Do you know what I am heartily sick of (excuse the very weak pun)? The plethora of health studies and warnings which have become so much part of the daily media diet that no day is complete without at least four major health stories, in three of which the advice/findings inevitably contradict each other. We need look no further to work out why we have become a nation suffering from health anxiety on an almost epidemic scale. We are bombarded by health scare-mongering which makes our every decision about what to eat, drink, wear or do paralysingly difficult.
Why not just ignore them? It's not that easy especially if we can find a study which justifies a feature of our lifestyle. Take a headline this week which suggested that 3 glasses of champagne a day help to prevent dementia and Alzheimer's (not, I hasten to add, that 3 glasses of champagne are a feature of my daily lifestyle... )."Hurrah" we all think, I'm not a functioning alcoholic after all, I'm merely protecting my mental faculties. How easy it is to champion the health studies which suit our lifestyle and then rubbish those that hinder it. I hate to break up the party for those who are just about to crack open another bottle of bubbly, smug in the knowledge that they are "helping" their health, but only 3 weeks ago another headline shouted at us that research showed that middle-aged drinking should be curbed in order to reduce the risk of developing Dementia. OK, so that let's those under 40 off the hook to continue with their 3 glasses of champagne a day but it is a bit of a downer for those of us over 40 who were busy celebrating this most recent finding.
Obesity is the focus of many of these "groundbreaking" research studies. Just a couple of days ago we were informed on the front of many newspapers that a slim man with normal BMI but with a spare tyre around the waist has a 2X higher mortality risk than those who are overweight - a bit gutting (sorry!) for those who are not obese (and in this country that is an increasingly small minority) but happen to be carrying a bit more round the waist. I can't resist at this point in mentioning my favourite health study of all time (reported in 2014) in which the researchers reached the startling conclusion that those living or working near "clusters" of takeaway outlets are more likely to eat unhealthy food and become obese. Quite astonishing! I can only hope that study was not tax-payer funded.
Blindingly obvious study conclusions are a source of major irritation to me. A couple of weeks ago we were "shocked" to learn the outcome of a study which concluded that living near an airport could be bad for your health. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who would argue the opposite, that living in an urbanised area with planes roaring overhead belching tons of pollution into the environment is good for you.
Then there are the studies that feed the guilt, particularly the parental guilt. The most recent one is a perfect example - the WHO has stated that processed meat "causes cancer". In fact it is listed as a Group 1 Carcinogen....cigarettes, alcohol, asbestos and....sausages. I won't be excluding all processed meats from my children's diets - I can't. My daughter will only eat sandwiches if they are butterless, crustless and full of ham. Anyway, compared to what we ate growing up in the 70s when alphabet spaghetti and neon pink angel delight were considered delicacies...what are we worrying about?
Perhaps my favourite studies (in entertainment terms) are those which are frankly bizarre. In the last few weeks alone we have been told that "strong legs" help the brain resist the effects of ageing; fillings can do more harm than good by increasing the risk of tooth decay in neighbouring teeth (don't want to point out the obvious but surely poor dental hygiene is a factor in the tooth decay in neighbouring teeth? Just a thought....); more than 11 moles on your right arm could indicate a greater risk of skin cancer (sort of get the point of this in message terms but I am very confused about "right arm" - what happens if I have 12 moles on my left arm but only 10 on my right? Facetious I know) and finally apparently there is no significant association between the amount you sit rather than stand and the risk of death - fascinating stuff.
I am not wishing to undermine the importance of health research but I do feel that some of the studies undertaken are largely irrelevant and are taking valuable research funding from more crucial studies. I also think that the media should be more aware of the consequences of sensationalising these health studies. We are becoming a nation of completely confused well worriers bombarded from all sides with conflicting messages. It is often the case that we are damned if we do and damned if we don't.
Anyway, in the absence of overwhelming evidence against it and frankly because I feel like it, today I am going to follow the "3 glasses of champagne are good for you" study results - Cheers!