Jayne Dowle: All this ‘advice’ is proving bad for our health

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I’D like to have a word with you about your health. Did you know that living near busy traffic could be making you fat? Apparently, if your home is close to a motorway or under a flight path, the stress of the constant noise might be contributing to creating rolls of excess flab around your waist.

Never mind though. Perhaps a cake would take your mind off it? It’s okay, it could even do you good. Scientists have recently discovered that butter and eggs might not be bad for us after all. High in cholestrol, for decades they have been blacklisted as foods to avoid, along with shellfish, bacon and liver.

However the science behind this could have been flawed, a key report in the US has now discovered. Good news for those of us who enjoy a nice cooked breakfast, not so good news for all the high street chemists selling those DIY cholestrol tests
which can send you into a doom-laden panic in the space of a lunchtime.

If you are going to stop worrying about your cholestrol, what else are you going to worry about? Don’t fret. You can worry about your teeth instead. A television doctor named Dr Chris van Tulleken says that Britain has become “internationally renowned” for having “really lousy” teeth. He argues that stains and decay, frowned on in countries such as America, are still socially acceptable here. It’s not just poor oral hygiene to blame, it’s also all the sugary
food and drinks we consume. Van Tulleken argues that “even if you brush your teeth correctly for two minutes twice a day,
you will not be able to fully reverse the effects of a bad
 diet”.

Feeling exhausted? Is it any surprise? This is just one day’s-worth of “health advice” as reported in the newspapers. Every day it seems that we’re told to stop eating one thing, start eating another, drink this, don’t drink this and now we’re even informed that if we are really serious about losing weight we might have to move house. How can we know what to believe? Is it any wonder, given all this conflicting information constantly coming at us, that so many of us just opt out of attempting to be healthy altogether?

There is no point looking at the figures on rising obesity – with the concurrent statistics on heart disease, diabetes and other serious health problems – in isolation. What all these stories tell us is that we have a serious problem with health. It goes beyond the headlines and affects every home – and fridge – in the land.

Our National Health Service has become so under pressure (and under-funded) it is operating at more of an emergency level than as an ongoing authority offering trusted information and advice. The gap has been filled by worried individuals jumping on every health bandwagon which rolls into town. And this is a bandwagon which is propelled by an ever-more competitive bunch of doctors, scientists, health “experts” and people on television who know they can make money and fame out of preying on the public’s fears.

Let’s take teeth as an example. It’s all very well for this doctor to pontificate about the terrible state of British teeth. Too much sugar plays a part in decay, I know, but has this chap tried to get an appointment with a NHS dentist recently? Does he know about the waiting lists to even be taken onto a surgery’s books, let alone be seen and treated by an actual dentist?

A friend of mine was in agony with an abcess recently and had to travel 20 miles away to Huddersfield just to have it looked at, because there wasn’t a dentist in Barnsley able to see her. I am always hearing about children being taken to A&E with toothache by desperate parents who can’t get an emergency appointment at a surgery. Changes to the way that dentistry is funded and growing numbers of people demanding free dental care has impacted on the system worse than any troublesome wisdom tooth.

And I think this doctor is missing the point about the cosmetic element. Hasn’t he noticed that every high street – even the ones littered with boarded-up shops – seems to have a beauty parlour offering “tooth-whitening” to give every girl (and boy) a “Hollywood smile”? What kind of crazy world do we live in? Dentists with queues round the block, patients in agony with toothache, and beauty parlours offering to mask over the damage with a a tray of bleach and a laser? This just about sums up the health of the nation. It’s gone rotten at the core.

What can we do except look after ourselves? I can’t claim to be a health expert. However, I’m convinced that the worst thing for health is worry. Isn’t it all a matter of balance? Stick to a decent diet, take enough exercise to keep the wheels turning and when stress threatens to engulf, know when to take a little time out to relax. It’s not a regime that’s going to sell books or make me famous on television, but it might just keep me alive.