Friday, March 18, 2011

The end of 'I'm on the train!!'

I love my computer but I must admit I'm not a big fan of the mobile phone. I have been heard to argue after a drink or two that they're infantilising devices for social control and I'm not entirely joking. But obviously I have one and my preference for texting rather than calling will be increased by a new review of the mobile phone safety research: Keep phone away from ear to reduce cancer risk.

In 2007 we ran a story on malehealth in which Professor Lawrie Challis, then head of the government's committee on mobile phone safety, suggested that mobile phones and electromagneticism in general could be the cigarettes of the 21st century. Since then smoking has been banned in public places. Is it possible that one day something similar will happen to mobile phones?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The pies have it: salt

Coming from south London, I'm a big fan of pie and mash. In places like Manze's and Goddard's, the pies are as crusty as the bloke behind the counter and the nearest thing to a vegetable is the motes of parsley in the liquor sauce.

I've no idea what's in the pies and I have always thought it best not to ask. Now, thanks to the Consensus on Salt and Health (CASH), we know a little of the answer: there's a lot of salt. Of course, they didn't test traditional pie and mash shops - they stuck to pubs and supermarkets - but I doubt the results would be much different. The bottom line is this: we should eat no more than 6g of salt a day (about a teaspoon) and even the best pie meal in the test contained nearly 4g. Fortunately CASH have provided tables showing the healthiest and unhealthiest options and tips for enjoying pies without piling on the salt. So I won't have to give up the pie and mash just yet.

I don't know, they'll be telling us that eels aren't good for you next.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The curious case of the recidivist stammerer

Although I don't have a stutter, I found myself identifying with a lot of things I learned while writing our new section on Stammering.

David Seidler, the writer of the Oscar-winning film The Kings Speech which deals with King George VI's stammer, says that he took up writing because his own stammer made speaking such a nightmare. I too am writer in part because I hate public speaking. I've sat through innumerable meetings, classes and conferences without uttering a word. Shortly before I went freelance, my voluntary sector employers organised a senior staff 'away-day' at which we were all to make a presentation. I nearly passed out after mine having forgotten to breathe. I realised that any career that involved presentations - Powerpoint was just beginning its ascent - and chairing meetings was not for me.

My interview with Donald, a retired actuary, revealed, as he puts it, what a 'curious' condition stammering is. Donald stammered as a child, spoke fluently at work and then started stammering again when he retired to France. I too speak French very poorly for someone who has spent so much time there and get more tongue-tied the more people there are in the room. Donald says he suddenly becomes fluent if he's interested in the subject and I have noticed how much easier it is to discuss le foot and l'incroyable Garett Bile (French for Gareth Bale) than the latest trial (or not) of Jacques Chirac.

The head of the British Stammering Association Norbert Lieckfeldt told me 'there is no cultural element to stammering, and very little difference between nations, ethnic groups and cultures' but when I see the confidence with which some of today's children express themselves, I wonder. Yes, it may be a pain listening to interminable stories about their over-indulged classmates or ill-informed opinions on your clothes, haircut or gay taste in music but you have to be impressed by their stamina. They do it without hesitation, repetition or deviation and for far more than just a minute. Is stammering a condition that will die out with the stiff upper lip?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Does male happiness all come down to the job we do?

Psychiatrists are saying that male depression will get worse during the course of the 21st century.

Currently, women are twice as likely to get diagnosed with depression as men but men's health campaigners have always contended that this not because men are twice as happy as women but because unhappy men are far less likely to go to the doctors for treatment. They're more likely to self-medicate with booze or drugs. The fact that men are three times more likely to take the final step down the path of mental misery and kill themselves is surely evidence enough of male unhappiness. (In 2009 there were 4,304 male suicides - 17.5 per 100,000 of population - and 1,371 female suicides - 5.2 per 100,000).

The American shrinks identify two main causes of this increase in depression - the decline in male jobs and the fact that society encourages men to talk about their feelings more or, as they put it, to 'stop being so tough and stoic'.

Now, the latter may be a reason why men are more likely to be diagnosed with depression since they're more likely to feel able to talk to someone about it but it is surely not a reason for depression in the first place.

This leaves just one cause: the changing job market. Does it all boil down to work? Men are in big trouble if it is. We need to find a different way of living in the 21st century or 50% of the population are going to be very unhappy with, if the experience of the previous 20 centuries is anything to go by, thoroughly unpleasant side-effects for the other 50%.