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Showing posts from August, 2020

Time to March on Washington?

The Thin End often sources its photographs and images from freelance photographers who contribute to unsplash.com.  Currently, they are marking the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington with a montage of amazing pictures.  
With the help of the team at the Library of Congress and visual historian Jordan Lloyd,  Unsplash has assembled a set of black and white images from the March, its leaders, and segregated America. The images are sourced from the Library of Congress, the US National Archives, and the Seattle Municipal Archives. Jordan Lloyd has painstakingly restored and recoloured the images in vivid detail to bring them back to life.In these troubled times, with the need for Black Lives Matter, it is salutary that we seem to have made so little progress establishing equal opportunities and fairness in the judicial system.  I have seen reposts from right-wing bigots that 'All lives matter'.  Of course, they do, which is why we should be concerned with evident instituti…

Fair Pay for Nursing

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) today, 28th August, launched its ‘Fair Pay for Nursing’ campaign to demand a 12.5% pay rise for nursing staff across the UK.Focussing initially on an immediate pay rise for nursing staff in the NHS across the UK, it aims to raise the bar, and so also benefit nursing staff working for independent employers.
Following engagement with  RCN members, the ‘Fair Pay for Nursing’ campaign aims to secure a fully-funded 12.5% pay increase for all staff covered by Agenda for Change, as part of a one-year deal that applies equally to all bands.The RCN says a pay rise will:recognise the skill, accountability and expertise of a safety-critical profession;recognise that the salaries of nursing staff have not kept pace with increases in the cost of living; andhelp provide safe and effective patient care for all people of the UK by addressing the staffing crisis within nursing.Today, there are an estimated 50,000 registered nurse vacancies in the NHS in the UK, impact…

Urgent action needed in cancer diagnostics and treatment

The Thin End has referred to the 'hidden' health cost of the COVID pandemic in previous articles.  Clearing the decks to prevent the National Health Service being overwhelmed meant that others had their diagnosis and treatment put on hold. What the government should do now is to learn the lesson to build resilience into the system.  Else, we are saving the lives of those directly affected by a pandemic while allowing the health and lives of others to be lost.  This has been particularly evident in cancer services.  It is challenging to see the real ethics of that choice.  Sacrificing Peter to save Paul is not the best approach.   On the contrary, it had all the hallmarks of a panic response. 
NHS England has now prioritised cancer services, but an analysis produced this month by The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says that the UK government must now use the opportunity of restarting cancer services in the NHS to "build back better."The new analysis by IPP…

Antidepressants and pregnancy what choices for women?

Women taking antidepressants can be faced with a difficult choice when pregnant.  Many women are reluctant to take medication during pregnancy and feel the need to choose ‘between the drug and the baby’. Data shows that the majority of women stop taking such medicines abruptly on becoming pregnant.  But is this the best approach, particularly when the majority (70%) will relapse on stopping the medication?  So, should women stop taking the medication on becoming pregnant?  Certainly, there isn't a 'one size fits all solution'.  But women need to be supported in whatever decision is made.  This is why professional bodies such as  The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in the UK  recommend a pregnancy management plan worked up for an individual with a multidisciplinary support team.  We need more understanding of the mental health issues involved in a pregnancy. The consequences of stopping medication can be severe.  Mental health relapse can lead to su…

Therapeutic animal stress

Interacting with animals is known to be therapeutic,  particularly in reducing stress.  But do we consider sufficiently the effects this may have on the animals involved?   We might assume that because it is calming for us, then it must be so for the therapeutic animals, but is this so?  New research suggests that it isn't always without stress for the animals involved.  Positive human-animal interaction relates to changes in physiological variables both in humans and other animals, including a reduction of subjective psychological stress (fear, anxiety) and an increase of oxytocin levels in the brain.  It also reduces the 'stress' hormone, cortisol. Indeed, these biological responses have measurable clinical benefits.  Oxytocin has long been implicated in maternal bonding, sexual behaviour and social affiliation behaviours and in promoting a sense of well-being. So far, so good.  We humans often turn to animals for stress relief, companionship, and even therapy.  We know f…

A badger cull is needless slaughter

“Badger hates Society, and invitations, and dinner, and all that sort of thing.” ― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows. News that the badger cull in the United Kingdom could be extended this year is disturbing.  Farmers are convinced that badgers transmit TB to cattle and the UK government have sanctioned culling to appease that concern.  Last year, about 35,000 badgers were killed but the Badger Trust said a leaked document showed plans to cull up to about 64,500 this year.   If this is so, then it seems odd given that a vaccine would be the better strategy.  Yet, the best way of dealing with TB spread in cattle is through a vaccine.  Evidence that culling works in preventing the spread of TB is scant, while data suggests that culling increases the spread of badgers, as they increase their home range.  Thus, culling is likely to enhance rather than reduce the risk of TB spread to cattle.  Badgers are like we humans.  They are not always socially agreeable.   Badgers tend to str…

Does childhood obesity start in the womb?

Childhood obesity is a growing problem, with over 20% of children in developed countries found to be overweight.  Obesity in childhood increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes in later life.  So, what is causing the increase in obesity in children?   A new study suggests that the problem starts before birth in the womb, and the clue lies in the infant's first stool. Meconium—the earliest stool of an infant—is composed of materials ingested during the time the infant spends in the uterus. The new study published in Pediatric Obesity found that the types of normal bacteria found in the meconium could predict an infant’s likelihood of later developing obesity. In the study of 212 newborns, children who became overweight at 3 years of age differed in their meconium bacterial makeup from those with normal weight, having a higher proportion of bacteria in the Bacteroidetes phylum (29% versus 15%).So, the microbiome of the first‐pass meconium predicted subsequent overweig…

Vultures prevent spread of disease

Awkward and ungainly on the ground, vultures are graceful and elegant in the air, soaring beautifully in the sky. Vultures are scavengers of dead animals and are found on every continent except for Australia and Antarctica.  There is even one, the mountain-dwelling bearded vulture that feeds on the bones.  The stomachs of vultures are incredibly acidic and corrosive (pH=1.0; for humans, it is between 1.5 and 3.5), protecting them from potentially lethal toxins such as botulinum, hog cholera, and anthrax bacteria. By removing dead carcasses of rotting animals,  vultures play a vital role in preventing the spread of disease.  However, their populations have declined dramatically due to human activity.  Vultures in Asia have been particularly affected by the use of the veterinary drug, diclofenac.  We need a better understanding of the conservation and role played by vultures in ecosystems.  The benefits they provide far outweigh any potential threat through the spread of disease. A new …

Noise pollution puts nature at risk

"I just want a bit of peace and quiet!" Let's get away from all the hustle and bustle; the sound of endless traffic on the roads, of the trains on the railway, and the planes in the sky; the incessant drone; the noise. We live in a world of man-made noise; screeching, bellowing, on-and-on in an unmelodious cacophony.  This constant background noise has now become a significant health hazard.  With average background levels of 60 decibels, those who live in cities are often exposed to noise over 85 decibels, enough to cause significant hearing loss over time.  It causes stress, high blood pressure, headache and loss of sleep and poor health and well-being.  
In nature, noise has content and significance.  From the roar of the lion, the laughing of a hyena,  communication is essential for life; as the warning of danger, for bonding as a group or a pair, finding a mate, or for establishing a position in a hierarchy - chattering works.  Staying in touch is vital to working a…

Protecting the oceans, saving the planet

One of the consequences of the pandemic has been the postponement of crucial talks at the United Nations aimed at an agreement on a global ocean treaty. Our oceans are under immense pressure through pollution, global warming and over-fishing.  In the longer term, this is a more significant threat to life on earth.  We need to protect our oceans. 

Little noticed amidst the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.  The progress report is grim reading. It finds that "action to meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is not yet advancing at the speed or scale required." 
As the demand for food increases with a growing population, it presents a significant challenge to the conservation of fish stock and the ecological balance of our oceans. The fraction of fish stocks that are within biologically sustainable levels had decreased from 90% in 1974 to just 65.8% in 2017. 
From 1976 to 2018, the value of global exp…

The lion and the wildebeest

Birds flock, fish school, bees swarm, but social being is more than simply sticking together.  Social groups enable specialisation and a sharing of abilities, and enhances ability, learning and creating new tricks. The more a group works together, the more effective they become as a team.  Chimpanzees learn from each other how to use stones to crack nuts, or sticks to get termites.  All around us we see cooperation and learning in nature.  Nature is inherently creative.  Pulling together becomes a rallying cry during a crisis.  We have heard it throughout the coronavirus pandemic.  "We are all in this together", a mantra that encourages people to adopt a common strategy. In an era of 'self-interest' and 'survival of the fittest,'  and 'selfish gene', we lose sight of the obvious conclusion from the evidence all around us.   Sticking together is more often the better approach.  This is valid for the lion as it is also for the wildebeest.  We don't a…

Plastic in our tea bags, good or bad?

Invented around 1908, it fundamentally changed our drinking habits - the teabag.  But it wasn't actually 'invented.' The teabag was an accident rather than design.  A New York tea merchant, John Sullivan, started sending tea to customers in small silken packets for convenience.  Many of his customers, thinking they were intended to be convenient infusions, placed them in their teapot.  The teabag was born. Sullivan went on to make the bags from gauze, making them more suitable for infusion, and their use swept across the USA.  In 1953, Tetley introduced the teabag to tea drinkers in the United Kingdom, where now they are used in 96% of tea consumption.  So, what are they? Here the story is both environmentally good and potentially bad. Not all tea bags are made of the same stuff. Many tea bags are made with added plastic, which is neither biodegradable nor recyclable.  Some types of teabag leak millions of plastic particles into our drinks, not only from the sealing plasti…

Saving tigers offers hope

It is easy enough for us to respond to 'save an animal' campaigns. We are rightly concerned about endangered species and animals being needlessly hunted and killed for gratification.   You can adopt a tiger for just £3 a month with the WWF.  You get a cuddly toy, regular updates and a certificate.  But it isn't just about saving a cuddly and muched loved animal species.  It is a vital part of building resilience in our ecosystems. Save a Tiger is a successful campaign.  It sets an object, a time, and an imperative, to double the number of tigers by 2022.  The call to action is intense.  It appeals to our hearts as well as our minds and to the imperative to act. There are now estimated to be 3, 900 wild tigers globally.  There are more tigers in captivity in the USA than there are in the wild.  But this isn't merely about the protection of a species. It is about saving our planet. The target to double the number of tigers wasn't plucked from thin air.  The objective …

What price a cup of tea?

I do love a cup of tea.  My mum liked a cup of tea too.  Whenever we returned from shopping or some other activity, visiting friends, etc. she would immediately say "Let's put the kettle on and have a nice cup of tea!"  In those days, the 1950s, it was always Co-op 99.  Co-op 99 is relevant to this story because it was the first branded tea in the UK to become 'Fairtrade.'  But what price our cup of tea? According to the Tea and Infusions Association, in Britain, we drink an estimated 165 million cups of tea a day or over 60 billion in a year.  That's a lot of tea.   There is only one country that drinks more tea than does the UK - Ireland. 
In the UK, tea varies in price from £1.10 for a Tesco's own box of 80 tea-bags to £2.40 for a branded variety, such as Typhoo.  But, whichever you choose, very little of it finds its way to the tea pickers in the fields of India, China, or Africa.  The lion's share goes to the retailers.  For Tesco's own-brand…

Aubergines a recipe for changing lifestyles

As we come out of COVID-19 lockdown, many of us are looking to change our eating habits. Aubergines can be a great substitute for meat if you are adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet. Aubergine curry can also be great to have with a picnic, served hot or cold.

Perhaps the tastiest takeaway meal I have had from a supermarket was an aubergine curry from Waitrose. My daughter also makes the most exquisitely tasty aubergine curry. Aubergines are a great source of nutrition and the essential fibre we need in our diet, and they taste great in a curry.

One serving of aubergine can provide at least 5% of our daily requirement of fibre, but also vitamins and minerals. They are also a great source of phenolic compounds that act as antioxidants to eliminate those harmful free radicals that can damage cells. Food with antioxidants, such as tomatoes and aubergines, can help prevent a range of diseases. Staying healthy to be healthy is the best way of being healthy. Our diet and lifestyle comb…

Cigarette Smoking Can Make You Deaf

We know smoking is bad for health. We have known this since the 1950s when the link with lung cancer was firmly established.  Yes, it was back in the 1950s - 1950 to be precise - five epidemiological studies were published, including papers by Ernst Wynder and Evarts Graham in the USA and Richard Doll and A Bradford Hill in England. All confirmed the growing suspicion, that smokers of cigarettes were far more likely to contract lung cancer than non-smokers.  The tobacco industry knew its product was toxic, yet it went on promoting it with adverts making it chic.  Smoking was and remains a major factor in the deaths of millions of people each year.  That is the shocking truth. 
But smoking impacts through more than cardiovascular health and cancer.  It can make you deaf.  Yes, did you hear me? Deaf.  That is the upshot of a recent study on a major cohort of women in the United States. 

There is little mystery surrounding the adverse effects of smoking on our overall health and wellbeing.…

Take a sad song and make it better

We know that listening to music and exercise has positive effects on our wellbeing.  If this is so, then putting the two together should have added benefits.  You might think that is so, and you would be right. But what is the evidence that it does? 
We know that 'sad music' makes us...well...feel sad.  That is why it is called sad. Precisely what it is that makes us feel sad when listening to it is an interesting question.  Music in minor keys tends to sound 'sadder' or more melancholy than tunes in major keys.  We can bring about a major change in mood simply by switching from major to minor, and this is commonly exploited in popular and classical music.  It can introduce a kind of melancholy even within an otherwise jolly and uplifting piece.  When I listen to Let it Be, I find it both uplifting and with that important ingredient,  a tinge of melancholy. 
Certainly, the lyrics are important.  When I find my self in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, speaking w…