This evening Miss W informed me that her life was being made miserable – and had been for some time. Fearing that I was the cause of her misery, yet again, I was tentative in enquiring further.
“We were happy back in the eighties” she declared.
“Indeed we were”, I responded, “Aren’t we now?”
“You might be – I’m not”.
Uh oh. Here comes trouble.
“I no longer eat what I want, drink what I want or even just slob out in front of the TV when I feel like it. Twenty years ago I didn’t give it a second thought.”
“Er ... um ... Why is that? What’s changed?”
“The self appointed health police and their propaganda machine – that’s what. I'm not over weight, I don't smoke, I exercise regularly, yet I can’t turn on the TV, read a paper or a magazine without some joyless po-faced a***hole, telling me that eating a bar of chocolate or having a glass of wine will kill me. Do you know what the recommended weekly wine intake for a woman is?”
“So, as ‘they’ reckon that a small glass of wine constitutes 2 units that’s just one glass a day”.
“Ha – you’re hardly likely to get merry on that”.
“My point exactly”, said Miss W. “And that’s just the odd glass of wine that I once enjoyed and now feel guilty about – add in everything else, and we might live longer, but in a state of guilt ridden purgatory – and that ain’t living!”.
She is, as usual, quite right.
For the first time in recorded history most people now live out their natural life spans, only dying from diseases determined by ageing (i.e. cancer and heart or associated circulatory problems). Classic indices of the nation's health such as infant and maternal mortality rates have never been lower. In fact it could be argued that many of us are living well beyond our natural span - which is playing havoc with my pension prospects! But apart from that we’re all healthier, if not wealthier. So why do we worry about our health far more than our parents, grandparents or great grandparents ever did?
Just open any popular newspaper or magazine, or tune in to any 'health' feature on the radio or tv. The “public enlightenment” experts, ably assisted by our ever hysterical media, have generated a stream of false fears through the mythology of “risk factors” for common diseases.
Drumming up a "risk factor" story is dead easy, given the poor numeracy and hazy grasp of statistics that most people (journalists especially) have. Just take any group of people with a disease, ascertain what distinguishes them from a control group without the disease, and in a trice there is evidence of yet another threat to health to be concerned about.
Thus aluminium saucepans are associated with dementia, keeping cats with multiple sclerosis, drinking coffee with cancer of the pancreas, and eating the odd pork pie with virtually everything else. How my dear old mum managed to celebrate her 88th birthday last month I'll never know. She cooks in aluminium saucepans from the fifties, has always owned a cat, drinks coffee, wine and spirits way in excess of the 'guidelines', eats cheese, red meat and generally does her best to have a jolly time. According to government guidelines she should have keeled over long before I was born!
I used to laugh at the twaddle in the newspapers, and especially the TV programmes featuring the hilarious poo picker Gillian McKeith
. But it just isn't funny any more. The combination of zealotry with the fraudulent use of 'research data' is killing off all sorts of normal fun. Take passive smoking — the proposition that cigarette smokers kill innocent bystanders by giving them lung cancer. This has now spawned the smoking ban. Not a law to confine these pariahs to smoking rooms within an establishment. No. A total ban - and country pubs are closing in unprecedented numbers. The darts teams and bar billiards teams, once part of the social fabric in my part of the world, are banished (despicable types who smoke, y'see). Not that those who banished them have rushed to fill the void – these zealots don’t drink in pubs, and would probably like to ban that too. After all, they know that a pint of beer a day could increase the risk of bowel cancer by 10%!
The truth, by the way, is that the biggest risk factor in getting bowel cancer is partly genetic predisposition, but mostly it's age. 83% of cases occur in people over (usually well over) 60. Statistically a few pints of beer are insignificant. Living too long is the real problem, as the longer we live the greater the risk of geriatric disease. We can't stop time, but we can stop enjoying a pint and thereby convince ourselves that we might avoid the reapers scythe for a few more (rather miserable) years.
And as well as denying ourselves the odd beer, we must be careful to cut out any 'bad food' that we may read about in the morning paper, and eat loads of whichever disgusting vegetable, algae or slime is hailed as the new "superfood". It's all fad after fad. Remember those vile drinks made out of juiced grass a few years back? There were even juice bars opening with ranges of different grasses to drink. Ugh! Fads may come and go, but the idea that the key to immortality lies on our plate persists. And so we now have a new condition:
An obsession with healthy eating and drinking - coupled with the belief that most food and drink is in some way poisonous.
Smart companies are making huge profits out of this pseudo science and the seemingly limitless gullibility of the public - one has TV ads selling "low calorie water" (presumably vastly superior to that high calorie fattening stuff that comes out of the tap). And people buy it! Amazing! Perhaps I should start a company selling low calorie air and make a fortune.
So what is all this hysteria about? Whatever the reason (perhaps it’s to do with the loss of religion and belief in an afterlife) I think that people have simply become afraid to die, and those of us who accept a modest amount of risk in our daily lives are regarded as dangerous heretics.
"If, as many now believe, only oblivion follows death, then clinging to life is crucial. The pursuit of health and longevity becomes the nearest thing to a transcendental purpose of life on earth that anyone can have."
"I've got my own life to live.
I'm the one that's gonna die when it's time for me to die,
So let me live my life the way I want to.
Yeah, sing on brother, play on drummer."
Tonight Miss W and I agreed that we're with Jimi on this one. Now then, where's that corkscrew?
Labels: Health, Scares