Archive for April, 2013

Earth Day ambivalence

April 22, 2013

Never quite know what to make of Earth Day.

Eyebrows would be raised if the International Space Station had an annual “CO2 Scrubber Day” or submarine crews celebrated “Pressure Hull Week” every April.

I should say, I have a general disquiet about the whole concept of annual awareness time intervals. I’m certainly not against the idea for every good cause, but often they trivialise the thing they’re trying to promote. Not saying they don’t work, but somehow Earth Day, like Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, has a touch of absurdity and mild desperation.


Peak health?

April 11, 2013

Something I’ve often wondered about before, and now a paper’s been published that touches on it (in terms of cardiovascular health, at least).

What happens next, in terms of life expectancy, in the developed world? First of all there was sanitation and better housing to reduce the disease burden from infectious diseases. And immunisation, of course. Then economic development and societal changes drive gains from the third stage of the demographic transition (ie better maternal and childhood nutrition reaps more healthy years of life decades later in the lifecourse). And we start to identify some of the big risk factors for disease, and belatedly, deal with them in a meaningful society-wide way (eg smoking bans).

Some of the benefit from these changes is yet to filter through to the life expectancy figures of course, but the era of big improvements is probably drawing to a close. Meanwhile, an overweight younger generation is coming through which is steadily accumulating a hefty burden of future cardiovascular risk.

So how are we going to sustain those improvements in life expectancy in the future?


Margaret Thatcher

April 9, 2013

If you hadn’t noticed, she died yesterday. If the media (yes, them again) are to be believed, here in the UK we should all divide neatly into two groups: those huffing and puffing about how disgraceful it is she’s not going to have a state funeral— as if St Paul’s cathedral, gun carriages and military salutes are not enough— and those who broke out the champagne and partied hard all last night.

So when I try to decide what I think about her passing, it’s with half-hearted surprise that I conclude— pretty much nothing.

It’s not that I don’t think she was a hugely influential figure in national, and arguably global, 20th century politics, society (yes, it does exist) and culture.

It’s just that she was in power through most of my childhood, and like most background things you grow up with, she was just there. Being brought up in a middle class household in the south of the country, her policies didn’t appear to have any direct, immediate impacts on my family. According to my understanding, she did some necessary things early in her premiership, such as facing down the unions— although she did them in what appears to be a notably divisive and compassionless way. And much like an over-ripe cheese or Tony Blair, she stuck around far too long at the end.

In all, I struggle to marshal any strong feelings towards her one way or the other.

It’s always sad when a family member or friend dies, even when peacefully at the ripe old age of 87. So my condolences go out to those who knew her personally. As for her long term impact on the world, history will pass judgement in due course. I suspect it will be a mixed verdict.

That’s it really.

Media Chaos and measles outbreaks

April 7, 2013

After the MMR scare comes the inevitable measles scare: there’s now a big outbreak in Swansea, Wales.

BBC report

What Wakefield et al sowed is now being reaped. No reports yet of deaths or serious disability, but unfortunately the odds of getting through the outbreak without them are poor.

Why Swansea? It has been suggested that an anti-MMR campaign spearheaded by the local rag in the 1990s may, in part, be responsible for lower MMR uptake in the region and loss of herd immunity.

Now, I heard/read about this somewhere in the media in the last couple of days, so it’s not as if there’s a big conspiracy to keep it quiet. But in other circumstances,  if the actions of a named individual, organisation (eg hospital), or even another professional group (eg doctors) could be deemed even part-responsible for an outbreak of potentially serious harm to a large group of people, I’d expect to hear a lot more about it in the news. But maybe the fact that the media aren’t saying much about their own failings shouldn’t be a big surprise.

Anyway, here’s a pretty good account of it on “the home of UK regional journalism and jobs”.