Thursday, 1 September 2011

Politics Masquerading As Public Health

Rob Lyons at Spiked has put astutely into words something extremely important when it comes to debates about public health. It concerns this 'obesity pandemic' red herring about which you have all, no doubt, read much nonsense.

Lyons - as others have done before - accurately points out that the scare stories are exactly that. Nothing but self-serving hot air.

But he goes that one step further in highlighting a dark message behind the appallingly tortured statistics.

The figures, however, are then used to demand greater intervention in the name of tackling obesity. Here, as with the 2007 Foresight report on obesity produced by the UK government, there is less of an emphasis on changing individuals’ behaviour. Far from individuals being too morally weak to resist another mouthful of food, as might have been suggested in the past, the new paradigm is that we live in an ‘obesogenic’ environment where we are apparently surrounded with ever more opportunities to eat and endless attempts to persuade us to do so.

In that vein, a Lancet editorial says: ‘While business and industry, with their very different aim of making as much money as possible and with an enormous and expensive apparatus of clever advertising, are very effective at nudging people to buy and consume their products, non-regulatory measures to increase consumption of healthy food in isolation are unlikely to be effective.’ The chubbies of Britain are merely dim-witted schmucks, it seems, who are taken in by ‘clever advertising’. Thankfully, the health experts and campaigners are here, like knights in high-fibre armour, to demand that Big Food be regulated just like Big Tobacco has been.

Such campaigners are not the friends of the put-upon masses. Rather, having failed to convince many people of the wisdom of their policy prescriptions and the benefits of lifestyle changes, they’ve decided to go over our heads and appeal to politicians to bash big business instead.
So very true.

Because, d'you see the one thread that runs through all of these portents of doom? Yep, without exception, they all point to a destruction of big business with little valid reasoning for it.

We don't smoke because we enjoy it, it's all tobacco marketing; no-one just enjoys a drink, we're bullied into booze by clever adverts; we don't choose to eat at McDonald's, their marketing department forces us to.

Etc, etc, repeat to fade.

By way of illustration, via the inestimable Crampton, here are some highlights from a perfect working example of modern public health ideology taking place in New Zealand this week.

Creating Our Future - Now

• Junk food sugars resistant even to regular teeth brushing

Deepa Krishnan: New research into the effect of junk food sugar has found the damage it does to teeth is so severe that not even regular and frequent teeth brushing can completely counter it.
Only junk food sugar, note. Other sugar is presumably magic sugar.

• The harm to male-female relationships contained in beer advertising

Christy Parker: The potential for social harm, particularly the perpetuation of a climate of family violence, contained in beer advertising. New research indicates the advertisements, which aim to appeal to young men about the age they are forming their identities, operate as a “manual on masculinity” with excessive beer consumption, larrikin activities, negative attitudes towards women and avoidance of intimacy all constructed as markers of being a “real man”.
For 'negative attitudes towards women', read 'fancying the opposite sex'.

By daring to appeal to men - who tend to like to drink beer - the drinks industry are evil. They should, of course, instead be advising males to drink soft drinks water and embrace feminism.

• Casinos offering warm welcome to lonely refugees: the harm gambling does to the Asian community

Amritha Sobrun-Maharaj: New research finds Asian immigrants and refugees are finding a safe haven at casinos and there, developing gambling habits that contribute to the “huge harm” being done to Asian communities. Often finding it hard to integrate elsewhere, immigrants and refugees are given a warm welcome and are made to feel important at casinos.
Because casinos should be snarling at anyone who dares to exercise their own freedom of choice, instead of welcoming them. It's not the individual's fault, it's those nasty rich people.

• Diversity versus social justice – how inequities are created

Rhys Jones: The notion of diversity is often used in discussions related to health inequalities. However health inequities are about much more than just difference – they are driven by the unequal distribution of power and various forms of discrimination.
In short, the privileged are to blame, natch.

• Climate change and health – what public health practitioners can do to help mitigate the worst effects
Oh Lordy, you're gonna love this one!

Angela Culpin: Increasing proportions of the population are being diagnosed with mental disorders, even where social circumstances are improving. There are also many more stressors on mental health including the fear for our future. Society globally has recently been faced with many threats, including climate change and the drainage of natural resources.
Yes! After years of scare stories about global warming catastrophe, many are going mad with worry.

The Mental Health Foundation is committed to moving towards a new path where prosperity takes into account the mental wellbeing of people, as well as the needs of the planet.
So why not continue to embed that perception by emphasising Mother Earth one more time, eh?

Confusing, isn't it? Here we have a bunch of publicly-funded employees gathering to talk about health, but wandering off into any number of directions which just happen to all line up with lefty politics.

Any wonder, then, that we have this guy trying to reframe the debate.

David Sinclair: “Lifestyle” diseases such as diabetes, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease must result from people’s choices, so they surely can’t have anyone else to blame can they? Why should good taxpayers’ money be used to benefit those who are indolent and poor? Because they are clearly not “lifestyle diseases”, they are diseases associated with living conditions: social, economic and environmental poverty. Deprivation must be the focus, not “lifestyle”. This insidious term must be abandoned if public health’s relevance and legitimacy are not to be further undermined.
Sorry to break it to you, sunshine, but you've been collectively rumbled.

Your legitimacy is diminished because the public health industry is increasingly dedicated to pushing an agenda which wouldn't look out of place in the Morning Star - a desperate re-definition of language hides nothing.

It's beginning to appear as if public health is less about health nowadays, and more about plain old-fashioned political dogma.


Chalcedon said...

You don't have to smoke to develop lung cancer. If you have a proto-oncogene and it gets triggered then you may develop such a cancer.

You don't have to be fat to develop diabetes. there are two types and type II was obviously being referred to.

Cardiovascular disease also has a genetic component. For example South asian men, from india, Pakistan et al have a naturally higher incidence than Europeans. For them it is nothing to do with lifestyle or ghee, but genetics.

Anonymous said...

Request to distribute this from nominadeus. Please spread the word:

Attention please re Birkenhead Court arrests…
Just this minute got news that Malcolm Massie - currently serving time having been wrongfully convicted of assaulting a cop during the Birkenhead event on 7th March - will be appearing at LIVERPOOL CROWN COURT! 10.30! TOMORROW at 10.30!!!! Please spread the word as far and wide as you can!!!
[6:07:54 PM]

Anonymous said...

Request to distribute this from nominadeus. Please spread the word:

Attention please re Birkenhead Court arrests…
Just this minute got news that Malcolm Massie - currently serving time having been wrongfully convicted of assaulting a cop during the Birkenhead event on 7th March - will be appearing at LIVERPOOL CROWN COURT! 10.30! TOMORROW at 10.30!!!! Please spread the word as far and wide as you can!!!
[6:07:54 PM]


John East said...

Obesity is caused by one thing and one thing only. It's not caused by advertising, or by lack of education, or insufficient numbers of state employed nutritionists, or any of the stupid reasons dreamt up by the vested interests in the obesity industry.

Obesity is caused by wealth. Cheap food and cheap labour saving devices are recent phenomena, perhaps 50 or 60 years old, and are the sole reason for our growing girths.

It follows that the only solution is national poverty, which our politicians have been striving for for at least the last century. It's been a long and hard struggle, but there efforts are at last beginning to bear fruit.

nisakiman said...

"...many more stressors on mental health...faced with many threats, including climate change..."

Well, she got that bit right - all this climate change malarkey is definitely driving me bonkers...

Dembones said...

If you can bear it:

"Imagine if your health as an adult is partly determined by the nutrition and environment you were exposed to in the first 1000days of life. Or even further back; that the lifestyle of your grandparents during their children's first 1000 days, has programmed your adult health. A strong body of scientific evidence supports this explosive idea, and is gradually turning medical thinking on its head. To understand the cause of chronic adult disease, including ageing, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity and lung problems we need to look much further back than adult lifestyle - but to the first 1000 days.

In this groundbreaking three part series Dr Mark Porter talks to the scientists who now believe that this 'lifecourse' approach, will find the cause of many adult diseases. "Chronic disease is going up in leaps and bounds, this is not a genetic change" says Kent Thornburg, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine in Oregon, America "it's because the environment in the womb is getting worse. We know now that the first 1000 days of life is the most sensitive period for determining lifelong health'."

So not just for your children, but your children's children, ......

Dick Puddlecote said...

Dembones: Ta for that. Watch this space. ;)

Twenty_Rothmans said...

Re Christy Parker
avoidance of intimacy all constructed as markers of being a “real man”

Once you've seen a picture of Christy, or any other of the talent at the Auckland Women's Centre, you have to ask yourself - would I hit it?

Too bloody right, but I'd need to drink a great deal first.