Am I on the Wall Street Journal website?!

I was looking through my blog stats today and spotted that I had a few referals from  Check it:


Yup, it looks like The Wall Street Journal website has aggregated the blog post I wrote this week about the Wellsphere kerfuffle.

A quick bit of research and I have discovered that is a blog aggregator and filter that uses to beef out their website with third-party content.  Here’s the blurb: uses OneSpot to find and deliver these headlines and links. To get the list, OneSpot identifies the active members of the health content community by analyzing a set of sources provided by the WSJ editorial staff. OneSpot matches them to thousands of other related sources from around the Web. By continuously monitoring these sites and outbound links, OneSpot generates a list of popular health stories.

I can’t find a complete list of which other blogs WSJ is aggregating, but a quick look at shows that the content of blogging contemporaries of mine such as Medgadget and The Happy Hospitalist is being rated as worthy of inclusion as that of big-name news sites like BBC Health and New York Times Health.

I feel like my blog is really starting to take off recently and this kind of encouraging coverage makes me want to post as often as I can.  Big self-congratulatory pat on the back for me.  Well, not too big – I’m feeling pretty pukey this evening.  I believe an Australian has poisoned me with chicken nuggets.  Not as some kind of post-colonial revenge, but due to poor oven operating skills.  I’m going to go to bed.  Or throw up.  Or throw up then go to bed.  Emphatically not go to bed then throw up.

Less self-absorbed posting will continue on Monday.  Have a good weekend folks!

P.S.  Of course, the difference between this kind of blog aggregation and what Wellsphere is doing is that readers get directed to my website to read the full post.  I get exposure on a well-known website AND the website traffic?  This is the kind of deal Wellsphere should have cut.

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Health bloggers bite back as Wellsphere sells on posts provided for free

Thanks to Robin for the parody of Wellsphere's logo.

Wellsphere, a health community website that brings together information from more than 1,500 medical experts and bloggers, has been sold to HealthCentral Network, a collection medical information websites and condition-specific portals.

Dr Geoffrey Rutledge, Chief Medical Information Officer of Wellsphere, generated content for his site by sending flattering emails to thousands of medicine and health bloggers (sample text “I want to tell you I think your writing is great”, “we are building a network of the web’s leading health bloggers – and I think you would be a great addition”).  Bloggers gave Wellsphere permission to publish the entire RSS feed of their site, i.e. posts they had already written, in return for exposure for their blog and more traffic.

However, the small print of Wellsphere’s terms and conditions states that by giving Wellsphere permission to reproduce their posts, bloggers automatically grant the company “a royalty-free, paid-up, non-exclusive, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual license to use, make, sell, offer to sell, have made, and further sublicense any such User Materials[.]” (Thanks to Symtym for checking this out)

Bloggers who allowed Wellsphere to replicate their posts have suddenly realised that content they happily provided free is no longer theirs and has been sold off to HealthCentral for a profit, and boy are they mad.

Exactly how much HealthCentral paid for Wellsphere has not been disclosed, but neither company is short of cash. Techcrunch reports that Wellsphere has raised $3 million in funding from venture capitalists, whereas HealthCentral has $50 million in capital.  Bloggers are fuming that such well endowed companies haven’t given them a share of the pie, or even consulted them about the consolidation deal.

On the other hand, HealthCentral’s CEO Christopher Schroeder told the Wall Street Journal Health Blog that most bloggers “are happy and we hope with all our resources and quality-content background we will really strengthen these engagements”.  Fat chance, says the blogosphere.  Interestingly, his colleague Jeremy Shane told Medical Marketing & Media that “Wellsphere’s bloggers may be monetized through the placement of banners and other advertising”. Hmm…

For the benefit of other Europeans like me who were happily sleeping while the Wellsphere debacle kicked off in the US, here’s a roundup of the reaction across the blogosphere.

Writing on on Getting Better, Dr Val Jones asks “Is this the biggest scam ever pulled on health bloggers?”, whereas over on Science-based Medicine she goes a step further and calls for “the medical/science/health blogosphere to rise up ‘Motrin moms-style’.” (Last year Motrin, a company that sells analgesic medicines, tried to sell product to Mums who carry their child in a sling or a wrap by pointing out that this practice could cause back pain, and also for good measure said that ‘baby carrying’ was a fad that made Mums look “tired and crazy”. Unsurprisingly, Mums didn’t take kindly to this and headed to the internet in droves to voice their outrage, eventually forcing Motrin to take down the offensive advert and apologize to each Mother who had complained). Dr Val discusses the issue at more length in yesterday’s Doctor Anonymous show.

Jenni Prokopy, Editor of, is sympathetic to bloggers who feel short changed by Wellsphere’s actions. She does point out, however, that blogging constitutes proper publishing and as such writers should be thinking about getting paid and about their rights regarding copyright and intellectual property.

On Musings of a Distractible Mind, Dr Rob details his lucky escape from Wellsphere after 4 months of syndication provided him with zero extra traffic.

Theresa Chan, author of Rural Doctoring, is nervous about possible sinister outcomes of Wellsphere’s approach to content. “What if they decided to compile and publish a book for sale on their site, entitled 1001 Health Tips From Real Doctors, and proceeded to include one of my posts verbatim, along with posts by a proponent of chelation therapy for operable coronary artery disease and an anti-vaccination followers of Jenny McCarthy?”, she asks.  “Their Terms of Service would give them the right to use my post in their book, and I would have no control over the implications of association with other content I strongly oppose.”  Kevin, M.D. likewise is suspicious of Wellsphere’s motives, and asks “Is WellSphere a scam, and is its leadership laughing all the way to the bank after the HealthCentral acquisition?”.

Ana, a Brazilian who writes about mental health, tried to get out of Wellsphere mere days before the storm kicked off – I wonder how she’s getting on, as diabetes patient Kerri Morrone Sparling of SixUntilMe had to resort to shock tactics to get her Wellsphere account deleted.

My Strong Medicine, Beyond Meds and The Butter Compartment have all also given their two penneth on the Wellsphere scandal.

Over on Twitter there is reams of discussion on the subject of WellsphereDr. Vijay Sadasivam, who blogs at Scan Man’s Notes, points out a 2007 expose of office life at Wellsphere, and TrishaTorrey notes that Wellsphere are on Twitter themselves (@wellsphere) and should be copied in on any complaints.

And me?  I was also approached by Wellsphere last year but turned down their offer mainly on the basis of their shonky web design.  I thought their homepage was completely unhelpful, giving away nothing about what the site was for, and their WellPages portals, although packed with pretty good content, weren’t exactly easy to find or navigate.  I also read a post from August 2008 on the Neurocritic blog and took heed of their gossip on Wellsphere’s employees and business approach, and read on The Assertive Cancer Patient about how ill advised it is to sign away your blog – your own intellectual property – to a company like Wellsphere.

Like the Assertive Cancer Patient, I am also a freelance writer.  Although I happily blog for free – for pleasure and as an online CV – I know that if I chose to I could sell the same quality writing, or even the exact same post, to a newspaper or magazine; thus, giving it away is just silly.

So where does this leave bloggers?  If you’re happy with the exposure Wellsphere is giving your blog then you don’t necessarily need to do anything, but most bloggers are severely irked by how they have been treated by the company and are doing their best to delete their account.

If anything, this whole kerfuffle has been a lesson to the whole blogosphere on the importance of protecting your intellectual property online (check for more info on this subject) and on how crucial it is to read the small print.

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So you won’t go blind, but you might get prostate cancer

This one's a myth. You should be worried about your prostate gland instead.
This one's a myth. You should be worried about your prostate gland instead.

Although the schoolyard rumours that masturbation causes blindness or hairy palms aren’t true, a new study published in BJU International has found that too much playing solo in your twenties and thirties can increase the risk of prostate cancer.

The study of more than 800 men found that a high level of sexual activity or masturbation before the onset of middle age was associated with subsequent development of prostate cancer.

The authors suggest that the elevated levels of sex hormones some men experience in their twenties and thirties could be responsible for both a high sex drive and a high risk of prostate cancer later in life.

This British study retrospectively studied the sexual habits of 431 men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 60 and compared their reported behaviour with that of 409 healthy controls.

The authors found that men with prostate cancer were more likely to be very sexually active in their twenties and thirties – that is, had intercourse or masturbated 20 times a month or more – than were controls.  In fact, 40% of the men who had prostate cancer  were categorized as being very sexually active in their twenties compared with 32% of men in the control group. This pattern pretty much persisted throughout the men’s thirties and forties, and the differences in sexual activity evened out in their fifties.

Men with prostate cancer were also more apt to masturbate frequently than were men in the control group, with the greatest difference observed when the men were in their twenties (34% versus 24%) and thirties (41% versus 31%).

“Overall we found a significant association between prostate cancer and sexual activity in a man’s twenties and between masturbation and prostate cancer in the twenties and thirties. However there was no significant association between sexual activity and prostate cancer in a man’s forties”, said lead author Dr Polyxeni Dimitropoulou.

“A possible explanation for the protective effect that men in their fifties appear to receive from overall sexual activity, and particularly masturbation, is that the release of accumulated toxins during sexual activity reduces the risk of developing cancer in the prostate area. This theory has, however, not been firmly established and further research is necessary.”

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK, accounting for nearly a quarter of all new male cancer diagnoses. Cancer Research UK estimates that one man is diagnosed with prostate cancer every 15 minutes in the UK.

Dimitropoulou P et al. (2009) Sexual activity and prostate cancer risk in men diagnosed at a younger age. BJU International 103 (2): 178-185 DOI: 10.1111/j.1464-410X.2008.08030.x

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Spousal abuse increases the risk of miscarriage by 50%

Domestic violence against women, more specifically violence perpetrated by a partner or spouse, is an important problem worldwide.  A 2005 study by the World Health Organization that assessed 24,000 women in 10 countries found that between 15% and 71% of women had experienced physical or sexual violence, or both, at the hands of their partner.  Women in rural areas in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru, and the United Republic of Tanzania were most likely to suffer abuse; alarmingly, as many as 71% of women in Ethiopia reported having experienced sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner.

Physical violence can also occur during pregnancy, with such abuse often involving blows or kicks to the abdomen. Of all women in the WHO study who who reported spousal abuse, between 11% and 44% also experienced violence during pregnancy.  Not surprisingly, abuse during pregnancy is associated with adverse birth outcomes.

A new study published this week in British journal The Lancet has found that spousal violence during pregnancy can also affect unborn babies, increasing the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth by 50% in women in sub-Saharan Africa.  Given that such a large proportion of risk for fetal mortality can be pinned onto spousal violence, such fetal deaths are potentially preventable; indeed, this study showed that interventions that reduce domestic violence could prevent more than a third of fetal deaths.

The authors of this study interviewed 2,562 women of childbearing age who lived in Cameroon, a large and relatively stable country on the west coast of Africa.  Participants were asked about their experiences of emotional, physical, and sexual violence from their spouse and whether they had ever had a spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or a stillbirth.

In total, more than half of the women interviewed reported having experienced at least one type of violence from their husband, most typically physical violence (39%), followed by emotional (31%) and sexual (15%) abuse.

Compared with women who had not experienced any form of domestic violence, women who had experienced abuse were 50% more likely to have had a miscarriage or stillbirth. Women who were exposed to at least two types of violence (for example both physical and emotional abuse) had a higher frequency of fetal death than did victims of only one type of violence.

Strikingly, emotional violence was almost as strongly associated with fetal death as were physical abuse and sexual violence; however, the strongest link between spousal violence and fetal death was seen in women who suffered sexual abuse. On the other hand, women who experienced emotional abuse were most likely to have repeated instances of miscarriage or stillbirth.

This study also threw up some rather surprising results.  Women married to men with some education were more likely to have experienced domestic violence than were women married to uneducated men, and women in the richer categories were also more likely to experience abuse than their poorer counterparts.  These results are at odds with findings elsewhere: as the authors point out, “in the USA, abused women tend to be younger, less educated, and more economically disadvantaged”.

Estimates in this study suggest that interventions to prevent spousal abuse could also prevent a considerable proportion of miscarriages and stillbirths.  An intervention that is 100% effective at reducing domestic violence, or even one that is only 75% effective, could prevent up to a third of fetal deaths.

Writing in a comment article that accompanies this research, Claudia Garcia-Moreno, a member of the WHO Department of Reproductive Health and Research in Geneva, discusses the significance of these findings.

This study is an important contribution to the field, because it is one of the first to document this association [between spousal abuse and fetal death] and one of the first in Africa, where the rate of fetal loss is high. [The authors] highlight the important contribution that addressing intimate-partner violence can make in prevention, particularly recurrent fetal loss, and in the improvement of maternal and neonatal health.

It is important that public-health initiatives to prevent spousal abuse are implemented, not only in sub-Saharan Africa but worldwide, in order to prevent unnecessary fetal deaths and to protect the health and wellbeing of pregnant women.  Given that during pregnancy is one of the only times that healthy women have frequent scheduled contact with the health system, it is important, both for mother and baby, that antenatal care is improved so that women suffering at the hands of their partners can be identified and offered support.


Alio A et al. (2009) Spousal violence and potentially preventable single and recurrent spontaneous fetal loss in an African setting: cross-sectional study The Lancet 373 (9660): 318-324 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60096-9

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Pharmaceutical industry promotion of off-label prescribing – responsible or reckless?

fda-logoLast week the US Food and Drug Administration ruled that the pharmaceutical industry could promote drugs for uses that haven’t been cleared by the regulatory body.  The new FDA guidelines permit the “dissemination of medical journal articles and medical or scientific reference publications on unapproved uses of drugs and medical devices.”

In order to be prescribed to treat a certain disease, a drug needs to be formally assessed and approved for this use by the FDA. The practice of ‘off-label prescribing’ entails doctors using a drug to treat a particular disease regardless of whether the FDA has confirmed that the drug is a safe and effective treatment for the disease in question.  As the FDA puts it, “Once a drug or medical device has been approved or cleared by FDA, generally, healthcare professionals may lawfully use or prescribe that product for uses or treatment regimens that are not included in the product’s approved labeling”.

Off-label prescribing is reasonably common, even though you may not have heard it described this way.  An article published in Archives of Internal Medicine in 2006 reported that more than 20% of prescriptions in the US during 2001 were for off-label uses of a drug. One example of off-label prescribing is the use of the drug Avastin – approved by the FDA for the treatment of metastatic colorectal cancer and breast cancer – to treat the condition wet macular degeneration, an age-related eye disease that can lead to vision loss.

The FDA highlight the importance of off-label prescribing, stating that “These off-label uses or treatment regimens may be important and may even constitute a medically recognized standard of care”.  Such practices permit innovation and allow physicians to use their own judgment on the basis of their personal experience prescribing a drug.

The new FDA guidelines sound like good news for the pharmaceutical industry. By promoting off-label uses of already approved drugs, companies can squeeze more profit out of ‘old’ drugs and can ease off the lengthy and expensive process of investigating novel drugs.  But what’s to stop such companies ruthlessly promoting dubious off-label uses for established drugs and risking the health of patients by encouraging doctors to use drugs when there’s not adequate evidence of their efficacy for a certain disease?

Well, the new FDA guidelines include a lot of restrictions as to exactly how off-label uses can be promoted to doctors.  For starters, the guidelines discuss the use of journal articles or medical publications to promote off-label prescribing, meaning that pharmaceutical sales reps will be handing out genuine research that has been conducted by independent groups, not self-penned marketing material.

The guidelines also include lots of important limitations on what type of journal articles, or reprints, can be handed out, including that the articles must:

  • Be published in a peer-reviewed journal that has experts on the subject on the editorial board
  • Not be part of a publication or supplement that is funded in whole or in part by the company that wishes to use the article
  • Be in the form of an unabridged reprint, copy of an article, or reference publication
  • Not be marked, highlighted, summarized, or characterized by the manufacturer in any way
  • Be disseminated with a representative publication, when such information exists, that reaches contrary or different conclusions regarding the unapproved use
  • Be distributed separately from information that is promotional in nature. For example, if a sales representative delivers a reprint to a physician in his office, the reprint should not be physically attached to any promotional material the sales representative uses or delivers during the office visit and should not be the subject of discussion between the sales representative and the physician during the sales visit

So the FDA have done their best to tie up pharmaceutical companies in such a way as to ensure that doctors receive the most accurate and unbiased information possible on off-label drug uses.

Having said that, bias and conflict of interest is an important problem here – of course sales representatives are going to do their best to only hand out journal articles that show the off-label use of their drug in a positive light.  You can bet that pharmaceutical companies won’t be providing doctors with the full body of evidence when it comes to use of their drug for a particular disease, as cumulatively such research could be more ambivalent about the benefits of an off-label use.

Also, in many cases even the total body of evidence doesn’t show that an off-label use is effective.  Indeed, the aforementioned Archives of Internal Medicine paper showed that three-quarters of off-label uses were not backed up by scientific evidence.  There is an argument that the clinical trials process and the publication procedure lags behind real life, and that although there are no trials showing that an off-label use is effective, many doctors will have prescribed a drug this way and seen the beneficial results for themselves.  Fair enough, to a degree, but this undermines the whole issue of the pharmaceutical industry giving out published research on off-label uses anyway, so will be of little interest to such companies.

Finally, how on earth is the FDA going to police their restrictions?  They can insist that the pharmaceutical industry follows their rules, but there is plenty of evidence that such regulations are regularly flouted.  For example, despite the new guidelines, the straightforward marketing of a drug for uses not cleared by the FDA is still illegal.  Global pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly used catchy slogans to persuade doctors to prescribe the antipsychotic agent Zyprexa for unauthorized use in elderly patients and has this month been fined $1.5 billion for doing so.

I’m not the only one with misgivings about these well-intentioned but ultimately flawed guidelines.  California senator Henry Waxman told Medscape that the new FDA decision “fundamentally undermines the requirement that companies prove to the FDA that each new use is safe and effective” and makes it easier for drugmakers to promote potentially risky medical practices.  Over on Nature Network, research scientist Craig Rowell proclaimed that “Alarm bells should be ringing” – despite his support of off-label prescribing, Craig is still deeply skeptical that pharmaceutical companies will stick faithfully to the restrictions.

What’s the bottom line for patients here?  Many will benefit from by off-label prescribing, or at least not be harmed, and doctors will be better able to prescribe off label if they are thoroughly informed about such practices.  The sticking point is whether the pharmaceutical industry can be relied on to accurately and fairly disseminate information about off-label uses; experience suggests probably not.  Whether the FDA has made a shrewd move in getting pharmaceutical companies to do this promotion for them, or a big mistake, remains to be seen.

  • The Pharma Marketing blog has an interesting post on this issue, which discusses policing of the new guidelines and the efficacy – or not – of off-label prescribing.
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A stressful job doubles the likelihood of stroke – but only for men

job-stressA study published in Annals of Internal Medicine has found that men with a stressful job are twice as likely to have a stroke than are men with less demanding jobs.  Interestingly, there was no correlation between job stress and incidence of stroke among women.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is cut off, for example when a clot blocks one of the blood vessels supplying the brain.  Stroke can cause permanent neurological damage and even death, and has been linked to stress for quite some time.

Tsutsumi et al. interviewed 3,190 Japanese men and 3,363 Japanese women from a variety of job backgrounds, including managers, professionals, technicians, clerks, salespeople, farmers, craftsmen and labourers.  The level of occupational stress experienced by these workers was evaluated and participants were placed into four stress categories: high strain (high job demand + low job control); active job (high job demand + high job control); low strain (low job demand + high job control); and passive job (low job demand + low job control).

Over the next 11 years, 91 men and 56 women experienced a stroke.  Men under high job strain – i.e. those with lots of demands on their shoulders and with little control of their workload – were twice as likely to experience a stroke than were men under low strain.  In women, however, the incidence of stroke was the similar among those with a stressful job and those under less strain.

Among men, the association between job stress and stroke lessened somewhat when other risk factors for stroke, such as obesity and high blood pressure, were taken into account, suggesting that pre-existing chronic diseases and an unhealthy lifestyle up the chance of stroke in stressed out employees.

The authors of the study suggest that that the difference between the sexes could be because women approach stressful jobs differently to men or because more women than men work part-time.
Akizumi Tsutsumi, Kazunori Kayaba, Kazuomi Kario, and Shizukiyo Ishikawa (2009) Prospective Study on Occupational Stress and Risk of Stroke Arch Intern Med 169 (1): 56-61

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Here it is, your heart

The British Heart Foundation has launched a new advertising campaign that features an amazing real-time simulation of a beating heart.

The campaign confronts viewers with the perhaps gory but nevertheless fascinating reality of the most vital of vital organs, and challenges them to think about heart and circulatory disease – Britain’s biggest killer.

British Heart Foundation Director of Policy and Communications, Betty McBride, said, “We wanted to confront people with the reality of what a working heart looks like. This is a rare chance for people to see in incredible detail how it works. We expect people to react in lots of different ways – whether it’s amazed, squeamish or disturbed. It’s vital that we get people to take time to think about their heart health.”

The Virtual Heart Simulator was developed in a collaboration between specialists at The Heart Hospital in London and design agency Glassworks. The British Heart Foundation boasts that this fantastic video represents “the biggest technical advancement since Leonardo da Vinci sketched the heart 500 years ago.”

The campaign advertises the guidance and advice that the British Heart Foundation provides, not least through its Heart Helpline, where cardiac nurses and information officers are on hand 9am-10pm, seven days a week, to provide free confidential information on heart health issues.

The campaign website also features a helpful A-Z of the heart, which explains in plain english cardiology terms such as ‘supraventricular tachycardia’ and ‘cardiomyopathy’.

  • You can call the Heart Helpline on 0300 333 1 333, or alternatively peruse the British Heart Foundation website for stacks of information on heart health
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One in five children with cancer receive wrong chemotherapy doses

ChemotherapyA study of nearly 1,400 adult and pediatric cancer patients published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology has found that 19% of children taking chemotherapy drugs in outpatient clinics or at home were subject to some sort of medication error.  In addition, 7% of adult cancer outpatients also were on the receiving end of chemotherapy mistakes.

Alarmingly, approximately 40% medication errors in children had the potential to cause harm, and four children were actually injured.

“As cancer care shifts from the hospital to the outpatient setting, adults and children with cancer receive more complicated, potentially toxic medication regimens in the clinic and home,” said Dr Kathleen Walsh, study leader and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.  Given that outpatients are essentially required to administer these complex regimens themselves without any medical guidance, errors in medication are, therefore, quite likely.

In this study, the authors retrospectively examined medical records from outpatient visits at three adult and one pediatric oncology clinic.  In total, 1,262 adult patient visits involving 10,995 medications and 117 pediatric visits involving 913 medications were assessed.

Of the adult visits, 90 were associated with a medication error, whereas 22 pediatric visits involved a chemotherapy mistake. More than 70% of the errors in children occurred at home, whereas in adults chemotherapy errors were much more likely in the clinic (>50% of cases).

One of the key types of medication error recorded in adults was administration of an incorrect dose due to confusion over conflicting instructions. In some cases, medication orders for several months of chemotherapy would be written at the beginning of treatment, and doses would then be adjusted as needed at each clinic visit. Patients thus had an initial set of orders and a modified set instructions written on the day of the outpatient visit, causing much bewilderment when it came to the time of administration.

A considerable proportion of the medication errors in children were due to parents’ confusion about instructions, which resulted in the child receiving the wrong dose or the wrong number of doses per day.

“Requiring that medication orders be written on the day of administration, following review of lab results, may be a simple strategy for preventing errors among adults, while most of the errors involving children may have been avoided by better communication and support for parents of children who use chemotherapy medications at home,” said Dr Walsh.

In addition, information technology such as computer order entry, electronic medication administration records and bar-coding – which have proved effective in hospitals – might also help prevent medication errors in an outpatient setting.


Walsh KE et al. (2008) Medication Errors Among Adults and Children With Cancer in the Outpatient Setting. Journal of Clinical Oncology DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2008.18.6072

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Government to tackle obesity with Change4Life campaign

Change 4 LifeI recently blogged about the alarming rates of obesity among children in England, with one in four 4-5 year old children and one in three 10-11 year olds in this country obese or overweight. The Foresight report, published in 2007, ominously predicts that by 2050 90% of British children will be overweight or obese.

The British Government has now responded to this issue by launching a huge campaign to persuade the population to switch to a healthier lifestyle. The Change4Life strategy will promote the message “eat well, move more, live longer” on TV, in the press, on billboards and online initially for 3 months, and will continue over 3 years.  The initiative will be supported by £200m of advertising and marketing donated by food companies such as Tesco, Mars, Nestlé and Flora.

Dawn Primarolo, minister for public health, said today: “We are trying to create a lifestyle revolution on a grand scale. There are very serious health consequences with allowing dangerous quantities of fat to build up in our bodies. This is not just an ad campaign – we are calling it a lifestyle revolution – it is a long-running concerted effort to change behavior.”

The television campaign launches on Saturday 3rd January with adverts designed by Aardman Animations, the people behind the much loved plasticine duo Wallace and Gromit.  The engaging clip is designed to warn viewers of the health risks associated with being overweight and is targeted at helping young families change their lifestyle for good.

Change4Life is the biggest Government campaign ever launched and is expected to follow in the success of similar cross-media anti-smoking initiatives.  Unlike anti-smoking public awareness strategies though, this campaign steers away from shock tactics and instead offers practical advice.

Critics have been quick to point out that the involvement of food companies in the campaign is a way for such corporations to cast their brand in a healthy light without actually changing the salt or fat content of their food.  Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum warned that junk food companies were donating millions to the campaign as a way of heading off the “regulation they fear”.

The Telegraph notes that “neither the leaflets nor the screen advertisements use the word obesity”, preferring instead to state that children could grow up to have “dangerous levels of fat in their body”.  The campaign is designed to avoid pointing the finger at any one group, however, specifically avoiding talking about ‘fat bodies’ and blaming modern life rather than parents.

Let’s hope that the more kindly, blame-free approach of Change4Life gets the people of the UK off the sofa and helps to avert our obesity timebomb.

  • If you’re skeptical, the Big Question in The Independent casts a critical eye over the Change4Life campaign, asking whether the Government can really make us eat less.
  • On the other hand, it you want to get serious about improving your lifestyle there is stacks of information on how to eat better, move more and live longer on the Change4Life website.
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