. So let's go.

Here's what Public Health England says:

The link between physical inactivity and obesity is well established... People in the UK today are 24% less active than in 1961

Here's what the Harvard School of Public Health says:

Obesity results from energy imbalance: too many calories in, too few calories burned. A number of factors influence how many calories (or how much “energy”) people burn each day, among them, age, body size, and genes. But the most variable factor—and the most easily modified—is the amount of activity people get each day.

...Despite all the health benefits of physical activity, people worldwide are doing less of it—at work, at home, and as they travel from place to place. Globally, about one in three people gets little, if any, physical activity. Physical activity levels are declining not only in wealthy countries, such as the U.S., but also in low- and middle-income countries, such as China. And it’s clear that this decline in physical activity is a key contributor to the global obesity epidemic, and in turn, to rising rates of chronic disease everywhere.

And here's what the World Health Organisation says:

Global increases in childhood overweight and obesity are attributable to a number of factors including:
  • A global shift in diet towards increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugars but low in vitamins, minerals and other healthy micronutrients;
  • A trend towards decreased physical activity levels due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of recreation time, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization.

Here's a study from 1996:

In recent times, affluent societies have become less physically active, and this has undoubtedly contributed to the increased incidence of obesity. 

Here's a study from 2000:

Weight loss induced by increased daily physical activity without caloric restriction substantially reduces obesity (particularly abdominal obesity) and insulin resistance in men. 

Here's a study from 2005:

Regular physical activity 45-60 min per day prevents unhealthy weight gain and obesity, whereas sedentary behaviors such as watching television promote them. Regular exercise can markedly reduce body weight and fat mass without dietary caloric restriction in overweight individuals.

Here's a study from 2008:

Physical inactivity in adolescence strongly and independently predicts total (and especially) abdominal obesity in young adulthood, favoring the development of a self-perpetuating vicious circle of obesity and physical inactivity. Physical activity should therefore be seriously recommended for obesity prevention in the young.

Here's another study from 2008:

Persistent participation in leisure-time physical activity is associated with decreased rate of weight gain and with a smaller waist circumference to a clinically significant extent even after partially controlling for genetic liability and childhood environment.

Here's one from 2009:

Sustained PA [physical activity] for at least 30 min d(-1), particularly if more intense, is associated with a reduction in long-term weight gain, and greater duration is associated with less weight gain. Sedentary women of any baseline weight who increase their PA [physical activity] will benefit, but overweight women appear to benefit the most.

Here's a study from last year:

Men and women who commuted to work by active and public modes of transport had significantly lower BMI and percentage body fat than their counterparts who used private transport.

I could on, so I will.

Here's another:

Obesity appears when energy intake exceeds energy expenditure. The most important variable compound of energy expenditure is physical activity. The global epidemics of obesity seem closely related to reduced physical activity and sedentariness widely increasing nowadays.

Here's a study from 2006:

We confirm that there is irrefutable evidence of the effectiveness of regular physical activity in the primary and secondary prevention of several chronic diseases (e.g., cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, obesity, depression and osteoporosis) and premature death.

 Here's a study from 1999:

Summary results for all outcomes except cancer were generally consistent in showing that active or fit women and men appeared to be protected against the hazards of overweight or obesity.

Here's a study from 2003:

There is compelling evidence that prevention of weight regain in formerly obese individuals requires 60-90 minutes of moderate intensity activity or lesser amounts of vigorous intensity activity. Although definitive data are lacking, it seems likely that moderate intensity activity of approximately 45 to 60 minutes per day, or 1.7 PAL (Physical Activity Level) is required to prevent the transition to overweight or obesity. For children, even more activity time is recommended.

Here's another from 2003:

We found that in the National Weight Control Registry, successful long-term weight loss maintainers (average weight loss of 30 kg for an average of 5.5 years) share common behavioral strategies, including eating a diet low in fat, frequent self-monitoring of body weight and food intake, and high levels of regular physical activity.

Here's a study from 2007:

Exercisers with greater increases in pedometer-measured steps per day had greater decreases in weight, BMI, body fat, and intra-abdominal fat (all p trend < 0.05 in both men and women). Similar trends were observed for increased minutes per day of exercise and for increases in maximal oxygen consumption.

And here's one from last year:

The proportion of adults who reported no leisure-time physical activity increased [between 1988 and 2010] from 19.1% (95% CI, 17.3-21.0) to 51.7% (95% CI, 48.9-54.5) in women, and from 11.4% (95% CI, 10.0-12.8) to 43.5% (95% CI, 40.7-46.3) in men. Average daily caloric intake did not change significantly. BMI and waist circumference trends were associated with physical activity level but not caloric intake.

I don't want to labour the point here folks, but seriously. "Physical activity is not linked to obesity"?! This guy is regularly presented on television as an expert on this subject. He now has the ear of government. Is it asking too much for his views to be on the same planet as mainstream science?

As I said three years ago, when I first came across this guy, Aseem Malhotra doesn't know what he's talking about. He really should not be taken seriously by anybody.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Unpublished letter to The Times

The latest in my growing list of unpublished letters to newspapers is below. I sent it yesterday in response to this misleading article in The Times about a modest attempt by Eric Pickles to limit political campaigning on the taxpayers' shilling.

Jill Sherman's article about state-funded activism ('Charities told to toe government line', Tuesday 3rd March) claims that charities will be "stripped of grants if they campaign against the government". This is not true. Charities are free to campaign on any issue so long as they are not party political. All that the Department for Communities and Local Government requires is that political activism not be financed by the taxpayer. This is a reasonable demand which should not be conflated with the "gagging" of charities that could result from the Lobbying Act (which the Institute of Economic Affairs has opposed from the outset).

Government grants should only be given to third parties to provide services that the government would otherwise provide itself. It should be a basic principle that they are not used to hire lobbyists or campaign for legislation.

Christopher Snowdon
Institute of Economic Affairs

I suppose 'government bans charities from attacking it' is a better story than 'government department refuses to pay for lobbying'. Trouble is, it's not true.

Incidentally, The Times story was inspired by a letter of complaint to Pickles from Stephen Bubb of the Association of Chief Executive of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO). Bubb is a former trade unionist and was a member of the notoriously loony-left Lambeth Council in the 1980s. He now picks up £105,000 a year, plus pension and benefits, as head of ACEVO, an organisation which gets hundreds of thousands of pounds from the taxpayer because, apparently, chief executives can't afford to fund their own trade association.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Sound people saying sensible things about a stupid policy

The videos from the recent Stop the Nonsense drinks reception have gone online. As always at FOREST events, I was struck by wit, intelligence and joie de vivre of the people present, in stark contrast to the milk-curdling misery and misanthropy of the 'public health' lobby.

And these are my remarks in full...

Monday, 2 March 2015

The Total Consumption Model again

I recently came across a House of Commons briefing paper titled 'Alcohol policy and the effects of the Licensing Act 2003'. It is undated, but seems to come from around 2009. Almost in passing, it puts the lie to the Total Consumption Model of alcohol consumption...

A chief problem for policymakers is that many of these problems arise from particular drinking behaviours, rather than alcohol consumption in general: for instance, there is not a particularly strong association between alcohol-related death rates and per capita consumption across Europe (see chart 2)

It then says:

Given the subtleties of the problem, general taxation of alcohol is seen as a rather blunt policy instrument (there is a similar lack of correlation between taxation levels and consumption in Europe).

Indeed. As I showed in the IEA report Drinking in the Shadow Economy, there is no correlation between affordability and consumption at the population level.

So, to summarise. There is no correlation between taxation levels and per capita consumption, and there is no correlation between between per capita consumption and harm.

And yet the Total Consumption Model somehow survives in 'public health'.

Friday, 27 February 2015

WHO do they think they are?

Since it's Friday, let's have a bit of good news for a change...

Pressure mounts on WHO chief over Ebola

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Margaret Chan must resign over the group's inefficient response to the recent Ebola crisis, the largest global AIDS organization said.

In a scathing statement released this week, Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) called for sweeping reforms to the WHO to better prevent and manage dangerous epidemics.

"In light of WHO's lack of leadership, decisive action and resolve to embrace responsibility for the protection of global public health in the Ebola crisis, the current Head of WHO should step down so that a proactive, reform-minded individual might take the lead and transform WHO into an efficient global instrument for rapidly addressing global health threats," AHF said.

You may recall that when the Ebola epidemic was at its height, Margaret Chan couldn't even give a speech about it because she was "fully occupied" in Moscow trying to get e-cigarettes banned. Instead, she put out a statement which strongly, and falsely, implied that she was busy dealing with Ebola.

Chan's holiday in Russia perfectly illustrates the problem with the WHO today. It is so obsessed with micromanaging the lifestyles of rich westerners that it is unable to carry out the job that it was set up to do, ie. tackle infectious disease in poor countries.

Hyperbole? Not really...

Cut music to 'an hour a day' - WHO

People should listen to music for no more than one hour a day to protect their hearing, the World Health Organization suggests.

And then there's the WHO's war on confectionery.

Sack her.

Sugar sales (still) falling

From the BBC:

Researchers from Action on Sugar are calling for strict limits on added sugars. 

They argue that as the body can generate energy from food such as fruits, vegetables, pasta and rice, there is no need for additional sugar beyond this.

That is the very essence of puritanism, right there. That people should be given—as Cromwell said—“not what they want but what is good for them.”

Meanwhile, Action on Sugar have been getting excited by this:

UK sugar sales drop by 14%

Sales dropped by £298m ($338m) in 2014 and coincided with findings that nearly half of British customers had shied away from sugar that week.

The anti-sugar cranks deny all the evidence that sugar sales have been falling for decades, so I don't know why they believe this latest piece of evidence.

I'm being disingenuous. They believe it because they can take the credit for it, having spent a year creating hysteria about sugar being the new tobacco.

A drop of 14% in a year is a pretty big deal and it tells you something very important. It tells you that if people want to reduce the amount of sugar they eat, they can easily do so. They don't need meddlesome legislation.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Outdoor smoking bans (again)

That revolting individual, Lord Darzi, is calling for a ban on smoking outdoors again. In the British Medical Journal, Darzi and Simon Chapman are playing a game of good cop/bad cop, with the latter assuming the role of a half-decent human being by opposing the policy.

...some have invoked the virtues of shielding children from the sight of smoking as worthy evidence in this debate. They may concede that smoking in wide open spaces such as parks and beaches poses a near homeopathic level of risk to others, but they point to an indirect negative effect from the mere sight of smoking. This line of reasoning is pernicious and is redolent of totalitarian regimes in their penchants for repressing various liberties, communication, and cultural expression not sanctioned by the state. North Korea’s residents are routinely subjected to such fiats, but many of us would recoil at the use of such reasoning elsewhere.

Totalitarian is the word. The idea that individuals should pretend to be something they are not in order to fulfill the state's vision of a virtuous country is deeply sinister. That they should do on pain of arrest is frankly fascistic.

I have nothing to add to what I said about this last year so, if you're interested, read that.

It hardly needs to be said that smokers, like nonsmokers, have never volunteered to be role models for other people's children. The claim that adult activity should be criminalised if it can be witnessed by minors does not have to be taken to its logical extreme for it to be exposed as absurd and totalitarian. It is plainly not a serious argument. And yet, if I did feel the need to act as a role model to children, I would, first and foremost, impress upon them the importance of ignoring and despising unjust laws. I would hope to teach them that there is, in any society, a minority of bigots who resent liberal values and who will do whatever they can to impose their own lifestyles upon them. If flouting a draconian law will help a child realise that the state is not its friend, then I will cheerfully light a cigarette in any street or park.