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Friday, August 1, 2014

Immigration again, The Biggest Threat to the World and The World's Best Diet.

Immigration again.  Prime Minister David Cameron recently attended a police bust into a house full of illegal Albanian immigrants.  He wanted the voters to see him there to re-enforce the image of the efforts his party is making to rid the country of undesirable immigrants.  He took the photo opportunity to announce his latest policy in this area, the reduction in the amount of time that EU immigrants can claim benefits from 6 months to 3 months.  I expect the audience he is seeking to influence were mostly impressed.  Just two problems for starters: firstly Albania is not part of the EU so the link between the two events is spurious; secondly, the amount of money that will be saved by the reduction to 3 months is negligible (no more than a drop in the ocean) as there are so few people in this category. No official statistics exist so this is curing a problem that most probably does not exist either.  But the main problem which I have been banging on about for years is that we need more immigrants not less.  The government has been partially successful in suppressing a detailed research report (paid for by the tax payer) that shows that the influx of immigrants has a positive impact on the economy in overall terms.  Not what the report was commissioned to say!  The leaders of the main political parties know full well that we need more immigration, particularly of young people and qualified people, but they are too frightened to admit to it publically.  Nigel Farage of the very right wing UK Independence Party has got them all running scared.  Rather than confront his lies and distortions (too many to list here) they try to compete.  Only Nick Clegg has confronted him directly and for complex reasons it did him no good at all.  I will finish with this thought: 52% of the entrepreneurs coming out of Silicon Valley, many who will go on to found the future Apples, eBays and Googles are immigrants; in Silicon Roundabout in London, research shows that one of the main issues holding back faster development is the lack of immigration – there are not enough entrepreneurs in the UK to satisfy demand and the recent government clamp down on immigration is starting to be felt throughout the country from universities to start-ups to large corporations.  Is it right for our politicians to pander to people’s ignorance?
Silicon Roundabout, Old Street, London

I saw a survey from a few years back in which EU citizens were asked to rank which problem they thought constituted the biggest threat to the world.  Here are the results:

  • 2%: Don't Know
  • 3% Proliferation Of Nuclear Weapons
  • 4% Armed Conflict
  • 4% Spread Of Infectious Disease
  • 5% The Increasing Global Population
  • 7% Availability Of Energy
  • 11% International Terrorism
  • 16% The Economic Situation
  • 20% Climate Change
  • 28% Poverty, Hunger And Lack Of Drinking Water

I would like to offer another threat (brilliant I hear you say, just what we need) which although it does not appear in the Top 10, I believe to have become the biggest threat now facing us.  That is Antibiotic Resistance.   A World Health Organization report released on April 30th, 2014 states, "this serious threat is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country. Antibiotic resistance – when bacteria change so antibiotics no longer work in people who need them to treat infections – is now a major threat to public health." Bacteria such as C Difficile, MRSA and many others that were previously killed off with a few pills are now killing vast numbers of people each year.  Today, these bacteria and many others are killing hundreds of thousands of people globally.  The British National Audit Office estimated that the incidence of hospital acquired infections such as MRSA in Europe ranges from 4% to 10% of all hospital admissions. As of early 2005, the number of deaths in the United Kingdom attributed to MRSA has been estimated by various sources to lie in the area of 3,000 per year.  In the USA it was probably 100,000 at that time.  And unfortunately today it will be far worse – reliable estimates are at least 25,000 deaths last year in Europe alone.  Whilst other threats in the Top 10 have the potential to kill many people, this is the only one that with complete certainty we can say is going to escalate exponentially in the coming years.  You may be worried by recent outbreaks of Ebola, Climate Change and Armed Conflicts – but these will become tiny compared to life without our beloved antiobiotics.   And think what this means: back to the first half of the 20th century when simple bugs killed you.  No more hospital operations that are dependent on antibiotics to keep you infection free – and that means most operations – and we are back to the medical dark ages that our grand-parents and great grand-parents grew up in.  The UK Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies explains ''If we don't sort this and get new antibiotics, we will see the end of modern medicine as we know. Cancer therapies, routine operations like replacement hips or Caesarean sections, people dying young with infections in their hearts. Even, if we go back to the very old days, people dying of cuts.'' We can be sure this will happen because it is already here and it will affect everyone of us.  How many times have you and your family been given antibiotics?  Sadly, one of the reasons we have no new ones to replace the ones that the bugs have learned to circumvent is that the drugs companies have not been developing them.  Why not?  Because it is a very long and expensive process and they don’t consider it commercially viable.  Particularly if their new drugs are then going to be locked away and only used in emergencies to restrict overuse!  They will never get a return on their investment in this scenario. With that in mind, the UK prime minister has given ex-Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill a new task. The man who coined the acronyms MINT and BRIC now has to find ways of making the big pharma companies invest in new drugs to fight infections.  I am sure you will join me in wishing Jim O’Neill and the team good luck.

Many of us are obsessed in one way or another with what we eat; do we eat too much, do we eat enough, do we eat the right food and so on.  I watched a brilliant documentary recently on Channel 4 called ‘The World’s Best Diet’ in which Jimmy Doherty and Kate Quilton explored some of the world's most varied diets.  They travelled around the globe (lucky them), examining the dietary habits of countries, tribal people and communities, revealing how eating habits across the planet have changed radically over the last 50 years, and how this has affected our health.  There was a trashy populist edge to the way it was presented (a Top 50 countdown) but nonetheless the results were quite fascinating.  The presenters worked with top dietary experts to evaluate the quality of the diets in 50 different countries and the results were very surprising, even shocking in some cases although a fair bit was predictable (Yes, the US diet for example is really shit).  The worst diet was in the Marshall Islands, a group of a few dozen islands between Hawaii and Australia with a population of under 100,000.  They used to eat local fish and were very healthy.  But since WW2, fish has escalated in price and they export it but can’t afford to eat it themselves.  Instead the most popular food item is turkey’s arse (very cheap) which is imported from the USA and fried in oil making a bitter tasting dish with 73% fat content. They also eat lots of spam and tinned vegetables.  People are dying at a young age of diabetes and you see obese people in the street and many people who have had feet and other limbs amputated due to diabetes.  Depressing.  The diets in the USA, Mexico and most of Latin America are little better although less as a result of poverty and more as a result of stupidity or let’s be charitable and say poor education.  In Mexico it is common to see small children with no front teeth (they have rotted away) due to excessive consumption of sweet fizzy drinks (‘soda’ or Coca Cola).  England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were all bunched together in the the list in the 30s out of 50.  Not a great place to be and getting worse.  More interesting were the top 10 and there are some big surprises in there along with some expectations.  Here is the countdown (don’t get too excited) along with some comments from me:

10. The Netherlands – the tallest people and one of the richest, best educated and healthiest in the world.
9. Spain – The Mediterranean diet – it really works
8. France – The report on France was from Toulouse, a city I know very well.  To a certain extent this blows all known wisdom out of the window.  Think foie gras, lots of hams and sausages, vegetable always well cooked, plenty of wine.  Yes sounds delicious but not what you would consider healthy?  Think again, as it seems you can eat this food the French way and be amongst the healthiest people in the world.
7. The Kuna Indians (Panama) - The Kuna have been shown to have a low average blood pressure (BP, 110/70 mm Hg), and, do not experience the age-related increase in blood pressure that is common in Western society.  More importantly, death rates from cardiovascular disease and cancer, the #1 and #2 causes of death in the US are rare in the Kuna. Between 2000 to 2004, on the mainland of Panama, for every 100,000 residents, 83 died from cardiovascular disease (CVD), and 68 died from cancer. In contrast, per 100,000 Kuna, these death rates were 9 for CVD and 4 for cancer. One possible explanation for the improved health of the Kuna, relative to their mainland Panamanian counterparts is that the Kuna drink 30-40 oz. of flavanol-rich cocoa per day.  Go and get a bar of high cocoa content chocolate and see it works.  If it doesn’t at least you will die happy.
6. Sweden, Norway, Denmark (joint) – Unsurprising as the Nordics are always in the Top 10 of any league you compile on the best things.
5. Japan – Raw fish, very fresh food, high quality, small portions. Unsurprising.
4. Seventh Day Adventists (form of Christianity) - They eat a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, one that allows milk and eggs, but not animal flesh. This is because they believe that whatever they eat and drink should “honour and glorify God and preserve the health of the body, mind, and spirit.”  In general, Seventh-day Adventists have a 50% lower risk of developing heart disease, certain types of cancers, strokes, and diabetes.  They don’t drink alcohol or smoke or have sex (I lied about the last one) and men live about 7 years longer and women 4 years longer than similar people on average diets.
3. Greece – Mediterranean diet again.
2. Italy - Mediterranean diet again.  They visited a village in Italy where the average age expectancy is higher than even Japan.  People there eat fresh vegetables from their own patches of land all year round.
1. Iceland - Thanks to its close proximity to the sea, traditional Icelandic dishes include things like saltfiskur (fish that has been dried and salted) and harðfiskur (like beef jerky, but made from fish), hákarl (shark) and skata (skate).  But do you really want to be that healthy?

The Marshall Islands - Paradise?
Iceland and The Northern Lights

An MIT linguistics professor was lecturing his class the other day. "In English," he said, "a double negative forms a positive. However, in some languages, such as Russian, a double negative remains a negative. But there isn’t a single language, not one, in which a double positive can express a negative.”
A voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right.

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