Waiting for the first challenge story of autumn. Surely an appearance cannot be long away. I was surprised that last week’s Newspoll did not bring it forth. Absolutely stunned that today’s Nielsen failed to flush it out. But surely, surely it cannot be long — the return of that regular visitor, the leadership challenge speculation.

So it has come to this. Irony and jokes can be dangerous things for politicians. Hence my wondering about the wisdom of the Prime Minister relating the story of her comment to President Barack Obama: “You think it’s tough being African-American? Try being me. Try being an atheist, childless, single woman as prime minister.”

Perhaps the most appropriate comment I can make is to borrow this one from the cartoonist xkcd:

The housing decline goes on. For two years and two months now the trend in Australia of dwelling approvals has been down. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures for February out this morning suggest that the end of the decline is not yet in sight.

The trend estimate for private sector houses approved fell 0.3% in February and has fallen for 26 months. he seasonally adjusted estimate for private sector houses fell 3.4% in February , the third consecutive fall. The trend estimate for private sector dwellings excluding houses fell 3.8% in February and has now fallen for 14 months. The seasonally adjusted estimate fell 15.8% following a rise of 1.9% in January.


So you think that information on labels really matters. French and North American researchers have questioned the value of putting detailed nutritional information on packaging.  

Université Laval’s Maurice Doyon and French and American researchers found that U.S. consumers know surprisingly more about the fat content of the foods they buy than their French counterparts. Paradoxically, the obesity rate is nearly three times higher in the United States (35%) than it is in France (12%). In light of these results, published in a recent edition of the British Food Journal, (unfortunately like so much academic research behind a paywall) the researchers cast doubt on the notion that providing nutritional information is an effective way to encourage healthy eating habits.

In a press release, Dr. Doyon of the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences, along with his colleagues Laure Saulais, Bernard Ruffieux (France), and Harry Kaiser (United States) outlined hos they had over 300 French, Quebec, and American consumers answer a questionnaire designed to test what they knew about dietary fats. Questions dealt with the amount and types of fat contained in various foods and what the nutritional recommendations are regarding these fats. Participants were asked to answer “Don’t know” rather than hazard a guess.

The first finding: French respondents admitted to not knowing the answer to 43% of the questions, while the equivalents for Quebec and the United States were 13% and 4% respectively. Fifty-five percent of French respondents said they did not know the percentage of fat in whole milk, compared with 5% for Quebec and 4% for the United States. The same trend was observed for butter, margarine, and vegetable oils.

The second finding: when participants tried to answer, Americans were most likely to be right, followed by Quebecers, with the French bringing up the rear. And 6% of Quebecers, 9% of Americans, and 17% of the French did not know the recommendations regarding saturated and unsaturated fats in a healthy diet.

“The difference among respondents’ knowledge,” said Professor Doyon, “essentially indicates that the French don’t take much of an interest in the nutrients contained in the foods they eat. The information is on the package, but they don’t read it.”

According to the researchers, the correlation found between extensive nutritional knowledge and high obesity rates suggests that focusing on detailed nutritional information may not be the best strategy for encouraging healthy eating habits.

“It’s an approach that presents information to consumers in a broken down form,” suggested Dr. Doyon. “This may lead them to think of food in terms of its fat, carbohydrate, and caloric content and lose sight of the whole picture. It might be better to focus on what constitutes a healthy, complete, and balanced meal.”

The Irish taking no notice of such a finding. One country that seems set upon ignoring this idea of “a healthy, complete, and balanced meal” when it comes to telling people what to eat is Ireland. It is about to ban the advertising of cheese during hours when children might be watching television.

Too good a headline not to be noted. “BOB MARLEY’S BANDMATE SMOKES DOPE THROUGH A CARROT. Bunny Livingston, the last living member of Marley’s band the Wailers, explains on a film documentary of the great man’s life: “The herb of the field is best smoked through the root of the ground.”

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. Have a listen for yourself.

Some news and views noted along the way.

  • Study: Conservatives’ trust in science has fallen dramatically since mid-1970s and has also declined among people who frequently attend church
  • Calculate how your salary compares with the average on a world scale
  • A note for my editor as maternity leave approaches: National Institutes of Health study finds women spend longer in labor now than 50 years ago
  • The dangers of those barbecues that lead to surgery.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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