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Bullshit Health Media

Dr Ben boots old boot-face

Ben Goldacre’s gone after Zelda from Terrahawks Gillian McKeith again, and this time it’s serious: ASA verdicts that she can’t call herself a doctor, selling products in defiance of the law, that sort of thing. So naturally he does what any right-minded person would do: he sticks the boot in. Heh.

24 replies on “Dr Ben boots old boot-face”

I shall have to start committing that article to memory so that when the next McKeith devotee asks me why I don’t like her I’ll have more to say than, “Because she looks like a witch!”

I don’t know this woman at all (although I am obviously not in favour of people lying about their qualifications) but I don’t think he does his cause any good by wittering on about “sinister right-wing individualism”: it might not be politically correct to say it, but your state of health is largely down to your individual lifestyle choices. What would he have, Government legislation banning “unhealthy” foods and “food police” to stop you from over-eating?

I just spotted this very same story on B3ta. Way to go Ben. Stephen, I think the point of the piece he wrote is to raise a response from her legal team. This would give him a direct chance to question her professional abilities and acreditations. *Allegedly – looks nervously at inbox*

Hi Carlton, I’m fine with the thrust of the piece as far as Ms McKeith goes, and would be as happy as anyone else to see people who misuse science brought to account: I just don’t see why he has to bring “right-wing individualism” into it. As far as I can see, his life-expectancy evidence just shows that those who can afford not to rely on the NHS tend to live longer, hardly a ringing endorsement for said health service.

life-expectancy evidence just shows that those who can afford not to rely on the NHS tend to live longer, hardly a ringing endorsement for said health service.

I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I could Google all day to show decent studies proving the links between poverty and heart attacks, obesity, drink-related illnesses, cancers… sure, the lower your socio-economic status the more unlikely it is that you’ll be able to afford private health care – but it’s also more likely that you’ll smoke, that you’ll be overweight, that you won’t eat a balanced diet, that you won’t go to the docs as early as worried Daily Mail readers (which is particular important with cancers, where early detection can make the difference between life and death), that you’ll drink to excess, etc.

> more likely that you’ll smoke, that you’ll be overweight, that you won’t eat a balanced diet, that you won’t go to the docs as early as worried Daily Mail readers …, that you’ll drink to excess, etc.

In other words, individual lifestyle choices.

I know. But as I say, bigger picture: there’s more to it than rich people making X choice and poor people making Y choice and everything else being equal, or life expectancies showing that the NHS is worthless. Education’s a factor, job opportunities are a factor, local environment’s a factor, cash is a factor…

> were the private health services required to deal with the same quantity as the NHS…

… then we could end up with some awful system like in the US, where every single disease has a higher survival rate than in the UK. Even though, there, private hospitals deal with about five times the quantity as the NHS.

> cash is a factor

Not when it comes to diet, no, it’s not. Not counting organic stuff (for which there are no proven health benefits), eating healthily is cheaper. Slower, because it involves actual cooking, but cheaper.

Even if I wanted to, I literally cannot afford to eat fish & chips or burgers or pizza or microwave ready-meals every night.

I don’t agree – I don’t think it’s all ready meals or takeaways; it’s partly processed, low quality, quick-cook food made out of badgers’ nadgers. If you stick to the “value” lines partly processed food is often cheaper than fresh food, so for example a kilo of sausages is a quid (ones not made entirely from testicles start at £2/kilo), two kilos of oven chips is 88p – around 10p cheaper than the equivalent bag of cheap spuds – chicken nuggets £1.50 a kilo (whole chickens are £2 per kilo, or £3ish for a half-decent one), frozen pizzas are 30p-50p and so on. Stick to that lot and cooking’s dirt-cheap, dead easy and heart attack central.

I’m just demonstrating that shite food’s often cheaper than fresh. Tasty too!

>I don’t agree – I don’t think it’s all ready meals or takeaways;

I agree with gary and I have to say in my (admittedly quite limited) experience buying fresh fruit for example is a compartively expensive business, even without the Organic markup on much of it.

Another example is decent bread. I like brown bread. The more interesting bits in it the better as far as I’m concerned. But these loaves can often cost three or four times as much as an artifically square, whiter than bleach number with barely any crusts on it does. For someone with a family and little cash that is going to make a big difference eventually.

I don’t know if cash is a factor. Look at the other things you mentioned: smoking, drinking. Also very expensive, due to taxes etc, yet as you say, disproportionately consumed by the lower socio-economic groups. And then there’s the lottery. I think even if good food were subsidised by the Government (as, eg, brown bread is in South Africa) it wouldn’t help. In fact some people would probably avoid it even more, because of the stigma of poverty.

I think that it’s part and parcel of an entitlement culture, which places a high value on appearance and immediate gratification. Let’s face it, if a lot of these people could make sensible trade-offs like buying cheap healthy food even though it takes longer to prepare and doesn’t have an attached marketing lifestyle, they would be making better life choices in other areas as well, and wouldn’t be “disadvantaged” in the first place.

> I’m just demonstrating that shite food’s often cheaper than fresh.

But you’re not comparing like with like, so I can prove you wrong by pointing out that a grape is cheaper than a Bic Mac. Chicken nuggets are not a cheap version of roast chicken; they are a different choice of meal.

Depending on your toppings, frozen pizza is not cheaper than home-made pizza. (Tin of tomatoes: 30p; flour and yeast: cheap as buttons; a block of cheese: about 2 quid; and that’ll make the equivalent of about eight 50p frozen pizzas, with enough flour left over to do it all over again three or four times and enough yeast left over to last you a month.)

You may have a bit of a point about about chips, but my point is this: which oven chips are poor people buying? Tesco value? Not as a rule, no. They tend not to buy the cheapest; they buy the ones they like. Because they like them. Cut the cost of fresh spuds by 80%, and they’d still buy the oven chips. And good for them.

Chicken nuggets are not a cheap version of roast chicken; they are a different choice of meal.

Oh, I agree with that. But if you’re comparing a healthy meal made of fresh ingredients with an unhealthy one that’s a load of mechanically recovered crap, the latter is easier and cheaper. Especially if you don’t know how to cook – which, apparently, is increasingly common across all socioeconomic groups.

Going back to my earlier comment, all these things are part of a bigger picture. Where you live affects what you can buy – there’s a big difference between the food ranges in the Summerston and Bearsden ASDAs, for example, and the only supermarkets in some of the really rough bits are Lidls and Icelands – and certainly in the latter, it’s pretty much all processed crap. Your attitude to food, nutrition and cooking depends on education to an extent; your attitude to cigs and booze is shaped by your family, your peers and your day to day circumstances, etc etc etc.

I agree that if all else were equal, being unhealthy is simply a matter of choice. But I don’t thing all else *is* equal.

> Especially if you don’t know how to cook

Yes, but, again, that’s personal choice. Cook books are cheap and last for decades. Poor people have access to television, which is full of cookery programs.

> Where you live affects what you can buy – there’s a big difference between the food ranges in the Summerston and Bearsden ASDAs, for example

You’ve got the cause and effect back-to-front. The supermarkets have no interest in refusing to sell any particular goods to poor people — they’d rather sell as much as possible, obviously, especially the expensive luxurious things like vanilla pods and saffron and hand-carved sheep’s-cheese sculptures. The reason they don’t sell certain things in certain areas is that no-one buys them. Because they don’t want them. Again, personal choice.

Heh, I just can’t leave this story alone. It’s just occurred to me that she’s going to need a new domain name now she can’t use the DR bit. Also how many times do the words “Dr Gillian McKieth” appear on her homepage – now that’s keyword loading at its best. Pfft
http://www.drgillianmckeith.com/

No, she can still use the title “Doctor” — the ASA aren’t some sort of academic qualification enforcement body. She just can’t use it when selling things. I suspect that there’s now going to be a bit of wrangling over what does and what does not constitute selling. The Channel 4 show is arguably a product, or at least its advertising slots are. (She could probably switch to the BBC and call herself “Doctor”.) Domain names are trickier. She can probably keep it and cover it in stuff that doesn’t directly mention her own products but still enhances her pseudo-academic reputation.

What we need to hope is that the ASA ruling is the first small step towards proper regulation of academic titles. Well, not regulation — they’re already regulated — but enforcement of those regulations and punishment of those who breach them.

Can’t remember where I saw it, but someone made the interesting point that most GPs don’t have PhDs but are allowed to use the title “Doctor” as long as they’re practising — it’s a job title. Some doctors have actual PhDs, so can call themselves “Doctor” regardless of whether they’re practicing. You’re supposed to use the title to indicate that you once got a doctorate or that you are currently a medical doctor, but not because you were once a medical doctor. Therefore, Lord Owen was taking the piss when he used to call himself “Dr David Owen” before he got the lordship.

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