Monday, January 28, 2013

How much alcohol is optimal? Maybe less than you think

I have been regularly recommending to users of the software HCE () to include a column in their health data reflecting their alcohol consumption. Why? Because I suspect that alcohol consumption is behind many of what we call the “diseases of affluence”.

A while ago I recall watching an interview with a centenarian, a very lucid woman. When asked about her “secret” to live a long life, she said that she added a little bit of whiskey to her coffee every morning. It was something like a tablespoon of whiskey, or about 15 g, which amounted to approximately 6 g of ethanol every single day.

Well, she might have been drinking very close to the optimal amount of alcohol per day for the average person, if the study reviewed in this post is correct.

Studies of the effect of alcohol consumption on health generally show results in terms of averages within fixed ranges of consumption. For example, they will show average mortality risks for people consuming 1, 2, 3 etc. drinks per day. These studies suggest that there is a J-curve relationship between alcohol consumption and health (). That is, drinking a little is better than not drinking; and drinking a lot is worse than drinking a little.

However, using “rough” ranges of 1, 2, 3 etc. drinks per day prevents those studies from getting to a more fine-grained picture of the beneficial effects of alcohol consumption.

Contrary to popular belief, the positive health effects of moderate alcohol consumption have little, if anything, to do with polyphenols such as resveratrol. Resveratrol, once believed to be the fountain of youth, is found in the skin of red grapes.

It is in fact the alcohol content that has positive effects, apparently reducing the incidence of coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, congestive heart failure, stroke, dementia, Raynaud’s phenomenon, and all-cause mortality. Raynaud's phenomenon is associated with poor circulation in the extremities (e.g., toes, fingers), which in some cases can progress to gangrene.

In most studies of the effects of alcohol consumption on health, the J-curves emerge from visual inspection of the plots of averages across ranges of consumption. Rarely you find studies where nonlinear relationships are “discovered” by software tools such as WarpPLS (), with effects being adjusted according.

You do find, however, some studies that fit reasonably justified functions to the data. Di Castelnuovo and colleagues’ study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2006 (), is probably the most widely cited among these studies. This study is a meta-analysis; i.e., a study that builds on various other empirical studies.

I think that the journal in which this study appeared was formerly known as Archives of Internal Medicine, a fairly selective and prestigious journal, even though this did not seem to be reflected in its Wikipedia article at the time of this writing ().

What Di Castelnuovo and colleagues found is interesting. They fitted a bunch of nonlinear functions to the data, all with J-curve shapes. The results suggest a lot of variation in the maximum amount one can drink before mortality becomes higher than not drinking at all; that maximum amount ranges from about 4 to 6 drinks per day.

But there is little variation in one respect. The optimal amount of alcohol is somewhere around 5 and 7 g/d, which translates into about the following every day: half a can of beer, half a glass of wine, or half a “shot” of spirit. This is clearly a common trait of all of the nonlinear functions that they generated. This is illustrated in the figure below, from the article.

As you can seen from the curves above, a little bit of alcohol every day seems to have an acute effect on mortality reduction. And it seems that taking little doses every day is much better than taking the equivalent dose over a larger period of time; for instance, the equivalent per week, taken once a week. This is suggested by other studies as well ().

The curves above do not clearly reflect a couple of problems with alcohol consumption. One is that alcohol seems to be treated by the body as a toxin, which causes some harm and some good at the same time, the good being often ascribed to hormesis (). Someone who is more sensitive to alcohol’s harmful effects, on the liver for example, may not benefit as much from its positive effects.

The curves are averages that pass through points, after which the points are forgotten; even though they are real people.

The other problem with alcohol is that most people who are introduced to it in highly urbanized areas (where most people live) tend to drink it because of its mood-altering effects. This leads to a major danger of addiction and abuse. And drinking a lot of alcohol is much worse than not drinking at all.

Interestingly, in traditional Mediterranean Cultures where wine is consumed regularly, people tend to generally frown upon drunkenness ().

Sunday, January 27, 2013

...over and done

Fresh winds are blowing - a distant, subtle fragrance in the air - flux and evolution - all good. No more to add this week other than the events, exhibition, funding, commission and training offered below.

A reminder that if you want to come to the Networking Event at MMU on Thursday 7th Feb that has input of guests from Italy and Turkey and a focus on the arts in relation to recovery, you have to register at and details of the venue and other information, will be sent early next week.

The following short film is another eye-flickering response to some of the conversations I’ve had with people about re-imagining this arts/health field in relation to the here and now. (see previous blogs) Please don’t click on the film if you react badly to flashing images. 

Birth Rites Collection
The shortlisted entries for the Birth Rites Collection’s bi-annual art prize will be showcased at the University of Salford’s MediaCityUK campus on Saturday 2 February. The Collection was established by Helen Knowles, an artist and curator who aims to encourage a wider debate about the politics and practice of childbirth through the use of art. It was inspired by Helen’s contrasting experiences of giving birth to her first child in a hospital by cesarean and her second born at home. The exhibition at MediaCityUK will feature the drawings, films, photographs and sculptures of 15 shortlisted artists from all over the world. The prize is a month at artistic retreat The Trelex Residency in Geneva (including the cost of flights and a stipend) plus a place in the Birth Rites Collection.

The short-listed artworks include Emma Lazenby’s BAFTA-winning short animation about a midwife, Mother of Many (see below), photographs of women's faces at the moment of birth by Dominika Dzikowska, "illegitimate hallucinations", by Giorgio Sadotti and YouTube videos of childbirth flanked by photographs of people watching them by Claire Lawrie. 

The winner of the competition will be announced at the event by curator Helen Knowles and fellow judge Hermione Wiltshire, an artist and senior lecturer in photography at the Royal College of Art.

Helen said: “The taboo and under-represented subject of birth has been shown to be of great importance as a topic for artists to explore. We have had a great number of excellent submissions to the competition and this show presents a broad spectrum of works which were found to be the most poignant. Imagery on this fundamental life-process is a great way for people to get to grips with what it means to give birth today." 

The Birth Rites Collection is housed at the University of Salford in the midwifery department and the Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians in London. Birth Rites, Saturday 2 February, 11.00am – 5.00pm, The Egg, University of Salford, MediaCityUK. Prize to be awarded at 2pm.

Music in Healthcare Settings Training
We are proud to announce details of our next Music in Healthcare Settings training programme for musicians, to take place on 11, 12, 15, 16 and 17 April 2013 in Derby, UK. More details and an application form are available from our website here: Places are limited - applicants are advised to send an application asap. 

Tesco Charity Trust Community Awards (UK)
Deadline: Sun 30 Jun 2013
The Tesco Charity Trust Community Awards Scheme has announced that its funding programme for children’s education and children’s welfare will re-open for applications on 1 December 2012. The scheme awards one-off donations of between £500 and £4,000 to registered charities, schools and not-for-profit organisations. The funding they give can go towards providing practical benefits, such as equipment and resources for projects that directly benefit children living in the local communities around Tesco stores in the UK.

Applications should be made between 1 December – 30 January and 1 May – 30 June. The deadline for applications is Wednesday 30 January and Sunday 30 June 2013. To find out more about the Awards and how to apply, please click on the carrier bag below. 

Greggs Foundation Grants
Deadline: Mon 18 Feb 2013
Local not-for-profit organisations can apply for grants of up to £2,000 through the Greggs Foundation regional grants Programme. The programme is administered by committees of volunteers from Greggs shops, bakeries and offices who are based in England, Scotland and Wales.  They use their knowledge of the local area to make small grants to local organisations, in particular those that make a difference to people in need in the heart of Greggs’ local communities. The Greggs Foundation prioritises local organisations that help people in need in their local area, with previous funding helping towards trips, activities and equipment. Additionally the Foundation prioritises the following people:

  • Voluntary carers
  • People with disabilities
  • Homeless people
  • Older people
The deadline for applications is Monday 18 February 2013. Read more by clicking on the pies. 

Grants to Help New, Innovative Visual Arts Projects (UK)
The Elephant Trust has announced that the next deadline for applications is the 15th April 2013.  The Trust offers grants to artists and for new, innovative visual arts projects based in the UK. The Trust's aim is to make it possible for artists and those presenting their work to undertake and complete projects when confronted by lack of funds. The Trust supports projects that develop and improve the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the fine arts. Priority is now being given to artists and small organisations and galleries who should submit well argued, imaginative proposals for making or producing new work or exhibitions. Arts Festivals are not supported. The Trust normally awards grants of up to £2,000, but larger grants may be considered. Read more at: 

Public Art Commission: Liverpool & Sefton Health Partnership Ltd in co-operation with Mersey Care NHS Trust
Liverpool & Sefton Health Partnership Ltd (LSHP) Art Commission
(in co-operation with Mersey Care NHS Trust)
LSHP is calling for applications from experienced and suitably qualified artists/artist teams for the commission of a high impact piece of art at the entrance of the mental health facility which provides a message of hope, optimism and wellbeing for Mersey Care NHS Trust’s service users, staff and neighbours. 

The local community and service users will be at the heart of this project and the selected artist/artist teams must demonstrate how they will work with the community and service users to develop a sense of ownership of the building and its surrounds. Therefore the artist/artist team must also outline the approach they will take to engage and work with the local community and mental health service users. LSHP will expect applicants to showcase previous commissions where they have experience of successful public engagement.
Applicants are requested to read the full contents of the  Artist Brief and Application Process document carefully as it contains important information about the application process and terms of reference. Deadline: 12.00noon, Friday 22rd March 2013. full details by clicking on the Olympia Theatre below.

Is Photography inherently racist?
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin  
To Photograph the Details of a Dark Horse in Low Light 
The Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg is presenting two new related bodies of work by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin. The following text is taken from the gallery website. In 1970, Caroline Hunter, a young chemist working for the Polaroid Corporation, stumbled upon evidence that her multinational employees were indirectly supporting apartheid. With the collusion of local distributors Frank & Hirsch, Polaroid was able to provide the ID-2 camera system to the South African state, to efficiently produce images for the infamous passbooks. The camera included a boost button designed to increase the flash when photographing subjects with dark skin. Alongside her partner Ken Williams they formed the Polaroid Workers Revolutionary Movement, and campaigned for a boycott. By 1977, Polaroid finally did withdraw from South Africa, and the international divestment movement – which eventually crippled apartheid – was on its way. The radical notion that prejudice might be inherent in the medium of photography itself is interrogated by the artists Broomberg and Chanarin in this presentation of new works produced on salvaged polaroid ID-2 systems.

Early colour film was known to be predicated on white skin and in 1977 when Jean-Luc Godard was invited on an assignment to Mozambique, he famously refused to use Kodak film on the grounds that the film stock was inherently ‘racist’. The title of Broomberg and Chanarin’s exhibition was originally the coded phrase used by Kodak to describe the capabilities of a new film stock developed in the early ’80s to address the inability of their earlier films to accurately render dark skin. In response to a commission to ‘document’ Gabon, Broomberg and Chanarin recently made two trips to the country to photograph a series of rare Bwiti initiation rituals, using only Kodak film stock that had expired in the late 1970s. Working with outdated chemical processes they succeeded in salvaging just a single frame from the many expired colour rolls they exposed during their visit. In this wide-ranging meditation on the relationship between photography and race, the artists continue to scrutinise the photographic medium, leading viewers through a convoluted history lesson; a combination of found images, rescued artifacts and unstable new photographic works.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The nutritional biology of human skin color

The amount of melanin found within our skin has long been a source of division for humans culturally, but anthropologist Nina Jablonski of Penn State tells the story of how human skin color unites us all biologically.

It's become one of my favorite stories to share as it relates to nutritional biology: More pigment was naturally selected because it acted as a sunscreen needed to protect against DNA damage and destruction of folate, needed for reproduction. Depigmentation was selected for when humans dispersed from Africa and into the Northern Hemisphere where they needed skin light enough to absorb sufficient UVB rays to produce vitamin D.

I first heard Jablonski discuss the nature of human skin pigmentation almost two years ago at the AAAS conference in Washington DC. Later, I discovered her TED talk, which I've posted above. It's older, but worth watching over and over again. Jablonski has a simple message: instead of using skin color to discriminate, use skin color to teach people about evolution and health.

Now Jablonski has a new, richly illustrated book out called Living Color. It serves to complement to her previous book, Skin Color: A Natural History. You can read an excerpt from her book here, which includes this paragraph:

The properties of our skin — including color — affect our health. Most of us think that humans have used our collective intelligence to overcome biological limitations in a way that cultureless species cannot do. But at least with respect to our skin, this hubris is unwarranted. Many common health problems like skin cancer and vitamin D deficiency are caused by a mismatch between our habits and our heritage. The amount of pigment that our skin contains, which determines how our bodies deal with sunshine, evolved in our ancestors. Today, many of us live under very different conditions from those experienced by our predecessors and pursue dramatically different lifestyles. People living thousands of years ago did not have indoor jobs and go on vacation; they lived outside most of the time and generally didn’t travel much or very far. Because of these factors, many of us have an inherited skin tone that is not adapted to our current circumstances, and that mismatch places us at risk for specific health problems. Knowing our own particular risk factors can be a matter of life or death.

What a Komodo dragon can teach us about energy balance

Credit: San Diego Zoo
Try telling a Komodo dragon that physical activity doesn't matter and that all one needs to do to lose weight is eat a diet lower in carbohydrates.

Meet Sunny, the obese Komodo dragon. Her San Diego Zoo keepers have put her on a strict diet based on her animal energy and metabolic requirements. She eats only mice, rats, and ground turkey mixed with vitamins and calcium. Yet, it's not enough to keep Sunny from steadily gaining weight. When in captivity, dragons are prone to obesity because of their mainly sedentary lifestyle. They do little else than sleep, bask in the sun or shade, and eat breakfast or supper.

In their native habitat of Indonesian islands, Komodo dragons are extremely active. They travel up to 10 kilometers a day, run up to 13 miles per hour, swim several kilometers from island to island, then dig or climb as they hunt. Once they capture their prey, they can eat as much as 80 percent of their body weight in a single meal. That energy they will serve to store for often days or weeks.

When I asked senior zookeeper Ken Morgan what he was doing to help get Sunny moving and losing weight, he replied that they were trying a series of enrichment programs. But getting a 200-pound dragon to do any activity at all is no easy task, he said. It takes some creativity. One enrichment program Morgan has used involves burying a ball with a dead mouse inside. Sunny picks up the scent, spends some time searching for it, then digs around before finally discovering the treasure. It's activity accomplished. These games can help Sunny burn more calories to keep weight off.

Credit: Jordan A. Veasley and Giorgio Guerra

Similar efforts are going on at other zoos. At Woodland Park Zoo, Jordan Veasley and Giorgio Guerra of the University of Washington decided to compare the amount of activity produced by some of the most popular enrichment programs on two Komodo dragons -- Loki and Selat. They found that the most successful program was the "scent trail." This treasure hunt of sorts involves using meat juice to create a simple, yet intricate path around a dragon's enclosure that would lead to a dead mouse. When the dragons performed the activity, the researchers found that it displaced a lot of the time that would normally be used for simply resting. Instead, the dragons swam, dug, climbed and honed the skills of these endangered animals for greater possibility of successful release into the wild. The researchers also noted that the Komodo dragons performing the activities had greater levels of "excitement and joy."
Credit: Jordan A Veasley and Giorgio Guerra. 
Komodo dragons, of course, aren't the only animals in the zoo that are prone to obesity. Proper diet and environment play important roles, to be sure. But most zoos recognize the critical role of enrichment activities as part of an overall approach to help their animals keep weight off. I mainly focus on the example of Sunny, because it so nicely serves as a model to illustrate the why the energy balance paradigm isn't going to go away anytime soon. As a way to battle obesity, we humans might also learn a thing or two from the zookeepers.

What journalists should know before writing about fructophobia

"Pick your poison" Sugars by vavroom, on Flickr

In his new book, Fat Chance, Dr. Robert Lustig argues that "sugar is more toxin than it ever was nutrient." He writes that sugar is as addictive as cocaine, that it should be regulated like tobacco, and that children should be carded before having a soda. He compares the fructose component of sugar to ethanol. "Pick your poison," he writes, arguing that fructose will "fry your liver and cause all the same diseases as does alcohol." He also challenges energy balance (calories-in-calories-out) as the dominant paradigm of understanding obesity and and argues that sugar is harmful in ways beyond the calories it provides.

With statements as controversial as these, it's no wonder that the media, who tend to crave sensationalism to obtain readers or viewers, eat them up like candy. And Dr. Lustig knows what he's doing and just what to say to elicit attention. He's no stranger to the spotlight, as Elizabeth Weil writes in her article featuring the pediatric endocrinologist. The showman-doctor also knows just how to tell a classic falling-prey-to-cruelty story. He'd have his readers believe just what they want to hear: that their weight gain is not their fault, that the great evil monster of the food industry is putting addictive "poison" in their food in the form of sugar, and that the government is standing "idly by" letting it all happen. After reading Dr. Lustig's book, it's easy to understand why readers are entertained and maybe even enraged enough to give up on sugary sodas, cheese cake, and apple pie. But are the arguments Dr. Lustig makes in the book right or wrong?

Sparked by my ire of journalists buying into the sensationalism without so much as offering a contrasting view, I previously wrote about how Dr. Lustig's eyebrow-raising claims didn't appear to hold water. For example, one need only check the evidence from systematic reviews of human intervention trials (not rodents) to find that: 1) fructose has no significant effects on body weight, blood pressure, or uric acid when compared to other carbohydrates contributing the same amount of calories in the diet; 2) fructose in high doses providing excess calories increases body weight as expected from its contribution of excess calories and not because of any unique property of fructose; 3) and fructose at the levels normally found in fruit, which equals to around 10 grams per meal, is shown to improve glycemic control long-term. Does that sound like an ingredient that is "toxic"? I didn't think so and neither do most nutrition scientists who've reviewed the evidence. For these reasons, scientists lashed out against Dr. Lustig's inflammatory rhetoric and overstatements in a symposium sponsored by the Corn Refiner's Association at Experimental Biology last April. I wrote about the debate, which I dubbed the "Sugar Showdown", and then followed up with an interview with Dr. John Sievenpiper, a lead author of several systematic reviews and meta-analyses evaluating fructose's effects on health of the body, to bring more clarity to the subject.

Despite the push-back from his scientist-peers, however, it's evident that Dr. Lustig is pressing on with his mission to demonize sugar and his published book has gained him plenty of new attention in articles and interviews. I've found it difficult to keep up with it all and have lagged behind, having been busy with other projects (like moving to a new house). Fortunately, exercise physiologist and sports dietitian David Driscoll took up the charge to set the record straight on fructose around the World Wide Web. I'm indebted to Driscoll for nicely summarizing my own thoughts, pushing my blog article, and bringing my attention to other articles. And I would encourage any journalist or blogger who is writing about sugar, fructose, or Dr. Lustig's book first read Driscoll's comment and follow each of the links. He told me over Twitter that he posted the following comment, or ones like it, on at least 50 different sites over five days:
While Dr Lustig's theories and evidence may seem convincing to the general public and reporters, the real test is how well he performs with his fellow scientists!
He was certainly called out for overstating the evidence and poorly extrapolating rat research at a conference he spoke at earlier in the year - check out the Q and A video in the attached article by David Despain (as well as the other lectures)!
What research shows that it is fructose that causes addiction? At the Q and A at the Sugar Symposium, Dr Lustig was called out on this and one researcher showed that rats liked glucose based carbohydrates over sucrose, and another questioned the applicability of rat research to be extrapolated to humans!
Also a recent rat studied suggests that it might be the sweet taste and NOT the fructose (as they used an artificial sweetener) although the article title gets it wrong also!
The major issue with Dr Lustig's theory is looking at US Sugar intake over history - levels were still high in the early 20th century - so saying it is sugar is either an oversimplification or there is a threshold value that we have recently crossed. Methinks that it is a perfect storm of more sugar and less burning it up with physical activity!
I hope you get a chance to review these before the interview - especially the video lectures linked to within the article by David Despain
In my own reading of Dr. Lustig's book over the last few days, I've found that apart from the claims about sugar, the rest of the book is relatively tame. In fact, it reminds me of why I tend to hate popular diet books and find them boring. There is one chapter where Dr. Lustig calls out out insulin as "the bad guy," as Gary Taubes does, and I've discussed why this is shortsighted in my post "Good insulin, bad insulin: Its role in obesity". He also dismisses physical activity as having a participating role in weight management (although he does say it's good for you for other reasons); as I've written before, exercise is critical because of the role of skeletal muscle in consuming energy and determining metabolic rate. Mainly, however, the book regurgitates a lot of the same arguments are about what's wrong with the food system, some controversial and some not. Overall, many nutritionists would probably agree that Dr. Lustig is non-controversial. His recommendations for weight management are sound. He summarizes them by shortening Michael Pollan's "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." to just simply "Eat food." He argues that if you cut out all processed foods and sugar, people are bound to lose weight. He calls for completely cutting out anything with a Nutrition Facts label, which denotes that it is a "processed food". It's a no-brainer that people who go to this extreme would likely lose weight from lack of contributing calories from those foods. But it's not the only approach one can take to lose weight.

One might ask, why all the fuss about scientific accuracy? What's the problem with the cause of getting people to limit intake of sugar if it leads to a common good of reducing obesity? My answer to people who ask me this is the same that other scientists have voiced, which is that singling out of any ingredient and to make it the scapegoat for the obesity epidemic is just distracting. It's not helpful to call sugar "toxic" and ultimately does nothing to change people's habits, except maybe causing them to forgo buying any food with high-fructose corn syrup for a while. In the end, people will still continue to eat too much, exercise too little, and gain weight.


This week I took on the role of chair of the National Alliance for Arts, Health & Wellbeing and it promises to be an interesting period of development in the field. More of that very soon. Not entirely unconnected, I would like to talk to anyone who has had experience of mentoring in this arts and health world. I’m particularly interested in exploring reverse mentoring, whereby people who are slightly (hmmm) ‘long-in the-tooth’ like me, might benefit from a younger and dynamic arts/health person, perhaps someone who didn’t knowingly start out on this path, but finds either their health or arts journey has led them to thinking about this work - or perhaps someone whose start in life hasn’t been ‘conventional’. So, a two-way street in mentoring to benefit both partners. Get in touch if you’ve ideas on this.

People laughing their heads off at a Networking Event 
The first networking event with a focus on arts and recovery is set for Thursday 7th February and details of timings will be sent out to those of you who have registered a few days before. As though that’s not enough for February, I’ll be holding another session on Thursday 28th February between 6:00 and 8:00PM! I’m exploring how we define this arts and health thing that we do, and talking with friends and colleagues in Lithuania, we’ve been unpicking a very early John Angus Arts and Health Framework that he produced for the Health Development Agency back in 2002. It’s got me started exploring how we can better tell our story in words and ‘pictures’... What on earth do I mean? Well, how are we evolving? Is it just the same old synergies, divisions and silos, or are we thinking differently? SO - I’ll have done some preparatory work for the session, but it will be an interactive evening where we all contribute to visualising where we feel the field is at this ever-evolving moment in time. The little film at the top of the page, is a starting point for me. To take part in this event, you’ll need to register here 

Did you know that Manchester boasts at least 153 languages, making it one of the worlds most diverse places? According to University of Manchester linguist, Professor Yaron Matras the list could get even higher! He comments that “Manchester’s language diversity is higher than many countries in the world. It is very likely to be top of the list in Europe, certainly when compared to other cities of its size, perhaps only outflanked by London and Paris. We do know that around two thirds of Mancunian schoolchildren are bilingual  - a huge figure which indicates just how precious its linguistic culture is.” To find out more click on the animals below.

Celebrate Chinese New Year
Thursday 7th February 8pm 
On the evening of the first networking event you can follow all the excitement and celebrate the Year of the Snake with a fusion of Chinese music, jazz, beats and inspiring tunes featuring the amazing Yin Ng. This renowned composer, arranger and performer was the “musician of the Year” in Hong Kong in 2012. Yin has worked with More Music for over 6 years which included working on the inspiring LONG WALK project in Hong Kong in 2009. This piece was created by Artistic Director of More Music, Pete Moser, as a response to the Morecambe Bay tragedy of 2004 and was made and performed in Morecambe, Gateshead, Liverpool and Hong Kong. More details about this event can be found by clicking on this Ai Weiwei snake made in response to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that left nearly 90,000 people dead or missing. Many of the victims were students who died when their poorly constructed schools collapsed on them.  Called "Snake Ceiling", it is made of hundreds of backpacks latched together in the shape of a snake. These are meant to represent children's backpacks left behind after the earthquake. Ai said he saw numerous piles of backpacks outside schools when he traveled to Sichuan following the disaster. 

Musical Spaces in Medical Places
A one-day training & workshop opportunity following our Music & Wellbeing agenda, in conjunction with the Royal Northern College of Music.
Published on: 10/01/2013 A fantastic Making Music training opportunity at the RNCM for musical groups who would like to take their music into hospitals or other medical places. Led by experts in this field, Ros Hawley and Mark Fisher, the day will equip you with new skills to enter this rewarding sector. Read more and register your interest by clicking on the sublime Musique et Sante musician, Dédé Saint-Prix.

Developing Supportive Design 
for People with Dementia 
There is growing awareness of the importance of the environment within health care. The King's Fund's Enhancing the Healing Environment (EHE) programme encourages and enables nurse-led teams to work in partnership with patients to improve the environment in which to deliver care. This publication seeks to provide practical, value-for-money examples to encourage and inspire staff and their organisations to provide an environment of care that better supports people with dementia. As well as case studies with before and after photographs from participating sites, Developing Supportive Design for People with Dementia includes information about the development and evaluation of the EHE assessment tool; overarching design principles for creating a more supportive environment for people with dementia; and a project directory detailing the artists and designers involved in each scheme along with costs involved. Click on the graphic below for more details.

Family Friendly Arts Campaign MA Contracts available, The Family Friendly arts campaign is inviting tenders for two major pieces of work:

The Big Venture Challenge (North West)
The Big Venture Challenge, a national competition seeking to find the 30 most ambitious social entrepreneurs in England, has announced that it is open for applications.  Big Venture Challenge is looking for people:
• With big ideas to transform disadvantaged communities across England
• Who have got what it takes to build credible ventures
• Who have the ambition to be scaled up fast.

To be eligible to apply applicants must be 16+, be founders of the venture, and be based in England. Those selected as one of the 30 Big Challenge Award Winners will participate in an intensive 12 month programme that is designed to help raise external investment (debt or equity) of between £50,000 to £250,000.  The Big Venture Challenge will run themed and regional cohorts every year in order to build deeper, more relevant strategic support networks around each cohort. In 2013 the themed cohort will be in Health and Social Care and the regional cohort will be in the North West of England.  The applications closing date is 9am on the 8th February 2013. Read more at:

People's Postcode Trust Small Grants Programme 
(England, Scotland & Wales)
The People's Postcode Trust has announced the first funding round for the 2013 small grants programme is now open. Through its small grants programme, the People's Postcode Trust offers grants of between £500 and £10,000 to small organisations and community groups for projects lasting up to 6 months in the areas of:

  • Poverty Prevention
  • Advancement of Health
  • Community Development
  • Public Sports
  • Human Rights
  • Environmental Protection.
This funding round is open to organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern England.  The closing date for applications is the 22nd February 2013. For further information on this and future funding rounds please click:

New Grants Programme for Gypsy Roma & Traveller Groups (UK)
The Travellers Aid Trust has announced the launch of a new grants programme for Gypsy Roma and Traveller groups.  Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, the programme will make grants of between £5,000 and £20,000 to Gypsy Roma and Traveller groups to help skill up young people, improve literacy and work with offenders.  The Travellers Aid Trust expects to award between 7 and 10 grants a year over the next two years.
The closing date for the first round of applications is the 8th February 2013. Read more by clicking the image above.

...and a song to keep you bemused with slightly creepy tigers and rabbits cycling into an inky dark place...

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Environmental Racism

“...lead poisoning could be the major cause of the rise and fall of violent crime.”

In a compelling article by George Monbiot of an even stronger piece of research published by Mother Jones, the story of environmental impact on health and wellbeing takes an insidious turn - one that is new to me and worthy of sharing, if our arts and health agenda is to evolve with the times and take account of the wider determinants of heath.

We’ve all been aware of the impact of our industrialised and market-responsive consumer lifestyles on the planet for decades. Yes, there’ll always be those with vested interests who argue against climate change - twisted and self-interested. Research from Mother Jones exposes an entirely new slant on the impact of pollution on a significant public health issue - that of violent crime.

Taking into account numerous scientific papers and exploring the rise and fall of violent crime during the second half of the 20th century and first years of the 21st, it’s proposed, that it wasn’t changes in policing or imprisonment, single parenthood, recession, crack cocaine or the legalisation of abortion, but predominantly by the rise and fall in the use of lead-based paint and leaded petrol, that has had significant impact on violent crime!

Monbiot himself admits that until you read the well-cited evidence, the whole thing sounds completely implausible. The research between “cities, states and nations show that the rise and fall in crime follows, with a roughly 20-year lag, the rise and fall in the exposure of infants to trace quantities of lead,” with Monbiot being able to find only one critical attack of the evidence - and that was “sponsored by the Ethyl Corporation, which happens to have been a major manufacturer of the petrol additive tetraethyl lead.”

The premiss is this: lead has been withdrawn first from paint and then from “petrol at different times in different places (beginning in the 1970s in the US in the case of petrol and the 1990s in many parts of Europe), yet, despite these different times and different circumstances, the pattern is the same: violent crime peaks around 20 years after lead pollution peaks. The researchers have taken great pains to correct for the obvious complicating variables: social, economic and legal factors. One paper found, after 15 variables had been taken into account, a four-fold increase in homicides in US counties with the highest lead pollution. Another discovered that lead levels appeared to explain 90% of the difference in rates of aggravated assault between US cities. A study in Cincinnati finds that young people prosecuted for delinquency are four times more likely than the general population to have high levels of lead in their bones. A meta-analysis (a study of studies) of 19 papers found no evidence that other factors could explain the correlation between exposure to lead and conduct problems among young people.”

I wonder, how many of us were told as children, not to chew on our pencil because of the lead, or else grew up wary of lead paint? We’ve known about lead poisoning for decades, so is it “really so surprising that a highly potent nerve toxin causes behavioural change?” The thought of my own drinking water through lead pipes for the first 18 years of my life fills me with a little shudder. My parents constantly naively prompting us, even then with, ‘let the water run before you drink any.’

Lead is so toxic that it is unsafe at any level, its impacts are permanent and devastating. “Behavioural effects were first documented in 1943: infants who had tragically chewed the leaded paint off the railings of their cots were found, years after they had recovered from acute poisoning, to be highly disposed to aggression and violence.”

With the reduction and removal of lead based products from our everyday lives, this may seem like old news, or an irrelevant story, but this reporting offers us interesting food for thought - one around inequalities: the other about the only producer of tetraethyl lead on the planet - based here in the North West.

Monbiot describes the inner city lives of people living in un-renovated, inner city housing in the US, where people lived by busy roads and in degrading property, citing research that shows “African Americans have been subjected to higher average levels of lead poisoning than white Americans. One study, published in 1986, found that 18% of white children but 52% of black children in the US had over 20 milligrammes per decilitre of lead in their blood; another that, between 1976 and 1980, black infants were eight times more likely to be carrying the horrendous load of 40mg/dl. This, two papers propose, could explain much of the difference in crime rates between black and white Americans, and the supposed difference in IQ trumpeted by the book The Bell Curve.” The implications of this research for crime statistics, public health and prejudice are huge.

Finally, Monbiot points the finger to the last global producer of tetraethyl lead, who he alleges export to Afghanistan, Algeria, Burma, Iraq, North Korea, Sierra Leone and Yemen, “countries afflicted either by chaos or by governments who don’t give a damn about their people.” The company Innospec is based right here in the North West at Ellesmere Port. 
Banned from sale in the United Kingdom. Furthermore he reports that, ”in 2010 the company admitted that, under the name Associated Octel, it had paid millions of dollars in bribes to officials in Iraq and Indonesia to be allowed to continue, at immense profit, selling tetratethyl lead. Through an agreement with the British and US courts, Innospec was let off so lightly that Lord Justice Thomas complained that “no such arrangement should be made again.” God knows how many lives this firm has ruined. The UK government tells me that because tetraethyl lead is not on the European list of controlled exports, there is nothing to prevent Innospec from selling to whoever it wants. There’s a term for this: environmental racism.”

Just think about the implications of this research - the reality of people’s lives affected yet again by poverty, by greed and by prejudice. Monbiot points to the greater crime - that people’s lives have been destroyed by crime, both as perpetrators and victims. How much violence - lives imprisoned and lives destroyed, could have been avoided.

Please click on the lead symbol above for the full Monbiot article. The film below is a different, but nevertheless related and important story.
I am indebted to Dr N for drawing this one to our attention.

Networking Event
RECOVERY: Creativity, Culture and the Arts
Thursday 7th February 4:30 till 7:00

This is the first free networking event of 2013 here at MMU and I’m thrilled to say that European partners from the I AM - art as an agent for change! will be present to share something of their stories, plus you’ll have the opportunity to share some of your practice!

If you’re interested in recovery from substance misuse as an artist, health professional or if you’ve been through an arts based process as part of your own recovery and you’d like to share your practice or experience, register for the event by emailing us at  I imagine that people can share their stories for about 10 minutes each. For regular attenders, you’ll be shocked to know, I’ll be offering food and drinks too!!! SHOCKER. 

Registering your interest doesn't guarantee you a place and we’ll be in touch with you nearer the time with confirmation and venue details.

But, I hear you ask, what on earth is I AM - art as an agent for change! ? It’s a three year project that brings together people involved in the recovery movement from the UK, Italy and Turkey to explore how the arts might just play a part in recovery from substance misuse. The brainchild of curator Mark Prest and funded by Grundtvig, the project was born as a response to the European Health Commissions revelation that "Europe has the highest proportion of drinkers in the world, the highest levels of alcohol consumption per capita and a high level of alcohol-related harm. Harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption is a net cause of 7.4% of all ill-health and early death in the EU.” In 2010 the UK Government released its new recovery focused Drug Strategy - a move away from previous maintenance provision. Recent UK National Treatment Agency figures show an increase of people deemed as “in recovery”: some 27,969 people were classed as recovering in 2010/11; 18% more than the previous year.  Accompanying this is an emerging recovery movement, as illustrated by the inaugural Welsh Recovery Walk in September 2011 in which an estimated 2,000 people participated. In Liverpool, the city’s first alcohol-free recovery bar, The Brink, opened with 75% of staff themselves in recovery.

The European monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction (EMCDDA) estimates that drug abuse in the EU accounts for 6500-9000 deaths (by overdose) a year. Addiction is high on the political agenda, particularly the impact of alcohol abuse and its societal impact, so the time is right to re-imagine how art and culture might be used as a catalyst for change to explore new pathways to recovery and develop new models of good practice. This arts project will explore how creativity, culture and the arts can be offer us a universal language.  I AM is a European Lifelong Learning project that looks at different cultural experiences of addiction and recovery using art as a universal language. Alongside Arts for Health the partner organisations include:

Portraits of Recovery
Portraits of Recovery is an innovative, unique and new visual arts organisation with a core belief that arts, culture and creativity can be transformational in and of itself and can act as a new tool for recovery from addiction. 

The Italian Federation Department's Operators and Addiction's Services is advancing addiction as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education, prevention and human welfare. 

Cooperativa Incontro offers a full service of drug treatment programs and follows an individualized approach to drug and alcohol rehabilitation. This means setting each patient up with a drug treatment program that has been created and based on their particular needs and addiction issues. These programs will integrate a balance of individual and group therapy sessions, holistic healing therapies, social activities, and diet and nutrition courses.

Kütahya Green Crescent Branch is a non-profit and non-governmental organization that empowers young people and adults with factual information about drugs so they can make informed decisions against different kinds of addictions including alcohol, tobacco, drug, gambling etc. that erode the mental and physical health of young people and the community. 
So if you want to share something and lear about other peoples practice - and find out a bit more about the I AM project, register now at 

Thank you as ever for stopping by...C.P.