Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Thanks to the Caterists, a consideration of public health matters ...

(Above: and what else can be said about Nauru, as the stench and the stain of the Australian way spreads around the Asian-Pacific region, and East Timor's court case opens with a flourish? More Rowe here).

The pond is overwhelmed by the canker at the core of all that's going wrong in the Asia-Pacific region at the moment, though you might have to head offshore to read about it. (East Timor, Australia Argue Over Oil Treaty Deal, Nauru hikes journalist visa costs amid asylum secrecy, etc etc ad nauseam)

So the pond decided to re-treat from the real world, and where better to do it than amongst the reptiles at the lizard Oz?

Today RN, henceforth to be known as the BBC down under, started off the day by referring to The Australian merely as The Australian, and not grandly as the "national broadsheet".

Progress, of a kindergarten kind, but will the cardigan-wearers ever reach the point of introducing their daily celebration of the rag by calling it the home of a raving rightwing collection of commentariat loons?

Probably not, but it did remind the pond that back in the day, Tuesday was always Gerard "prattling Polonius" Henderson day in the Fairfax press.

And then he joined the reptiles at the lizard Oz, and the pond stopped thinking about him. Except when Guy Rundle wrote a kind of obituary:

There’s not much left of poor old Gerard Henderson these days, is there, well down the batting order in Anti-News Unlimited, where his trademark “archival” style (“Senator Lee Rhiannon’s signature on this 1969 pamphlet ‘Put a traffic light on Bronte Rd’ raises questions of national security that our ABC is yet to ask”) is rather drowned out in a paper that features the executive editor of the whole organisation, Nick Cater, complaining about “elitist gatekeepers”. You need good game to match that crazy. (here, paywall affected)

Poor old Hendo, but that's enough nostalgia, because today the Caterists deliver yet another beauty, which will keep poor old Hendo wilting in the shade a little longer.

If you can be bothered googling around the paywall to discover Too many hands in the sugar bowl, you'll find a classic of simplification, distortion and insult, and all just another day's hard work by humble Nick Cater, filling in his day as best he can:

It can be a long time between global flu epidemics if you work at the World Health Organisation, where the struggle to fill the working day must seem interminable. 

Yep, because the world is so free of disease and poor health that the WHO really should start scribbling columns for the lizards at the Oz:

No wonder director-general Margaret Chan is constantly looking round for the next big thing. "It's not just Big Tobacco any more," Chan told a health conference in Finland last year. "Public health must also contend with Big Food, Big Soda and Big Alcohol."

Uh huh. Shocking, this talk of Big Alcohol. Of course such talk immediately puts the UN and their black helicopters into an alliance with the conspiratorial Daily Terror, with the rag somehow imagining that New South Wales is at war with Big Alcohol:

Oh dear, the pond thought "thugs" was a reference to the Australian Hotels' Association.

How silly ... let the beer halls flourish, and let's return to the cluck clucking, tut tutting Nick Cater.

Here's how he plies his satirical trade:

Gone are the days when the WHO would justify its existence trying to control Big Malaria or offer relief from Big Malnutrition. Today's pressing task is to eliminate the scourge of sugar and bring an end to the pandemic of podginess now sweeping the globe. 

Because, you see, there's nothing wrong with being podgy.

Never mind the alarmists, never mind the statistics, never mind that fourteen million Australians are overweight or obese and more than five million are obese, and if weight gain continues at current levels, by 2025, close to 80% of all Australian adults and a third of all children will be overweight or obese, and never mind that obesity has overtaken smoking as the leading cause of premature death and illness in Australia, and never mind that obesity has become the single biggest threat to public health in Australia, and never mind the likely shorter life expectancy of children today compared to previous generations, simply because of obesity, and never mind the consequences and the burden placed on the health system:

Australia is today ranked as one of the fattest nations in the developed world. The prevalence of obesity in Australia has more than doubled in the past 20 years ...
Of great concern is the health consequence to Indigenous Australians, who are today twice as likely as non-Indigenous Australians to be obese and are ranked the fourth-highest population in the world that is likely to suffer from type-2 diabetes. (all data here)

Sound serious? Never mind, just call it a pandemic of podginess and have a laugh, and magically all the issues simply disappear up the Cater fundament, useful material to be excreted at a later date in yet another column.

Did you note one of those bits of data?

On the basis of present trends we can predict that by the time they reach the age of 20 our kids will have a shorter life expectancy than earlier generations simply because of obesity.

Here's how that comes out in a Caterist tract:

Yet if we agree with the WHO that the world is -- so to speak -- getting rounder, it surely demonstrates the triumph of global capitalism in the war against want. 

Global wealth and global health are inseparable. A baby born in 2014 can expect to live to 70 on average, twice as long as one born before World War I. 
Yet this has not stopped the long campaign to turn obesity from a private to a public health issue from gathering momentum.

Could that be that, because the current problem obesity is posing to the public health system, in a country which thankfully has a public health system, the wave of obesity is now a very public health issue, with the public system forced to deal with the consequences on a daily basis?

You have to hand it to Cater, he really is a dumb fucker - Blair defence - and a wilfully misleading one at that, since he wraps it all up in the usual abuse of his institutional 'do gooder' enemies.

Hence the notion it's all a private matter, and the vast supply of wretched crap, with vast amounts spent on advertising same, doesn't tilt the scales in any appreciable way.

It's remarkably similar to the way tobacco was once celebrated as a personal right and a private issue, and never mind if it was an addictive substance, or it had consequences for public health.

So how long before "nanny" turns up in the Caterist vocabulary? Yep only the fourth par in:

The nanny state has been recast as the nanny planet and the WHO has assumed responsibility for our diet as it seeks to turn back what Chan calls "the globalisation of unhealthy lifestyles".

The nanny planet!

There's plenty of other abuse on hand -  like "cloistered activists", "so-called experts", "lipophobe", "sucrophobes", and then this sort of rhetorical bullshit, the sort you'd expect from a really dumb fucker - Blair defence:

It took the cholera epidemic of 1854 and the forensic work of John Snow for the penny to drop. The parasitic micro-organism vibrio cholera spread through water. 
The airborne miasma theory was fiction. In their ignorance, the do-gooders had made things worse, though it was not their style to admit it. 
Now, as then, the illiberal tone of public health rhetoric and its contempt for the wisdom of common people should make us cautious. 
Chan and her colleagues could be right, and the discovery of a causal link between excess sugar and Type 2 diabetes as strong as that between smoking, cancer and heart disease may be just around the corner. 
A reasonable person, however, looking at the track record of those now demonising sugar, would conclude it is equally likely that they are wrong or have exaggerated the link to the point of absurdity.

It takes a singularly perverse mind to drag in "miasma theory" and attribute it to do-gooders who are somehow comparable to the "do-gooders" of today. Cater doesn't even note or allow the improvements that came about despite the theory being wrong.

Which reminds the pond that reading Cater, and his blather about the wisdom of the common people should make us cautious of dunderheads. Take it away Sir Richard Rogers:

London was the first city to create a complex civic administration which could coordinate modern urban services, from public transport to housing, clean water to education. London's County Council was acknowledged as the most progressive metropolitan government in the world. Fifty years earlier, London had been the worst slum city of the industrialized world over-crowded, congested, polluted and ridden with disease…

Of course if you trust the Caterist health rhetoric and his contempt for people who actually know about things, aka experts, you'd be happy right now to trot off to a bog dirty, filthy, hospital and still be dumping your shit in the back lane for the night carters to take it away, since it's not Cater's style to admit he's routinely stupid.

Yep, any talk of "the wisdom of common people" and "a reasonable person" is just code for mug punters who should keep on making Big Business and Rupert Murdoch rich, and who cares if a few drop off early ...

It's also important to carefully frame the debate, and ignore certain statistics and health advice, while accusing others of ignoring things. Here's how it's done:

Certainly, no reasonable observer would accept Chan's conspiracy theory about the malevolent behaviour of big corporations, which irredeemably colours her view. 
Since the early 1960s, when the lipophobes seized the obesity debate and pushed the sucrophobes into a corner, food manufacturers have gone out of their way to market products lower in saturated fat that the so-called experts thought were the problem. 
They did so not out of malevolence or benevolence, but because they thought they could make a profit marketing margarine with a healthy twist, to appeal to educated, affluent and health conscious consumers. 
Yet, after more than 50 years of trying, scientists have failed to provide conclusive evidence that lowering fat intake reduces weight or reduces the risk of heart disease in the general population.

Uh huh, Big Business good, experts and failed scientists bad.

Yet remember how we started off with the Caterists gaily laughing at people who talked of a pandemic of podginess and an obesogenic environment, and how silly it was to demonise Toblerone,  because it evoked happy images of the Swiss Alps?

And now we're wondering about conclusive evidence?

Until recently the relation between obesity and coronary heart disease was viewed as indirect, ie, through covariates related to both obesity and coronary heart disease risk, including hypertension; dyslipidemia, particularly reductions in HDL cholesterol; and impaired glucose tolerance or non–insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Insulin resistance and accompanying hyperinsulinemia are typically associated with these comorbidities. Although most of the comorbidities relating obesity to coronary artery disease increase as BMI increases, they also relate to body fat distribution. Long-term longitudinal studies, however, indicate that obesity as such not only relates to but independently predicts coronary atherosclerosis. This relation appears to exist for both men and women with minimal increases in BMI. In a 14-year prospective study, middle-aged women with a BMI greater than 23 but less than 25 had a 50% increase in risk of nonfatal or fatal coronary heart disease, and men aged 40 to 65 years with a BMI greater than 25 but less than 29 had a 72% increased risk ... (and more with a site that will accept html signs, unlike Blogger, damn you to hell, and footnotes here)

Oh the pond can hear eyes glazing as the Caterists puff up in indignation. How dare these damned experts with their damned statistics insist that obesity is a health issue? And use big words, and not a single joke about the nanny planet.

If you are overweight or obese (you have a body mass index of 30 or greater), you are at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 
In particular, fat around your abdomen (tummy) puts you at increased risk. This is because it releases chemicals that can upset the body's cardiovascular and metabolic systems. This then increases your risk of a developing various conditions, including heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer. 
A quick way of assessing your diabetes risk is to measure your waist. This is a measure of abdominal obesity, which is a particularly high-risk form of obesity. 
Women have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes if their waist measures 31.5 inches (80cm) or more. Asian men with a waist size of 35 inches (90cm) or over have a higher risk, as do white or black men with a waist size of 37 inches (94cm) or over. 
Reducing your body weight by about 5% and exercising regularly could reduce your risk of getting diabetes by more than 50%. (here)

Curse you nanny staters and planeters, damn you to hell.

Now if this was a Caterist discussion about climate science, two points would follow as certainly as night follows day.

First of all, it would be pointed out that while it might be a problem, it's not much of a problem, and it's under a control and it's going away, so why all the fuss?

And a tear would be shed about noble producers, usually coal, the new wool and wheat of the Australian economy, but in this case, the much defamed and defiled sugar.

Let's see how the Caterists go about their noble business:

Indeed, there are some awkward facts that the anti-sugar lobby would prefer us to ignore. 
In common with other developed countries such as Britain and the US, sugar consumption per person is in long-term decline in Australia. 
Between 1938 and 2004 annual sugar consumption fell from 55kg per person to 47kg. Since then it has fallen off even faster. Consumption in 2011 was about 42kg. We may be larger than we used be, but the chances of dying from heart disease in Australia have halved since the 70s. Type 2 diabetes is far too common, but rates are still comfortably below the OECD average. 

Yep, that's point one done handsomely and in style, though why we should care about decreasing sugar consumption has to remain a mystery, given it's been given such a clean bill of health by the Caterists. And there might be some problems resolving all the contradictions, since the chances of dying from heart disease have taken a pounding ... from the very experts Cater spends his time maligning.

Now how about the noble producers?

 Nevertheless, Australian sugar growers like Paul Schembri are concerned at the escalating campaign. "We are very proud of the product we produce," he told Mackay's Daily Mercury last week. "We don't take kindly to having our brand trashed." 
Sugar may be the new alcohol or tobacco to some. To others it may be the new live cattle.

The new live cattle? WTF? Could anyone sound any stupider even if they tried really hard?

Unhappily, the Caterists set the live cattle traders in the comments section into a frenzy:

Johan: Nick Cater, please address the facts without a sneering and supercilious tone. The biochemical link between sugar and fat storage is indisputable.

Terence: The quote from Mr Schembri seems straight out of the Mareeba Tobacco Co-operative and other Tobacco Groups song book of 1960. Absurdly, the West Australian Government has spent $m's on the Ord to grow? Sugar!!

Joshua: The WHO do a lot of good work, including in the areas of polio eradication and, in the past, smallpox eradication. Fortunately, being capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time, they are also able to devote some attention to problems that are emerging in the rich world as well, including the negative health effects of smoking and, now, obesity. 

To argue that there are no links between the consumption of fatty foods or sugars and obesity and associated health problems is ludicrous and entirely contrary to the common sense and lived experience of everyone who has ever tried to watch their weight or improve their diet. One doesn't need to conclude whether fat or sugar is worse for you to know that both, if consumed in excess, will lead to obesity... (Joshua had plenty more to say)

Gerald: Well summed up Joshua and not a very good column Nick, you obviously did not do much research. Sugar particularly refined sugar, like so many refined foods is simply not healthy ...

And so on.

And there's the rub, and why poor old Hendo is now a voice lost in the crowd.

When all you've got is rabid ideology, and rubbishing the UN, and blathering on about "experts", Hendo simply doesn't cut the mustard up against the Caterists, who never ever let the facts get in the way of a rant.

Do the reptiles at the lizard Oz ever wonder how they routinely alienate their readers? Do they ever ponder the wisdom of allowing the Caterists to veer off into health matters? Wouldn't it be better to get them to stick to the live cattle trade?

Does reasons for their dropping circulation ever seep into their noggin? Are they aware that there are a million better sites on the full to overflowing intertubes to garner advice and information about health matters, than to read the ideologically rabid Caterists?

As for the pond's advice?

Well eat refined foods in moderation, don't overindulge in fatty foods, go gently with the sugar and the salt, go easy on alcohol, never smoke, even second-hand, and if you're overweight, like the pond, try to lose a little. The pond has been losing a bit and feeling better for it ...

These are personal steps, but if you also want to rage at the deviant perverts who advertise widely and manufacture and supply through supermarket malls of doom a completely unhealthy range of crap which your child insists belongs in your shopping trolley, feel free to vent. Caterists who think it's all hunky dory need not apply.

The fresh food people? Now there's a planetary joke.

As always, the pond reverts to Monty Python when in desperate times:

Lady Presenter: [briskly] Well, that's the End of the Film, now here's the Meaning of Life. 
 An envelope is handed to her. She opens it in a business-like way.] 
 Thank you Brigitte. [She reads.]... 
Well, it's nothing special. Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations. And finally, here are some completely gratuitous pictures of penises to annoy the censors and to hopefully spark some sort of controversy which it seems is the only way these days to get the jaded video-sated public off their fucking arses and back in the sodding cinema. Family entertainment bollocks! What they want is filth, people doing things to each other with chainsaws during tupperware parties, babysitters being stabbed with knitting needles by gay presidential candidates, vigilante groups strangling chickens, armed bands of theatre critics exterminating mutant goats - where's the fun in pictures? Oh well, there we are - here's the theme music. Goodnight.


  1. Speaking of the fresh food people, who can forget this?

    A claim cited by Woolworths that exposing children to alcohol advertising helps protect them from ''the seductive powers of capitalism'' smacks of desperation, one of Australia's top public health experts says.

    Woolworths owns the Dan Murphy's and BWS chains and is the nation's largest packaged liquor retailer.

    In a submission to Liverpool Council in support of a proposed Dan Murphy's store opposite a school at Moorebank, Woolworths cited advice by British psychology academic Adrian Furnham that ''early exposure to any form of advertising is vital to protect young minds against the seductive powers of capitalism''.

    It went on to back Professor Furnham's view that ''only if you show your children how the manufacturers are trying to woo them can they build a strong enough immunity to the sales pitch''.

    Woolworths was responding to criticism that advertising material at the store might encourage under-age drinking.

    Liverpool Council rejected the proposal, which was opposed by doctors, police and parents. Woolworths has not ruled out a court appeal.


    Did they hire Nick Cater to help them out?

    1. In Queensland, Woolworths = poker machines.

  2. Much as I know we shouldn't resort to finding political analogies in mere cartoons I couldn't help but notice the deep symbolism and ironic metaphors in a recent edition of South Park - Professor Chaos.

    Young Butters is rejected as the boys' best friend, so to wreak havoc on conventional society develops his evil alter-ego, Professor Chaos. He does really naughtyl things like swapping orders around at the local restaurant, and messing up people's clothes drawers - all in an attempt to bring chaos to the world!'

    Personally I believe Professor Chaos is modelled on Cory Benardi. The whole episode throws the Liberal philosophy and personality-clashes into sharp metaphorical relief, with a surreal under-motif of back-stabbing, conflict of religious ideology and philosophical ennui, representing the sad state of moral decline and lack of values in contemporary society.


  3. Poor old Nick has a minor problem with his argument, because he appears to be arguing that all those capitalist enterprises which specialise in reduced fat / sugar diets and programmes are scams. According to Cater's theory "The Biggest Loser" is a con, Kellogg's "Special K" is just a means to rip off the consumer and "Lite 'n Easy" is a scam. Cater fails as the business PR man.


Comments older than two days are moderated and there will be a delay in publishing them.