Marks out of five please

First a coda to last weeks blog on the National Obesity Forum report. I see in today’s Guardian that two members of the forum, including its clinical director, have now resigned, and the Chairman of the NOF has admitted that, although he stands by the content in the report, to quote the Guardian’s reporter “… the way the message was delivered may have been a problem.” Enough said.

On to this week. The Spectator is one of my favourite magazines. I’m generally on the right on most political issues, and am a fervent believer in free markets and individual liberty – all good Spectator biases. They are also becoming quite innovative under editor Fraser Nelson, and a great new initiative is Spectator Health, a magazine offshoot which tends to take a skeptical and rigorous approach to many of the leading health issues of the day.

One nice touch is their regular review of newly published science – particularly stuff that has made the headlines – with a quick analysis by one of a team of regular medical experts. These reviewers are asked to give the research a mark from 1 to 5, to indicate quite how much weight and substance we laymen can give to it. My only caveat with this approach is with only 1 to 5 in play the marking system becomes quite constrained. We’re not likely to see too many reviews of science getting a 1 – space in the magazine is at a premium, so no editor is going to waste too much time reviewing very dodgy reports. Neither will we see many 5s – again no-one wants to give anything a perfect score – science is always moving on, and therefore nothing is safe from being debunked. So we are really left with only 2, 3 and 4. So a mark of 2 for a report I’d suspect we should view as “distinctly dodgy”, 3 as “worth taking into account but don’t bet your life on it”, with 4 as perhaps the only mark worthy of implying “This is really worth taking on board”.

And it’s in this spirit that I was pleased to see this particular piece of research getting a great review in the latest edition of Spectator Health. This Harvard study, entitled “Preventable incidence and mortality of carcinoma associated with lifestyle factors among white adults in the United states” looked at how much improvement there was in cancer rates if you led a healthy lifestyle. In this case a healthy lifestyle was defined as being a former or never smoker, a moderate drinker (c 18 UK units per week for men, 9 units per week for women), a BMI of between 18.5 and 27.5, and doing 75 minutes a week of intense physical activity, or 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity.

Readers of my book will know that almost perfectly describes my Tribe 5 Live-longers.

The study looked at 136,000 people, of whom 28,000 were in this “healthy” category. This was almost exactly 20% of the total – and again, as readers will know, tallies almost perfectly with my data which suggested 20% of the UK population are in Tribe 5.

And the great news from the study is that cancer rates are dramatically lower for this healthy group. To quote Spectator Health’s quick analysis “The results are impressive, with a 50 per cent decrease in overall cancer deaths and a 20 to 40 per cent decrease in cancer incidence.”

Spectator Health gave the report 4/5. I’d agree, and furthermore think it strongly supports my argument that the lifestyle changes I suggest in “The Life of Riley” can lead to a longer healthier life.

Finally, on a related topic, if you are a man you will have also seen a University of Oxford report out this week, widely covered, suggesting that losing 4″ off your waist can substantially cut your risk of prostate cancer – particularly the most aggressive kind.

Here I am wearing an old pair of pants – they were 42″ waist. I’m now a 33″. To come full circle, in large part my weight loss is down to applying many of the habits suggested in that NOF report published last week (despite my criticisms of its media approach).

Phils old trousers.jpg