Saturday, January 31, 2009

When I read that Richard Hammond was going to be presenting a programme about science, designed for children, I had high hopes that it might be of the experiential nature of Top Gear. I looked forward to watching him explore scientific knowledge with the anarchic and naturalistic style of the Top Gear programme which, despite not being able to drive and not being interested in cars, I find very entertaining.

What Blast Lab is, though, is as far as you can get from Top Gear without turning into a party political broadcast on behalf of the green party. It is contrived, with cameo characters in the form of a granny and other caricatures, with artificial situations, teams, and a noisy audience, and the prime emotion that it engenders is irritation, not curiosity. The experiments with dropping a tonne on water on a car are recognizable from Richard Hammond's exploits on Top Gear or Brainiac, but there's none of the naturalism or honesty that shines through from that show.

Well OK, I'm a 50 year old woman and not, I agree, the target audience for the show.. but I have never met a child yet who liked the artificiality of these type of FUNFUNFUN shows. Many of them like Top Gear, for all the same reasons that adults like it. It's funny and intelligent and anarchic and honest. It doesn't talk down to them, it doesn't pretend Richard Hammond's granny works in the studio.

Science IS exciting, it doesn't need dressing up with neon and a rabble of excited children. Discovering and exploring IS FUNFUNFUN, it doesn't need to come in an explosion of colourful graphics and a car with a personality.

I'm wondering when children's television will grow up and realise that they have the chance to show how living in an age of information has changed children's - all our - lives. This programme could have been made 10, 15, hell 30 years ago, barring a few of the computerised effects. It's sooooo last century.

Friday, January 30, 2009

As a fat woman, I often feel angry that people assume that I spend my days eating cakes and biscuits and in short overeating. In terms of "normal" eating I do not overeat, I don't binge on rubbish food, I do eat an amount I think most people would consider normal. I don't hide cakes and sweets and gorge on them on my own.

In terms of my level of physical activity, I do not do enough exercise. My terrible back problem a couple of years ago has resolved, but for many months I couldn't stand for longer than five or so minutes. Some people have ssumed that my back problem relates to the fact that I am overweight, but my chiropractor disagreed: while he said that it would probably help to lose weight, he also bade me look around his waiting room to see that there are people of all sizes with back problems. It isn't just a fat person's complaint.

I know that some of you will have raised your eyes to the ceiling on my mentioning a chiropractor, because it is seen as little more than pseudoscience by a lot of people. I can only say that I have been to mine unable to straighten up, walking in extreme agony, and have after ten minutes of treatment been able to walk without pain. When you have experienced that it is difficult to care what disagreements arise between conventional medicine and chiropractic.

That there are bad chiropractors and bad chiropractic method I do not dispute: my really bad session of back pain... when I literally could not move without screaming, was caused by the fact that I saw another chiropractor at the practice I attend, rather than my usual one. My usual chiropractor uses the toggle-reflex method of chiropractic, which is normally very gentle, and I find effective.

The back problem was probably associated with the sedentary life I had been leading, which then became a cause of the even more sedentary life I was forced to lead, making progress little by little, week by week. Thus while I say that I eat a normal amount, I was obviously overeating for the level of activity I had.

The problem I find with dieting is that dieting tends to work for a while, but it seems to have an adverse effect on how fat you will be on reverting to your normal eating pattern. I started dieting as a teenager when I was a size 16 at 16, and could find hardly any clothes to fit, and felt very fat. I'd say that although I have become several sizes larger, I have never felt fatter than I did as a teenager. My impression was tha I was enormous and needed to diet, and thus I began 15 years of dieting and losing weight, only to put it back on again.

Eventually I realised that yo-yoing between fat and thin was not only bad for me in itself, but each time I lost weight I lost less, and each time I went back to normal eating I was gaining more.

I believe that my natural weight was around 11 stone, and because I thought that was elephantine, although I was relatively tall in my age group, at five feet eight and a half inches, I compared myself with girls who were only five feet two. By dieting, I reduced my weight to nine stone, at whic point I looked very slim, but I couldn't maintain that weight, and I soon gained more... a pattern which was repeated often in the course of the 15 years.

I tried diets with milkshakes, where you only ate once a day, diets with weight watchers, where the shame of getting on the scales in front of others was supposed to work the magic, diets based around particular food groups or particular foods.

I discovered what many other have discovered: that calorie intake does not necessary have a direct relationship with weight gain or weight loss. On an Atkins variant I was able to eat any quantity of meat or fat, while strictly restricting complex carbohydrates like potatoes and rice.

I tried diets which combine particular foods and diets which avoided particular combinations of food. I usually used to accompany a new diet with a few days of half-hearted exercises, doing sit ups and bends, and a few yoga exercises. I have swum, bicycled and walked my weight down...only to watch it creep back up.

Eventually I did try an expensive diet doctor, whose main job seemed to be to tease me with the news that he could eat what he liked and never put on weight, and talk about deep fried battered zucchini, while handing out amphetamines, which I never took. Then I took the decision, hard as it was, that the cure being worse than the ailment, it would probably be better for my health, my pocket and my wellbeing to simply try to eat healthily, to walk when I could, and to try to limit my contact with things like smoke and alcohol, than to continue down the path of weight loss and weight gain.

Over the years I have looked at the reasons for my weight, looked at social and emotional reasons, but I honestly do not think that they have a big bearing on why I am overweight. When I look through my family album, I see overweight great grandparents, and great-great-grandparents, overweight brothers and sisters, overweight mother. You could assume that there is a group ignorance about food and nutrition but that isn't so. I believe that there are genetic factors in being overweight, jut as there are in the propensity to be underweight and have to eat to try to put on weight.

For years the news has been bad: indeed the most recent government propaganda decress the increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases for people who are overweight.

From time to time there has been a dissenting voice, but these are mostly drowned out by the noise from the others who believe fat is bad, thin is healthy. Now research from the American Journal of the American Geriatric Society (reported here) has concluded that not only are overweight and obese adults at less risk of bad outcomes than the underweight, but that overweight and obese people of 65 may actually have better outcomes in some directions... it isn't a simple formula.

I'm not beginning to say that it is necessarily desirable for anyone to be overweight or obese... just that the dangers should not be exagerrated, and people should not be frightened with bad science. There is always a bias among scientists towards logical stuff that is obvious...sometimes though the logical and obvious can be quite wrong.

That there is resistance to the idea that this might be right, is demonstrated by this commentary on the results on

"....Frankly, I’m not sure what to make of this study. It would suggest that being overweight at 65 doesn’t really matter much, though I have a hard time believing that. I think part of the problem is that with 70% of the country being overweight, comparing people to “average” or “normal” doesn’t really work anymore. The study also did not look at people who were very overweight or obese (a whole different set of health issues). What we need to think about is what the optimal, best-case situation is. It could be that weight plays a bigger role in ages 80+ (something not examined by this study) or that that assumptions made by the statisticians were not valid."

You can almost hear this person grappling mentally with the assault on all their assumptions that the research represents. Even worse, in an article reported on the Big Fat Blog, a doctor concedes that the research that they had done showed that your chances of surviving a heart attack were better if you were overweight, but suggests that this is because fat people can make big changes to their lifestyle post-heart attack, while thin people who had heart attacks didn't have the opportunity to do anything about that, and so they are more likely to die. It sorta makes my head spin. Wha-wha -what now?

In our culture at present, fat is seen as a health risk, unacceptable and something to be eradicated. I think that the success of government propaganda means that even if this is wrong, or wrong at least for elderly people, it will take many years for that information to be accepted by the mainstream, or most people.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A typical morning for me at the moment. I wake up at 5.30am with a letter to the Times in my head, spend an hour or so trying to form my arguments against compulsory inspection, and then find it degenerating into so many pieces of information and so many directions at once, that it becomes incoherent.

Find that someone has answered a family history query on one of the boards, and bemoan once again that don't have the money to order all the certificates I need.

I have this fantasy in which I live in an old rambling house which has enough room for me to have a library come study... a place where I have all my books and a big table for to work on and scatter with the results of my research.

I suddenly realised that I have this superstitious feeling that I shouldn't wish for a room of my own in case I get it because my family throw me out or admit me to the sunset home for eccentric relatives. And suddenly I realised that it would be possible to separate my living area from the family with a room divider of some sort, and hmmm I have to go away and think about this. Maybe I should make it so, Captain, and stop dreaming about it?