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Friday 9 November 2007
Letters: Obesity debate
Kick the carbohydrates and restore sanity to the obesity debate
Sir: Referring to some research which appears to show that being fat doesn't necessarily mean being unhealthy, Jeremy Laurance makes the remark, "This research may bring sanity to the weight debate"(8 November). It may, but I doubt it. This research doesn't reveal what a healthy diet actually is, and that's the kind of sanity that's needed.
In the past fifty years or so, a refined carbohydrate, low fat diet has been promoted. This has been accompanied by an increase in obesity and diabetes. The diet didn't appear to benefit the public, but it definitely benefited the food manufacturers, who make big profits by taking cheap carbohydrate, adding sugar, colour, and sometimes dangerous trans-fats, and then selling the end result as white bread, cakes, biscuits and allegedly "healthy" breakfast cereals.
Meanwhile, attention was diverted to saturated fat, which was, and still is declared to be the main cause of obesity, heart disease, etc. The fact that mankind had been eating fat for millions of years without developing diabetes and heart disease, and manufactured refined carbohydrate food for only about 100 years, which was accompanied by increasing levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, didn't appear to make anyone (except Dr Atkins) wonder if it was refined carbohydrate rather than saturated fat that was causing these problems.
What is needed is research into diet and exercise conducted by respected scientists who are not financed in any way by food manufacturers.
Sir: Five years ago I was diagnosed with an acute leukaemia but was fortunate to be cured. In the five months I spent receiving chemotherapy I lost two and half stones in weight, plunging from a body mass index of about 28 to about 25; or from "overweight" to "normal". Since that time I have recovered most of that weight, but I go to the gym and my cardiovascular fitness is good.
I dread to think what would have happened to me if my weight had been towards the bottom end of the so-called "normal" range. Would I have had the reserves necessary to survive the experience? Frankly I doubt it and I welcome the findings reported in your headline that being moderately overweight is beneficial.
If they don't want school, let them go
Sir: After reading Deborah Orr's article "Will another two years in the classroom really help those who can't write or add up?" (6 November), and hearing the Queen's Speech written by Gordon Brown, I was pretty disgusted by the proposed plans to extend the compulsory education age to 18.
Some people won't succeed academically. As a 20-year-old currently at university, I have been through the school system recently and one of the best parts of the leaving age being 16 was that I could go to college safe in the knowledge that I could finally leave the bullies, wasters and class-disrupters behind. It is a sweeping generalisation, but the people who use school as a picking ground for the weak and nerdy are the same ones who drop out as soon as possible; so what is the point of spoiling 16-18 education for the ones who want to learn?
If the Government want to help prevent youngsters becoming Neets (Not in Education, Employment or Training) surely the best idea would be to strengthen links with businesses willing to take youngsters on as apprentices and to stop being so soft with giving out jobseeker's allowance. If some young jackanapes needs any encouragement to get off his arse and make something of his life, cut his dole money and see how long he is jobless for - and leave post-16 education to the people that actually want it.
Sir: I am sure that Gordon Brown is a good man and well-intentioned. But he shouldn't be raising the school-leaving age yet again unless he is personally prepared to go into a bog-standard comprehensive to try to teach kids who are already massively resentful at being expected to learn until they're 16. If he weren't to enjoy unique treatment because of who he is, they'd tear him limb from limb. He wouldn't last till morning break.
I've seen at first hand just what an abject waste of everybody's time and the state's money such a lot of schooling is. There is a massive institutional cover-up of the system's endemic failures, with a total lack of openness because it's all so embarrassing and people whose jobs are on the line don't want to finger-point. But the situation will only worsen if older and bigger (and more disruptive) youths are compelled to attend.
Meanwhile, it's only when we have cameras in every classroom and internet access to them that taxpayers and parents will realise how disturbingly and shamefully bad it all is.
Sir: I am afraid I am old enough to remember when the then Labour government raised the school leaving age from 15 to 16.
At least at that time they were honest enough to admit that the reason was simply to remove 15-year-olds from benefits. The debate among educationists was between those who welcomed the measure, saying "Now we can do something useful with them after O-levels", and the cynics who maintained that the same curriculum would just be stretched over one more year.
The cynics were right. I was lucky enough to take my O-levels at age 14 and 15 but even then I was bored rigid with the unchallenging curriculum. I remember the excitement and challenge when I started A-levels. Just how the current generation put up with GCSE at 16 is a tribute to pure grit.
Unless a radically new approach is taken to the education of those it is planned to retain in schools, with an accompanying very large amount of money, this measure is destined for disaster, with uninterested young adults simply refusing to co-operate. There are already quite sufficient opportunities for those who want to study. To compel those who do not will cause chaos.
At a time when a quite unacceptable number of children are starting secondary schools functionally illiterate, this measure looks a lot like political smoke designed to divert attention.
Indian tiger park under siege
Sir: Your report on the Corbett National Park in India (1 November) holds out the possibility that this may be the last hope of securing the survival of the tiger in the wild. That view is highly optimistic, as any visitor to the park can discover.
When I visited the park in April 2006, I noticed that it was victim of the typical pressures being experienced in other tiger reserves – gradual encroachment as a result of the Recognition of Forest Rights Act, the constant threat from poaching and an inadequately resourced team of wardens to police the park. The result is a steady attrition of the tiger population. To reverse that trend will require the whole-hearted support of the people and the politicians.
Your correspondent also notes that Corbett himself left India around the time of its independence 60 years ago. He regards this as "perhaps surprising". Any visitor to the house once owned by Corbett, situated just outside the National Park, can find the evidence for his decision to leave India. Bluntly, he felt he was no longer wanted.
Would that still be true today? Only the people of India could answer that question.
How Powell paved the way for Thatcher
Sir: Bruce Anderson (5 November) depicts Enoch Powell as a man "locked in his own selfishness . . . far more of a narcissist than a politician". That is profoundly wrong.
Like his great hero, Joe Chamberlain, Powell sought victory for a great cause and was prepared to sacrifice everything to it. Powell's cause was the conversion of the Tory Party from a dirigiste and paternalistic view of economic policy to a radical policy of economic liberalism.
But few Tories are moved by economic arguments alone. Powell recognised that capitalism would be unattractive, particularly among the less well-off, unless it was combined with patriotism. So he laid great emphasis on an added ingredient vital for success – the heightening of Britain's sense of national identity.
It is only in that context that the "rivers of blood" speech can be understood. In making the case for the free market so eloquently, and in expressing a belief in the national interest so passionately, Powell prepared the way for Thatcher.
Witnesses' lethal and cruel doctrines
Sir: I served as one of Jehovah's Witnesses for more than 30 years. Like thousands of others I left the faith because of its strict enforcement of policies that clearly undermine the principle of "public benefit" ("Who are the Jehovah's Witnesses, and why do they refuse blood transfusions?", 6 November): not just the lethal "no blood transfusions" doctrine but also the cruel punishment of disfellowshipping (excommunication) that severs family relationships in the harshest manner imaginable.
The Charity Commission should investigate these devastating practices, and should reflect upon the lives of two newborn twins who find themselves without their mother.
Overpopulated Gaia cannot cope
Sir: I read Dominic Lawson's article on population with amazement (6 November). If the world population were 2 billion instead of 8 the Amazon rainforest would survive, the polar icecaps would not be melting, traffic deaths would fall dramatically, we could move about in beautiful town centres like my lovely Brighton, they would not be thinking of building on the green belt.
It does not take much to work out that the human race has caused an imbalance in the natural world through a catastrophic increase in numbers which will do away with us all very soon.
Gaia simply cannot cope and the ants are waiting in the wings.
Sir: So Dominic Lawson "does not accept" that the UK is overcrowded, or would be if its population reached 71 million in 25 years' time, as forecast by the Office of National Statistics (Opinion, 6 November). Forgive me, but does it matter what Mr Lawson "accepts" or not on this subject? He has no expertise in the field of demography, environment or ecology, nor, to judge from his article, has he acquired much.
Biocapacity and ecological footprint studies clearly indicate that we are currently taking from the planet far more than it can sustainably provide, that this situation is worsening, that the UK is among the worst offenders and that human numbers play a key role in this process.
It is the reverse of misanthropic to be deeply worried at the consequences of this overshoot, and the crisis in life-support systems it is creating. A world where human numbers were in balance with planetary resources would be less prone to conflict and kinder to life - better not just for people but for all the other species they share it with.
Research associate, Optimum Population TrustManchester
Elvis has left the country
Sir: As a long-time Costello fan I'm glad to see you've "bought" his latest comments about not liking England etc ("Goodbye, cruel UK", 8 November). As always, he knows just the right thing to provoke a reaction and once again it's worked treat.
In a way I'm glad he doesn't perform much this side of the Atlantic. In the past few years I've engaged in "Costello tourism", travelling to see him in the US, Denmark and Holland. Besides great shows, I've also seen some lovely locations and met lots of new people. Just last week I saw him in Chicago and he was just as acerbic and truculent as ever.
A Disney honeymoon
Sir: "Hull will suffer the ignominy of being the same length of time from St Pancras as Disneyland" (report, 6 November). Will Eurostar to EuroDisney inspire a poem as good as Philip Larkin's "Whitsun Weddings"?
Honour the old guard
Sir: Colin Trim (letter, 7 November) is right to acknowledge that the remaining handful of veterans from the Great War should be honoured this weekend. During the next few years a chapter will soon close on an entire generation of brave men who fought in horrific conditions during the 1914-18 war. Perhaps now is the opportunity for the Government to consider a state funeral on the death of the last veteran from this conflict. The British people should be given the opportunity to pay their respects at the passing of this generation.
In sickness and in health
Sir: What a fanciful land Claudia Winkleman inhabits ("We have entered the months of man flu..." 7 November). I work at a small airfield with less than 50 employees of whom eight are female. At the first hint of a runny nose they take days off and do not return until all traces are gone. In contrast, the males I work with turn up and work with heavy colds.
Brown the tyrant
Sir: In the Queen's Speech Gordon "champion of liberty" Brown failed to cancel the dangerous, Stalinist and ruinously expensive identity cards, and chose not to remove innocent people from the sinister DNA database. He intends to continue taking the fingerprints of schoolchildren, interrogate British citizens when they renew their passports and allow the unregulated growth of CCTV. When will the traditional Labour Party wake up to the self-obsessed buffoon they have as their non-elected leader? He is king only in the land of the New Labour blind.
What's up doc?
Sir: My anarchic friend Bugs Bunny would be livid to think that anyone thought he came from that cosy Disney burrow (letter heading 3 November). He's proud to be a member of the Warner Bros team.
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