Friday, 29 July 2016

Ridiculous comparisons (part two)

On Wednesday I mentioned the tendency of 'public health' folk to compare their ample budgets with a completely unrelated number. In that instance, it was Yoni Freedhof comparing the cost of a single cancer research programme to the combined marketing budgets of US food companies. What point was he making? God only knows.

I thought that was a particularly silly example, but you can always count on Stanton Glantz to up the ante...

States spend more on movies that push smoking than on programs to prevent it

The fourteen states hand out the most lavish subsidies to Hollywood film producers together spent $1.48 billion on movies proven to recruit kids to smoke from 2010 to 2016 — $150 million more than they invested over the same period to reduce smoking.

2010 to 2016, six individual states spent more to subsidize smoking movies than on programs to reduce smoking: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada and New Mexico.

New York State and Pennsylvania spent nearly as much to promote smoking as they did to reduce smoking. California, Connecticut and North Carolina spent at least two-thirds as much on films with smoking as they did on tobacco control.

Together, the fourteen states with the most active film subsidy programs spent $1.47 billion on top-grossing movies that promote smoking between 2010 and mid-2016, compared to $1.33 billion for smoking prevention.

To understand what on earth Glantz is talking about you have to understand that he is a fruitcake who thinks that any film that shows tobacco use in any context, however briefly, is 'promoting smoking'.

He therefore thinks that a dollar spent subsidising a movie is directly comparable to a dollar spent on projects that explicitly tell people not to smoke.

There's not much more to say about this. These people are just insane.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Offices are the new smoking

 The Lancet has published a meta-analysis looking at the effect of exercise on sedentary lifestyles. It's been rather sensationally reported (see above - the study doesn't actually mention working in an office), but the gist is this...

In the study, participants, mostly aged over 45, were classed by their levels of physical activity – from up to five minutes a day to more than an hour – and by the amount of time spent seated.

This was compared with death rates over up to 18 years among the adults, who came from western Europe, Australia and the US.

Among those who sat for at least eight hours daily and managed less than five minutes’ activity mortality rates were 9.9 per cent.

But those who spent just as long seated, but managed at least an hour’s exercise, saw death rates drop to 6.2 per cent.

Maybe this is solid science, maybe it's more epidemiological trash, but there was a time when this information would be passed on to the public by way of advice and we would do with it what we wanted. We could, for example, ignore it - more than 90 per cent of both groups were still alive at the study's conclusion after all.

But times have changed and so, inevitably...

“This report is showing that inactivity kills,” he said. “When we realised this about smoking we tackled it – we need to do the same about our office culture.”

The Telegraph mentions various policy options to counter the seductive marketing of Big Furniture, including this gem...

These include placing bus stops further apart to force people to walk longer to and from them

Good grief.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Weird beliefs about advertising

A bit of dada free association at the Weighty Matters blog...

Did you hear about the "Cancer Moonshot 2020"?

In their words,
"The Cancer MoonShot 2020 Program is one of the most comprehensive cancer collaborative initiatives launched to date, seeking to accelerate the potential of combination immunotherapy as the next generation standard of care in cancer patients."
And so what's the cost of this ambitious program over the course of the next 5 years?

$1 billion.

Sound impressive?

Maybe less so when you consider that according to AdAge, in 2014 alone, the top 25 US food industry brands spent just shy of 15x that amount advertising their products.

That's a moonshot worth every 3 weeks or so!


What is the reader supposed to conclude from this comparison between two random budgets other than the author is strangely preoccupied by food advertising? What is the connection between a government-funded cancer research programme and the combined marketing budgets of the American food sector?

Perhaps Yoni Freedhof - for it is he - can explain?

If we want to see population level improvements to diet, no doubt that part of the requirement will be food industry advertising reform. Banning advertising that targets kids altogether, reforming front-of-package claims, cracking down on deceit, and more, because with a cancer moonshot of food industry advertising every three weeks, consumers don't stand a chance if we don't. 

No, apparently he can't explain. He might as well be comparing the cost of the Apollo 11 space programme with the price of fish in Tanzania. The two variables have absolutely no relationship to each other.

Why pick out the Cancer Moonshot project? Why not use the USA's $77 billion public health budget as the comparison? Is it because that number is too big to make whatever point Freedhoff is trying to make? Hell, why not take the $3.7 trillion that the federal government spends each year and compare it to the $1.4 billion ad spend of McDonalds? Anything can be made to look small if you put it next to something big.

You see these idiotic comparisons in 'public health' propaganda all the time, although they are usually more coherent than this one. Typically they compare the advertising spend of whatever industry they're going after and compare it to whatever 'public health' budget is supposed to be tackling the associated health issue. Take this from a health select committee, for example...

Better education and information are the main planks of the Government's alcohol strategy. Unfortunately, the evidence is that they are not very effective. Moreover, the low level of Government spending on alcohol information and education campaigns, which amounts to £17.6m in 2009/10 makes it even more unlikely they will have much effect. In contrast, the drinks industry is estimated to spend £600-800m per annum on promoting alcohol.

Note the false dichotomy, as if the drinks industry advertising budget is designed to counter the claims made in government education campaigns. As if a pound spent in a classroom was equal to a pound spent in a commercial. As if alcohol advertising was intended - or was even allowed by law - to encourage people to drink excessively or to tell people that excessive drinking is not bad for your health. As if, as if, as if.

The truth is more mundane. As ample empirical research has shown, much advertising is defensive; it seeks to keep customers loyal to the brand. Most of the rest of it aims to get consumers of other companies' brands to switch. Then there is the small chunk of advertising that announces the appearance of new products.

A lot of advertising therefore cancels itself out, but companies cannot afford to stop advertising because that would give the advantage to their competitors. It's game theory and economists' classical objection to advertising was that it was a waste of resources for this reason, but there is evidence that advertising creates economies of scale and provides other benefits which arguably outweigh that problem.

See Advertising in a Free Society for the details, but my point here is that you can't treat the government's health education budget and an industry's advertising budget as if they were two sides of the same coin, and then pretend that one side is David and the other side is Goliath. And you obviously can't make bizarre comparisons like the one above and pretend that it means anything at all.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

It's not just Prince George who lives off public money

This charmer from the third sector has decided to have a pop at a three year old boy...

Charity Boss' Prince George Comments Probed

A senior British Council employee is being investigated after allegedly criticising Prince George for living "on public money".

Angela Gibbins, head of global estates at the charity - of which the Queen is a patron - was reported to have commented on a Facebook picture of the three-year-old Prince captioned: "Prince George already looks like a f****** d***head".

Ms Gibbins is alleged to have posted: "White privilege. That cheeky grin is the innate knowledge he's royal, rich, advantaged and will never know *any* difficulties or hardships in life."

Bloody sponging toddlers! Why don't they go and get a job, eh?

For what it's worth, I think the royal family should be living off their estates rather than being given taxpayers' money, but that's not the question. The question is where does this class warrior and her charity get their money? You won't be surprised to hear that they get most of from me and you.

Click to enlarge. The usual suspects are here dishing out millions and millions of pounds. Most of it comes from the Foreign Office but the Department for Education, Welsh Government, European Commission, Scottish government, BIS and even the US state department are all listed. Still, at least they managed to get £2,000 from individual donors which is more than some sockpuppet charities reel in. 

I'm sure the British Council does good work etc. but you also won't be surprised to hear that the staff at this organisation are very well remunerated. 363 of them are on more than £60,000, of whom 58 are on six figure salaries. Being a 'senior employee', we can assume that Angela Gibbins is one of them.

And you'll be totally unsurprised to hear that Ms Gibbins is self-described socialist. 

When challenged for her apparent comments, reported in The Sun, Ms Gibbins is said to have replied to other users: "I'm sound in my socialist, atheist and republican opinions.

"I don't believe the royal family have any place in a modern democracy, least of all when they live on public money. That's privilege and it needs to end."

I'm sure her rabid views and prejudices are par for the course in the state-funded part of the 'third sector', but please Ms Gibbins, have a bit of self-awareness.

Monday, 25 July 2016

From Turkey Twizzlers to Chicken Nuggets

Turkey Twizzlers are fondly remembered by a generation who have never forgiven Jamie Oliver for getting them banned in schools. That was a decade ago and Oliver's contempt for frozen processed meat products has now been softened by his one true love: money.

As the founder of a self-styled “food revolution”, Jamie Oliver has made a career of encouraging families to cook “fresh, real food”.

But now the celebrity chef faces the prospect of losing his reputation as a champion of healthy home-cooking, after signing a multi-million pound deal for frozen, ready-meals with one of the world’s biggest chicken producers.

Oliver is to put his name to a range of pre-prepared poultry products made by Sadia, a division of the Brazilian food giant BRF Brazil.

Sadia make delicious products such Kid's Club Chicken Nuggets which are very much aimed at children...

Nothing wrong with that, of course, unless you happen to be a mockney mouth-breathing self-publicist who spent years getting this stuff out of school canteens, in which case you could look like a greedy hypocrite.

While Oliver said the deal, worth £11.5 million, gave him an opportunity to make “lasting change on a large scale” in the country, critics suggested he was betraying his principles.

Elisabetta Recine, coordinator of the Observatory of Food Security and Nutrition Policies and a professor at the School of Nutrition at the University of Brasília, said the chef’s decision to work with Sadia was “regrettable”.

“He’s a public figure who has built his image on local produce, home-cooking and fresh food,” she said.

“Sadia is a chain linked to intensive production. He has betrayed the narrative that he has built. “Jamie Oliver won’t make Sadia better but Sadia will make Jamie Oliver worse.”

I'm not sure he could get any worse, but at least a few people are starting to him as he is.

PS. Oliver's big thing these days is the mad war on sugar. Sugar is such a basic part of the diet that no chef could take part in this crusade without being a hypocrite. For the record, his recipe for pork belly and watermelon salad in yesterday's Sunday Times has more sugar in it than a can of Dr Pepper. If the Sunday Times used the labelling system that Oliver has demanded for fizzy drinks, it would show seven teaspoons.

Friday, 22 July 2016

The study that isn't

Hop over to Spectator Health to see what I have to say about this bullshit (above).

Also, I've written about poverty and inequality under the Cameron/Clegg government at the IEA blog.

Aseem Malhotra's fitness video

Consistent with my predictions about his career trajectory, purveyor of low quality nutritional advice, Aseem Malhotra, has made a diet video.

It's yours to own for just $19.99. That's about $19.98 more than I am prepared to pay but there is a trailer to watch for free in which Malhotra writes down ingredients in a Mediterranean restaurant and calls it the Mediterranean diet. He also takes part in some amusing physical activities.