Safe drinking messages and safe messages on drinking

Is promoting the message that there is ‘no safe level of drinking’ a road that public health actors should go down?

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Safe drinking messages and safe messages on drinking

APE: Alcohol Policy and Epidemiology

Addiction recently published a summary of the evidence linking alcohol consumption to cancer.  The author, Jennie Connor, was not presenting new data; however, just 13% of people mention cancer when asked about the risks of drinking, so Connor’s essay attracted huge public and media interest. In doing so, it raised questions about how we communicate the risks of drinking and, particularly, where the message ‘no safe level of drinking for cancer’ is taking us.

From a scientific perspective, the central point of Connor’s case is watertight.  Meta-analyses consistently demonstrate a relationship between how much people drink and their risk of developing seven cancer types: oropharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast (in women).  In each case, the risk increases with each extra drink consumed and, although the risk is small at low levels of consumption, this has prompted the ‘no safe level’ message advanced by somepublichealth

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There are several vacancies in ScHARR right now:

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Sit Less ScHARR!

“Sit Less ScHARR!”, an intervention by MPH Student Kelly Mackenzie, started this week. Running until 1st August, the programme aims to reduce the amount of time ScHARR staff spend sitting during working hours. We spoke to Kelly, and asked her about how she came up with the idea for Sit Less ScHARR!

“I have always been interested in physical activity and the variety of positive impacts it can have on health and whilst completing a Masters in Physical Activity for Health (at Sheffield Hallam University), I got involved in a piece of research focusing on sedentary behaviour, where I looked at barriers to reducing sitting time in the workplace amongst SHU employees. Furthermore, this work coincided with a change in my circumstances, as I moved from a very active job to a desk-based job, so I had a vested interest in the work!

When I then got the opportunity to complete a Masters in Public Health here at ScHARR, I was keen to test out an intervention to reduce sitting in the workplace and so, as part of my dissertation, Sit Less ScHARR! commenced earlier this week.

There has been lots of research looking into the benefits of physical activity and it is widely acknowledged that carrying out regular exercise provides health benefits. However, the negative consequences of prolonged sitting have only recently been highlighted. Importantly, prolonged sitting has been found to be an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, as well as musculoskeletal problems and this is regardless of the amount of physical activity undertaken.

Given that work has become much more desk-based and that adults spend >60% of their day in the workplace, it seemed appropriate to target sitting in their place of work. Furthermore, given the type of work that ScHARR is involved in, the employees of ScHARR could lead by example for the rest of the university and beyond.

Sit Less ScHARR! is a pilot study which will be running for 4 weeks (ending on Friday 1st August). I have 24 staff members who have volunteered to complete questionnaires and sitting logs in order to obtain both quantitative and qualitative data. Of the 24 volunteers, there were also a sub-group of 10 staff members who helped me develop the intervention and who will be acting as workplace champions to encourage and support others to reducing workplace sitting.

The aim of Sit Less ScHARR! is to reduce the amount of time ScHARR staff spend sitting whilst at work. The potential benefits of this are improved physical and mental health and wellbeing, but also some studies have shown that reducing time spent sitting results in increased productivity. I am hoping that this pilot will form the basis for a bigger piece of work and possibly a PhD, so watch this space!”

Each week staff will be emailed a “Top Tip” on how to reduce the amount of time we spend sitting at work. This week’s top tip:

Try setting reminders on your computer to stand-up / move away from your desk for a 5 minutes every hour. These can double up as time management tools too.You can do this using the following websites:

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Men’s average height ‘up 11cm since 1870s’

Graphic of height changes

Data was collected on hundreds of thousands of men from 15 European countries.

For British men, the average height at age 21 rose from 167.05cm (5ft 5in) in 1871-75 to 177.37cm (5ft 10in) in 1971-75.

A public health expert said height was a “useful barometer” but it was crucial to focus on improving health overall.

The paper, published in the journal Oxford Economic Papers, looked at data from sources including military records and modern population surveys from the 1870s to 1980 in 15 European countries.

It looked only at male height because there was too little historical data for women.

Childhood disease

Genes may be commonly seen as the main determinant of height, but although they explain the difference between individuals, they would not explain the trend seen in this paper, its lead author said.

Prof Tim Hatton of the University of Essex said there was no “Darwinian explanation” to the trend. “People are surviving in the 20th Century who would not have survived in the 19th,” he added.

Fleet St London in the 1880sMen were shorter in Victorian times

The researchers said the gene pool “cannot account for substantial increases in mean stature over four or five generations”.

Growth is significantly affected by what happens in the first two years of life, they said.

So, a high rate of illnesses such as respiratory diseases or diarrhoeas – which caused many infant deaths – would also affect survivors’ development and therefore their subsequent height.

Infant mortality rates fell significantly throughout the period studied.

Another factor taken into account by the researchers was an increasing move to smaller families – meaning fewer people to feed.

Higher income, more sanitary living conditions and better education about health and nutrition could also have had an effect, they said.

North-south divide

The paper also shows that height patterns varied across different countries.

Contrary to what might have been expected, in northern Europe – including in Britain – there was a significant surge in average height in the period covering the two world wars and the Great Depression, before the introduction of the national health service.

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Increasing height is a reflection of how the availability of food and nutrition had broadly improved until the recent excesses of fat and sugar”

Dr John MiddletonFaculty of Public Health

Prof Hatton suggested this was because the benefits of long-term improvements in sanitation, hygiene and nutrition were being seen.

During periods of war, he explained, more women were earning an income and rationing actually improved diets for some.

However, in southern Europe there was a sharp acceleration in average height seen after World War II.

This was when those countries saw significant income growth and adopted some of the social measures that northern European countries had adopted more slowly in previous decades, Prof Hatton said.

He added: “Increases in human stature are a key indicator of improvements in the average health of populations.”

Dr John Middleton of the UK’s Faculty of Public Health said: “Does how tall we are really tell us how healthy we are? This interesting research suggests that it’s certainly a factor.

“Increasing height is a reflection of how the availability of food and nutrition had broadly improved until the recent excesses of fat and sugar.

“However, we can’t conclude that shorter men are somehow unhealthier. Like a lot of research, this paper prompts more questions than it set out to answer.

“While our average height is a useful barometer to bear in mind, what we really need is to tackle the many reasons for poor health that we can address.

“Employment is one of the best ways to do that, which is why we need to focus on more than just diet and exercise when it comes to improving the nation’s health.”

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