Life Health & Wellbeing

Thursday 22 August 2019

Rude health: cooking our goose

When he gets around to compiling this year's Christmas dinner list, Maurice Gueret won't be sharing his brandy balls with the cold turkeys of the World Health Organisation

Will the Christmas dinner come with a health warning?
Will the Christmas dinner come with a health warning?
Maurice Gueret

With Christmas dinner the guts of a month away, I'm half expecting the World Health Organisation to turn up during the starters to pontificate about the cancer risk of turkey breast and goose fat. Their recent assault on ham sambos, sausages and steak went down like a lead balloon at butchers' counters.

Good friends were in Italy when this news broke, and they told me the whole Italian nation was up in arms about the assault on the reputation of their famous cured cold meats. The problem with this study is that the experts who cooked it up  aren't half as expert as they might be. They can't tell us  why risks are higher. It could be the roasting, the chargrilling, the frying, the curing, the salting or the chemicals that form when any type of food is processed. The worldwide meat industry has been tearing strips off the study, with the North American Meat Institute claiming that data was self-reported and then 'tortured' to ensure an outcome that researchers wanted. This scare will rumble in tummies for some time, or until the WHO's next foray into nutritional neurosis, anyhow. I have it on authority that coffee is the next target.

Beijing baby boom

We may soon hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet as thousands of unemployed midwives march off to boomtown Beijing. The National People's Congress of China meets in March of next year to set aside the one-child-per-family policy that has been in place for 45 years. Contrary to myth, not all of the population was actually subject to this policy. Cities were stricter about enforcement than the countryside, and many ethnic groups were exempt from the law. China's crude population-control methods threw up all sorts of problems. Gender-based abortion was rife. The policy was relaxed in recent years so that if the first child was a girl, a couple could apply for permission to have another child. Few bothered to question the casual sexism of it all. It was not mere morals, however, that finally changed the minds of policymakers. It was the economic and time-management problems of their first generation of single children. These young adults were working, getting married, starting their own families, but were also being called on to help with the day-to-day care, tribulations and economic welfare of two parents and sometimes four grandparents. It has been dubbed the 4-2-1 problem, and has left many older Chinese folk dependent on the state or on charity, when in the past they had an extended family to support them.


We are not immune to these generational issues in Ireland. In the 1960s, Ireland's total fertility rate was four births per woman. It has halved to two since then, which is still quite high in European terms (the Portuguese, Spanish and German figures average 1.3 births per woman) but, in truth, is barely enough to sustain a population. It might take a politician of some courage, conviction and clarity about the future to suggest that Ireland might increase its rate from two to three over the next generation. As it is, we are slowly following the European example, heading towards a miserable Chinese one. We could have a much more interesting debate on this than on traffic at a web summit or the price of lunch at the RDS.

Dr Maurice Gueret is editor of the 'Irish Medical Directory'

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