Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Brits are fatties – no getting away from it

  • Almost two out of three British adults are overweight.
  • We are the fattest country in western Europe.
  • Our obesity rates have doubled in the past 20 years.
  • We are the 6th heaviest developed country behind Mexico, the US, New Zealand, Finland, and Australia (some surprises there for me)

We also have high rates of teenage drunkedness (even though teenagers now drink less that previous generations), high cancer rates (and above average cancer deaths) and a shortage of doctors and nurses (18% lower than average for doctors and 12% lower for nurses), according to the OECD.

Our health overall is average for all the OECD countries but our obesity levels stand out. At least our child obesity rates have become stable at 24% unlike the rest of Europe where it is increasing. But that still means 1 in 4 children are very fat!

The worry is that it’s now becoming normal in Britain to be overweight. With Public Health officials being sensitive to medical staff actually telling parents their kids are fat.

The Obesity Health Alliance of doctors and charities said the results were shocking and the solution lies in stopping children becoming obese.

The National Obesity Forum chairman said “One could weep over the figures, the results of successive governments who have done nothing for 30 years”

Public Health England said “our plans to tackle obesity are among the most ambitious. We’re working to make food healthier and delivering campaigns encouraging people to choose healthier food and lead healthier lives. Change will not happen overnight

Perhaps if we called a spade and spade and named and shamed parents of obese kids we might get somewhere instead of pussyfooting around so as not to upset anybody. Letting your kids become obese is child abuse surely?

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Did feminism cause obesity?

Yes according Rosie Boycott, a senior food policy advisor to the Mayor of London and founder of feminist magazine Spare Rib.

She said “there is now a lost generation of people who rely on fast food and processed dinners“.

Speaking at the Hay Festival of Literature she said encouraging women to go out to work rather than become housewives resulted in everyone giving up cooking.. “I said “don’t cook …. you’ll get ahead” We lost it. Schools gave up cooking. Everyone gave up cooking.”

(The obesity crisis has ) certainly been fuelled by the fact that women work and that we have allowed this huge change to happenSocieties change, women start working, and the fast food and takeaways arrive“.

Cooking was seen as drudgery by feminists and has been blamed before for the spread of fast-food chains although it is unusual for feminists to actually admit it.

She thinks we should start cooking again, men as well as women. (I’m writing this as the roast chicken dinner I’m preparing for the family is nicely browning in the oven. Just saying.)

And though my mother worked she still cooked us meals, although we helped during the week preparing the vegetables etc. And working mothers back in the day didn’t have all the labour saving devices that you find in a modern kitchen either. Perhaps if women had to go out to work to make ends meet was that doesn’t count as feminism?

Of course other factors have also been blamed such as car use, computer games, clever marketing from food companies pretending they sell healthy food, and sedentary occupations.

And while Scottish hospitals ban the selling of junk food on site English hospitals make a profit from it – now that is unacceptable.

But back to her key point re feminism. The genie is out of the bottle for most people although there are some cultures which discourage women from going out to work and expect them to stay at home and look after their families. Are they less obese? Perhaps the Mayor of London has a view on that?

The NHS thinks that 1 in 4 adults is obese. Obesity levels have trebled in the past 30 years. If the trend continues half the population could be obese by 2050.

The consequences are well-known: diabetes, stroke, cancer and heart disease.

When I posted on this 6 years ago feminism hadn’t been brought into the mix but it’s fascinating thought isn’t it?


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Extreme exercise has its limits

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stick_figure_running_icon_1600_wht_3621And recent research at the City University in New York found that people only need to do a moderate amount of exercise before they hit a “sweet spot” beyond which extra effort will not burn off more calories.

Going the extra mile, working out until you’re worn out, will not help you lose weight. What seems to happen is that the body takes calories away from other processes such as keeping your reproductive system ticking over and diverts them into your exercise. An earlier study on healthy women showed that when they did more physical exercise their bodies cut back on producing oestrogen, a sex hormone.

With two in three Brits are forecast to be overweight by 2030, much of the present thinking about preventing that is for people to take more exercise and eat less. However this research shows that humans are like other animals in only…

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Denmark’s first dementia village

Denmark has opened a village equipped with a music library, restaurants and shops reserved for dementia sufferers.

Svendborg Demensby on the island of Funen is the first of its kind in Denmark and is modelled on similar villages in Italy, Canada and the Netherlands.

The village of 125 homes was developed on the site of an old brewery which had already been used as a care centre for the elderly. The idea is to give residents the feel of living in a small town and is expected to give dementia sufferers a safer environment and a more fulfilling life in comparison with ordinary sheltered housing. It’s a pilot scheme with plans to open similar projects in Aalborg, Odense and Herning.

The Danish Alzheimer’s Association cautiously welcomed the initiative but voiced worries about the villagers being cut off from the outside world. “It concerns us when special dementia villages are being built where dementia sufferers are excluded from the rest of society,” Nis Peter Nissen, the head of the association, told Danish Radio.

In November, Denmark put forward a national plan aimed at making the country completely “dementia-friendly” by 2025. This has become a political priority for Denmark, where the number of dementia-sufferers is expected to rise to a staggering 150,000 in a nation of 5.6 million by 2040, according to the Danish National Scientific Center for Dementia.

The plan involves three objectives: give dementia sufferers a safe and dignified life, focus on tailor-made care and prevention systems and finally support friends and relatives of dementia sufferers. Last year Danish municipalities started to fit dementia patients with GPS tracking systems. Whereas the initiative gathered mixed reactions from the Danish public, it was warmly received by sheltered housing personnel who dubbed the tracking system “Big Mother.

czpbrjop1pw_hqdn16c8zz_khbc1laomsdqejzlbsgfbrblz_wbci3edqvbst3c8jgmls137The first such project was at Hogewey near Amsterdam in the Netherlands. There they have homes designed to look like the 1950s, 1970s and the 2000s to offer a familiar look which reassures the residents. I seem to remember that they also had different styles to reflect different social classes. A kind of extended reminiscence therapy.

Unlike typical villages, however, this one has cameras monitoring its 150 residents every hour of every day, caretakers posing in street clothes, and only one door in and out of town, all part of a security system designed to keep the community safe. Friends and family are encouraged to visit and some do every day.

hogeweyResidents are cared for by 250 full- and part-time geriatric nurses and specialists, who wander the town and hold a range of occupations in the village, like cashiers, grocery-store attendees, and post-office clerks. There is no money exchange needed as those costs are included in the state-subsidised fees.

Studies have suggested that its inhabitants need less medication and live longer than those in standard care homes.

Further to my last update on dementia there is some good news. As our education improves the risk of developing it falls.

Older people’s risk of getting dementia has fallen by a quarter in just over a decade according to a new US study. Higher levels of education since the second world war seem to be offsetting the risks of obesity and high blood pressure. Although older people are fatter than they used to be it is seen as less of a dementia risk in old age than in middle age.

Another study, in the UK, found that men’s chances of getting dementia at specific ages had dropped by 40% in 20 years as they adopted healthier life styles. Women’s risk levels dropped less. However conditions like obesity and diabetes continue to rise as people live longer.

There’s also the MEND project which claims to get good results in the early stages which I posted about here.

As the population ages it means that more overall are getting dementia and numbers in Britain are expected to tis from 850,000 at present to over a million within 10 years. It has already overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death in England & Wales.

Overall however it may be that the prevalence of dementia is at least stabilising if not declining in parts of Europe and the USA.


Why Germans beat us to the towels

DSCN1245At last it can be revealed.

Apparently Germans need less sleep than us.

Although only 8 minutes less than the UK average of seven hours and 21 minutes they start work 30 minutes earlier.

And Germans spring out of bed 15 minutes after there alarm goes off whereas we Brits snooze for 20 minutes.

Professors Russell Foster, a University of Oxford neuroscientist, presented his findings into the sleeping habits of over 75,000 Germans and Brits earlier this year at The Cheltenham Science Festival.

He thinks Brits are actually more in tune with their bodies and will suffer less “social jetlag” and be more creative at work as employers are more flexible in the UK about start times which are usually 0800 in Germany.

He also found that despite centralised time zones people’s body clocks still wake up according to when the sun reaches its zenith. So people in the West, where the sun is highest in the afternoon, wake up later than those in the East where the sun is at its highest point at noon.

He also looked at obesity and drinking and smoking habits. Germans are less overweight than Brits even though they match us pint of pint on beer consumption. They drink less wine and spirits but smoke more and that has been linked to “social jet lag”.

The sample comprised 6,000 Brits and 70,000 Germans and the researchers are hoping to expand the research to other countries.

They think Germany night be the country that sleeps least while Mediterranean people sleep longer.

Just don’t mention the economy!


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Fat just comes back!

You go through the agonies of liposuction (well it is to watch when you see it on TV and I’m sure you must be sore afterwards) and what happens?

The fat just comes back but in a different place.

I suppose if you could choose where it went it might not be so bad – it might save you a boob job – but it doesn’t seem to work that way.

Popular in vacuuming fat from the abdomen, bottom, and hips for the last 30 years, surgeons carried out over 3,000 liposuction procedures last year in the UK each costing between £3,000 and £5,000.

Researchers at the University of Colorado have now conducted the first trial to see if liposuction works in the long-term. They found that a year after the procedure the fat had returned but had moved to the upper part of the body around the shoulders, arms and stomach.

An obesity researcher at the university said that; “the body controls the number of fat cells and when one fat cell dies another grows to replace it”. Liposuction destroys the structure under the skin which may explain why the fat cells come back somewhere else. In the trial the women’s legs stayed thinner but the missing fat had re-appeared on their stomachs.

Research shows that where you store fat and what shape you are can have different outcomes for your health.

Some women are determined to do anything to improve their appearance and plastic surgery is now much more readily available: See: Beauty

Updated 31 May 2011: And if surgery is not bad enough a court case in France has highlighted the dangers of dieting.

Dr Pierre Dukan is a best-selling author whose protein-based diet is followed by Hollywood celebrities and who basically says you can eat as much as you like from a limited list and you don’t need to count calories.

In the opposite corner, and being sued by Dukan, is Dr Jean-Michel Cohen, another dietician, who says slimmers should eat a limited amount of most things and exercise regularly. Cohen is being sued for saying that there is a whole slimming industry, including doctors, profiting from these ideas.

He has also upset Dukan by saying that the Dukan diet is a potentially dangerous rehash of old ideas which can increase cholesterol and lead to heart problems and breast cancer. 

A recent report from the French health watchdog Anses surveyed these diets and 13 others and concluded that they all had dangers and weaknesses and that people would be better off just following a balanced diet. (Mothers with daughters take note!)

More than 80% of people who tried book diets put back their weight and more a year later and the head of the nutrition service at the Pasteur Institute said; “slimming makes you fat”.

Updated 25 July 2011: An article in the Sunday Times (24/7/11)providing more scientific proof that diets don’t work.

That won’t stop the diet industry’s efforts of course or the newspapers and magazines promoting them. British women start on average 3 diet regimes a year and spend £25k on diets over their lifetime.

Basically once you gain weight it’s there to stay. Fewer than 10% of people who diet keep the weight off, the other 90% put it back on within a year. There are some advantages to dieting as you probably eat more healthily and may exercise more but yo-yo dieting is not good for you.

The Medical Research Council’s National Survey of Health & Development followed over 5,000 men and women from birth in 1946, and 20,000 people born in 1958. They measured weight and blood pressure and assessed lifestyles.

Interestingly both groups started putting on weight in the 1980s and since then people have been increasing in weight throughout their life. Men tend to put weight on steadily but for women it starts slowly and accelerates in their mid-30s (perhaps after having children?).

The Health Survey for England (2009) shows that 14% of kids and 25% of adults are obese and at least the same percentages are overweight. Excess body fat leads to a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and cancer.

An endocrinologist, Professor Nick Finer, was reported suggesting that we have not evolved to tackle obesity as it has only become a problem since the mid-20th century. Previously there would have been an evolutionary advantage to be able to store fat in our bodies.

Even the idea of a set point for weight no longer seems true as it becoming overweight can rest it to a higher level. It must have a ratchet effect if losing weight doesn’t reset it lower.


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Chocoholics will pay the price

Not only will chocolate cost more but you will be getting smaller sized bars.

Over the years chocolate bars have shrunk in size.

I remember when a Mars bar a day really would “help you work rest and play” and Bounty bars are mere shadows of their former selves. Some companies even have the temerity to suggest this is to aid the war on obesity but the prices haven’t come down in proportion.

Many businesses will apparently be increasing their prices under the cover of the January VAT increase. But according to the Guardian (18/12/2010) Nestle and Cadbury are cutting the size of their biggest brands whilst putting up prices to maintain profit margins.

Poundland has negotiated a smaller size of Toblerone to keep the price at £1 – and I can see the logic of that (although customers might not be aware that when they buy teabags there they are only getting 88 bags instead of 100).

However the planned  reduction in the size of a block of Cadbury’s dairy milk from 140 gm to 120 gm  – similar to Mars’ reduction in the weight of a box of Maltesers last year – is a reduction of  14% equivalent to a price increase of 19% if the price stayed the same! But prices on many chocolate products went up 7% last year, over twice the rate of inflation.

Cadbury, now owned by Kraft, has previous on this as 2 Christmases ago they removed the more expensive chocolates from the tubs of Heroes and they have effectively increased the price of a Dairy Milk bar by 30% over the last three years.

We spend over £2 billion on chocolate in the UK so it’s unlikely that the demand will significantly change any time soon but we are paying heavily for having a sweet tooth.

Updated 3 January 2011: And to add insult to injury Roger Carr, the chairman who sold Cadbury to Kraft, has received a knighthood in the New Year’s honours list! He couldn’t even ensure that Kraft didn’t renege on their promise to keep the Somerdale plant open in Britain (production to be transferred to Poland with 400 job losses) but walked away with £1 million in shares plus a “golden goodbye”.

The Somerdale plant was originally built by the Fry family. It merged with Cadbury Brothers in 1919. Products made there included Fry’s Chocolate Cream, Dairy Milk, Chocolate Buttons, Creme Eggs and Mini Eggs, Cadbury’s Fudge, Chomp and the Crunchie. Double Decker bars are the last chocolates in production at the site (from BBC News web-site).

He’s also Chairman of Centrica, Britain’s largest energy company, which put up prices by 7% just before one of the hardest winters on record despite making vast profits. So he’ll be laughing all the way to the bank the way gas prices have rocketed. He’s been heavily criticised on both counts by Cadbury workers who lost their jobs and opposition MPs and union leaders but as the next head of the CBI he’ll be used to that. Doesn’t seem a friend of the British public to me.