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Health news

December 27, 2003

The best of 2003: the Body&Soul Awards

Forget the Nobel Prizes - you know you have truly arrived only when you have won a coveted Body&Soul Award
Whether you are a medical pioneer, a  New Age spiritual guru or simply a crassly insensitive NHD bureaucrat, our commendations mark the ultimate recognition of your achievements in 2003. Now, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the envelope please ...

BAD TASTE

Protecting Chocolate from Scientific Scrutiny Award: to Dr Josephine Wills, a senior executive at Mars UK, for efforts to prevent us questioning health claims for the Positive Food Company’s new cocoa drink in September. When we put doubts by the independent Institute for Food Research to the manufacturer, Mars UK, she suggested the institute revise its opinions and it suddenly felt it could not comment on food products for The Times.

DOH!

The Research We Didn’t Know We Needed Award: to the Institute of Physics for analysing Homer Simpson’s diet. A dedicated research team spent hours watching The Simpsons, noting what the characters eat. Surprise result? Scientific proof that Homer is a lard bucket — he consumes 3,100 kilocalories a day — which takes our nutritional understanding to new heights.

DONE IT

The Valid Use of the Phrase “Scientific Breakthrough” Award: to the team unravelling the human genome. Fifty years after Crick and Watson revealed the structure of DNA, an international team revealed in April that it had sequenced the entire human genetic code. A draft human genome was published three years ago — but the latest is said to be accurate to around 99.999 per cent and British scientists involved say it will lead to important medical insights.

SLIM CHANCE

The Gary Lineker Children’s Nutrition Award: to Debra Shipley, MP, campaigner against TV adverts for high-fat foods. The food industry argues that advertisements for high-fat foods on children’s television — with the help of sports stars such as Lineker — do not contribute to the crisis of childhood obesity. Shipley introduced a Parliamentary Bill to ban junk-food commercials aimed at pre-school children, gaining the support of more than 100 MPs.

BIG HUGS ALL ROUND

The Carole Caplin Spiritual Guru Award: to Mata Amritanandamayi, India’s “hugging saint”.The Hindu spiritual leader, better known as Amma, devotes her days to hugging strangers and offering them unconditional love. In 30 years, she has dispensed 30 million hugs in her quest for peace and spiritual fulfilment — and in September her 50th birthday celebrations in Kerala attracted up to half a million devotees. We cannot vouch for Amma’s ability to heal the world’s pain but we urge her to bring her cuddles to Downing Street as a means of improving neighbourly relations.


AHEM!

The Saddest Attempt at a Cash-in Award: to Tecwyn Whittock, the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? cheat, who sought to register his name as a trademark. Whittock, whose infamous coughs brought him and Charles and Diana Ingram suspended prison sentences, saw a marketing opportunity. The former lecturer thought there might be money in cough medicine and applied to patent the name “Tecwyn” as a pharmaceutical trademark.


ALLERGIC REACTION

The Most Audacious Attempt to “Inform” Children Award to GlaxoSmithKline, for its book Mr Sneeze and His Allergies. The book, designed “to help parents and children learn about allergies”, helpfully included two pages from GSK about its anti-allergy drugs. Prompting the Government’s watchdog to launch an urgent investigation, pointing out that “the Medicines Act of 1994 prohibits the promotion of medicines to children”.


AGENT OF GOD

The Most Intensive Effort to Rebrand A Religion Award: to Shannon Ledbetter, a former Bond girl who became a Church of England vicar. She became famous for wearing a £250,000 PVC dress in the 1997 Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, but the model — now the Rev Dr Shannon Ledbetter — always had a higher calling. Her career change delighted the church, which ordained the 39-year-old and installed her in Saint Mark’s parish in Merseyside.

R U ADDICTD?

The Most Spurious Attempt to Generate Publicity Award: to the Priory clinic, for identifying “compulsive text messaging” as a condition requiring treatment. Dr Mark Collins, head of the clinic’s addictions unit, has identified obsessive text-messaging as a “behavioural addiction”. Some of his patients spend seven hours a day texting. Our own medical dictionary defines such individuals as “teenagers”, but then what do we know? We still write in sentences.


HEY BUD, SPARE A BILLION

The Well Done Geeky Billionaire Award: to Bill Gates, for funding research aimed at beating malaria. His computers may have inflicted viruses on millions, but this year Gates’s charitable foundation pledged £100 million to fight malaria. The Microsoft founder almost doubled what governments and NGOs spend on a disease thought to kill a million people each year. His foundation has so far invested £2 billion to improve global health.

THEY’RE ALL THE SAME

The Hmm, We’re Still Waiting Award: to the Raelians, for failing to produce their human clones. This time last year, Clonaid, a company linked to the Raelian sect, said it had produced the world’s first cloned human. But the only evidence offered of the five cloned babies is a photo. The delay is no doubt the fault of the space aliens who, we’re told, run the sect.


A BRAVE HERO

The Unsurpassed Medical Heroism Award: to Dr Carlo Urbani, killed by the disease he identified. In February, Dr Urbani, an expert in communicable diseases, identified an outbreak of Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome). His calls for patients to be isolated and for global monitoring saved many lives, but close contact with patients claimed his own life on March 29.


GOOD IS THE NEW BAD

The Most Persistent Health Scare of the Year Award: to hormone replacement therapy. HRT is accused of increasing risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, strokes, blood clots and gallstones. No matter that some studies show it reduces risk of osteoporosis, or that some experts say it is more dangerous suddenly to stop HRT treatment — the new consensus is that HRT is BAD. Still, at least HRT panics kept MMR scares off the front pages for a while.

GET OFF MY PATCH

The Bad Karma for Spiritual Rivalry Award: to the Vatican, which denounced those “false Utopians” who practise yoga. The Pope caught up with New Age spirituality this year — and he was so angry that his chakra became seriously uncentred. The Vatican concluded after a six-year study that we won’t get spirituality from fuzzy practices such as yoga, feng shui or eating muesli. “The New Age presents a false Utopia in answer to the thirst for happiness,” a cardinal said.

R.I.P. CARBS

The Catherine Zeta-Jones Dietary Controversy Award: to the late Dr Robert Atkins, who died in April, for turning the nation against carbo- hydrates. Hospitals banned his diet and it was linked to cancer — but celebrities swore by it. And Ms Z-J? Her lawyers have said she’ll sue anyone who says she tried the diet. We are happy to confirm that she eats what she likes, as do her lawyers.

FANCY THAT

The Medical Research We Liked Best Award: to the learned journals which gave us excuses to indulge. This year we learned that wine drinkers have healthier lifestyles (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) and that chocolate is even healthier than wine (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry) and dark chocolate in particular protects you against all sorts of things (Nature). Was there something about chocolate being high- sugar? Can’t seem to recall ...

PATIENT CHOICE?

The NHS Lobotomised Pen-Pusher Award: to Thames Valley Strategic Health Authority, which offered a black patient a white artificial foot. Ingrid Nicholls, 46, of mixed race, was told by Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre in Oxford that a black artificial foot would cost her an extra £3,000. When the press published its crassness, the health authority decided it had all been a “misunderstanding ”.

BAREFACED CHEEK

The Charles Atlas Clock the Physique Award: to Stephen Gough, “the naked rambler”. Gough, 44, planned his unclothed march from Land’s End to John o’Groats as “a celebration of myself as a human being and my body is an important part of that”. The police, sadly, took a different view and arrested him repeatedly. Gough will celebrate Christmas on remand as he awaits a breach-of-the-peace trial in the New Year.

TRANSPARENT

The No it’s Not Research it’s a Pointless Stunt Award: to David Blaine, who spent 44 days in a Perspex box, suspended by a crane by the Thames, in London. The stunt — sorry experiment — was claimed to have given doctors “a rare insight” into starvation, but possibly said more about celebrity hunger for column inches. So, Body&Soul has decided that we’re not going to say another word ...

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ALSO IN THIS SECTION
Health watch: looking ahead to 2004
The best of 2003: the Body&Soul Awards
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Baby born at home as hospitals 'full'
Leading article: From excess to excess
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