Monday, April 28, 2008

Work kills more people every year than war

We rightly remember those who have given their lives in wars. But every year more people die at work than die in wars. It's less well-known that we remember these deaths on a special day too - those who died simply trying to earn a living. Today - 28 April - is Worker's Memorial Day.

One worker dies every 15 seconds - that's 6,000 a day, 2 million a year. The memorial, which began in Canada in 1989 and is now international, has the slogan: Remember the dead - Fight for the living. This is exactly what the MHF will be doing when it marks Men's Health Week this year under the banner of Men and Work. You can find out more and register your organisation for the week here.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Is Big tobacco adding insult to injury

I can't say I was surprised to hear this morning that the Office of Fair Trading is investigating big tobacco over alleged price-fixing. But it was still a timely reminder to me.

If tobacco companies are found guilty of conspiracy it won't, of course, be the first time. The Michael Mann film The Insider about big tobacco's attempts to silence whistle-blower Dr Jeffrey Wigand famously fictionalises the scene in 1994 when the the so-called seven dwarves - the CEOs of the seven big tobacco companies - all testified before the US House of Representatives that they did not believe nicotine was addictive. Yeah, right. The subsequent release of big tobacco's internal documents suggested otherwise.

As regular readers will know, I've been under attack from pro-smokers citing the apparent lack of research proving passive smoking is dangerous as a reason for lifting the smoking ban. Some of them (with the emphasis on some) have sounded very reasonable. I've invited one of them to state his case on malehealth.

But this investigation reminds me of what we're really talking about: the power of big tobacco. This isn't about whether passive smoking is safe or not. This about selling ciggies. In a confidential 1978 report big-tobacco described passive smoking as 'the most dangerous development to the viability of the tobacco industry that has yet occurred'. How do we know? Because they had to release this document under the agreement they signed in 1998 to compensate US states for smoking related medical costs. Do you really believe anything has changed? I don't.

Clearly, if proven these charges suggest that as well as killing their customers, the tobacco industry are taking the piss while doing it. I don't like to use a cliché but never has the phrase 'adding insult to injury' been more apt.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Thanks John

John Prescott is to be congratulated for speaking about his bulimia today in the Sunday Times. Sure it's a plug for the inevitable newspaper serialisation of his memoirs but don't let your cynicism lead you to underestimate the difficulty of speaking out about this. An older man with a young woman's disease.

But the former deputy prime minister is not alone. Thousands of men are experiencing eating disorders And numbers are growing. You can read the stories of several of them on malehealth.

Prescott says he's 'never confessed it before' because 'it’s such a strange thing for someone like me to confess to. People normally associate it with young women - anorexic girls, models trying to keep their weight down, or women in stressful situations, like Princess Diana.'

That bulimia is only about skinny women is a misunderstanding Radio 4's Sue MacGregor clearly shares as she quipped on the radio this morning that Prezza's battle with bulimia was 'clearly one he has lost'. Ha, ha. Well done, Sue. That's going to encourage people to talk, isn't it?

No, eating disorders affect men and women of all shapes and sizes. I think big John deserves praise not mockery. He's done some daft things that we can laugh at but this is not one of them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The smoke - and the plot - thickens

I've just done something I never thought I'd do. I contributed to the website of The Free Society - slogan: big government is watching you. I don't know about that but the Free Society has been watching me. I think a comment on Joe Jackson's Free Society column my be behind the sudden interest in my 2004 article that names the great man that I mentioned on Saturday.

I posted on the site to correct the suggestion that we won't publish comments on that article. We will. As I said I've invited a couple of the emailers to write more. The reason comments don't appear below articles is that we use old web technology. We're looking to improve it but can't afford it. The Free Society have no such problem on their site as they're funded by the tobacco industry. Lucky fellas.

I also said that I just don't think people are interested in passive smoking anymore. Talk to people today about the smoking ban and they will tell you they like it because they no longer cough, no longer have streaming eyes and no longer have to spend the day in stinky clothes with smelly hair as the price for going down the pub. They won’t mention passive smoking. You can read the full post here. Let me - and them - know what you think.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Is malehealth going up in a puff of smoke?

Has malehealth finally arrived? In the last 24 hours an article that has not attracted any feedback at all as far as I can remember for at least a year has had three comments posted on it. Two of the them say virtually the same thing.

The article Joe Jackson and the Dodgy Science, which is about four years old, talks about how the difficulty of proving anything beyond reasonable doubt can be used to undermine what our common sense tells us is probably healthy or not healthy. It includes the example, one of several, of passive smoking and it is this that seems to have attracted all the attention. So what's going on? A sudden interest in the issues around smoking following the introduction of the ban in public places? A sudden interest in maleheath? Now that would be nice.

Common sense tells me that this mini flood of feedback cannot be the purely coincidental result of over-enthusiastic Googling by Joe Jackson fans so what is it about? An organised effort to use the internet to put the smoking debate on the agenda again and if so, what are they arguing and who is funding them?

We'll find out. I've invited two of the commentators to write an article for the site. I'll publish at least one of them if I can. Let's see what they come up with.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Would a good young people's website be allowed?

This week, following the Byron report on children in a digital world, we've seen media panics about pro-suicide pages on the internet, about pro-anorexia pages and about sites that appear to promote plastic surgery and diet pills to young girls.

The motivation of the people who run these sites worries me as much as anyone else and I'd rather they weren't there. But instead of foaming at the mouth, perhaps we ought to be asking ourselves why young people are logging on to them. The reason is simple: these sites seem to be saying something that makes sense to them, however warped or distorted they may seem to you.

There are very few 'nice' sites that talk to younger people in ways that make sense in the context of the lives they're living - that's one of the reasons they prefer social networking and self-generated content sites to conventional information/discussion sites. When it comes to young men and their health, which is our concern at the MHF, the picture is particularly grim. There's next nothing that talks to this group about their health in the way that they want.

Apart from our site, there's nothing much for the older male either for that matter but the older surfer is better able to pick and mix and be a little more judicious. One of the reasons that the government funds the MHF is that it knows that we know how to talk to men. The same approach is needed for younger men and boys.

The MHF could do it. (If you don't blow your own trumpet who else will?) But we struggle to get the funding to do the work we already do despite its clear benefits. There are probably other organisations and groups with the expertise who will say exactly the same thing.

Even if the government or an enlightened corporation were to stick their hand in their pocket, would the media tolerate it? In the 90s, the Health Education Authority decided to commission a sexual health guide written to appeal to the 16-25 year old. It was a dose of reality too much for the media and the government - a particulary useless Conservative one, admittedly - disowned it and withdrew it from publication.

Would a website that spoke equally frankly to young people meet the same fate? It would be interesting to see.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Why I respect Alastair Campbell

Sorry for the delay in posting. I'd been working on this month's updates to the malehealth site and very interesting they are too.

There's a fascinating piece by Alastair Campbell about his battle with depression - a struggle that continued even once he was inside 10 Downing St working for Tony Blair. It just goes to show that even your dream job might not make you happy. Whatever you think of Campbell, it's to his credit that he's had the balls to go public about his depression. It's to Blair's credit too that he was happy to appoint Campbell despite his history of mental illness. Only when every employer behaves like this can we defeat the stigma against mental health problems.

It's no accident perhaps that the government have just funded a booklet called What's The Story? which encourages journalists to cover mental health issues professionally. It's full of useful advice based on solid stats. For example, fewer than 1% of the 600 murders a year in England and Wales are the result of random attacks on members of the public by people with mental illness. Yet in the media 27% of the coverage of mental health issues - in other words, more than one story in four - is about violence. No wonder people think the risk of being attacked by someone with a mental health problem is far higher than it really is.

There's no substitute for personal experience when it comes to understanding an issue which is why the vogue for politicians who have done nothing in life other than be politicians is so worrying.