Woman dies after British ambulance driver refused emergency call while on tea break
A furious family have told how their daughter was left to die after an ambulance driver refused to respond to a 999 call – because he was on his tea break. Relief technician Owen McLauchlan ‘chose’ not to help Mandy Mathieson after she took ill just ‘two minutes away’ from his depot because he was on a ‘rest break’.
Instead, her partner Bobby Taylor tried to resuscitate the 33-year-old while a helicopter was scrambled and an ambulance crew raced 15 miles from Grantown to Tomintoul. The paramedics arrived 21 minutes later and Miss Mathieson was pronounced dead at the scene.
The victim’s devastated family today said the community had been left ‘disgusted’ by the incident and are demanding an inquiry.
On Monday, locals staged a protest outside the ambulance depot in Tomnabat Lane – just yards from the Miss Mathieson’s home in Stewart Place. Dufftown-based Owen McLauchlan, who is originally from Linlithgow, has since been suspended from his job with the Scottish Ambulance Service.
Mandy’s partner of six years, Bobby Taylor, had arrived home two weeks ago to find her in bed and not breathing. The ambulance service received his frantic call at 12.45pm and asked Mr McLauchlan 23, to attend.
Part-time ambulance driver Shirley Keith was at home when Mr McLauchlan took the call from the control centre in Inverness. She said: ‘I heard the air ambulance going over the top of my house. ‘I went running out of the house and I noticed an ambulance at Mandy’s house at the bottom of the road. ‘I came back in and phoned the station. I said ‘Owen what’s going on? There’s an ambulance at the bottom of my road’. ‘His exact words were ‘Shirley, you’re not going to like what I’m about to say. They shouted me on my break but I refused to go’.’
Mrs Keith, who has also lodged a complaint with the ambulance service, added: ‘I was totally numb with disbelief, I just hung up the phone.
‘We may not be able to make a difference to Mandy but we were only two minutes away from her and he’s got all the equipment, including a defibrillator, in the back of the ambulance. ‘When Mandy really needed help he let her down. That is so wrong.’
Miss Mathieson, an accounts technician for the Cairngorms National Park Authority, died after suffering a blood clot. Her uncle, Charlie Skene, 53, is making a complaint to health secretary to Nicola Sturgeon and the ambulance service to demand answers.
Mr Skene’s late father, also Charlie, was the village’s ambulance driver for many years and had campaigned for a dedicated vehicle. Mr Skene said: ‘My father fought for years for a full-time service for Tomintoul. ‘Then when we need it we’re let down like this.’
A Scottish Ambulance spokesman confirmed the incident. He said: ‘On October 16 we received a 999 call for a cardiac emergency in Tomintoul at 12.45pm. ‘The technician on duty in Tomintoul was on a rest break and chose not to respond.
‘An ambulance crew was dispatched from Grantown-on-Spey and arrived on scene within 21 minutes, followed by an air ambulance helicopter eight minutes later. ‘Unfortunately, the patient did not survive the cardiac arrest and our thoughts are with the family at this difficult time.
‘We have asked the Health Professions Council to consider the ambulance technician’s decision-making and have suspended the individual while this consideration takes place.’
A message to Britain’s illiberal Nudge Industry: push off
The ‘politics of the brain’ is a threat to choice, freedom and democracy – which is why spiked is declaring war against it
In earlier eras, the revelation that there was a Behavioural Insight Team at the heart of government, dedicated to finding ways to reshape the public’s thoughts, choices and actions, would have caused outrage. It would have brought to mind some of the darker antics of the Soviet Union, which treated certain beliefs as mental illnesses to be fixed, or maybe O’Brien, the torturer in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, who boasts that the human mind is ‘infinitely malleable’.
Yet the news that David Cameron has a Behavioural Insight Team inside Downing Street, and what’s more that it is increasingly influential within the Lib-Con coalition, has been treated as if were a perfectly normal, even admirable thing. Have we lost our minds?
If the distinctive feature of the New Labour government when it came to power in 1997 was its ‘nanny statism’ (not a perfect label for New Labour authoritarianism by any means), then the distinctive feature of politics today is nudge statism – the conviction amongst our leaders that they have both the right and the capacity to invade our brains and reshape how we perceive and interact with the world around us. They refer to it as ‘the politics of the brain’, and everyone from right-leaning supporters of Cameron’s Tories to liberal commentators, from Tory advisers inside Downing Street to trendy young thinkers at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) who run a sinister-sounding thing called the Social Brain Project, believes the politics of the brain is a good, morally upstanding, workable idea.
They couldn’t be more wrong. And just as spiked was at the forefront of the battle against New Labour’s politics of behaviour for 10 years, so we intend to rally our intellectual troops against the politics of the brain today.
The most shocking thing about the recent reports on Cameron’s Behavioural Insight Team is that nobody has been shocked by them. The existence of a team which, in the words of one Cabinet Office paper, believes that ‘people are sometimes seemingly irrational’ and therefore the state must ‘influence behaviour through public policy’, has been shrugged off or given the nod. The Guardian casually reported that ‘deputy PM Nick Clegg said he believed the team could change the way citizens think’. Criticisms of the ‘Nudge Unit’ (as it is also known) have focused on whether it will really follow through on its promise to clean up the citizenry’s muddled minds. There is ‘little of actual substance’, complained one left-leaning commentator, ‘begging the question [of whether] the Conservatives have wholeheartedly embraced this agenda’. Another hack advised the government that ‘nudges should be deployed sparingly’.
Forget that. The nudge unit should actually be stuck at the very top of the much-discussed bonfire of the quangos. Formally instituted by Cameron in September, the team is made up of people such as David Halpern, former adviser to Tony Blair and co-author of the genuinely freaky Cabinet Office Paper Mindspace: Influencing Behaviour Through Public Policy, which comes complete with a cover illustration of the human brain with the words ‘habit’, ‘ego’, ‘priming’ and ‘incentives’ inside it; Paul Dolan, another brain expert; various neuroscientists and psychologists; and external advisers such as Richard Thaler, co-author of the hugely influential book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Wealth, Health and Happiness, from which Cameron and his brain cops derived many of their ideas.
The unit is shot through with social psychology and the new-ish discipline of ‘behavioural economics’, a mish-mash of politics and neuroscience which, as the Mindspace Cabinet Paper points out, has over the past 10 years ‘moved from a fringe activity to one that is increasingly familiar and accepted’. The team’s aim is to find subtle ways to change our behaviour, not through the old, Blair-style bossy approach of telling us what to do, but by offering incentives, by ‘priming’ us with subliminal messaging, by changing the ‘choice architecture’ of our daily lives so that we are influenced, sometimes unconsciously, to behave in what the government considers to be the right way. So flirting with such ideas as a new alcohol labelling system, changing local infrastructure so that we are encouraged (forced?) to walk more frequently, inviting problem gamblers to ban themselves from certain gambling haunts, and offering cash bonuses for healthy behaviour, the nudge unit aims to transform us through some Derren Brown-style mind trickery into the kind of people Cameron might like to hang out with: thin, sober, fit, responsible, boring, braindead.
There are three serious problems with the emerging nudge state. First, it reveals the dramatic downscaling of what politics is about. Once upon a time, the lifeblood of politics was the question of how to create the Good Society. Politics was a struggle over how the world should be shaped or reshaped, and how we might create the conditions in which individuals could realise their potential and pursue their aspirations. Now it’s about remoulding individuals themselves. It’s about finding ways to change how individuals think and behave so that they conform to some preordained, elite-decided view of what a decent person is (booze-free, non-fat, eco-aware). Politics no longer has any macro-visions for society, so instead it aims obsessively to micromanage the way that individuals think.
This trend began under New Labour with the politics of behaviour, where ministers explicitly said they considered it their business to force us to be healthier, more socially active, even happier citizens. The Lib-Cons are taking this politics to a new low by including not only our health and waistlines but also our thoughts and emotions, even our sub-conscious processes, under the remit of the Ministry of Good Behaviour (they don’t actually call it that, but why not?). Bereft of ideas for remaking the world, for boosting and improving society, our leaders take refuge in the brain instead, hoping that they can fiddle with the mental where they cannot get to grips with the social. Controlling individuals’ interaction with the world that currently exists takes the place of what counted for politics for thousands of years, from Aristotle to the Suffragettes: debating how the world should ideally look.
The second problem with the nudge state is that it’s alarmingly illiberal. Built on the idea that individuals are essentially irrational – ‘people are sometimes irrational’, says the Cabinet Office paper; ‘people are often systematically irrational’, prefers the RSA – the elitist politics of the brain treats the mass of the population as not worth seriously engaging with. Indeed its very premise is that we are not rational beings who can be reasoned with, but rather are simply collections of nerve endings and subconscious processes who need to be subjected to a mental MOT.
This is why the proponents of nudgism actively problematise the idea of information, the idea of giving people facts and evidence and political justifications in order that they might make their own decisions. So the Cabinet Office Mindspace report says policymakers have focused too much on providing people with info – about STDs, for example, or climate change – when apparently ‘providing information per se often has surprisingly modest and sometimes unintended impacts’. The report suggests that government should ‘shift the focus of attention away from facts and information, and towards altering the context in which people act’. Boiled down, this means: never mind reason, use pressure. And ideally an underhand, sly form of pressure.
The reason the nudgers are instinctively allergic to providing people with information is that they believe much of our behaviour takes place ‘outside conscious awareness’. Which means it cannot be influenced through such achingly old-fashioned mechanisms as moral debate and engagement but rather should be shifted with a bit of subliminal messaging and healthy-living handouts. Most shockingly of all, the nudge brigade sees it as its responsibility to exercise willpower on our behalf, because apparently we’re too fickle to do it ourselves. The government should become a ‘surrogate willpower’, says Mindspace; government action can ‘augment our freedom’ by pushing us to make the right choices. They don’t only want to remake our minds; they want to become our minds, Big Brother-style. It speaks volumes about the nudge statists that they cannot see what a whopping contradiction in terms it is to label government pressure as ‘freedom’ and external interventions into our brains as the exercising of ‘willpower’.
And the third problem with the nudge state is that it utterly rearranges the traditional democratic relationship. In the modern political era, it is supposed to be governments that shape themselves in response to what people want, not people who reshape their lifestyles in response to what the government wants. Democracy is meant to involve the formulation of a government that expresses the people’s will; it is about the people putting pressure on the authorities to believe in and pursue certain ideals. Under the nudge tyranny that is turned totally on its head, as instead the government devises more and more ways to put pressure on us to change. And it is because spiked values things like liberty, democracy, choice and debate that we hereby declare war on these nudgers above us.
The 1,000 steps to justice in Britain: How police and prosecutors must overcome a mountain of form-filling to solve just one burglary
Solving a simple domestic burglary takes more than 1,000 steps by police and prosecutors, it emerged last night. The police watchdog said the growing burden of bureaucracy means bringing a suspect to justice for a house break-in involves more than 30 people in 1,107 actions.
And excessive rules and a risk-averse culture could lead to ‘paralysis’ in the criminal justice system and officers being taken off the front line.
Dru Sharpling, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, added: ‘The criminal justice system has grown in a fragmented and bureaucratic way, slowing down the process, creating waste and stifling innovation.
‘All justice agencies involved are having their budgets cut over the next four years. There will not be enough capacity to sustain the service without reform.’ A breakdown of each individual step in the burglary investigation reveals the astonishing amount of form-filling and needless repetition of tasks.
Inspectors found 70 different forms which had to be filled in to prosecute a burglar. They also found police made 176 entries in the custody record for every suspect. Astonishingly, more than half of the steps involved data entry once a case file had been passed to prosecutors. Every entry was duplicated on up to five computer systems – three for the police, and one each for the courts and Crown Prosecution Service.
Booking in the suspect at the police station involved 38 steps, including 21 checks on their treatment and condition.
Only 98 steps were actually dedicated to investigating the crime. These include finding and labelling evidence, interviewing the suspect and examining the scene.
Each case file went back and forth between different agencies seven times and was copied six times for each agency present at court. Overly rigid rules on how victims were handled imposed more than 30 requirements for every case – even low- level offences such as a stolen phones.
Despite it having fewer criminals to process, the overall cost of the criminal justice system has spiralled by a quarter in just five years to more than £22billion.
HMIC blamed 14 pieces of criminal justice legislation in the past 15 years and a lack of controls for the ballooning amount of paperwork. It warned that the forthcoming cuts to police and CPS budgets meant reform was needed urgently simply to ensure the same number of criminals can still be brought to justice.
The report said: ‘The plethora of guidance has led to a culture of bureaucracy and too much information being prepared or demanded in cases. The overall impact has been multiple layers of requirements. Put simply, more tasks have to be completed to get the previously relatively straightforward job done.’
The report recommended that cases should go to court within 24 hours to speed up the system and defendants should be encouraged to plead guilty to cut the amount of paperwork required for abandoned trials. More trials should take place in video-linked or ‘virtual courts’ and the police and CPS encouraged to pool resources, it added.
Earlier this week it emerged that police must consult a health and safety checklist of 283 hazards before being called out in an emergency.
New climate change game reveals the misanthropy that motivates the Green/Left
An educational computer game in which users have to save the world from climate change offers an interesting solution – decide the problem is overpopulation and design a virus to kill millions.
Fate of the World goes on sale on Tuesday and has been praised by gaming experts and climate campaigners as a way of reaching new audiences in the fight against carbon emissions.
However, climate change sceptics may be surprised and angered by some of the strategies on offer in the game which is being released on PCs and Apple Macs.
As the head of a fictional international body the user must save the world from soaring temperatures, increasing floods and deadly droughts.
The game, developed by Red Redemption, an Oxford-based design company, uses real data and input from scientists and has best been described as a Football Manager for eco-enthusiasts.
Users are presented with a budget, environmental data, and a series of energy policies which range from emissions caps and investment in biofuels to continue investing in fossil fuels.
Other more extreme policies are also available such as creating a disease to reduce the world’s population or geoengineering, such as cloud seeding from planes.
The game, described on its website as a “dramatic global strategy game”, takes you forward 200 years to see the outcome of your decisions, including whether major species such as the polar bear have been condemned to extinction.
The blurb reads: “You must manage a balancing act of protecting the Earth. Resources and climate versus the needs of an ever-growing world population, who are demanding ever more food, power, and living space. Will you help the whole planet or will you be an agent of destruction?”
Some excited geologists
There’s rarely anything too exciting in geology so perhaps a wish for drama can be understood. A conference of geologists has just declared that the earth will take 100,000 years to recover from global warming. That the recovery actually took place about 10 years ago seems to be overlooked. And it took place while CO2 levels continued to rise! Pesky! But when you’ve got a model, who needs facts?
A conference organised by the Geological Society in London this week will bring together scientists from around the world to look at how the world coped with climate change in the past.
By studying rock sediments from millions of years ago geologists have been able to model how increases in greenhouse gases led to temperature change and extinction of species.
Professor Jim Zachos, of the University of California, said that 55 million years ago volcanic activity caused around 4,500 gigatons of greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere over thousands of years. This caused the planet to warm by 6C (10.8F), forcing whole ecosystems, including early mammals, to adapt, migrate or die out in certain areas.
Prof Zachos said that if the world continues to pump out greenhouse gases at the current rate, around 5,000 gigatons of greenhouse gases will be released into the atmosphere over a few hundred years. He said this will cause a more rapid temperature rise that at any other time in history and could cause “mass extinction of species”.
“The impacts will be pretty severe compared to 55 million years ago in terms of evolution of this planet,” he said.
The Geological Society warned that it could take the Earth 100,000 years to recover. A statement read: “The geological evidence from the 55 million year event and from earlier warming episodes suggests that such an addition [a massive increase in greenhouse gases caused by the activities of mankind] is likely to raise average global temperatures by at least 5 to 6C, and possibly more, and that recovery of the Earth’s climate in the absence of mitigation measures could take 100,000 years or more.
Numerical models of the climate system support such an interpretation. In the light of the evidence presented here it is reasonable to conclude that emitting further large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over time is likely to be unwise, uncomfortable though that fact may be.”
British Universities to be forced to meet quota of underprivileged students
Universities will be forced to meet a quota of students from less well off backgrounds or face being stripped of hundreds of thousands of pounds in funding. Elite institutions including Oxford and Cambridge are to be ordered to increase the number of pupils they accept from state schools by around 300 a year.
More youngsters from less well off regions and from low-income families will also have to be taken on, along with increased levels of ethnic minority students.
Those who fail to meet “benchmarks” set by the Office for Fair Access will forfeit up to a third of the funding they receive in the form of higher tuition fees to be paid by students from 2012. The money would be used to fund schemes designed to recruit more teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Top universities are expected to resist the plans, to be outlined by David Willetts, the Universities Minister, in a Commons statement today.
They were drawn up during hours of wrangling between the Coalition partners amid fears that up to half of the Liberal Democrat MPs could rebel against the decision to nearly treble tuition fees from their current level of £3,290. All of the party’s 57 MPs signed a pledge before the general election to scrap tuition fees altogether.
However, after last month’s announcement that the higher education budget would be slashed by nearly £3 billion as part of the Government’s austerity drive, universities warned that they would not be able to compete internationally without being able to charge significantly higher fees. A review of higher education led by Lord Browne of Madingley, the former head of BP, suggested that the charging cap be scrapped altogether.
Mr Willetts is expected to reject this, and set a new ceiling of between £6,000 and £9,000.
Some universities, including most of the former polytechnics, are likely to charge less £6,000, allowing them to compete for students who do not want to be saddled with major debts. Any institution charging more than £6,000 will have to abide by the quotas which are already set annually by the Office for Fair Access, but which the elite universities in particular often fail to meet.
Last year, Oxford, which has an overall student population of more than 20,000, was ordered to take an extra 270 state school pupils every year for five years – an increase of 4.25 per cent. However, numbers actually fell by 1.5 per cent. Out of an intake of 3,200 pupils in 2009, 1,456 were from state schools and only one was from a black Caribbean background
Universities will be free to decide how to improve participation levels, for example by holding more open days for sixth formers from state schools, or by introducing mentoring schemes. Those who miss their targets will be stripped of a proportion of their funding, and will be required by law to use the money to fund outreach schemes.
In the past, the heads of the elite universities have resisted political pressure to institute “social engineering” in higher education, saying that problem is caused by failures in the system at primary school age.
But a source said: “The Government is allowing universities to charge significantly higher fees – in return, we hope that they appreciate their responsibility to improve social mobility. “The universities are not being given a licence to charge whatever they want. “We want to ensure that the doors to every university are open to children from low income backgrounds wherever they come from.”
Universities will be required to meet benchmarks relating to the numbers of students they accept from three separate groups – relating to low income areas of the country, schools with below average numbers of pupils going on to higher education, and those from deprived families.
A senior Liberal Democrat source said that Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, was confident that his MPs would be won round by the plans, amid reports that as many as 30 had been considering rebelling. The source added: “No one is suggesting that this won’t be easy but what we have been able to do to ensure that low income students are not adversely affected is so significant that we are expecting far more abstentions than votes against.”
Mr Willetts is also expected to announce that graduates will be required to repay student loans on their tuition fees at a rate which will be set at three percentage points above inflation.
A study by the National Union of Students yesterday found that nearly eight out of 10 young people would be put off going to university if fees were raised to £10,000. Aaron Porter, the president of the NUS, said: “Tripling tuition fees would mean thousands of students being put off going to university with students who do go forced to take the bullet for university heads more concerned with lining their pockets than improving education.”
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College union, added: “England faces the frightening prospect of becoming the most expensive country in the world in which to study at a public university.”
British government declares war on degrees without prospects as university fees are set to hit £9,000 a year
Ministers today declare war on pointless degrees as they prepare to allow universities to charge fees of up to £9,000 a year. Universities Minister David Willetts has vowed to weed out poor quality courses which do little or nothing to improve students’ job prospects.
He wants to rate degrees by the employment rates and salaries of graduates, handing parents and prospective students a mass of information with which to judge their value.
Mr Willetts told the Daily Mail he also wants the best degrees to be given ‘kite marks’ by professional associations as an indication that they are rated highly by employers. Weaker courses would be forced to improve or wither on the vine.
The move comes in tandem with a hugely controversial increase in the cap on university fees, which will be announced to MPs today after last-minute wrangling between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.
Rumours were swirling around Westminster that at least one junior Lib Dem member of the government would resign in protest. The Lib Dems, who fought the election promising to scrap tuition fees, have succeeded in blocking plans to allow elite universities to charge unlimited amounts. Instead they will be able to levy fees of up to £9,000 a year, a three-fold increase on the current limit £3,290 a year, from 2012.
Fees for a three-year course could total £27,000 and students could find themselves saddled with £40,000 debts once living costs are included.
Those universities that want to charge more than £6,000 will be subject to ‘fair access conditions’ and will have to demonstrate they are improving access for disadvantaged students, leaving the Government open to charges of social engineering.
The issue of redemption penalties for those who want to pay off loans early is thought to be unresolved. The Lib Dems favour a large penalty to prevent students who go into well-paid jobs benefiting by paying off their debts in a lump sum, but Tory ministers are thought to oppose moves that would hit middle-class parents who help their children.
With graduate unemployment at its highest level in nearly two decades, Mr Willetts said it was vital that parents and students were given better information about whether courses were good value for money in terms of employment rates and salaries.
He also plans to make university admissions body Ucas provide clear information on the standard of teaching, library and IT facilities, weekly contact hours with lecturers, and the cost of halls of residence.
Mr Willetts said: ‘This will give students and their parents the information they really need and value, about everything from the amount of time they’re actually going to get taught to what their job chances and salaries are likely to be. ‘At last, students will be able to see the courses that can get the jobs they aspire to and those that do not perform well.’
Increasing numbers of students have opted for fashionable new courses at the expense of traditional subjects over the last decade. But more than 21,000 who graduated last year were still without work six months later, and 55,000 ended up in stop-gap jobs such as bar work.
Today ministers are expected to announce a public consultation, led by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, into their proposed ‘information revolution’ in the university sector.
Everything you thought you knew about food is WRONG
There is much truth in the iconoclasm below but I would like to see more evidence on some of the claims
We think we know what to eat: less red meat and more fibre, less saturated fat and more fruit and veg, right? Wrong, according to a controversial new book by obesity researcher and nutritionist Zoe Harcombe.
In The Obesity Epidemic: What Caused It? How Can We Stop It? Harcombe charts her meticulous journey of research into studies that underpin dietary advice — and her myth-busting conclusions are startling.
Myth: The rapid rise in obesity is due to modern lifestyles
According to Zoe Harcombe, the obesity epidemic has less to do with our lifestyles than with what we are eating. ‘The key thing that people don’t realise is that throughout history, right until the Seventies, obesity levels never went above 2 per cent of the population in the UK,’ she says. ‘Yet by the turn of the millennium, obesity levels were 25 per cent.
‘What happened? In 1983, the government changed its diet advice. After that, if you look at the graphs, you can see obesity rates taking off like an aeroplane. You might feel it is coincidence, but to me it is blindingly obvious.
‘The older dietary advice was simple; foods based on flour and grains were fattening, and sweet foods were most fattening of all.
‘Mum and Granny told us to eat liver, eggs, sardines and to put butter on our vegetables. The new advice was “base your meals on starchy foods” — the things that we used to know made us fat (rice, pasta, potatoes and bread). That’s a U-turn.’
Myth: Starchy carbohydrates should be the main building blocks of our diet
We’ve been told that carbohydrates such as rice, pasta, bread and potatoes should form the bulk of what we eat. The trouble with this, says Zoe Harcombe, is that as carbs are digested, they are broken down into glucose.
This process makes your body produce insulin, in order to deal with the extra glucose. One of insulin’s main roles in the body is fat storage, so whenever you eat carbs, you are switching on your body’s fat-storing mechanism. Whatever carbs you don’t use up as energy will be quickly stored away in the body as fat.
We should get back to doing as nature intended and eat real, unprocessed food, starting with meat, fish, eggs, vegetables and salads.
Myth: Losing weight is about calories in versus calories out
‘If only it were that simple,’ says Harcombe. ‘People think that if they cut out 500 calories a day, they will lose 1lb a week. ‘They might at first, but then the body will recognise that it is in a state of starvation and turn down its systems to conserve energy. ‘So you may be putting fewer calories in, but at the same time you will be using up fewer calories to get through the day.
‘Losing weight is more a question of fat storage and fat utilisation. You need the body to move into a fat-burning mode and, to do that, you need to cut down your consumption not of calories, but of carbohydrates.’
Myth: More exercise is a cure for the obesity epidemic
This is standard wisdom; exercise, we think, will burn calories, lose fat and speed up our metabolism. Think again, says Harcombe.
‘If you push yourself into doing extra exercise, it will be counterproductive because you will get hungry — your body will be craving carbohydrate to replenish its lost stores. ‘If you are trying to control weight, it is so much easier to control what you put into your mouth. Not how much, but what. Then it doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do by way of exercise.’
Myth: Fat is bad for us
‘Real fat is not bad for us,’ says Harcombe. ‘It’s man-made fats we should be demonising. Why do we have this idea that meat is full of saturated fat? In a 100g pork chop, there is 2.3g of unsaturated fat and 1.5g of saturated fat.
‘Fat is essential for every cell in the body. In Britain [according to the Family Food Survey of 2008], we are deficient in the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E, which are responsible for healthy eyesight, bone strength, mental health, cancer and blood vessel protection and, therefore, heart health. We need to eat real fat in order for these vital vitamins to be absorbed into the body.’
Myth: Saturated fat causes heart disease
Over the past 50 years, we have accepted this as one of the basic nutritional truths. But Zoe Harcombe says: ‘No research has ever properly proved that eating saturated fat is associated with heart disease, let alone that it causes it.’
Myth: Cholesterol is a dietary enemy
Controversially, Harcombe does not consider ‘high’ cholesterol levels a bad thing! ‘To pick a number — 5 (mmol/l) — and to say everyone should have cholesterol levels no higher than this is like declaring the average height should be 5ft 4in and not 5ft 9in and medicating everyone who doesn’t reach this meaningless number to reduce their height. It really is that horrific.
‘Ancel Keys, who studied cholesterol extensively in the Fifties, said categorically that cholesterol in food does not have any impact on cholesterol in the blood.
‘What is abnormal is the amount of carbohydrate we eat, especially refined carbohydrate, and this has been shown to determine triglyceride levels — the part of the cholesterol reading your GP may be most concerned about.
‘It’s the ultimate irony. We only told people to eat carbs because we demonised fat and, having picked the wrong villain, we are making things worse.’
Myth: We should eat more fibre
For three decades, we have crammed fibre into our bodies to help us feel full and keep our digestive systems moving. This is not a good idea, says Harcombe.
‘The advice to eat more fibre is put forward along with the theory that we need to flush out our digestive systems. But essential minerals are absorbed from food while it is in the intestines, so why do we want to flush everything out? Concentrate on not putting bad foods in.’
Myth: You need to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day
Variety of fruit and vegetables.
‘Five-a-day is the most well-known piece of nutritional advice,’ says Harcombe. ‘You’d think it was based on firm evidence of health benefit. Think again!
‘Five-a-day started as a marketing campaign by 25 fruit and veg companies and the American National Cancer Institute in 1991. There was no evidence for any cancer benefit.’
Myth: Fruit and veg are the most nutritious things to eat
Apparently not. Harcombe allows that vegetables are a great addition to the diet — if served in butter to deliver the fat-soluble vitamins they contain — but fructose, the fruit sugar in fruit, goes straight to the liver and is stored as fat.
Fruit is best avoided by those trying to lose weight, says Harcombe, who adds: ‘Vitamins and minerals in animal foods — meat, fish, eggs and dairy products — beat those in fruit hands down.’
Myth: Food advisory bodies give us sound, impartial advice
The organisations we turn to for advice on food are sponsored by the food industry. The British Dietetic Association (BDA), whose members have a monopoly on delivering Department of Health and NHS dietary advice, is sponsored by Danone, the yoghurt people, and Abbott Nutrition, which manufactures infant formula and energy bars.
The British Nutrition Foundation, founded in 1967 to ‘deliver authoritative, evidence-based information on food and nutrition in the context of health and lifestyle’, has among its ‘sustaining members’ British Sugar plc, Cadbury, Coca-Cola, J Sainsbury PLC and Kraft Foods.
‘When the food and drink industry is so actively embracing public health advice, isn’t it time to wonder how healthy that advice can be?’ says Harcombe.
British Government plans Net censor service
Just having a “minister responsible for internet regulation” is pretty appalling
“The minister responsible for internet regulation is planning a new mediation service to encourage ISPs and websites to censor material in response to public complaints.
Ed Vaizey said internet users could use the service to ask for material that is “inaccurate” or infringes their privacy to be removed. It would offer a low cost alternative to court action, he suggested, and be modelled on Nominet’s mediation service for domain disputes.
Vaizey, who is communications minister, revealed the plan yesterday. He said he will soon write to ISPs and major websites including Facebook and Google to discuss the initiative.
He conceded that industry is likely to resist any attempt at greater regulation, but he is keen to set up a system of “redress” for the public.