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What is the truth behind the rise in strokes? Anyone?

By Angela Harbutt
May 12th, 2015 at 8:10 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in health

News channels are awash today with the latest horror story – that strokes have risen over past 15 years among working-age people.  Cue health “experts” and charity spokespeople of various guises rushing to the TV sofa’s to point accusing fingers at the Great British public’s failure to take enough exercise, and our consumption of too much sugar/salt/fat, to explain the rise.

Newspapers are also falling over themselves to tell us that the latest health crisis is all our own fault. This is the Daily Mail‘s lead paragraph:

“Strokes among middle-aged men have soared because of obesity and lack of exercise, experts said yesterday.”

“Their research shows the number of cases is up 46 per cent on 15 years ago. For women in the same 40s and 50s age group the rise is 30 per cent.”

Or this from the Independent (with obligatory photo of a couple of fat blokes):

“Sharp rise in strokes among people of working age leaves thousands devastated by disability”

“The Stroke Association said the increase was due to more unhealthy lifestyles”

Undoubtedly health choices have a part to play in preventing strokes, perhaps a significant part for all I know, but before we all give ourselves a stroke worrying about the latest health scare let’s just be aware of the facts.

The Stroke Association study these headlines refer to, states that in 2000 there were around 4,260 hospital admissions for strokes among men aged between 40 and 54 in England, compared to 6,221 in 2014. For woman the figures are 3,529 in 2000, to 4,604 in 2014.

Over a similar period, the UK population has grown by over 5 million – and, according to the ONS  (since 2001) “there have been high levels of net inward migration, adding to the population at younger working ages”. I don’t have the precise numbers for England (rather than the UK) nor the increased numbers of men aged 40 to 54 living in England today compared with 15 years ago but the chances are they have risen since 2000. What matters is the % of the 40-54 year olds experiencing strokes today vs 2000, not the rise in absolute number of strokes surely?

I can’t help but wonder why the percentage changes have not been reported?

Lost in the story is also the fact that “hospital admission practice” (mentioned in passing in the press release) is also having an impact on the rise in numbers. Have we got better at diagnosing strokes over the last 15 years (probably)? Could that also account for some of the rise?

We should also note that the causes of strokes are many and various. The BBC managed to find two young stroke victims on its web site, one was a 34 year old whose stroke was caused by a (previously undiagnosed) heart condition and the second was a “very fit” (49 year old), who was “in the gym six days a week”, “ate healthily”, but had (again undiagnosed) high blood pressure. Neither of those men appear to had a stroke as a result of their lifestyle choices – far from it.

But does the BBC lunchtime news talk about either the population growth or indeed, the possible improvement in diagnosis as possible reasons for the “rise”? Does it bother to alert the “fit and healthy” that they may still be at risk of stroke even if they have a perfect diet and  take regular exercise? (eg according to the Stroke AssociationSouth Asian and black people in the UK are also at increased risk of stroke. Although the reasons for this are not completely understood, we do know that black people are twice as likely to have a stroke compared to white people and that black and South Asian people also tend to have strokes at a younger age than white people.”)

No. Nor any mention of the fact that if you have had (often undiagnosed) TIAs (mini strokes) you are at high risk; likewise you are at higher risk if there is a family history of strokes.

The tack taken by the Stroke Association and health journalists across the board is nothing less than irresponsible. The data extracted from the NHS by the Stroke Association shows a snap shot of the number of strokes occurring amongst those of a certain age in England and nothing more. The headlines/soundbites from them creates an impression that the sole cause of the “rise” in strokes amongst 40-54 year olds is “lifestyle choices”.  That is nothing more than a hypothesis/best guess/hobby horse from the health spokespeople. It is not only not backed up by any evidence presented in its press release or elsewhere, it runs the risk of leading to stigmatization of those suffering from strokes (“it’s their fault”) and creates a false sense of security among the fit and healthy – but otherwise vulnerable groups – that they are low risk or risk free.

It also displays, yet again, sheer laziness from the so-called journalists. When I spoke to the BBC after the lunch time news edition to put some questions to them; why they had shown the rise in strokes in absolute terms and had not factored in population growth in the last 15 years; whether there was any evidence to show if diagnosis had improved; and whether they had figures showing the percentage of stroke victims defined as obese, it was quite clear they had not even considered these points. Indeed they started off by trying to tell me that they thought the figures had taken into account population growth.

By the Six O’clock news, the BBC had added a line to its report stating the increase in the number of strokes “can’t be accounted for by population growth and by changes in the way strokes are treated. Experts say obesity and sedentary lifestyles are to blame.” But that was as far as they were willing, or able, to go.

Where is the journalism from the media? All they seem to have done, by and large, is to have taken the Stroke Association press release and top and tailed it with a “personal story” and/or a sound bite from a “health expert”.  More importantly, where is the responsibility from the the Stroke Association to provide the UK population with factually accurate, evidence-based information? Why have they stooped to shock tactics?

Still it seems to fit the agreed current narrative of the health lobby that “lifestyle” is the root of all our health problems. And “health journalists” seem to happily gobble up and spew back out whatever froth they are fed. They have ceased to be the fifth estate, examining the validity of the claims made. They have become the mouthpieces for their friends and colleagues working in health. They may as well just give health campaign groups their login and password and go sit on a beach.

Until the wider health lobby (in which we must include journalists as well as campaign groups) gets off this bandwagon and starts giving people the full facts however dull, rather than the spin that suits their beliefs or grabs the headlines, we should simply ignore everything they say. As an increasing number of people are clearly doing already. And government must start to consider whether health authorities should, in the interests of Public Health, continue to outsource it’s services to charities that persist in playing fast and loose with the facts.

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Public health and public opinion

By Editor
February 20th, 2015 at 11:58 am | Comments Off on Public health and public opinion | Posted in health

Interesting insight into British attitudes to public health policies going into 2015. Here’s a taster…

When asked explicitly whether they believe in personal responsibility or government intervention,  the British public strongly supports personal responsibility over ‘nanny state’ regulation.

70% agreed “Individuals should be responsible for their own lifestyle choices and the government should not interfere”.

Those opposing the ‘regulating and taxing high-calorie food and drink’ outnumber supporters by nearly 2 to 1 and there appears to be little appetite for further intervention in lifestyles. Only 2 in every 10 people thought that “there should be more government regulation to stop people making unhealthy lifestyle choices”.

Tellingly Lib Dem voters were almost always more likely to support government intervention and UKIP voters were almost always the most resistant. Lib Dem voters were consistently most likely to believe that taxes on cigarettes, air travel and all forms of alcohol were too low whereas UKIP voters were consistently the most likely to believe that these taxes were too high.

However, even amongst Lib Dem voters, higher taxes and financial incentives were supported by only a minority. And interestingly, half of all Lib Dem voters actually support the owners of pubs and private members clubs being allowed to have a private room for people to smoke in if they want to.

The findings come from a  ComRes Poll commissioned by the Institute of Economic Affairs. The fieldwork for the poll was carried out between 9th and 14th December 2014 with a representative sample of 4,135 adult British residents and provides interesting food for thought as we head toward May 7th… find out more here.

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Why ObamaCare Champions Disgust Me

By Sara Scarlett
October 2nd, 2014 at 4:27 pm | Comments Off on Why ObamaCare Champions Disgust Me | Posted in health, US Politics, Welfare State

One of the criticisms that was leveled against me on LDV recently was that I don’t support ObamaCare. No, I do not support ObamaCare. I am ferociously proud of the fact that I do not and have never supported ObamaCare. Here are two very good reasons reasons why:

ObamaCare in no way changed the structural problems inherent in the US Healthcare system. ObamaCare just involved more people in the system through the coercion of others. ObamaCare is legislation that forces people to buy a private product. That is quite possibly the most illiberal legislation that has been passed in recent years. Obama handed consumers to the Insurance Companies on a plate. There is now no escape from this sad, corporatist mess now the option of remaining consciously uninsured has gone.

ObamaCare does not extend health care to everyone. Not even close and we’re talking millions of people. ObamaCare has not meant Universal Coverage. There are now many, many Americans paying higher taxes who still don’t have health care.

The structural problems of the US health care system are still a long way off being dealt with and that’s a shame. A missed opportunity, even. The best health care models are those found on the Continent and that has remained true both before and after ObamaCare was passed.

How to Solve the Obesity Crisis!

By Sara Scarlett
January 9th, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Comments Off on How to Solve the Obesity Crisis! | Posted in drugs, health, Nannying, UK Politics

Replace sugar with cocaine.


My work here is done…

Seriously, though – the Government has been giving huge amounts of free money to the Sugar Industry and the Corn Industry, which produces High Fructose Corn syrup, for decades. Before any taxes are imposed on people who enjoy their sugar responsibly, perhaps it would be wise to cease subsidising these industries instead.

The Anti-science of the Left & Right

By Sara Scarlett
August 25th, 2013 at 6:14 pm | 3 Comments | Posted in freedom, health

This is a very sad story. This part especially hit home:

Not owned by any company, Golden Rice is being developed by a nonprofit group called the International Rice Research Institute with the aim of providing a new source of vitamin A to people both in the Philippines, where most households get most of their calories from rice, and eventually in many other places in a world where rice is eaten every day by half the population. Lack of the vital nutrient causes blindness in a quarter-million to a half-million children each year. It affects millions of people in Asia and Africa and so weakens the immune system that some two million die each year of diseases they would otherwise survive.

Most GMOs have hitherto been developed for the benefit of farmers e.g. creating plants that are resistant to disease and that give higher yields. This particular GMO has been developed solely for the benefit of the consumer. It is quite clear that both the Left and the Right have dedicated anti-science viewpoints. The Left’s hatred of GMOs is as indefensible as the Right’s creationism, and possibly worse due to its horrendous effects on the poorest people in the world. Technology used in the private sector has rarely been used for evil on the scale that technology used by governments has been evil. Golden rice won’t even be the only choice of consumers – they could still buy the other rice if they wanted to. It is both anti-science and anti-humanist to prevent the use of a technology that can minimize human suffering.