Tag Archives: lead

NHS appoints humanist to lead chaplaincy team

A humanist has been appointed to lead a team of NHS chaplains, in a move that reflects growing demand for emotional and spiritual support from people who do not identify with any organised religion.

Lindsay van Dijk will lead three Christian chaplains and a team of 24 volunteers, including a Catholic nun, a Buddhist and a Bahá’í, at the Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS trust. The world-renowned spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville hospital is part of the trust.

Although there are two other humanists among the NHS’s paid chaplains, it is the first time that chaplains in hospitals and hospices will work under a non-religious leader.

Van Dijk, 28, told the Guardian: “A lot of people don’t have an organised faith, but still have spiritual and emotional needs at difficult times. Often people are trying to make sense of their lives and the situations they find themselves in.”

She said the team of staff and volunteers had welcomed her and were curious about humanism. “There has been no hostility,” she added.

Humanists do not believe in an afterlife. “Many people approaching the end of their lives want to reflect on a life well lived,” said van Dijk.

Carolyn Morrice, the trust’s chief nurse, said: “Lindsay’s appointment confirms our commitment to provide a chaplaincy service with individual choice at its heart, catering to all our patients, visitors and staff regardless of faith, denomination or religion, including those who have no faith or religion.”

According to research carried out last year for Humanists UK, there is widespread demand for non-religious pastoral care. Almost seven in ten respondents said non-religious pastoral carers should be provided alongside religious chaplains in institutions such as hospitals, prisons and universities.

A British Social Attitudes survey last year found that more than half the UK population say they have no religion, and the generation gap on religious affiliation is widening.

Simon O’Donoghue of Humanists UK welcomed van Dijk’s appointment. “NHS trusts are now recognising that non-religious people often need support from like-minded pastoral carers, just as religious people need such support from people of their own religion,” he said.

There were 916 NHS chaplaincy posts in 2015, according to data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, at an estimated cost of at least £25m. The number had fallen by almost 20% in the previous five years, down from 1,107 in 2010.

NHS appoints humanist to lead chaplaincy team

A humanist has been appointed to lead a team of NHS chaplains, in a move that reflects growing demand for emotional and spiritual support from people who do not identify with any organised religion.

Lindsay van Dijk will lead three Christian chaplains and a team of 24 volunteers, including a Catholic nun, a Buddhist and a Bahá’í, at the Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS trust. The world-renowned spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville hospital is part of the trust.

Although there are two other humanists among the NHS’s paid chaplains, it is the first time that chaplains in hospitals and hospices will work under a non-religious leader.

Van Dijk, 28, told the Guardian: “A lot of people don’t have an organised faith, but still have spiritual and emotional needs at difficult times. Often people are trying to make sense of their lives and the situations they find themselves in.”

She said the team of staff and volunteers had welcomed her and were curious about humanism. “There has been no hostility,” she added.

Humanists do not believe in an afterlife. “Many people approaching the end of their lives want to reflect on a life well lived,” said van Dijk.

Carolyn Morrice, the trust’s chief nurse, said: “Lindsay’s appointment confirms our commitment to provide a chaplaincy service with individual choice at its heart, catering to all our patients, visitors and staff regardless of faith, denomination or religion, including those who have no faith or religion.”

According to research carried out last year for Humanists UK, there is widespread demand for non-religious pastoral care. Almost seven in ten respondents said non-religious pastoral carers should be provided alongside religious chaplains in institutions such as hospitals, prisons and universities.

A British Social Attitudes survey last year found that more than half the UK population say they have no religion, and the generation gap on religious affiliation is widening.

Simon O’Donoghue of Humanists UK welcomed van Dijk’s appointment. “NHS trusts are now recognising that non-religious people often need support from like-minded pastoral carers, just as religious people need such support from people of their own religion,” he said.

There were 916 NHS chaplaincy posts in 2015, according to data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, at an estimated cost of at least £25m. The number had fallen by almost 20% in the previous five years, down from 1,107 in 2010.

NHS appoints humanist to lead chaplaincy team

A humanist has been appointed to lead a team of NHS chaplains, in a move that reflects growing demand for emotional and spiritual support from people who do not identify with any organised religion.

Lindsay van Dijk will lead three Christian chaplains and a team of 24 volunteers, including a Catholic nun, a Buddhist and a Bahá’í, at the Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS trust. The world-renowned spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville hospital is part of the trust.

Although there are two other humanists among the NHS’s paid chaplains, it is the first time that chaplains in hospitals and hospices will work under a non-religious leader.

Van Dijk, 28, told the Guardian: “A lot of people don’t have an organised faith, but still have spiritual and emotional needs at difficult times. Often people are trying to make sense of their lives and the situations they find themselves in.”

She said the team of staff and volunteers had welcomed her and were curious about humanism. “There has been no hostility,” she added.

Humanists do not believe in an afterlife. “Many people approaching the end of their lives want to reflect on a life well lived,” said van Dijk.

Carolyn Morrice, the trust’s chief nurse, said: “Lindsay’s appointment confirms our commitment to provide a chaplaincy service with individual choice at its heart, catering to all our patients, visitors and staff regardless of faith, denomination or religion, including those who have no faith or religion.”

According to research carried out last year for Humanists UK, there is widespread demand for non-religious pastoral care. Almost one in seven respondents said non-religious pastoral carers should be provided alongside religious chaplains in institutions such as hospitals, prisons and universities.

A British Social Attitudes survey last year found that more than half the UK population say they have no religion, and the generation gap on religious affiliation is widening.

Simon O’Donoghue of Humanists UK welcomed van Dijk’s appointment. “NHS trusts are now recognising that non-religious people often need support from like-minded pastoral carers, just as religious people need such support from people of their own religion,” he said.

There were 916 NHS chaplaincy posts in 2015, according to data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, at an estimated cost of at least £25m. The number had fallen by almost 20% in the previous five years, down from 1,107 in 2010.

NHS appoints humanist to lead chaplaincy team

A humanist has been appointed to lead a team of NHS chaplains, in a move that reflects growing demand for emotional and spiritual support from people who do not identify with any organised religion.

Lindsay van Dijk will lead three Christian chaplains and a team of 24 volunteers, including a Catholic nun, a Buddhist and a Bahá’í, at the Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS trust. The world-renowned spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville hospital is part of the trust.

Although there are two other humanists among the NHS’s paid chaplains, it is the first time that chaplains in hospitals and hospices will work under a non-religious leader.

Van Dijk, 28, told the Guardian: “A lot of people don’t have an organised faith, but still have spiritual and emotional needs at difficult times. Often people are trying to make sense of their lives and the situations they find themselves in.”

She said the team of staff and volunteers had welcomed her and were curious about humanism. “There has been no hostility,” she added.

Humanists do not believe in an afterlife. “Many people approaching the end of their lives want to reflect on a life well lived,” said van Dijk.

Carolyn Morrice, the trust’s chief nurse, said: “Lindsay’s appointment confirms our commitment to provide a chaplaincy service with individuals’ choice at its heart, catering to all our patients, visitors and staff regardless of faith, denomination or religion, including those who have no faith or religion.”

According to research carried out last year for Humanists UK, there is widespread demand for non-religious pastoral care. Almost one in seven respondents said non-religious pastoral carers should be provided alongside religious chaplains in institutions such as hospitals, prisons and universities.

A British Social Attitudes survey last year found that more than half the UK population say they have no religion, and the generation gap on religious affiliation is widening.

Simon O’Donoghue of Humanists UK welcomed van Dijk’s appointment. “NHS trusts are now recognising that non-religious people often need support from like-minded pastoral carers, just as religious people need such support from people of their own religion,” he said.

There were 916 NHS chaplaincy posts in 2015, according to data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, at an estimated cost of at least £25m. The number had fallen by almost 20% in the previous five years, down from 1,107 in 2010.

Lead is even deadlier than we feared, but Brexit could put it back in our petrol | Geoffrey Lean

Looking back, it seems insane. Bluntly put, we took a known poison and – for three quarters of a century – used it in machines that puffed it out in breathable form. Then we drove them millions of miles a day, all over the world, regularly dosing billions of people with the toxin.

Now the full effects of using lead in petrol – surely the greatest ever mass poisoning experiment – are becoming clear, almost exactly 35 years after an award-winning Observer campaign caused it to be banned in Britain. They seem far worse than anyone imagined, and provide a stark warning against cutting pollution standards after Brexit. Last week, a massive new study concluded that lead is 10 times more dangerous than thought, and that past exposure now hastens one in every five US deaths. A similar effect is expected in Britain and other industrialised countries.

The study, published in the Lancet Public Health journal and believed to be the first to research the effects of low levels of lead exposure on the general public, also concludes there is no safe level of the toxic metal: people with the lowest detectable amounts were still affected.

Researchers at four North American universities, led by Bruce Lanphear, of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, studied the fate of 14,289 people whose blood had been tested in an official US survey between 1988 and 1994. Four fifths of them had harboured levels of the toxic metal below what has, hitherto, been thought safe.

The study found that deaths, especially from cardiovascular disease, increased markedly with exposure, even at the lowest levels. It concluded that lead kills 412,000 people a year – accounting for 18% of all US mortality, not much less than the 483,000 who perish as a result of smoking.

Philip Landrigan, of New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine, possibly the world’s top expert on pollution’s effect on health, endorses the study and Alastair Hay, an expert on lead from Leeds University, calls it “very well done”. He adds that, since blood lead levels in the UK were similar, there could be much the same effect as in the US.

Of course, we suspected none of this when this newspaper campaigned against lead back in the early 1980s. We pressed for a ban because of increasing evidence – dismissed by the scientific establishment – that low levels of the toxic metal were damaging children’s brains, lowering IQ and increasing disruptive behaviour.

The danger of high lead levels has been known at least since the second century BC, when the Greek physician, Discorides, noted that it made “the mind give way”. Some historians even believe that lead-lined wine vats helped cause the decline of the Roman empire.

An especially nasty form of the metal, tetraethyl lead, was first put in petrol to prevent car engines “knocking” in 1922. By the early 1970s, more than 100,000 tons of it were put into American vehicles alone each year. By then, a lone scientist, Derek Bryce-Smith, of Reading University, had begun to campaign against it. He would say that he had first been alerted to the dangers when, as a young man, he had asked the manufacturers for a sample of tetraethyl lead for an experiment and was warned that “if I got any on my finger it would drive me mad or kill me”.

He was ridiculed and marginalised by other scientists. Slowly, however, people took up the cause, most notably a Wimbledon housewife, Jill Runnette, who ran a campaign that – against all the odds and entrenched scientific opinion – succeeded in persuading ministers to reduce its level in petrol by two thirds in 1981.


British children had to be shown to be affected as well as US ones – as if they were different species

Her hand was strengthened by a meticulous US study that showed conclusively that lead knocked several points off children’s IQ. Yet, even before it was published, four leading British authorities circulated a paper attacking it. And the study’s author, Herbert Needleman, was twice investigated for scientific misconduct. He was vindicated but ministers still refused to act on lead until a UK study had come up with the same result. One told me that British children had to be shown to be affected as well as US ones – as if they were different species. The final blow was struck by a year-long public campaign led by the activist, Des Wilson, and – in April 1983 – the government finally announced that the use of the toxic metal would be phased out. Crucially, it did so on a precautionary basis.

With leading scientists still resisting the evidence of effects on children, a royal commission advised that action should be taken, short of absolute proof, as there were enough grounds to suggest the danger was real. First, the rest of Europe, then almost every nation on Earth, followed, and levels in blood have fallen worldwide.

It was not before time. Since then, low levels of lead have also been linked to high blood pressure, stroke, heart and kidney disease, ADHD and accelerated ageing. There is even good, if surprising, evidence that it increased juvenile crime: many studies have shown rates mirroring the rise and fall of lead in petrol. In 2002, the World Health Organisation called lead in petrol “a catastrophe for public health”.

Worryingly, the “precautionary principle” that led to the phase-out, and is enshrined in EU law, is in danger from Brexit. Some industries and rightwing politicians have long campaigned against it, demanding much more evidence. So far at least, it has not been incorporated into withdrawal measures. On Thursday, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, promised at a conference organised by Prosperity UK to strengthen, rather than weaken, pollution controls on leaving the EU. But he failed to give a specific reassurance on the precautionary principle.

This is important because undue delay kills. Absolute proof of damage comes from counting corpses. If Britain had waited for it before taking action on lead in petrol, this week’s alarming news would have been more devastating still.

Saving the NHS means forcing us to change the way we lead our lives | Nick Cohen

If you imagine a healthy future for Britain, or any other country that has put the hunger of millennia behind it, you see a kind of dictatorship. Not a tyranny, but a society that ruthlessly restricts free choice. It is a future that views the mass of people as base creatures jerked around by desires they cannot control. Expert authority must engineer their lives from above for their own good and the common good.

That we need to change radically was shown by a mass study of the health of 300,000 people that was at once entirely shocking and wholly predictable. Newcastle University found obesity and the lack of exercise (the two go together, of course) in the middle aged mean two-thirds will have more than one chronic illness when they reach 65. These bleakly titled “multiple morbidities” will afflict them simultaneously. (For in the future, illnesses will not come as single spies but in battalions.) Most are the natural consequence of our high calorie/low exercise world: arthritis, cancer, diabetes, dementia and strokes.

Here’s my partial sketch of how Britain would have to change to limit the costs to the NHS that stunted lives and avoidable pain will bring. Pedestrians and cyclists would have priority on the roads. If the roads are too narrow to take cars, cycle lanes and a pavement wide enough to allow pedestrians to walk or run in comfort, then cars will have to go. School runs will become history as heads refuse to admit any able-bodied child who arrives at school in a car.

It will not necessarily be illegal to drive in towns and cities, just pointless. Motorists would inch along because cycle and bus lanes would take up road space and pelican crossings would be reset so pedestrians never had to wait more than a minute to cross a road. Even when they reached their destinations, drivers would search forever for a space because car parks would have been demolished and replaced with public parks.

No fast-food outlet would be allowed within a one-mile radius of a school. Agricultural subsidies for fat and sugar would be abolished. Rapeseed oil and sugar beet cultivation would stop as new subsidies for public transport began. Meanwhile, the manufacturers of processed food high in sugar, salt and fat would face advertising bans and punitive taxes. (If food manufacturers want to dump prematurely sick patients on the NHS, we will say, they can damn well pay for the privilege.)

Water fountains would everywhere provide an alternative to drowning in the calories of fizzy drinks. Wardens would patrol parks, so the elderly would not fear walking in them and the young fear playing in them.

It may seem a less practical measure but I would hope to see a vigorous challenge to the paradox of our culture’s celebration of thinness and athleticism in an overweight world. The idealisation of film stars and athletes raises impossible expectations. Because 99% of people do not have the genes – or the time and money for training – to even think of imitating them, we simply don’t try. A small blow could be struck if UK Sport were forced to stop sponsoring elite Olympic athletes and spend its millions on sports facilities for all instead.

The above may sound utopian or dystopian, according to your point of view, but more radical ideas are circulating. In 2006, Tim Lang and Geof Rayner from the Food Policy Centre said the vast forces in the modern economy delivering calories on a scale humans did not evolve to digest required an equally sweeping response. Everything from our attitude to nature, our bodies and food production needed to change. The Brazilian nutritionist Carlos Monteiro coined the concept of “ultra-processed” food: ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat dishes, snacks and drinks that are energy-dense, depleted of nutrients, fatty, sugary or salty.

Included among them I must warn you were not only Big Macs, but the middle-class wares of Marks & Spencer and Waitrose. As for the notion of living in an “obesogenic environment”, which combines the cheap calories of fast food with the inertia office work and the car brings, it was first described and denounced in the mid-1990s.

One day all this could be a thing of the past.


One day all this could be a thing of the past. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Ever since, nutritionists have hoped for a moment of public enlightenment. They consoled themselves with the thought that it took decades for the link between smoking and lung cancer to turn from a medical fact into an effective public health campaign. But the years have passed and in Britain little has been done. Councils have built the odd cycle lane and a modest sugar tax is due in April. The real work, however, has yet to begin.

I can feel the force of the objections. When we imagine a healthier future we are also imagining a more authoritarian state. Individual choice will be constrained and wisdom of the crowd rejected. Women will wonder who will chop the vegetables and cook the dinners when ultra-processed food is taxed to the point of extinction.

Beyond gender lies an undoubted class element in public health campaigns. Sugar and fat addiction, like all addictions, provide a temporary respite for the poor, the depressed and the disappointed. Perhaps we should offer them better lives rather than snatch away the few comforts they enjoy. This sounds a stirring counter-argument. But as any reader who has been an addict will know, addiction prevents you finding a better life. For when you suffer the multiple morbidities of diabetes, arthritis, cancer and strokes, your sicknesses are your life. You do not have the freedom to choose to change it.

God knows, there are good reasons to mistrust experts re-engineering societies from above. But as with tobacco, freedom of choice in the food and car markets has left us with no choice but to trust them.

Saving the NHS means forcing us to change the way we lead our lives | Nick Cohen

If you imagine a healthy future for Britain, or any other country that has put the hunger of millennia behind it, you see a kind of dictatorship. Not a tyranny, but a society that ruthlessly restricts free choice. It is a future that views the mass of people as base creatures jerked around by desires they cannot control. Expert authority must engineer their lives from above for their own good and the common good.

That we need to change radically was shown by a mass study of the health of 300,000 people that was at once entirely shocking and wholly predictable. Newcastle University found obesity and the lack of exercise (the two go together, of course) in the middle aged mean two-thirds will have more than one chronic illness when they reach 65. These bleakly titled “multiple morbidities” will afflict them simultaneously. (For in the future, illnesses will not come as single spies but in battalions.) Most are the natural consequence of our high calorie/low exercise world: arthritis, cancer, diabetes, dementia and strokes.

Here’s my partial sketch of how Britain would have to change to limit the costs to the NHS that stunted lives and avoidable pain will bring. Pedestrians and cyclists would have priority on the roads. If the roads are too narrow to take cars, cycle lanes and a pavement wide enough to allow pedestrians to walk or run in comfort, then cars will have to go. School runs will become history as heads refuse to admit any able-bodied child who arrives at school in a car.

It will not necessarily be illegal to drive in towns and cities, just pointless. Motorists would inch along because cycle and bus lanes would take up road space and pelican crossings would be reset so pedestrians never had to wait more than a minute to cross a road. Even when they reached their destinations, drivers would search forever for a space because car parks would have been demolished and replaced with public parks.

No fast-food outlet would be allowed within a one-mile radius of a school. Agricultural subsidies for fat and sugar would be abolished. Rapeseed oil and sugar beet cultivation would stop as new subsidies for public transport began. Meanwhile, the manufacturers of processed food high in sugar, salt and fat would face advertising bans and punitive taxes. (If food manufacturers want to dump prematurely sick patients on the NHS, we will say, they can damn well pay for the privilege.)

Water fountains would everywhere provide an alternative to drowning in the calories of fizzy drinks. Wardens would patrol parks, so the elderly would not fear walking in them and the young fear playing in them.

It may seem a less practical measure but I would hope to see a vigorous challenge to the paradox of our culture’s celebration of thinness and athleticism in an overweight world. The idealisation of film stars and athletes raises impossible expectations. Because 99% of people do not have the genes – or the time and money for training – to even think of imitating them, we simply don’t try. A small blow could be struck if UK Sport were forced to stop sponsoring elite Olympic athletes and spend its millions on sports facilities for all instead.

The above may sound utopian or dystopian, according to your point of view, but more radical ideas are circulating. In 2006, Tim Lang and Geof Rayner from the Food Policy Centre said the vast forces in the modern economy delivering calories on a scale humans did not evolve to digest required an equally sweeping response. Everything from our attitude to nature, our bodies and food production needed to change. The Brazilian nutritionist Carlos Monteiro coined the concept of “ultra-processed” food: ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat dishes, snacks and drinks that are energy-dense, depleted of nutrients, fatty, sugary or salty.

Included among them I must warn you were not only Big Macs, but the middle-class wares of Marks & Spencer and Waitrose. As for the notion of living in an “obesogenic environment”, which combines the cheap calories of fast food with the inertia office work and the car brings, it was first described and denounced in the mid-1990s.

One day all this could be a thing of the past.


One day all this could be a thing of the past. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Ever since, nutritionists have hoped for a moment of public enlightenment. They consoled themselves with the thought that it took decades for the link between smoking and lung cancer to turn from a medical fact into an effective public health campaign. But the years have passed and in Britain little has been done. Councils have built the odd cycle lane and a modest sugar tax is due in April. The real work, however, has yet to begin.

I can feel the force of the objections. When we imagine a healthier future we are also imagining a more authoritarian state. Individual choice will be constrained and wisdom of the crowd rejected. Women will wonder who will chop the vegetables and cook the dinners when ultra-processed food is taxed to the point of extinction.

Beyond gender lies an undoubted class element in public health campaigns. Sugar and fat addiction, like all addictions, provide a temporary respite for the poor, the depressed and the disappointed. Perhaps we should offer them better lives rather than snatch away the few comforts they enjoy. This sounds a stirring counter-argument. But as any reader who has been an addict will know, addiction prevents you finding a better life. For when you suffer the multiple morbidities of diabetes, arthritis, cancer and strokes, your sicknesses are your life. You do not have the freedom to choose to change it.

God knows, there are good reasons to mistrust experts re-engineering societies from above. But as with tobacco, freedom of choice in the food and car markets has left us with no choice but to trust them.

Saving the NHS means forcing us to change the way we lead our lives | Nick Cohen

If you imagine a healthy future for Britain, or any other country that has put the hunger of millennia behind it, you see a kind of dictatorship. Not a tyranny, but a society that ruthlessly restricts free choice. It is a future that views the mass of people as base creatures jerked around by desires they cannot control. Expert authority must engineer their lives from above for their own good and the common good.

That we need to change radically was shown by a mass study of the health of 300,000 people that was at once entirely shocking and wholly predictable. Newcastle University found obesity and the lack of exercise (the two go together, of course) in the middle aged mean two-thirds will have more than one chronic illness when they reach 65. These bleakly titled “multiple morbidities” will afflict them simultaneously. (For in the future, illnesses will not come as single spies but in battalions.) Most are the natural consequence of our high calorie/low exercise world: arthritis, cancer, diabetes, dementia and strokes.

Here’s my partial sketch of how Britain would have to change to limit the costs to the NHS that stunted lives and avoidable pain will bring. Pedestrians and cyclists would have priority on the roads. If the roads are too narrow to take cars, cycle lanes and a pavement wide enough to allow pedestrians to walk or run in comfort, then cars will have to go. School runs will become history as heads refuse to admit any able-bodied child who arrives at school in a car.

It will not necessarily be illegal to drive in towns and cities, just pointless. Motorists would inch along because cycle and bus lanes would take up road space and pelican crossings would be reset so pedestrians never had to wait more than a minute to cross a road. Even when they reached their destinations, drivers would search forever for a space because car parks would have been demolished and replaced with public parks.

No fast-food outlet would be allowed within a one-mile radius of a school. Agricultural subsidies for fat and sugar would be abolished. Rapeseed oil and sugar beet cultivation would stop as new subsidies for public transport began. Meanwhile, the manufacturers of processed food high in sugar, salt and fat would face advertising bans and punitive taxes. (If food manufacturers want to dump prematurely sick patients on the NHS, we will say, they can damn well pay for the privilege.)

Water fountains would everywhere provide an alternative to drowning in the calories of fizzy drinks. Wardens would patrol parks, so the elderly would not fear walking in them and the young fear playing in them.

It may seem a less practical measure but I would hope to see a vigorous challenge to the paradox of our culture’s celebration of thinness and athleticism in an overweight world. The idealisation of film stars and athletes raises impossible expectations. Because 99% of people do not have the genes – or the time and money for training – to even think of imitating them, we simply don’t try. A small blow could be struck if UK Sport were forced to stop sponsoring elite Olympic athletes and spend its millions on sports facilities for all instead.

The above may sound utopian or dystopian, according to your point of view, but more radical ideas are circulating. In 2006, Tim Lang and Geof Rayner from the Food Policy Centre said the vast forces in the modern economy delivering calories on a scale humans did not evolve to digest required an equally sweeping response. Everything from our attitude to nature, our bodies and food production needed to change. The Brazilian nutritionist Carlos Monteiro coined the concept of “ultra-processed” food: ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat dishes, snacks and drinks that are energy-dense, depleted of nutrients, fatty, sugary or salty.

Included among them I must warn you were not only Big Macs, but the middle-class wares of Marks & Spencer and Waitrose. As for the notion of living in an “obesogenic environment”, which combines the cheap calories of fast food with the inertia office work and the car brings, it was first described and denounced in the mid-1990s.

One day all this could be a thing of the past.


One day all this could be a thing of the past. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Ever since, nutritionists have hoped for a moment of public enlightenment. They consoled themselves with the thought that it took decades for the link between smoking and lung cancer to turn from a medical fact into an effective public health campaign. But the years have passed and in Britain little has been done. Councils have built the odd cycle lane and a modest sugar tax is due in April. The real work, however, has yet to begin.

I can feel the force of the objections. When we imagine a healthier future we are also imagining a more authoritarian state. Individual choice will be constrained and wisdom of the crowd rejected. Women will wonder who will chop the vegetables and cook the dinners when ultra-processed food is taxed to the point of extinction.

Beyond gender lies an undoubted class element in public health campaigns. Sugar and fat addiction, like all addictions, provide a temporary respite for the poor, the depressed and the disappointed. Perhaps we should offer them better lives rather than snatch away the few comforts they enjoy. This sounds a stirring counter-argument. But as any reader who has been an addict will know, addiction prevents you finding a better life. For when you suffer the multiple morbidities of diabetes, arthritis, cancer and strokes, your sicknesses are your life. You do not have the freedom to choose to change it.

God knows, there are good reasons to mistrust experts re-engineering societies from above. But as with tobacco, freedom of choice in the food and car markets has left us with no choice but to trust them.

Saving the NHS means forcing us to change the way we lead our lives | Nick Cohen

If you imagine a healthy future for Britain, or any other country that has put the hunger of millennia behind it, you see a kind of dictatorship. Not a tyranny, but a society that ruthlessly restricts free choice. It is a future that views the mass of people as base creatures jerked around by desires they cannot control. Expert authority must engineer their lives from above for their own good and the common good.

That we need to change radically was shown by a mass study of the health of 300,000 people that was at once entirely shocking and wholly predictable. Newcastle University found obesity and the lack of exercise (the two go together, of course) in the middle aged mean two-thirds will have more than one chronic illness when they reach 65. These bleakly titled “multiple morbidities” will afflict them simultaneously. (For in the future, illnesses will not come as single spies but in battalions.) Most are the natural consequence of our high calorie/low exercise world: arthritis, cancer, diabetes, dementia and strokes.

Here’s my partial sketch of how Britain would have to change to limit the costs to the NHS that stunted lives and avoidable pain will bring. Pedestrians and cyclists would have priority on the roads. If the roads are too narrow to take cars, cycle lanes and a pavement wide enough to allow pedestrians to walk or run in comfort, then cars will have to go. School runs will become history as heads refuse to admit any able-bodied child who arrives at school in a car.

It will not necessarily be illegal to drive in towns and cities, just pointless. Motorists would inch along because cycle and bus lanes would take up road space and pelican crossings would be reset so pedestrians never had to wait more than a minute to cross a road. Even when they reached their destinations, drivers would search forever for a space because car parks would have been demolished and replaced with public parks.

No fast-food outlet would be allowed within a one-mile radius of a school. Agricultural subsidies for fat and sugar would be abolished. Rapeseed oil and sugar beet cultivation would stop as new subsidies for public transport began. Meanwhile, the manufacturers of processed food high in sugar, salt and fat would face advertising bans and punitive taxes. (If food manufacturers want to dump prematurely sick patients on the NHS, we will say, they can damn well pay for the privilege.)

Water fountains would everywhere provide an alternative to drowning in the calories of fizzy drinks. Wardens would patrol parks, so the elderly would not fear walking in them and the young fear playing in them.

It may seem a less practical measure but I would hope to see a vigorous challenge to the paradox of our culture’s celebration of thinness and athleticism in an overweight world. The idealisation of film stars and athletes raises impossible expectations. Because 99% of people do not have the genes – or the time and money for training – to even think of imitating them, we simply don’t try. A small blow could be struck if UK Sport were forced to stop sponsoring elite Olympic athletes and spend its millions on sports facilities for all instead.

The above may sound utopian or dystopian, according to your point of view, but more radical ideas are circulating. In 2006, Tim Lang and Geof Rayner from the Food Policy Centre said the vast forces in the modern economy delivering calories on a scale humans did not evolve to digest required an equally sweeping response. Everything from our attitude to nature, our bodies and food production needed to change. The Brazilian nutritionist Carlos Monteiro coined the concept of “ultra-processed” food: ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat dishes, snacks and drinks that are energy-dense, depleted of nutrients, fatty, sugary or salty.

Included among them I must warn you were not only Big Macs, but the middle-class wares of Marks & Spencer and Waitrose. As for the notion of living in an “obesogenic environment”, which combines the cheap calories of fast food with the inertia office work and the car brings, it was first described and denounced in the mid-1990s.

One day all this could be a thing of the past.


One day all this could be a thing of the past. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Ever since, nutritionists have hoped for a moment of public enlightenment. They consoled themselves with the thought that it took decades for the link between smoking and lung cancer to turn from a medical fact into an effective public health campaign. But the years have passed and in Britain little has been done. Councils have built the odd cycle lane and a modest sugar tax is due in April. The real work, however, has yet to begin.

I can feel the force of the objections. When we imagine a healthier future we are also imagining a more authoritarian state. Individual choice will be constrained and wisdom of the crowd rejected. Women will wonder who will chop the vegetables and cook the dinners when ultra-processed food is taxed to the point of extinction.

Beyond gender lies an undoubted class element in public health campaigns. Sugar and fat addiction, like all addictions, provide a temporary respite for the poor, the depressed and the disappointed. Perhaps we should offer them better lives rather than snatch away the few comforts they enjoy. This sounds a stirring counter-argument. But as any reader who has been an addict will know, addiction prevents you finding a better life. For when you suffer the multiple morbidities of diabetes, arthritis, cancer and strokes, your sicknesses are your life. You do not have the freedom to choose to change it.

God knows, there are good reasons to mistrust experts re-engineering societies from above. But as with tobacco, freedom of choice in the food and car markets has left us with no choice but to trust them.

One cigarette ‘may lead to habit for more than two-thirds of people’

More than two-thirds of people who try just one cigarette may go on to become regular smokers, new research suggests.

Researchers found that just over 60% of adults said they had tried a cigarette at some point in their lives, with almost 69% of those noting that they had, at least for a period, gone on to smoke cigarettes daily.

“[This shows] prevention, providing [fewer] opportunities or reasons for young people to try a cigarette, is a good idea,” said Peter Hajek, co-author of the research, from Queen Mary University of London.

The research, published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, is based on data pooled from eight surveys conducted since the year 2000, including three each from the UK and USA, and a further two studies from Australia and New Zealand.

Together, the surveys included more than 216,000 respondents, with between 50% and 82% saying that, after trying a cigarette, they had gone on to smoke on a daily basis – at least temporarily. Further analysis showed that, taken together, an estimated 68.9% of individuals smoked daily for a period after trying a cigarette.

The team also looked at whether the results were likely to be skewed by smokers being less likely to respond in surveys than non-smokers, but no strong effect was found. However, the authors note that the study also has other limitations, including that the findings are based on respondents self-reporting information, meaning the resulting figures are only an estimate.

“It is possible that somebody who is a lifetime non-smoker did try a cigarette when they were a kid but it didn’t make any impression on them, and they forgot it or don’t see that it is important enough to report,” said Hajek. But, he added, “I think even if you assume there is a recall issue and other things, you are talking about more than a 50% [conversion rate from trying a cigarette to daily smoking].”

Decline in British smoking since 1974

Hajek added that declining rates of smoking among younger people suggested that measures such as restrictions on sales and a shift away from portraying it as glamorous were having a positive effect. But, he noted, the influence of e-cigarettes should also be explored, since the decline in smoking rates in England has accelerated since the devices came onto the market.

Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at the University of Stirling, said the study highlighted the importance of preventing smoking in the first place.

“Tobacco use starts in childhood for two-thirds of smokers in the UK, and this study suggests that even trying a cigarette becomes regular use in most cases,” she said.

“Fortunately, in the UK, youth smoking rates continue to decline – but we shouldn’t be complacent,” she added, noting that according to recent figures every year approximately 200,000 children in the UK try cigarettes for the first time. According to recent reports, there were almost one billion smokers worldwide in 2015, with numbers expected to rise – despite a drop in prevalence – as the global population grows.

Global smoking prevalence

Bauld also agreed that the role of e-cigarettes merited further study, pointing out that while it had been assumed that experimentation with e-cigarettes would also lead to regular use, that does not appear to be the case. “

While rates of e-cigarette experimentation amongst young people have risen in recent years, rates of regular use in teenagers who have never smoked remain at well below 1%, she said. “We need to be clear about this distinction and keep our focus on doing everything we can to prevent smoking, which we know is deadly, rather than demonising vaping, which all the evidence suggests is a hugely less harmful behaviour.”