Thursday, February 29, 2024

Ultraprocessed foods are 'harmful to EVERY part of the body'

The academic journal article behind this report is

Its title is:

"Ultra-processed food exposure and adverse health outcomes: umbrella review of epidemiological meta-analyses"

The BMJ tends to be rather opinionated

I suppose I should see this report as a brave endeavour but I am instead inclined to find it hilarious. It is a meta-analysis of meta-analyses. The big flaw with meta analyses is what is excluded. In one analysis of a topic that I had often written on, only two of about 100 of relevant papers by me were included in the analysis. Which two? The only ones that had something favourable to say about the conclusions the authors drew! Huge bias towards confirmatory research is well known. I am glad that I have survived to age 80 so that I can continue to point that out

And the present report quite properly admits that they gave more weight to some reports than others. But to which reports did they give most weight? Ones that they found most "convincing". So the selection of what to rely on had a clear and admitted subjective element. And since their conclusions are very congenial to the conventional wisdom about diet, we can be pretty sure that they were more easily convinced by reports that were congenial to the conventional wisdom about diet. They simply joined the crusade about the evils of highly processed food. Their article probably tells us more about what they believed than what is the case.

For many years I have had the pernicious habit of reading journal articles right through rather than adopting the academic vice of relying only on the abstract. And it is amazing how often the conclusions correspond much more closely to the initial hypothesis than to what was actually found as reported in the "Results" section. Reports relying on extreme quintiles for their analysis are almost all suspect of that.

So a wagon of sodium chloride could well accompany any reading of this report

Diets high in ultra-processed food may be harmful to every part of the body, a major review of research found.

Eating a lot of foods such as ready meals, sugary cereals and mass-produced bread is linked to an increased risk of 32 health problems including cancer, type 2 diabetes and mental health disorders.

Often high in fat, salt and sugar and low in vitamins and fibre, researchers found 'convincing' evidence higher consumption was associated with a 50 per cent greater risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke.

In the biggest analysis of evidence to date involving 10million people, researchers found those eating the most had between a 40 and 66 per cent increased risk of dying from heart disease.

They were also significantly more likely to be diagnosed with obesity, lung conditions and sleep problems.

Likening it to tobacco, they said 'public policies and actions are essential' to curb intake and called on public health officials to urgently develop guidelines and 'best practice' for ultra processed foods.

In a linked editorial, they suggest foods are clearly labelled when 'ultra-processed'.

UPFs refers to items which contain ingredients people would not usually add when they were cooking homemade food.

These additions might include chemicals, colourings, sweeteners and preservatives that extend shelf life.

Restrictions should be placed on advertising and sales 'prohibited in or near schools and hospitals,' they say.

Governments need to adopt national dietary guidelines recommending varieties of minimally processed foods, they say, while taking steps to make freshly prepared meals cheaper and more accessible to all.

The UK is the worst in Europe for eating ultra-processed foods, making up an estimated 57 per cent of the national diet.

They are thought to be a key driver of obesity, which costs the NHS around £6.5billion a year.

Often containing colours, emulsifiers, flavours, and other additives, they typically undergo multiple industrial processes which research has found degrades the physical structure of foods, making it rapid to absorb.

This in turn increases blood sugar, reduces satiety and damages the microbiome - the community of 'friendly' bacteria that live inside us and which we depend for good health.

Food additives like non-nutritive sweeteners, modified starches, gums and emulsifiers also seem to affect the microbiome, levels of gut inflammation and metabolic responses to food which may also increase risk of heart attack and stroke.

An umbrella review conducted by academics in Australia analysed 14 review articles published in the last three years which associated consumption with poor health outcomes.

Evidence was graded as convincing, highly suggestive, suggestive, weak or no evidence.

There was convincing evidence higher intake was linked to a 50 per cent greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease, a 12 per cent greater risk of type 2 diabetes, and a 48-53per cent greater risk of developing anxiety.

There was 'highly suggestive' evidence that eating more ultra-processed foods can increase chances of dying from any cause by a fifth, according to findings published in the BMJ.

This was also the case for when it came to obesity, type 2 diabetes, sleep problems and dying from heart disease, which all showed between a 40 to 66 per cent heightened risk.

Researchers from Deakin University, Australia, also found a 22 per cent greater risk of developing depression and a 21 per cent greater risk of death from any cause.

The evidence between UPF intake and asthma, gastrointestinal health, some cancers, and intermediate cardiometabolic risk factors remains limited, they said.

In an accompanying editorial, academics from Sao Paolo, Brazil said: 'Overall, the authors found that diets high in ultra-processed food may be harmful to most—perhaps all—body systems.'

They wrote: 'No reason exists to believe that humans can fully adapt to these products.

'The body may react to them as useless or harmful, so its systems may become impaired or damaged, depending on their vulnerability and the amount of ultra-processed food consumed.'

They added: 'It is now time for United Nations agencies, with member states, to develop and implement a framework convention on ultra-processed foods analogous to the framework on tobacco.'

Further research to determine the different mechanisms by which these foods impact health is also vital, they said, but should not delay policymakers from making urgent changes.

Scientists said there were limitations to the study, including inconsistent data collection methods in the original research.

Commenting on the findings, Gunter Kuhnle, Professor of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Reading, said: 'Many studies also show that people who consume a lot of ultra-processed foods also have an unhealthy lifestyle and therefore a higher risk of disease.

'Although many studies attempt to adjust for this, it is virtually impossible to do so completely.'

A government spokesperson said: ‘We are taking strong action to encourage healthier food choices and to tackle obesity – recognising that it is the second biggest cause of cancer and costs the NHS around £6.5billion a year – while respecting the importance of individual choice.

‘We have introduced calorie labelling on food sold in restaurants, cafes and takeaways to empower people to make informed personal choices about their lifestyle, and thanks to our salt reduction programme, the amount of salt in food has fallen by around 20 per cent.

‘Pre-packed foods are required to set out a variety of information to aid shoppers – including a list of ingredients and nutritional data.’


Why is the BBC not telling the full truth about a trans cat-killing murderer?

Given that the BBC places great store in having a ‘Verify’ unit to root out fake news emanating from other outlets, one might expect the corporation to be merciless on itself when it comes to sticking to the facts. Yet the roughly two million viewers who tuned into BBC1’s flagship lunchtime news yesterday were at risk of being deceived by misinformation every bit as disturbing as any of the stuff that Marianna Spring and colleagues unearth on far-right websites.

The item involved the story of what experienced BBC news anchor Ben Brown introduced as a ‘woman who livestreamed herself’ killing and dissecting a cat ‘before fatally attacking a man and leaving him to drown’.

She was called Scarlet Blake, he informed us. Brown then handed over to the equally experienced Duncan Kennedy outside Oxford Crown Court, where Blake was due to be sentenced. Kennedy regaled viewers with more details of the terrible things that ‘she’ had done. He reported that the prosecution had outlined how ‘she was obsessed with murder and sexual gratification’. Kennedy added that ‘she thought she’d got away with it’ but that a former partner had dobbed her in to police two years later. And that was that. A not insubstantial report lasting a minute and thirty-eight seconds came to an end.

On initial hearing, I thought I remembered the case as having involved a transwoman, i.e. a biological male, but figured this could not be the case because even the BBC would have clearly included that fact at some point in their broadcast report. They couldn’t possibly have left viewers believing that an adult human female had committed foul crimes when in fact a biological male had done so.

Yet a few seconds of online searching was sufficient to reveal that is exactly what the BBC had done. And remember, this was not on a fringe offshoot or late-night regional outlet staffed by young novices who might be at heightened vulnerability to falling into the grip of extreme ID politics. This was prime BBC1 lunchtime news staffed by some of the best editors, producers and reporters on the corporation’s books.

For the record, Scarlet Blake was born a male in China

For the record, Scarlet Blake was born a male in China, and went by the name Fangze Wang earlier in life. Perhaps given the depravity of the crimes committed it would have been reasonable to withdraw any presumption of good faith when reporting this person’s pronouns post-conviction and simply use male ones.

In any event, it beggars belief that at no point did either Brown or Kennedy flag up to their viewers the basic biological facts relating to Blake. A woman did this, they told us. But a woman did not murder Jorge Carreno or livestream the dissection of a cat. A biological male in the grip of typically male forms of violent criminal deviancy did all that.

For a broadcaster which seems more and more to be locked into an unwarranted messiah complex these days the lesson should simply be: BBC Verify, go and verify yourselves.


The Church of England should stop distracting itself with ‘racial justice’

When they've got archbishops who don't believe in God, why should they waste time on that fuddy-duddy "salvation" stuff?

Churches are emptier than ever since Covid. Fewer clergy have more and more parishes to look after; the buildings themselves are falling down, with little money available to repair them. In the face of these existential problems, what high-profile subject was discussed over the weekend by the General Synod of the Church of England? Encouraging more worshippers, perhaps, or possibly improving finances? Not quite. You’ve probably guessed the answer: racial justice.

The Synod ran what can best be described as a consciousness-raising session to cheer on the work of the Archbishops’ racial justice commission. It’s aim, it seems, is to push race towards the top of the ecclesiastical agenda.

St Paul would have had little time for identity politics

After the Archbishop of York started proceedings by describing the promotion of racial justice as ‘how we are the body of Christ’ and demanding a ‘compelling agenda for racial justice and racial change in the Church,’ it was the turn of the Bishop of Dover, Rose Hudson-Wilkin. She was uncompromising. On race, she said, being ‘woke’ was not only acceptable but necessary:

‘The racial justice mandate flows not from identity politics, but from our primary identity in Christ. The gospel calls us to prophetically address head-on the evils in our society, indeed in our world, which leave some parts of humanity dehumanised.’

Others spoke in similar vein. Synod members nodded sagely and approved the proceedings. Parishes will now be encouraged to draw up ‘race action plans’.

Neither the vote, nor the speeches that preceded it, have any legal force. Any thinking Anglican, however, has good reason to be depressed about this episode, for both practical and theological reasons. The latest intervention on racial justice isn’t a one-off. The Archbishops’ racial justice commission, set up three years’ ago and headed by ex-Labour minister Lord Boateng, used its latest report in February to call for racial justice to ‘be a regular and compulsory topic in all relevant deliberations and decision making processes on all levels of Church organisation.’

Is this really necessary? After all, distracting from the Church’s primary work of saving souls and ministering to individual spiritual needs is hardly a good way of attracting new worshippers. Nor does this particular focus do much to persuade existing ones not to forsake it, whether in favour of other churches or simple Sunday laziness. When it comes to lectures on political theory or managerialist solutions to problems of inequality, there are plenty of capable organisations already out there. Why the church hierarchy should think that people will sit in chilly pews to hear it done less well by those whose proper business lies elsewhere is a mystery.

The racial justice being promoted in the Synod appears to involve a demand for jobs in the church, whether in parishes or in the organisation’s increasingly top-down management, to reflect the racial make-up of this country. Not only is this idea likely in principle to drive away many of the faithful. It also cuts across the fact that the church is a people (or at least souls’) business. Parish incumbents must be congenial to their congregations, however unenlightened the latter may be in the eyes of church bigwigs; and senior ecclesiastics must be able to attract and inspire the clergy under them. Regarding the appointment of priests and prelates as an exercise in managerialism and the need to correct perceived power imbalances between racial identities may please intellectuals and church administrators: but it is a sure-fire way to remove any lingering affection between the ordinary worshipper and the church they frequent.

There must also be doubt about this as a matter of theology and doctrine. True, deliberately devaluing someone because of their colour or origin is un-Christian: it flatly contradicts the shining Gospel message that Jesus died for all of us, Jews or Gentiles, and that Christ offers grace quite indiscriminately. It also ignores Jesus’ decision to deliberately associate with different people, such as the woman of Samaria described by St John, not to mention assorted publicans and sinners.

But when St Paul wrote to the Galatians that, for him, there was neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, this suggests he would have had little time for identity politics, or for seeing people as anything other than souls to be saved. For that matter, Jesus himself, when asked why he had not addressed head-on the evils in Judaean society (in particular his arrest by the chief priests), had a simple response. ‘My kingdom,’ he said, ‘is not of this world.’

The General Synod, and anyone who wants the Church of England to remain a national institution rather than degenerate into a dwindling sect of activists increasingly irrelevant to anyone other than those administering it, could do worse than ponder these words.


Australia: Why we need more CEOs to speak up for profits

Coles’ Leah Weckert issued an important reminder to corporate Australia: Profit is not a dirty word.

Weckert’s comments have come right at the tail end of a resilient earnings season, and the newish Coles boss has cut through with a reminder about the purpose of her business: To look after shareholders through delivering the sharpest value to her customers.

Supermarkets and Woolworths boss Brad Banducci in particular, have been in the firing line around profits they make.

The big two retailers have become an easy target for claims around price gouging and anti-competitive behaviour while Australia is in the midst of an inflation bubble.

This has now spiralled into a Greens-led Senate inquiry and a year-long Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Review into the supermarkets. These will be highly distracting for management and, like the previous ACCC review into supermarket pricing a decade ago, will probably amount to little.

Everyone else is jumping on board with the ACTU and Queensland’s Steven Miles demanding their own probe. The claims are easy to make and always missing from the barbs is what should be the right level of profit for a business to make. No one is willing to go there and nor should they.

Still the attack on profit from all sides of the political spectrum is a worrying trend. Businesses exist to make profit and reward shareholders. In doing so they invest money into the economy and create jobs. The trick is in the balancing act to make sure the pursuit of profit is sustainable over the long run and businesses keep one eye on their social licence to operate.

Banducci, who this month announced his retirement, has struggled to cut through with a simple message on this point and his trainwreck interview on ABC TV only fanned the flames.

Banducci is the architect of Woolies much-needed cultural transformation and this month conceded to The Australian he was the first to get upset with himself when he doesn’t represent his company accurately.

In the middle of the anger, Woolworths triggered some big non-cash writedowns of its business, tipping the retailer into a heavy bottom-line loss.

Commonwealth Bank boss Matt Comyn is the only other boss who is prepared to issue a spirited defence of profits. Comyn regularly points out his bottom-line returns go to millions of shareholders as well as generate the crucial capital so funds can be lent back out to grow the economy.

Weckert, promoted to the top job in May last year, delivered her numbers on Tuesday which included a 3.9 per cent dip in December half net profit to $594m. The numbers show Coles is selling more, with revenue up nearly 7 per cent, but costs are crimping profit margins. Where Weckert draws the line is criticism of the windfall dollars.

“Profits are an essential thing for any business,” Weckert says. “They enable us to continue to operate and for us that means we get to employ 120,000 people. We get to support thousands of suppliers. We pay a very large tax bill every year.”

Coles has more than 460,000 shareholders and many of these are retail investors – the so-called mums and dads. There are millions more who benefit indirectly from the dividends through their super funds.

The simple message Weckert will take to next month’s Senate inquiry that begins in Hobart is that Coles generates $2.60 for every $100 spent by customers.

This is “less than 3c on the dollar,” she says, and points to her profit margins now being stable for at least the past five years, including through an inflation spike. Nor is food inflation unique to Australia, she adds, It’s are often driven by a surge in input costs such as fertilisers or wheat. Indeed, many developed economies, particularly the UK and in Europe, have seen food prices rise at a faster pace.

Weckert says Australian supermarkets are facing more intense competition than ever as offshore giants Aldi, Costco and Amazon make big inroads. Wesfarmers’ Bunnings and Priceline, along with Chemist Warehouse, are making inroads into the non-food sector.

Meanwhile, supermarket customers are trading convenience over value and are using local specialists from butchers to bakers.

The numbers show Coles now has the momentum in the sales race against its rival, Woolies. It can be argued Woolies is more distracted than it has been in years with problems from New Zealand, Big W and its looming leadership transition.

Coles’ supermarkets sale jumped 4.9 per cent in the first eight weeks of the calendar year, while Woolworths delivered 1.5 per cent growth over the first seven weeks. This helped back a near 6 per cent jump in Coles’ shares.

Coles says it is getting on top of the jump in theft rates it experienced last year as it invests more in checkout technology.

This could make a big difference to its earnings line in coming halves as it continues to get theft rates down further.

Australia’s housing and building shortage is now becoming a force on the ASX, although it has taken global players to recognise the value.




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