Friday 30 March 2018

Nanny state propaganda in the Telegraph

An article went up on the Telegraph website yesterday that is so comically one-sided and ill informed that I wondered how it could possibly be published by a reputable newspaper. It only made sense when I got to the bottom and saw this...

Protect yourself and your family by learning more about Global Health Security

Intrigued by this apparent advertisement, I clicked on the link to find out more about Global Health Security. At first glance it looks like they have paid to have a link at the bottom of a Telegraph article. In fact, they paid for the article.

Our Global Health Security coverage is partly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This support comes without strings and we retain full editorial control over all the content we publish... The site was launched in February 2018...

To see what Bill and Melinda are getting for their money, you have to read the dreadful article in question. It is written by someone called Aisha Majid who had never written for the Telegraph until a few weeks ago. Presumably she arrived with the Gates' money.

Her article is about 'non-communicable diseases' and she shows all the signs of having spent 30 days in a locked room with the least honest 'public health' campaigners on the planet. She begins...

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes now account for 90 per cent of deaths each year in the UK.

This is a jolly good thing. Dying from a non-communicable disease is virtually the only alternative to dying from a communicable disease. Aside from those caused by suicide, accidents and violence, all deaths are from disease. 'Death from old age' does not feature in the pie charts of 'public health'. Even if you die at the age of 110, it will probably be from a non-communicable disease, usually respiratory or cardiovascular.

These so-called 'lifestyle' conditions are a well known problem in the west. Much less understood is that they now account for the majority (53 per cent) of deaths and disabilities in the developing world – taking 31 million lives a year. 

Good. That is a sign of progress. As these countries get richer and vanquish infectious disease, this figure will go higher.  

NCDs are not driven by infections and viruses but by behaviours such as poor diet, smoking, moving too little, alcohol and drugs. 

What? All of them? What does Aisha Majid think people would die of if nobody smoked, drank or took drugs, and if everybody had a perfect diet and took plenty of exercise? The answer, of course, is a non-communicable disease.

Although often referred to as lifestyle issues – implying personal choice – the rapid spread of NCDs around the world suggests they are a more universal problem, correlating strongly with economic development and urbanisation.

Firstly, this is a non-sequitur. The claim that lifestyle-related diseases are the result of personal choices is not contradicted by them being more prevalent in developed countries. On the contrary, developed countries offer people more choice.

Secondly, non-communicable diseases are less common in developing countries because these countries are still plagued by tropical, contagious diseases and suffer unacceptably high rates of infant mortality.

Globally, 70 per cent of deaths – some 40 million – are now attributed to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), with lower and middle income countries becoming increasingly impacted as there [sic] economies grow.

Again, this is a good thing. The rise of non-communicable disease is closely correlated with rising life expectancy. As countries develop, people live longer.

Non-communicable diseases are diseases of old age, first and foremost. Age is by far the biggest risk factor for cancer and heart disease, not to mention dementia.

In all regions of the world with the notable exception of Africa, more people are dying today from NCDs than from any other cause.

Gee, I wonder what the secret of Africa's success is? If only we could emulate the continent that has the lowest life expectancy on the planet, eh?

The World Health Organization predicts NCDs will be the biggest killers in Africa by 2030.

At the risk of repeating myself, that would be a good thing. Let's hope they tackle HIV, malaria and tuberculosis so it comes true. Perhaps if the WHO spent more time working on those diseases and a bit less time fighting 'Big Soda', it would have already happened by now.

More surprising perhaps, obesity is also rising in countries that only a few decades ago were experiencing food shortages. In Ghana, for example, obesity has soared by over 600 per cent since 1975 and now affects one in 11 adults.

In 1975, Ghana was a military dictatorship and suffered periodic famines. Today it is, by African standards, a relatively prosperous democracy and some people can afford to be fat. Good.

There is now a clear understanding of the relationship between NCDs and poverty in many places, said Ms Dain.

“NCDs are a cause and consequence of poverty,” she said. “It’s often the poorest that are most vulnerable to NCDs and in many countries you are seeing NCDs impacting on lower socio-economic proportions of populations.”

Quite the opposite. People in poor countries tend to be skinny and people in rich countries tend to be fat.

While the causes of chronic diseases in low and middle income countries are complex, experts and campaigners are increasingly pointing the finger at big business and the so-called "commercial determinants of health".  

Oh God, here we go...

“It’s very clear that big tobacco, big food and big alcohol are seeing many lower and middle income countries as their emerging target markets," said Ms Dain.

People in lower and middle income countries have as much right to smoke, drink and eat processed food as everybody else. If these countries were not 'target markets' before, it was only because their people didn't have any disposable income.

Abdul Razzak AlMadani, a consultant in medicine and endocrinology at Al Borj Medical Centre in Dubai and President of the Emirates Diabetes Society puts the rise [of diabetes] down to among other things changing lifestyles and eating habits in the past few decades.

“It’s fast food, but not only fast food,” said Dr AlMadani. “Most foods we eat here have a high calorie content and high carbohydrate content. That’s the food that’s affordable and tastes good.”

It's actually much less affordable than 'healthy' food but, yes, it does taste good. Thank you for finally acknowledging why people choose to eat it.

And then we get to the real reason why this article was written...

Alongside awareness, a number of countries have also started to fight back against the marketing and consumption of unhealthy foods with tax on harmful foods and drinks.

It's about taxing the poor.

Mexico, where more than 70 per cent of the population is overweight or obese, is already reaping benefits from such a levy. In 2014, the country introduced a tax of 1 peso (4 pence) per litre of sugary drink.

Indeed it did, as part of a desperate attempt to balance the budget that also included taxing pet food. It made no difference whatsoever to rates of obesity.

Although it is too early to say what impact this will have, early results are promising.

On the contrary. They are remarkable unpromising. Figures from Mexico's National Institute of Public Health show that it didn't even reduce soda consumption, let alone obesity. Between 2007-13, average per capita soda consumption was 160 litres. In 2014, when the tax came in, per capita consumption was 162 litres. In 2015, it was 161 litres.

A study of the tax by researchers in Mexico and the United States found that sugary drinks purchases fell by an average of 7.6 per cent in the two years after the tax was introduced.

They did not fall by 7.6 per cent. They were 7.6 per cent lower than a bullshit counterfactual that was conjured up by the soda tax campaigners who wrote the study, and that is a very different thing. There was no decline in consumption. 

The UK is also set to introduce a sugary drinks tax in April.

And that, too, will achieve the square root of jackshit, other than taking millions of pounds out of the pockets of consumers and giving it to ball-juggling bureaucrats and nanny state campaigners.

Ms Dain believes that the UK has many good lessons to share at this September’s UN high-level summit on NCDs that can be a model for other countries battling NCDs.

“There have been many commitments and targets but implementation in low and middle income countries, where there are many competing urgent priorities, has been slow,” said Ms Dain. “The UK has lots of good practices and examples such as plain packaging on cigarettes or tackling childhood obesity by taxing sugary drinks".

No list of stupid nanny state policies that have demonstrably failed would be complete without mentioning plain packaging, so I'm glad she managed to give that a shout out. God help the rest of the world if the UK is the trailblazer for these stupid ideas.

And that is the final sentence of an article that is little more than a hagiographic interview with Katie Dain of the NCD Alliance. Its intention seems to be to sett the agenda for 'this September’s UN high-level summit on NCDs' - a summit that Ms Dain just so happens to be chairing.

It is straight up propaganda, paid for by a billionaire. It is reminiscent of July last year when the Guardian suddenly started putting tobacco stories on its front page despite there being nothing newsworthy about them (no other papers ran them). It turned out that they were part of a series that had been commissioned by one of Mike Bloomberg's lobby groups, Vital Strategies, in support of a Bloomberg-funded WHO report released a few days later that, again, called for higher taxes.

Unlike Bloomberg, who is obsessed with tobacco and fizzy drinks, the Gates have given a lot of money to groups that provide medicine, healthcare and vaccines to people in developing countries. It's sad to see them get into bed with people who are more interested in raising the cost of living and restricting choice. Is there anything more nauseating than the sight of billionaires buying up newspaper space to lobby for higher taxes on poor people?

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