The NewsFuror

Friday, December 14, 2007

Call for rethink in obesity fight

Obese family
Obesity rates are set to double
Obesity cannot be tackled by just encouraging healthier eating and more exercise, health experts say.

The experts, led by a London-based academic, say governments should adopt more sophisticated approaches.

Work conditions, food subsidies, town planning and advert restrictions are all key, the experts wrote in the British Medical Journal.

The UK's Association of Directors of Public Health said change was happening but further improvements were needed.

Latest statistics show that a quarter of adults are obese in the UK, but the percentage is predicted to rise to over 50% if current trends continue.

There has been a lack of co-ordination over this and the response has therefore been slow
Dr Tim Crayford, of the Association of Directors of Public Health

The findings mirror the conclusions of the recent government-backed Foresight report in the UK, which said societal issues were also to blame for rising obesity levels.

These experts, led by a University College London academic, agreed, saying tackling obesity was far more complex than just encouraging healthy eating and more exercise.

They said large supermarket chains had displaced small, family-run stores and encouraged bulk purchases, convenience foods and super-sized portions.

They also criticised the impact of food advertising which they said encouraged children in particular to desire foods "high in saturated fats, sugars and salt".

And they said urban planning and design could play a key role in encouraging people to walk around towns rather than rely on cars.

These factors were particularly important for people from deprived areas as they were often more constrained by such barriers, they said.


The authors pointed to the example set by Norway, which has used a combination of food subsidies, price manipulation and clear nutrition labelling to steer people away from unhealthy food.

UCL expert Sharon Friel said a "dynamic" response was needed that included joined-up action at global, national and local levels.

"Missing in most obesity prevention strategies is the recognition that obesity - and its unequal distribution - is the consequence of a complex system that is shaped by how society organises its affairs."

Dr Tim Crayford, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, said it was well-known that obesity was caused by multi-factoral problems.

"There has been a lack of co-ordination over this and the response has therefore been slow."

And he added: "There are signs that is now changing, but we are battling against the desire in western societies for more affluence which means more cars and richer food."

US baseball 'rife' with drug use

George Mitchell
George Mitchell is a director of the Boston Red Sox baseball team
Dozens of players have been linked to taking performance-enhancing substances in a report on Major League Baseball that alleges a serious drug culture.

Former Senator George Mitchell, who led the investigation, said several All-Stars were suspected of using steroids and human growth hormones.

He also called for MLB to outsource drug-testing and form an investigative arm to pursue allegations of drug use.

In response, MLB head Bud Selig said he embraced all the recommendations made.

Speaking at a news conference, he said that baseball fans "deserve a game that is played on a level playing field, where all who compete do so fairly".

Among those named in the report is Barry Bonds, who was charged last week with lying to a jury about steroid use.

Prosecutors allege that the San Francisco Giants outfielder, who became the sport's record home-run hitter in September, lied under oath when he said in 2003 that he had never knowingly used performance-enhancing substances.

Mr Bonds denied accusations on Friday that he had used a previously untraceable steroid from a San Francisco-based company called Balco.

Batboy allegations

The inquiry was instigated by Mr Selig, the MLB Commissioner, in March 2006, following the publication of a book that alleged the use of performance-enhancing substances by Mr Bonds.

Mr Mitchell's report concluded that there was evidence that all 30 Major League clubs were affected by use of banned substances.

"For more than a decade there has been widespread illegal use of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances by players in Major League Baseball in violation of federal law and baseball policy," Mr Mitchell said at a news conference.

"The response by baseball was slow to develop and was initially ineffective, but it gained momentum after the adoption of a mandatory random drug-testing culture in 2002."

Barry Bonds celebrates his 756th home run (7 August 2007)
The inquiry began after allegations about Barry Bonds surfaced

Those linked to suspected drugs use in the report include some of the sport's biggest stars: Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Eric Gagne, Miguel Tejada, David Justice, Chuck Knoblauch and Andy Pettitte.

All the players were invited to respond to the allegations in the report. Whether they will face disciplinary action is unclear, especially as many no longer play in Major League teams.

Any penalties for active players are unlikely to be as severe as the 50-game suspensions given to those who have recently tested positive for steroids.

Mr Mitchell, a former Senate Majority Leader, urged baseball's authorities to look to the future rather than penalising players for past offences, many of which occurred when different policies were in place.

He also called on the public and media not to focus solely on who was named in the report - and for baseball to be allowed "a fresh start".

Internet pharmacies

Several media reports have said that had it not been for a former New York Mets bat boy, Mr Mitchell's report would have been far less revealing, as the players and their union were uncooperative and his inquiry did not have the power of subpoena.

Kirk Radomski
Kirk Radomski was convicted of distributing steroids in April

Kirk Radomski, who pleaded guilty to distributing steroids in April, testified that he provided banned steroids, human growth hormones and stimulants to dozens of players by mail order between 1995 and 2005.

Although none of the allegations are based on positive drug tests, the report cited cancelled cheques, shipping slips and phone records as evidence of the players' involvement.

Mr Mitchell also met district attorneys in Albany, New York, who have been leading an investigation into claims of drugs distributed illegally by internet pharmacies.

Media reports about doping in baseball began in the late 1980s, but the sport did not start testing and punishing players until more than a decade later.

MLB and its players agreed in September 2002 to test for steroids, although penalties were not introduced for positive tests until 2004.

A ban on human growth hormones was agreed in 2005, although there is no reliable test to detect the substances.

Drug-testing criticised

The report also criticised MLB officials and the players' union, and called for major changes in the league's drug-testing programme:

  • Appointing an independent administrator or hiring an outside agency to run the sport's drug-testing programme. It is currently run by the MLB in conjunction with the players' union
  • Ensuring "state-of-the-art" testing, including introducing additional year-round tests
  • Allowing the testing administrator to actively investigate "non-analytical positives" - information which shows a player broke rules in the absence of a positive drug test
  • Improving player education about performance-enhancing drugs

Mr Mitchell said one of the most serious consequences was that "hundreds of thousands" of high school-aged athletes had also been encouraged to use banned substances.

Some observers questioned in advance whether Mr Mitchell might suffer a conflict of interest, saying they were troubled by his friendship with Mr Selig and his close affiliation with the Boston Red Sox, of which he is a director.

Mr Mitchell also used to be chairman of the Walt Disney Company, which owns ESPN, the US TV sports network that has paid $2.4bn to televise MLB games until 2013.

Climate talks near end amid row

Desert - file photo
If global temperatures rise, billions will face water shortages
World climate talks in Bali have gone into their scheduled last day amid fierce disagreement over targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

EU ministers have warned they will boycott a US-led climate summit next month unless the Bush administration backs firm targets for emissions cuts.

The US favours allowing governments to set voluntary targets.

Indonesia is reported to be trying to broker a compromise that would remove firm targets from the final text.

Former US vice-president Al Gore has criticised the US approach.

He won loud applause from delegates as he said: "My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress in Bali."

'Don't give up'

But the Nobel Peace Prize laureate also urged delegates not to give up.

"You can decide to move forward and do the difficult work that needs to be done," he said.

If they get this text through the conference then the next treaty won't be worth the paper it's written on
John Sauven, Greenpeace

Officials say agreement has been reached on many issues. Disagreement centres on pollution by industrialised countries.

On one side are the European Union states and their allies.

They want industrialised countries to agree to cuts of 25%-40% in greenhouse gas emissions - which mainly come from burning fossil fuels - from 1990 levels by 2020. The target would not apply to developing countries.

"We continue to insist on including a reference to an indicative emissions reduction range for developed countries for 2020," the EU's Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said in a statement.

On the other side are the US, Canada and Japan. The US in particular, which has not ratified the Kyoto agreement, says any numerical agreement would prejudge the outcome of future talks.

The environmental group Greenpeace has accused the US of trying to kill off the international fight against climate change.

"If they get this text through the conference then the next treaty won't be worth the paper it's written on because it will give a free pass to any nation that wants to keep polluting," Greenpeace's UK executive director John Sauven told the BBC.

Meaningless talks

The US is the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, and most parties recognise that climate change talks without it would be meaningless.

In September the US hosted the inaugural summit of the "major economies" or "big emitters" group, which brings together 16 of the leading greenhouse gas producing countries.

The US is due to host a second summit next month in Honolulu.

The BBC's environment analyst Roger Harrabin, reporting from Bali, says the European threat to boycott the conference pushes President Bush into a corner.

Either he agrees to negotiate big cuts, or he has to explain to an increasingly concerned American public why Europe is boycotting a meeting which the president himself has invented and championed, our correspondent says.