Tuesday 20 March 2018

More jobs for the boys on the obesity gravy train

Further to my previous posts about the copious studies showing that living near fast food outlets does not make you fat, here's another example of a 'public health' activist-academic ignoring the evidence.

In January, The Times ran a story in which it was claimed that the number of fast food outlets around schools has risen by 67 per cent in the last eight years. Professor Russell Viner of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health was quoted...

Russell Viner, of RCPCH, said that fast-food chains were “cashing in on school-age footfall” and “enticing young people and their pocket money . . . [with] devastating consequences for the overall health of our children.”

... Professor Viner said that fast-food chains “bombarded” children with adverts. “While it’s not surprising that fast food franchises tend to concentrate in poorer areas and those with bigger populations, which means nearer schools, this is even more reason for concern.”

This is not what the evidence says, and words like 'bombarded' and 'enticing' make Viner sound more like a campaigner than a scientist.

It turns out that he has some strongly held views on policy. In the same month, he was using emotional language about children reclaiming their childhood in his efforts to urge the government to ban 'junk food' advertising before 9pm... 

"We urge Government to show it is serious about protecting children’s health by banning junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed. Only then can children reclaim their childhood.”

More recently, in response to the ridiculous Cancer Research claim that overweight/obesity among millenials is rising (it's not), Russell Viner was the lead signatory of a letter to The Times...

The government is considering further measures to reduce childhood obesity. Health leaders are unanimous that protecting children from junk food adverts must be prioritised: last weekend, for example, more than a third of the adverts shown during a popular family-time programme were for high fat, sugar and salt foods. These adverts were seen by more than a million children.

Policymakers from all parties must listen to the sector and to the public. We need to get to grips with obesity now before it is too late.

Viner is entitled to his views and is free to campaign for whatever policies he likes. He's obviously already made his mind up, but hopefully the government will commission some impartial academics to evaluate the evidence and recommend policies.

Oh wait, they already have. A £5 million cheque was written last August for set up a new group...

The Department of Health has announced £5 million of funding for a new obesity policy research unit at University College London.

One year on from the launch of the childhood obesity plan, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Obesity Policy Research Unit has been set up to provide resource for long term research into childhood obesity.

It will give independent advice to policy makers and analysts, and develop understanding on the causes of childhood obesity, looking at social inequalities, the early years of childhood, and marketing to children and families.

Independent advice, splendid! And who, I wonder, has been put in charge of this lavishly funded outfit?

Professor Russell Viner, Policy Research Unit Director and Professor of Adolescent Health who will lead the Unit...

What with all the cash being given to sugar tax campaigners to evaluate the sugar tax, the obesity gravy train/echo chamber is shaping up very nicely for some people, isn't it?

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