Each week we analyse some of the hot headlines in health and nutrition news. This week we look at wine glass size increase, NHS breastfeeding incentives and a man who claims a raw vegan diet cured his cancer.

 

HEADLINE 1: WINE GLASSES NOW SEVEN TIMES LARGER THAN IN GEORGIAN TIMES

This week the BBC, the Daily Mail, the Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Sun reported on the increasing size of wine glasses being served up.

New research from Cambridge University found that wine glasses are as much as seven times larger than they were 300 years ago.  Measurements were taken of 411 glasses from 1700 until modern day.

Looking at sources including eBay, museums and department stores, it was found that wine glass capacity has increased from an average of 66ml in the 1700s to 417ml in the 2000s, and the average wine glass size in 2016-2017 was 449ml.  

Behind the headlines: the Nutrilicious dietetic view
While these headlines may lead us to assume that an increase in wine glass size directly correlates to an increase in wine consumption, this has not been proven by the research. Nor can we assume that reducing wine glass size would lead to a decrease in alcohol consumption – although it has been found previously that large tableware increases food consumption, so the same may be true for glass sizes with drink.

Not only are glass sizes increasing as this research has shown, but the average strength of wine has also increased. This points towards a greater consumption of alcohol than in the past.

The adverse effects of drinking too much alcohol is well documented. It can increase the risk of least seven types of cancer, including bowel cancer and breast cancer, and is also linked with pancreatitis, liver disease, heart disease and diabetes.

Calories can sometimes be forgotten with alcohol but in fact it contains nearly as many calories per gram as fat does (7kcal per gram for alcohol and 9kcal per gram for fat). A 175ml glass of wine contains around 160 calories. For more information on alcohol and calories see Drinkaware’s handy Unit & Calorie Calculator.

With Christmas looming, it can be easy to overdo the alcohol consumption. The government recommends both men and women stick to no more than 14 units per week. To find out what constitutes a unit see Drinkaware. For wine, a 125ml glass of wine would be one unit, so it is a worry to think that a 449ml glass would contain over three units.

The take home message is to not exceed government guidelines for alcohol consumption and to be aware of glass size as this may well have a role in the amount of alcohol consumed.

For more info: British Medical Journal

 

HEADLINE 2: OFFER CASH INCENTIVES TO MOTHERS TO PROMOTE BREASTFEEDING

The Guardian, the Evening Standard, the BBC, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail have reported on how shopping vouchers could potentially be used to help increases rates of breastfeeding in the UK.  

This is based on a trial of 10,000 women in deprived areas which found that giving shopping vouchers to mothers resulted in a significant rise in breastfeeding rates.

The vouchers were worth £120 and were provided if the babies received breastmilk (including expressed) at two days, 10 days and six weeks old. If babies were still being breastfed at six months, a further £80 of vouchers were given to the mothers.

A 6% increase in rates of breastfeeding was found which the researchers concluded was a modest but statistically significant increase.

Behind the headlines: the Nutrilicious dietetic view
One limitation of this study is that we cannot be sure that the reported rates of breastfeeding are accurate. It relies on the honesty of the mother and potentially an economically struggling mother may report that she is breastfeeding when in reality she is not in order to obtain the vouchers. The data is therefore unreliable as no clinical test was used to confirm whether a mother was breastfeeding. We cannot say that by employing such a scheme on a larger scale in the UK would actually increase breastfeeding rates.

However, it is good that methods are being tested and investigated to help try and encourage breastfeeding, as it offers many benefits for both mother and baby. It is perfectly designed for the newborn baby, helps protect the baby from infections and diseases, provides health benefits for the mother, is free of cost and is ready whenever the baby needs it. It can also help with bonding.

In the UK breastfeeding rates are particularly low. The NHS advises exclusive breastfeeding for six months. The most recent UK Infant Feeding Survey highlighted that:

  • 81% women initiated breastfeeding (69% exclusively)
  • 69% breastfeeding at one week (46% exclusively)
  • 55% breastfeeding at six weeks (23% exclusively)
  • 35% breastfeeding at six months (1% exclusively)

So there is clearly huge room for improvement in this country.

Breastfeeding is not necessarily easy. The NHS acknowledges this and has provided advice on common breastfeeding problems. Identifying barriers to breastfeeding and providing plenty of support to mothers remains of key importance to help increase rates in the UK.

 

HEADLINE 3: MAN CLAIMS HE ‘CURED’ STAGE 4 CANCER BY SWITCHING TO VEGAN DIET

Also in the news this week is story about a man who claims to have cured his stage 4 cancer by following a vegan diet. This was picked up by the Metro (Man claims he ‘cured’ stage 4 cancer by switching to vegan diet), the Daily Mail (Father of two CURED cancer by going vegan), the Mirror (Brave cancer sufferer shares incredible story) and The Sun (Did vegan diet cure cancer?).

Rob Mooberry was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer in 2012 and believes his tumour shrank by 80% by following a raw vegan diet.

From the information we are given, it is understood Rob had undergone surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy (following which his cancer reduced to stage 3a). He took a break before his next course of treatment as he felt he could not undergo it and changed his diet to a raw vegan diet in November 2012. His following scan in early 2013 showed that the cancer had reduced by 80%. Rob’s cancer has now been in remission for five years and he has not received any further medical treatment.

Behind the headlines: the Nutrilicious dietetic view
The question on many people’s minds will be whether or not the raw vegan diet was responsible for ‘curing’ the cancer. We certainly cannot prove that the diet what was responsible for the reduction in tumour size. There is no scientific evidence to suggest this could be the case and Rob had previously undergone medical treatment. Also, this report is purely based on anecdotal evidence and does not necessarily mean the same could be applied to the next person with the same results.

Cancer Research UK provide advice on alternative diets and their role in cancer. They do not recommend using alternative therapies in place of medical treatment due to the lack of scientific evidence of their effectiveness. They also point out that unproven methods of alternative cancer treatment could make someone very ill. Supporting this further is Macmillan Cancer Support, who state on their website that ‘no alternative therapies have ever been proven to cure cancer or even to slow its growth’.

Following a raw vegan diet needs careful attention to ensure it is balanced. This diet was recently discussed by the British Dietetic Association as it has been considered one of the ‘top 5 worst celeb diets to avoid in 2018’.

To sum up, there is no evidence to suggest that a raw vegan diet can cure cancer and it is important to remember alternative therapies should not replace normal medical treatment. Alternative diets can cause various health problems and advice from specialists should always be sought before embarking on such dietary changes.

For more info: Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support.

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