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Sunday, June 10, 2012

May I have your attention please?

This one is for all those people out there - talk show hosts like Redi Thlabi, for example - who frequently voice the concept that "fat people just have no willpower, they could easliy lose weight if they wanted to". I would like you to note the following quote (and this blogger has seen similar comments from obesity experts worldwide): "Weight status actually appears rather uncontrollable, regardless of one's willpower, knowledge, and dedication. Yet many people who are perceived as 'fat' are struggling in vain to lose weight in order to escape this painful social stigma. We need to rethink our approaches to, and views of, weight and obesity."

Female fat prejudice persists even after weight loss, study finds

Overweight women may never escape the painful stigma of obesity – even after they have shed the pounds, new research suggests.

The study, by the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, The University of Manchester, and Monash University, examined whether anti-fat prejudice against women persisted even after they had lost significant weight and were now thin.

The researchers asked young men and women to read vignettes describing a woman who had either lost weight (70 pounds/32 kilograms) or had remained weight stable, and who was either currently obese or currently thin. Participants were then asked their opinions about this woman on a number of attributes, such as how attractive they found her, and their overall dislike for fat people.

The team found that participants in the study – published in the journal Obesity – expressed greater bias against obese people after reading about women who had lost weight than after reading about women who had remained weight stable, regardless of whether the weight-stable woman was thin or obese.

"We were surprised to find that currently thin women were viewed differently depending on their weight history," said Dr Janet Latner, study lead at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, US. "Those who had been obese in the past were perceived as less attractive than those who had always been thin, despite having identical height and weight."

One of the more disturbing findings from the study, the researchers noted, was that negative attitudes towards obese people increase when participants are falsely told that body weight is easily controllable.

Co-author, Dr Kerry O'Brien, from the University of Manchester's School of Psychological Sciences and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, said: "The message we often hear from society is that weight is highly controllable, but the best science in the obesity field at the moment suggests that one's physiology and genetics, as well as the food environment, are the really big players in one's weight status and weight-loss.

"Weight status actually appears rather uncontrollable, regardless of one's willpower, knowledge, and dedication. Yet many people who are perceived as 'fat' are struggling in vain to lose weight in order to escape this painful social stigma. We need to rethink our approaches to, and views of, weight and obesity."

The findings, say the authors, demonstrate that residual obesity stigma persists against individuals who have ever been obese, even when they have lost substantial amounts of weight. Obesity stigma is so powerful and enduring that it appears to even outlast the obesity itself.

Dr Latner added: "Descriptions of weight loss, such as those often promoted on television, may significantly worsen obesity stigma. Believing that obese people can easily lose weight may make individuals blame and dislike obese people more.

"The findings demonstrate that residual obesity stigma persists against individuals who have ever been obese, even when they have lost substantial amounts of weight. Obesity stigma is so powerful and enduring that it may even outlast the obesity itself. Given the great number of people who may be negatively affected by this prejudice, obesity discrimination clearly needs to be reduced on a societal level."
(Published by EurekAlert, 29 May 2012)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Oh bugger...

China spurred a jump in global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to their highest ever recorded level in 2011, offsetting falls in the United States and Europe, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Thursday.

CO2 emissions rose by 3.2 percent last year to 31.6 billion metric tons (34.83 billion tons), preliminary estimates from the Paris-based IEA showed.

China, the world's biggest emitter of CO2, made the largest contribution to the global rise, its emissions increasing by 9.3 percent, the body said, driven mainly by higher coal use.

"When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of 6 degrees Celsius (by 2050), which would have devastating consequences for the planet," Fatih Birol, IEA's chief economist told Reuters.

Scientists say ensuring global average temperatures this century do not rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is needed to limit devastating climate effects like crop failure and melting glaciers.
(Reuters, 25 May 2012)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Diabetes: rethink necessary?

The Swedes have done some of the most interesting research on diet and nutrition in recent years. Here, reported by AlpahGalileo Alerts this week, is something that adds weight (pardon the pun) to the low-carb/high fat lobby. I must say, the science is beginning to mount up.
High-fat diet lowered blood sugar and improved blood lipids in diabetics
11 May 2012 Linköping Universitet
People with Type 2 diabetes are usually advised to keep a low-fat diet. Now, a study at Linköping University shows that food with a lot of fat and few carbohydrates could have a better effect on blood sugar levels and blood lipids.
The results of a two-year dietary study led by Hans Guldbrand, general practitioner, and Fredrik Nyström, professor of Internal Medicine, are being published in the prestigious journal Diabetologia. 61 patients were included in the study of Type 2, or adult-onset diabetes. They were randomized into two groups, where they followed either a low-carbohydrate (high fat) diet or a low-fat diet.
In both groups, the participants lost approximately 4 kg on average. In addition, a clear improvement in the glycaemic control was seen in the low-carbohydrate group after six months. Their average blood sugar level dropped from 58.5 to 53.7 mmol/mol (the unit for average blood glucose). This means that the intensity of the treatment for diabetes could also be reduced, and the amounts of insulin were lowered by 30%.
Despite the increased fat intake with a larger portion of saturated fatty acids, their lipoproteins did not get worse. Quite the contrary – the HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol, content increased on the high fat diet.
No statistically certain improvements, either of the glycaemic controls or the lipoproteins, were seen in the low-fat group, despite the weight loss.

Here's how they ate (the low-carb group was getting quite a lot of their daily intake from carbs, actually):
In the low-carbohydrate diet, 50% of the energy came from fat, 20% from carbohydrates, and 30% from protein. For the low-fat group the distribution was 30% from fat, 55-60% from carbohydrates, and 10-15% from protein, which corresponds to the diet recommended by the Swedish National Food Agency.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Why can't it rain?

NAIROBI, Kenya—In the sprawling hills of the Kangundo district in Kenya’s Eastern Province, just a few hours outside of capital city Nairobi, Fred Kiambaa has been farming the same small, steep plot of land for more than 20 years.
Born and raised just outside Kathiini Village in Kangundo, Kiambaa knows the ups and downs of agriculture in this semi-arid region. He walks up a set of switchbacks to Kangundo’s plateaus to tend his fields each morning and seldom travels further than a few miles from his plot.
Right now, all that remains of his maize crop are rows of dry husks. Harvest season finished just two weeks ago, and the haul was meager this time around.
“Water is the big problem, it’s always water. We have many boreholes, but when there is no rain, it’s still difficult,” he said.
Kiambaa and his wife, Mary, only harvested 440 pounds of maize this season, compared to their usual 2,200. They have six children, meaning there will be many lean months before the next harvest, and worse: Though March is Kenya’s rainiest month, it’s been mostly dry so far.
“The rain surely is not coming well this year. Rain is the key. We can only pray,” he said.

The future - our African future - is here. Never mind the cautious weather service spoksepeople saying on air, "It's not unprecedented to have such warm weather in May," or "Of course, we do have years when rainfall is down" - this is a trend. It's years of unusual weather, months when the maxiumum temperatures rise daily (and I mean every day, day after day after day) up to four degrees celsius above normal. Radio presenters burble on about "such fabulous weather!" but we are starting to pay the price - for the global north's and our own South Africa's profligate use of fossil fuels - in poor crops and hunger. (I do hope the myriad stories like Fred Kimabaa's will be taken into account when the rich and powerful put their heads together at Rio+20.)
Last year, I saw a local atmospheric scientist present models of southern African climate for the next 80 years or so. It was one of the defining moments of my life. This is how I described it in the July issue of Skyways magazine:
Pretoria: a lecture room at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research on a sunny late winter day. The equipment is modern and streamlined, the lecturer is an atmospheric modeller who speaks dispassionately, temperately, calmly, explaining the features of the map on-screen that shows southern Africa. And then he presses a key on his laptop, and all of a sudden, the audience is in a horror movie.
On the screen, the map ticks over with the regularity of a metronome, year by year, decade by decade: 2020, 2030, 2040, 2050… The colours that indicate temperature and rainfall change. Blue turns to peach which deepens to orange, to russet, to scarlet. I scrawl on my notepad, “Namibia, Angola, Botswana, gone, gone, gone!”
It’s been known for a long time that Africa would be one of the hardest-hit regions as climate change kicks in. But somehow, seeing the changes visually represented like this has a visceral effect. It’s got the heart-breaking impact and inevitability of a Greek tragedy.
Dr Francois Englebrecht, an atmospheric modeller at the CSIR, has done a range of models that peek into the future. Six simulations were performed in what is the largest experiment of its kind yet done on African terrain. Each of them gives slightly different results, but all show the same trends in the same areas.
Climatic features of our region dictate that we will buck the trend elsewhere in the world, in which a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture. Southern Africa is going to be warmer and drier. We’re special in yet another way: actual observation shows that over the last century, our temperatures have risen in tandem with the rising temperatures around the world – but our increase is always almost exactly double that of the rest of the world’s average. The models mercilessly show this trend continuing into the far, foreseeable future.

Here’s a telling quote from one of Dr Engelbrecht's colleagues, quoted on
Dr Constansia Musvoto from the Council for Scientific and industrial Research (CSIR) told members of the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) that agricultural production in Southern Africa is projected to be halved within the next 70 years as a result of climate change.
“Temperatures will increase by up to 6ºC, while rainfall will drop by as much as 40 percent in some parts of the region.”

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Smart Alec... NOT!

Caption: Clever monkey

Am I glad I live in South Africa, where laws like this have not been passed (yet). This is a law in Tennessee which will govern how climate change is taught in classrooms.
"...the Tennessee bill is based on an ALEC model bill passed in May 2000. We explained at the time,

'The bill's opening clause reads [PDF], 'The purpose of this act is to enhance and improve the environmental literacy of students and citizens in the state by requiring that all environmental education programs and activities conducted by schools, universities, and agencies shall…'

Provide a range of perspectives presented in a balanced manner.

Provide instruction in critical thinking so that students will be able to fairly and objectively evaluate scientific and economic controversies.

Be presented in language appropriate for education rather than for propagandizing.

Encourage students to explore different perspectives and form their own opinions.

Encourage an atmosphere of respect for different opinions and open-mindedness to new ideas.

Not be designed to change student behavior, attitudes or values.

Not include instruction in political action skills nor encourage political action activities.'

To summarize, under this model bill and its relatives, global warming will be taught as a "theory" among other "credible theories," including those unscientific "theories" peddled by the well-paid "merchants of doubt."

This, of course, flies in the face of the well-accepted scientific consensus, which has proven global warming as the harsh reality, time and time again. The science speaks for itself, and thefossil fuel money funding climate change deniers speaks for itself.

The Tennessee Bill

Key portions of the Tennessee bills are as follows (emphases mine):

"The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to,biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and humancloning, can cause controversy."

"The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to…respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues."

Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrator shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught."

Look familar? It should.

The bill was opposed by a broad-based coalition, including the National Association of Biology Teachers, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Nashville Tennessean, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the National Earth Science Teachers Association, the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, and all eight Tennessee members of the National Academy of Sciences.

These voices of reason were no opposition to ALEC, its corporate backers, and the politicians who serve them, which saw the bill pass with little opposition whatsoever."
(From )

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Stormy weather

Waiver: these are NOT tropical storm clouds!

The South-West Indian Ocean Basin is apparently one of the most dangerous tropical storm regions in the world, with an average of 80 deaths a year. Apparently Hurricane Irina, which just caused havoc along the KwaZulu-Natal coast, brings the death toll for this year so far to 164 - and there are still at least two months of the season to go.
is this fall-out from warmer seas due to climate change, one wonders?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

That's not the way!

Caption: Unmodified plum blossom

Dear Bill Gates. He so wants a techie solution for everyone. After all he's invested in TerraPower, the travelling wave reactor company (which he touts as the solution to our energy problems, even though it's decades off becoming a reality).
Now here he is, going all GM on us. (And pro-geo-engineering, heaven save us - see the end of the article...)

Published on Thursday, February 23, 2012 by Common Dreams
Bill Gates: We Need Genetically Modified Seeds
Gates' yield-increasing claims widely refuted by studies
- Common Dreams staff

At a forum of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome today, Microsoft founder Bill Gates pressed the need for genetically modified seeds in the developing world, and the need for a "digital revolution" to meet the needs of the world's farmers. Gates' claims that genetically modified crops double or triple smaller farmers' yields have been challenged by recent research.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates on Thursday called for a "digital revolution" to alleviate world hunger by increasing agricultural productivity through satellites and genetically-engineered seed varieties.

"We have to think hard about how to start taking advantage of the digital revolution that is driving innovation including in farming," the U.S. billionaire philanthropist said in a speech at the UN rural poverty agency IFAD in Rome.

"If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture. We believe that it's possible for small farmers to double and in some cases even triple their yields in the next 20 years while preserving the land," Gates said. [...]

AFP adds that Gates announced $200 million (150 million euros) in new grants from his foundation to finance research on a new type of drought-resistant maize. [...]

As John Vidal reported for the Guardian, the claims that genetically modified seeds can increase gains have been challenged by research:

Genetic engineering has failed to increase the yield of any food crop but has vastly increased the use of chemicals and the growth of "superweeds", according to a report by 20 Indian, south-east Asian, African and Latin American food and conservation groups representing millions of people.

And a 2009 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists showed that genetically modified seeds failed to increase yields in U.S. crops:

Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.

"The biotech industry has spent billions on research and public relations hype, but genetically engineered food and feed crops haven't enabled American farmers to grow significantly more crops per acre of land," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a biologist in the UCS Food and Environment Program and author of the report. "In comparison, traditional breeding continues to deliver better results."

Ronnie Cummins, International Director of the Organic Consumers Association, told Common Dreams:

“Bill Gates may be a smart guy in terms of computer programming, and an expert on how to become a billionaire, but he obviously knows nothing about agriculture other than what Monsanto and the biotech industry have told him. Eighteen years after the introduction of the first genetically engineered crops, there is no evidence, including data from the pro-biotech USDA, that these energy and chemical-intensive crops increase yield, improve nutrition, or provide greater yields under adverse weather conditions of drought or heavily rains. On the contrary hundreds of studies, including those by peer-reviewed scientists and the U.N.’s FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) indicate that organic crops provide significantly higher levels of vitamins, nutrients, and cancer-fighting anti-oxidants; that organic crops have significantly higher yields during periods of drought and torrential rain; and that agro-ecological or organic farms produce 2-10 times great yields than industrial-scale chemical and GMO farms. In others words, not only can organic farming and ranching feed the world, but in fact it is the only way that we will ever be able to feed the world.”

* * *

Recent reports also show Gates behind climate engineering efforts, as he is among other wealthy individuals financially backing scientists to lobby governments to push geoengineering, raising concerns that this small group may have a large impact on further decisions on geoengineering.