Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Food for thought

Grannies up and down the country must be standing there with crossed arms nodding in grim satisfaction. They've been right all along it appears. Fish really is "brain food". Or so the powers that be in County Durham think. And they're busy generating the evidence to back this up. I gathered all this this morning from my favourite source of "medical" information, the Today Programme on Radio 4.

As I understand it there have been several small scale trials there involving primary school children (so they would need to be small scale then obviously) taking cod liver oil capsules or placebo for a few months. The fishy kids are now outperforming their placebo riddled fellows academically, and spending less time in the naughty corner to boot. (Hopefully the placebo supplied was not the "dangerous" additive laden Killer Blue Smartie then...)

So now they are moving on to trial the addition of omega3 to the secondary school kids. You know, all those stroppy tweens and teens we know and love. Three capsules, twice a day.

The teachers and dinner ladies of County Durham must be made of stern stuff indeed to be prepared to put themselves forward for such a monumental task. Round these parts they won't allow kids to take paracetamol or inhalers for known conditions without notes signed in triplicate by "the Doctor". A few years ago they even threatened not to work in a class with a boy who had a wasp sting allergy that required him to carry an epipen.

Then there's the small business of getting kids who happily chuck down burgers and kebabs to swallow little capsules. Because they're "pills" rather than "food" there is almost no way many will be induced to swallow even one, let alone six a day, every day, all term. Also they are proposing to dish them out at registration so all the truants and latecomers (surely the principal target population for the study) will be self excluded by their normal behaviour. Unless the truancy officers will be supplied dart guns laced with fish oil to stalk their prey with, that is.

I really hope thay can make it work. I really hope it helps to prove the point. It does seem to make sense that a diet rich in vitamins and minerals, complex cabohydrates and proteins, would beat a diet of chocolates, crisps and fizz. Jamie Oliver's much hyped school dinners project really did apear to have an impact on both performance and behaviour.

Which leads me to ask one important question. Why on God's green earth do we feel it necessary to bugger about trying to supplement kids diets to improve performance instead of committing to giving them all a decent school meals service that would do the same, but better?

If we truly "believe the children are our future" (sorry, couldn't resist) then why do we not believe enough to want to invest in that future?

I applaud the intentions of those wishing to conduct the trial. I fear they will not last a week, let alone a term, but I do honestly wish them well. And who knows, if they can prove the point, again, then maybe someone in authority will discover the political will to start feeding kids properly.

Until then, drink up your cod liver oil like good children.

After all Granny knows best!

20 comments:

Geena said...

Back in the Dark Ages - when I was kneehigh to a grasshopper....my Mum used to make us line up every morning for a large spoon of cod liver oil and a larger spoon of malt...EVERY DAY....

She still swears by it and is constantly telling me to give it to my boys...bwah ha ha ha - as if!

I have an aversion to supplements for kids - their diet should cover their bodie's needs..it's not that difficult to get them to eat properly either - sometimes just a bit of creativity is needed on a Mum's part.

And in Winter - Scotts Emulsion to ward off the winter bogies..says my Ma...

Anonymous said...

My six year old daughter has type 2 Von Willebrands Disease, and Omega 3 isn't very good for her, which is a shame, because she adores salmon.

VWD is estimated to affect 1 per cent of the population, mostly undiagnosed. What about those children?

Doctor Jest said...

geena-- you have my sympathies. Never have been able to handle the concept of seafood and I'm sure grannies spoon had a lot to do with it. Blech!

Anon-- that's the joy of this blog. I learn new stuff all the time. Didn't know omega3 was bad for VWD. Do now. Thanks so much for the input. And with the undiagnosed population I share your concerns.

stitchwort said...

Let's hope they are willing to provide flax seed oil for the veggies, as well :-)
It would be interesting to know if any research has been done regarding a link between eating meat and joint problems. Certainly my joint pain and stiffness has gone since I became vegetarian, and I know someone else who says the same.

greavsie said...

My youngest watched 'You are what you eat' on the TV last night and has vowed to give up crisps.

Until the weekend probably....fortunatly she likes her sport....

Shinga said...

Oddly enough, walking in the park-conversation last night was about power-law distribution. Malcolm Gladwell discusses it in an extraordinary essay, Million Dollar Murray: Why problems like homelessness may be easier to solve than to manage. Gladwell discusses power-law distribution and its application to homelessness, environmental pollution etc. Tony Plant has given an overview of it in the context of social care in What is the cost of doing nothing?

In a nutshell, experience in the US has shown that it is cheaper to provide free serviced apartments and medical care to the population of alcoholic homeless people, than to provide the usual patchwork of homeless shelters, social services and unlimited emergency health care for them.

Ignoring the political and moral objections, if the government is concerned about obesity and the current/future health problems associated with a poor diet, would it be more cost-effective to feed children at school in socio-economic areas of high deprivation? Particularly when one compares it to the cost of running health education campaigns that have a negligible impact on behaviour. E.g., more people know about the 5 a day slogan, but a negligible number of people have changed their habits. Or when compared to the LEA costs of accommodating children with emotional and behavioural problems (also linked to poor diet by some researchers).

A number of schools have breakfast clubs. In some areas, most pupils qualify for free school lunches. With the introduction of Kelly hours - how much of a stretch would it be to provide tea/dinner?

I can think of a number of moral and political objections to such a programme but I wonder if the economics would actually justify it?

Regards - Shinga

Geena said...

I just had a look at Blogthings Quizzes - at the PNG for Dr J....Bavarian Beefstick...ROTFL...

Doctor Jest said...

Stitchwort-- interesting points both. Are veggies allowed in County Durhan though? Sounds a bit nesh somehow...

As for the meat / arthritis thing, that certainly seems to work for a lot of folk. I wonder if it's the meat specifically, or the effects of it's preparation though? Sorry no answer there, just a musing.

greavsie-- if she can manage through to the weekend that in itself will be commendable. Our littlest's school has banned crisps for break time and she is bereft. So much so she and mummy had to bake little cakes for her to take in instead.

shinga-- I'm sure I read once of a theory that we would do better to offer each child £1000000 at age 18 than run a welfare state, but I can't quite recall where or when. Possibly a little too far in the utilitarian direction, but sounds like a brilliant theory to me, providing I am allowed to claim the cumulative interest on my £1M that is.....

geena-- Ahem. Should you even be looking there madame? Without the alias it was even better. Henceforth it shall be known as "Supreme Lord of Ultimate Darkness." Catchy don't you think?

Geena said...

Very. Scary too. M'Lord.

*exits in awestruck wonder*

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply. I'm Sally, (no blogger account). Sorry if the anon seemed rude.

As regards to learning things, it was the VWD section of the Haemophilia Society forums, not my daughter's specialists which alerted me to the fact that Omega 3 might not be a good thing.

Luckily, she is diagnosed, and Social Services are not after me, but I still feel that I'm flying blind with this :(

Doctor Jest said...

geena-- ;-)

Sally-- don't worry about the anon. It's one of blogger's little foibles and us bloggy types are well used to it and not bothered at all. Still it is more friendly to have a proper name to reply to so thanks for that.

I'm not surprised you ended up getting your info from a forum rather than a "specialist". This is not to decry my speciallist colleagues in any way. They know a heck of a lot more about their fields than I do, but this "fringe" stuff might well be known to a few, but will not be widely enough pulicised unless it forms part of a major clinical trial published in the relevant journals. Much of what we may find out about diet and additives and their effects on diseases or treatments tends to emerge anecdotally, so in many ways we are all feeling our way some of the time.

Good luck with the flying, and hoping you find good co-pilots.

Potentilla said...

There might be a bit of a lead-a-horse-to-water problem. I seem to recall Jamie having some problems with parents furious that their children were being denied their chips and burgers and Cola, even going so far as to bring MacDonalds into school at lunchtime so as to avoid the nasty new school dinners with vegetables...

Potentilla said...

There might be a bit of a lead-a-horse-to-water problem. I seem to recall Jamie having some problems with parents furious that their children were being denied their chips and burgers and Cola, even going so far as to bring MacDonalds into school at lunchtime so as to avoid the nasty new school dinners with vegetables...

Chairwoman of the bored said...

When I was a child, the cod liver oil was cunningly mixed with the malt to disguise the vile taste. It came in a large brown jar, and was such a treat (confectionary was rationed) that it had to be kept on a very high shelf indeed.

stitchwort said...

Oh yes, there's lots of us veggies North of the Tees. Some of us even don't care about football!
Had to look up *nesh* - I used to blame feeling cold on being born in one of the coldest winters of the century, but now the menopause has sorted all that out....

Doctor Jest said...

potentilla-- indeed. But the lad has at least shown what can be done with effort and a little extra thought (and cash to be sure). Still strikes me as bbetter to rty to feed kids properly than to have to supplement inadequate diets. Not pretending it's easty though.

Madam Chairwoman-- very interesting. Somehow I already had you figured as more Tigger than Roo, and so it would appear ;-)

stitchwort-- now I am stunned. The veggie thin I can accept, but not caring about football? Won't that lead to excommunication or some such? Certainly seems a brave admission ;-)

Shinga said...

Ben Goldacre has made his usual acerbic but interesting comments about this fish oil 'trial' that the Director of Education (or some such) denies is a trial.

By the by, Granny may have some support for her admiration for cod liver oil, but what about her advice that we should eat bread and dripping because it greases the lungs?

Regards - Shinga

Chairwoman of the bored said...

Dr J - I've just noticed you said 'nesh' a word that I was totally unfamiliar with until I married. Although the late Chairman was a Scouser, the word apparently comes from the Orkneys, from whence his maternal grandmother came. I always understood it to mean feeble and namby-pamby. 'You're so nesh!'he'd exclaim, when I'd declined an invitation to walk the dog pack in torrential rain, or some similar treat.

Is that how you understand it?

Doctor Jest said...

Madam Chairwoman-- indeed so. I can confirm that the word had penetrated the West Riding by the late 60s. I know I'm a southern softie but a couple of my formative years were spent "Up north" 'appen.

Flea said...

Well said, my brother, AMEN!

Flea