Monday 11 May 2015

The non-epidemic of 10 year olds smoking

From the Beeb...

Children as young as 10 'smoke before exams', survey suggests

OMG! We're going to hell in a handcart!!

Children as young as 10 are smoking cigarettes, eating junk food and drinking energy drinks for breakfast before sitting exams, a study says.

Memo to the BBC: a survey is not a study, however much you think calling it one gives it gravitas.

Who are these chain-smoking, Red Bull swilling, junk food scoffing reprobates? The first thing to note is that there are very, very few of them. As usual, the study survey is not available to read, but the Beeb's report says that "more than a thousand" (1,042 in fact) 10 to 11 year olds were surveyed. Of these, eight—yes, eight—said they had smoked on the day of their exam.

It is obviously troubling that any child of this age is smoking, but we are talking about less than 0.8 per cent of the sample. Moreover, the data is self-reported and, as I have said before, there are always going to be some respondents to surveys who don't read the question, don't understand the question, don't tick the right box or are having a laugh.

There have always been children of this age who smoke but there are probably fewer of them today than ever before. The latest figures from the ONS showed that 0.5 per cent of eleven year olds claim to be regular smokers. One child smoking is one too many, blah, blah, blah. The point is that eight kids out of more than a thousand is not a big enough number to be newsworthy.

What's more interesting about the report is the way that eating biscuits, chocolate and crisps is gradually being grouped in with smoking as a forbidden habit. Again, the numbers are remarkably small...

30 children had high-sugar drinks for breakfast on the morning of their exam, while 45 had biscuits, 19 had crisps, and nine had a pasty or sausage roll.

To put it another way, more than 97 per cent did not have a high-sugar drink, more than 96.5 per cent did not have a biscuit, more than 98.1 per cent did not have crisps and more than 99 per cent did not have a pasty or sausage roll.

Nobody would recommend a breakfast of biscuits and chocolate bars, but when did eating them before midday become deviant behaviour? When I was at school, we were sold biscuits and chocolate bars during the morning break. We were even sold pasties at lunchtime. The horror! Thanks to Jamie Oliver, I suppose they would be breaking all sorts of laws if they tried that now.

What is this research trying to achieve? At first glance it looks like it's based on a press release to kick off yet another anti-smoking drive for the chiiiiiildren, but it isn't. The BBC report includes a quote from someone who wants more schools to have breakfast clubs, but it's not from them either. The survey was actually commissioned by Kelloggs, presumably as a way to publicise the benefits of eating cereal for breakfast, but since the 'public health' lobby have turned on cereals that seems a lost cause.

Apparently Kelloggs are donating a load of food to breakfast clubs, but since the media didn't report that part of the story and instead led with the negligible findings on smoking they must wonder why they bothered.

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