Homeopathy Awareness Week

April 17, 2014

It’s World Homeopathy Awareness Week.

Apropos of this Siouxsie Wiles writes:

In case you need reminding what homeopathy is, it is based on Hahnemann’s bizarre doctrine that substances which cause disease symptoms in healthy people will cure similar symptoms in sick people, but only if they have been diluted to such a degree that there is unlikely to be a single molecule of the substance left in the preparation. . . .

There’s a video there if you want a giggle.

Also at Sciblogs, Grant Jacobs asks: how do you approve a course for something known not to work?

So let’s reflect on homeopathy’s contribution to public health:

 

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Supersize tax

April 15, 2014

Ask the Green party a question and what’s the bet, more and higher tax is the answer.

Tools such as taxation, regulation and legislation should be used to help curb the obesity epidemic, Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague says.

Hague was speaking in New Plymouth last night. Earlier he told the Taranaki Daily News the same tactics used to fight smoking should be used against type-2 diabetes. . .

Taxes work to discourage smoking but people don’t have to smoke.

We all have to eat to live and taxing certain foods might persuade some people from choosing them but it won’t necessarily help them choose something any more nutritious instead.

Photo: The Greens want to impose extra taxes on fast food. What do you think? www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/9929165/Greens-want-junk-food-legislation

 


Seeking interest in social bond pilots

April 14, 2014

The Ministry of Health is seeking groups interested in social bond pilots:

A new and innovative alternative to the way social services are delivered has come a step closer, Minister of Finance Bill English and Health Minister Tony Ryall say.

The Government last year agreed to a social bonds pilot and people are now able to register their interest in becoming an intermediary in the pilot programme.

An intermediary is a person or group who brings investors and service providers together. The intermediary uses their skills in project management and finance to raise funds and drive performance to achieve agreed outcomes. 

“The Government does not have all the answers to our communities’ problems and social bonds are one new way to involve investors and private or not-for-profit organisations in improving social outcomes, while achieving value for taxpayers,” Mr English says. 

Mr Ryall says social bonds give service providers greater freedom and flexibility to use private capital and expertise to deliver services to their communities – with the Government paying a return depending on achievement of agreed outcomes.

“This shifts risk from the taxpayer and provides an incentive for our investment community to use its expertise for generating results in the social sector,” Mr Ryall says.

Social bonds trials are underway in the United Kingdom, United States, and Australia where examples of their use include targets of reducing reoffending, increasing employment, improving outcomes for children in care, and improving management of chronic health conditions.

In New Zealand, service providers have submitted their ideas and a shortlist is being compiled by the Ministry of Health, which is leading cross-agency work on the pilot.

“We’re still in the early stages here but progress from the overseas pilots is encouraging,” says Mr Ryall.

“We see potential for social bonds to deliver better results and attract investment to preventative services and we think the time is right to pilot this model here.”

Mr English says there is a strong alignment between the social bonds model and many of the other initiatives being put in place across government like Better Public Services where the focus is on achieving results for the investment New Zealanders make in public services through their taxes.

“If successful, the social bonds pilot might attract investment and offer lessons that could be used for contracting in future, including further social bonds,” Mr English says.

How refreshing, and encouraging, to have a government which admits it doesn’t have all the answers and is willing to try a different approach to solve problems.

Rewarding achievement puts the risk with the provider while giving them a strong incentive to succeed.

This isn’t just throwing money at problems, it’s aimed at getting solutions.

More information of Social Bond Pilots is here.


Are you getting enough?

April 9, 2014

Are you getting enough?

enough

 

 

 

That’s the question being asked for Iron Awareness Week:

The Iron Maidens: Sarah Walker, Lisa Carrington and Sophie Pascoe are taking their role further as Beef + Lamb New Zealand ambassadors, helping to spread the message of an issue that faces many New Zealanders, but often goes unnoticed.

Feeling tired, irritable and grumpy, having difficulty concentrating and feeling the cold are all symptoms of being low in iron but are usually put down to a busy lifestyle.

“More people need to be aware of these symptoms and what can be done to improve iron levels”, says Sarah Walker, BMX medallist.

Iron deficiency remains an ongoing concern particularly for teenagers and women. Dr Kathryn Beck of Massey University says “The latest National Nutrition Survey found over 10% of New Zealand teens (15-18 years) and women (31-50 years) had iron deficiency. Many more women are likely to have low iron stores and are at risk of developing iron deficiency”.

Young children are also at risk with New Zealand research revealing 8 out of 10 toddlers not meeting the recommended daily intake of dietary iron and 14% of children under 2 are deficient according to New Zealand research.

Iron’s role in red blood cell formation makes it vital for delivering oxygen to muscles during exercise and K1 Canoer medallist, Lisa Carrington knows firsthand how important iron is in her diet every day.

“Nourishing whole food is key to my performance both in training and competition, and iron-rich foods have an important role to play in my energy levels,” says Lisa.

This is also an area of interest for Senior Performance Nutritionist, Alex Popple from High Performance Sport New Zealand.

“Enhancing oxygen uptake and delivery are some of the desirable adaptations from endurance training. Paradoxically, endurance athletes are often found to have iron deficiency, which could limit or impair their performance”, says Alex.

Alex will be one of five speakers involved with a symposium for health professionals titled Iron: The Issue of deficiency in a land of plenty held in association with the University of Auckland Food and Health Programme on Tuesday 8 April. He will present his findings on the role hepcidin, a hormone which elevates after intense exercise, has on iron levels in athletes.

Iron is found in a number of foods, with lean red meat providing one of the richest sources of easily absorbed haem iron; in general the redder the meat, the higher the iron content.

There’s more information at Iron Week.

enough


Lies, damned lies and . . .

March 22, 2014

I used to chair a trust which supported people with intellectual disabilities and their families.

Most of our funding came through government agencies and it was precarious.

We knew that we were competing with other providers and if we ours wasn’t the best proposal someone else would get the funds.

That happens all the times, and not just with government agencies.

The Problem Gambling Foundation has found that out and isn’t happy about it and has Labour’s support for that:

Labour says funding for the Problem Gambling Foundation has been stopped because the foundation opposed the deal to increase the number of gambling machines at SkyCity Casino.

That doesn’t sound good but the very next paragraph makes it better:

But the Government has confirmed the new holder of the contract to provide health and counselling services for problem gamblers throughout New Zealand is the Salvation Army, which also opposed the SkyCity deal.

That didn’t stop Labour blaming the government:

Labour’s Internal Affairs Spokesman Trevor Mallard said the foundation was being forced to close its doors because it vocally opposed the deal between the Government and SkyCity to increase the number of pokies in the Auckland casino, in return for building a new national convention centre. . .

This would be the same Mallard who was a guest of Sky City at the Rugby World Cup.

That was then, back to now:

Mallard said the foundation was the largest provider of problem-gambling services in Australasia and “it is hard to imagine a more qualified organisation to do this work”.

The funding decision was based on far stronger grounds than Mallard’s imagination.

Health Ministry group manager Rod Bartling said negotiations were still ongoing, but the tender process was fair and independently assessed.

“The ministry can confirm that it has informed the Problem Gambling Foundation that it does not intend to renew its national contract to prevent and reduce gambling harm,” he said.

“The process to re-tender the contracts for these services was an open contestable tender process.

“The evaluation panel deciding on the tender comprised six members – three internal ministry staff and three external evaluators from the Department of Internal Affairs, the Health Promotion Agency and a Pacific health consultant.

“The ministry also asked Pricewaterhouse to independently review the procurement process and this confirmed the ministry’s processes followed accepted good practice.”

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne was even stronger in refuting the claims  that the PGF lost funding  due to political pressure.

“The Ministry of Health clearly signalled in 2012 that it would go to the market for the provision of gambling harm minimisation services during its public consultation on this issue, and this is the outcome of that process”, says Mr Dunne.

“This review had been on the cards for some years prior to this, as the development of the sector has to a large extent been undertaken in an ad hoc manner, with duplication of services from national providers simply not achieving best value for money that clients of services are entitled to expect.”

The process to retender the contracts for these services was an open contestable tender.   The evaluation panel deciding on the tender comprised six members: three internal Ministry staff and three external evaluators from the Department of Internal Affairs, the Health Promotion Agency and a Pacific health consultant.  

“The Ministry of Health has been particularly mindful to keep the process clearly separate from any perception of political interference. This extended to commissioning an independent review by Pricewaterhouse on its proposed decisions and I congratulate them on the rigorous commitment to probity they have shown in following this tender process as it went beyond the requirements of best practice”.

“The outcome is that services are more streamlined and will achieve increased service provision from government funding in the gambling harm minimisation area. The Problem Gambling Foundation will continue to be contracted to provide specialist services, if negotiations with them are successful, says Mr Dunne.

It is proposed that the major national provider will be the Salvation Army’s Oasis service, which already provides gambling harm and other addiction and social services across the country.

“I am aware that the Salvation Army has been critical of the government in certain areas over the years, including the SkyCity convention centre, but I see no reason why this should prevent them from being contracted to provide the excellent services that they do.

“For Labour and the Greens to say that the Problem Gambling Foundation’s funding has been cut because of its opposition to particular government policies is patent nonsense. It was not until that process was completed that I was advised of the outcome.

“Just because they have Problem Gambling in their title, doesn’t mean they become a default provider, and I commend the Ministry for its rigorous process and decision making which will ultimately benefit those New Zealanders who may who experience negative outcomes from their, or others, gambling activities”, says Mr Dunne.

The PGF lost funding because the Salvation Army, which was also critical of the Sky City convention centre, convinced the evaluation panel, backed by an independent review by Pricewaterhouse that it was offering something better.

That still wasn’t good enough for Labour leader who has been active on Twitter:

A picture might paint a thousand words but that doesn’t make them true.

Cunliffe and Mallard aren’t going to let the truth get in the way of their story which gives us lies, damned lies and Labour.


Dear Future Mom

March 21, 2014

When I was pregnant with my second son I attended a business seminar taken by Wilf Jarvis, who developed Four Quandrant Leadership.

One of the points he made was about the danger of sticking labels on people.

He illustrated this by telling of a woman who came to see him about with a young child and began the session by saying “This is my son, he’s a mongol, he’ll never learn to read and write.”

Wilf stopped her and asked his name, she told him and he said, “This is Y and he has Down Syndrome.”

Y is now an adult, living an independent life and among his other achievements is writing his autobiography.

One of the children I met while in hospital with my son had Down Syndrome. He too is independent and one of his achievements was getting his driving licence.

Not all people with Down Syndrome are that able, but then not all people without it are that able either.

It’s World Down Syndrome Day.

This video was made in response to a woman who had discovered the baby she was carrying had Down Syndrome and she was afraid.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuODb3aljL4

Several years ago Emily Perl Kingsley wrote  Welcome to Holland, which explains how she felt when being told her child had a disability.


Treating causes

March 10, 2014

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley says there has been a rise of almost 1500 per cent in places on drug and alcohol treatment programmes for prisoners since 2008.

This financial year over 3,700 prisoners will have access to treatment for their addictions, rising to 4,700 next year, up from just 234 in 2007/08.

The Government has expanded the number of specialist Drug Treatment Units in prisons from six to nine, while there has been a fourfold increase in places at the Units. In addition, since last year all prisons have introduced brief and intermediate treatment programmes and Northland and Auckland Women’s have begun intensive support, as part of the drive to reduce reoffending by 25 per cent by 2017.

Corrections has so far reduced reoffending by 11.8 per cent, resulting in 8668 fewer victims of crime each year.

“The revolution in offender rehabilitation is going from strength to strength in the key areas of addiction treatment, education and skills training,” says Mrs Tolley.

“Support for prisoners tackling drug and alcohol abuse is just common sense, as we know that these addictions are a major driver of crime.

“All prisoners are now screened for alcohol and drug problems when they enter prison, which allows staff to make appropriate decisions on the amount of support required. This means that every prisoner now undergoes screening for addictions, health, mental health and education when they enter a facility.

“The latest analysis shows that over half of the current prison muster has problems with drug and alcohol.

“The vast majority of prisoners are released back into communities. If we can give them the opportunity to change their lives around while inside prison, and access education and employment skills training, then they will have the tools to stay away from crime when they are released.

“This will make our communities safer, and ensure we reach our target of 18,500 fewer victims of crime each year by 2017.”

This is treating the causes of crime not just the symptoms.

Drug and alcohol abuse are two of the biggest contributors to crime.

Addressing those while people are in prison is one of the best ways to equip prisoners for life outside and reduce re-offending.
Photo: Helping prisoners turn their lives around means less reoffending and safer communities for all New Zealanders: www.national.org.nz/Article.aspx?articleId=43249


Meanwhile what matters

March 5, 2014

While the sideshows are going on, the government is focussed on what matters – and getting results:

Under National, New Zealanders are getting faster emergency treatment when they need it: www.national.org.nz/Article.aspx?articleId=43177

 

Under National, New Zealanders are getting faster emergency treatment when they need it: 

Public hospitals are delivering emergency department treatment faster than ever before, according to the latest quarterly health target results released today.

“In the last quarter, 94 per cent of patients across New Zealand were either admitted, discharged, or transferred from an emergency department within six hours of arriving. This is up almost 2 per cent on the previous quarter and close to the national target of 95 per cent,” says Heath Minister Tony Ryall.

“This is the highest result since targets began, meaning that public health services are providing New Zealanders with emergency healthcare faster than ever before.

“Among the DHBs, Waikato and Capital and Coast stood out as the biggest improvers – up 6.9 per cent and 6.2 per cent on the last quarter, respectively. MidCentral also made significant progress – up 4.9 per cent on the last quarter,” says Mr Ryall.

The update also shows that four health targets have been met with:

  • DHBs delivering 79,785 elective surgery discharges in the year to date – 3554 more than planned;
  • 91 per cent of eight-month-olds fully immunised;
  • all cancer patients who were ready-for-treatment waiting less than four weeks for radiotherapy or chemotherapy;
  • and 95 per cent of patients who smoke offered support to quit when seen by a health practitioner in a public hospital.

“There will always be room for improvement across some targets, but overall, Kiwis can have confidence in continued progress across a range of key health targets from their public health services,” says Mr Ryall.

The government had the courage and belief in itself to set these targets and was willing to be measured against them.

 


Better start

March 3, 2014

I featured this as the quote of the week on Saturday:

Families want to know that we are not throwing their tax dollars around, but that we are targeting their money to achieve real results that make a meaningful difference to their lives.John Key.

This illustrates one of the real results:

Happy Children’s Day. National is focused on helping families and giving children a better start: www.national.org.nz/Article.aspx?articleId=43212


Drinking to be illegal in pregnancy?

February 25, 2014

A challenge in the UK against a woman who drank while pregnant could make it illegal for any woman to drink during pregnancy:

. . . The woman kept drinking despite advice from her doctors that excessive amounts of alcohol in pregnancy could seriously damage her unborn child. Her daughter was born with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which can cause physical, psychological and behavioural problems.

The child was fostered and is now under the guardianship of a council in the north-west, who have accused the mother of criminal injury. They are trying to secure compensation on her behalf by taking the case to the Court of Appeal.

A tribunal in 2011 already ruled that the child sustained injury because of her mother’s actions, but Judge Howard Levenson of the Administrative Appeals Chamber overturned this ruling in 2013, concluding that no criminal conviction could be made.

Although there had been “administration of a poison or other destructive or noxious thing, so as thereby to inflict grievous bodily harm,” because this took place during pregnancy the unborn baby “was not a person,” and so no criminal offence could be committed.

The council is mounting their challenge against Judge Levenson’s decision. If they succeed, knowingly harming a child by drinking alcohol while pregnant could be classified as a crime. . .

Foetal alcohol syndrome is a serious an preventable condition but making drinking at all when pregnant would be a very serious step.

Not all pregnancies are planned so many women drink without realising they’re pregnant.

Doctors advise women to drink no alcohol while pregnant because there is no known safe amount.

That isn’t quite the same as saying any amount is dangerous.

Making any drinking illegal might stop those who drink very little anyway but it is unlikely to have any influence on addicts.

There are other implications to such a law change- at the moment the unborn child doesn’t have any rights.

If it was criminal to endanger a child by drinking during pregnancy there would be a precedent for action against anything else which could harm the unborn baby, including abortion and possibly IVF.

A few years ago a midwife was found not guilty of charges of misconduct after the death of a newborn baby because she’d followed the mother’s instructions.

A lawyer told me that was because the mother’s wishes trump the baby’s until s/he’s born.  He said moves to change that if the pregnancy was sufficiently advanced to survive outside the womb had never got anywhere.


Charlotte Dawson 8.4.66 – 22.2.14

February 22, 2014

Has depression claimed another victim?

Media personality Charlotte Dawson has been found dead in her Sydney home.

Police have confirmed a woman’s body was found at the address in Woolloomooloo and there were no suspicious circumstances.

The New Zealand-born Dawson, 47, had a history with depression.

The former model was hospitalised last year after being bombarded with vicious Twitter messages.

She was a vocal anti-bullying campaigner and had been campaigning for cancer resources. . .

Her death will be referred to a corner but no suspicious circumstances  is usually police-speak for suicide.

Depression is a serious and often misunderstood illness.

Depression.org has an 0800 number to call and advice for anyone needing help for themselves or someone else.


Is “big food” science or politics?

February 17, 2014

Obesity isn’t healthy and it can be costly to the individual and the public because of the costs of treating it and associated problems.

There is evidence it’s a growing problem and it’s getting a lot of attention from researchers.

That would be good if the research resulted in evidenced based solutions, but is this science of politics?

Health advocates are drawing battle lines against “Big Food”, claiming drastic intervention is needed to stave off a diabetes crisis in New Zealand.

As adult obesity nears a third of the population, individual responsibility for diet and exercise is clearly not enough, said Dr Gabrielle Jenkin, an Otago University of Wellington health academic who is co-ordinating a seminar today in Wellington.

Government policymakers were reluctant to legislate against “Big Food” – industry powers such as Fonterra, Coca-Cola, Heinz Wattie’s, fast food chains and Foodstuffs and Progressive supermarkets, she said. Many so-called nutrition research bodies were sponsored by Big Food, she said. Dietitians New Zealand, for instance, stated on its website that it is backed by Unilever and Nestle.

Jenkin said “tainted” research was presented at select committees as unbiased fact. “They’re corrupting science.”

She claimed Big Food was more powerful than Big Tobacco, and likely to be more aggressive if policy turned against it.

The industry put the onus on individuals to fight obesity, so governments tended to promote diet and exercise rather than legislating against unhealthy food, she said. . .

Big Food is a statement based on emotion and politics not science.

The theory of weight gain or loss is simple – just get the balance between energy in and energy out correct.

The practice as anyone who has tried to gain or lose weight will attest, is far more difficult.

Food is different from other substances like alcohol or tobacco, we need it to survive and any particular food isn’t good or bad in itself.

Some is more nutritious and some has little if any nutritional value.

But anything in moderation isn’t going to cause weight gain and legislation elsewhere hasn’t worked:

 . . . Jordan Williams, Executive Director of the Taxpayers’ Union says:

“Denmark’s tax on saturated fat, introduced in 2011, was an economic disaster. The Danish tax was abandoned 15 months later and did little, if anything, to reduce harmful consumption. Worse, it was estimated to have cost 1,300 jobs. Why would New Zealand want to repeat this mistake?”

“Taxing the Kiwi tradition of a warm pie and can of coke won’t reduce obesity. The overseas experience is that fat taxes merely lead to compensatory purchasing and brand switching.” . .

Obesity is a serious problem and it needs serious, evidence0based solutions not emotion and politics.

 

 

 


Need to be cool to be thin?

February 10, 2014

Are warmer homes, schools and work places contributing to the obesity crisis?

A new study from scientists at the National Institutes of Health has found that placing volunteers in temperatures of less than 59F (15C) for around 10-15 minutes caused hormonal changes equivalent to an hour of moderate exercise.

These same hormonal changes have been linked to the creation of brown fat, a form of fat that actually burns up energy.

Brown fat was once only thought to be found in babies, but scientists have since discovered that adults possess small amounts of the tissue, with slimmer people having more.

Around 1.7 ounces of brown fat are capable of burning up 300 calories in a day – the same amount of energy stored in 1.7 ounces of white fat – the tissue where excess calories are stored.

The new research has now added to a growing body of evidence that exposure to cold temperatures can help people to control their weight.

Dr Paul Lee, who led the study and is now based at the Garvan Instutite of Medical Research in Sydney, found that exposure to the cold resulted in the release of two hormones called irisin and FGF21 that are known to transform white fat into brown fat. . .

The researchers from the Maastricht University warned that modern life meant people spent most of their lives exposed to warm indoor temperatures and so our bodies are not working as hard to stay warm.

They said the tendency for offices and homes to be temperature controlled in the winter could be contributing to the obesity crisis.

Marken Lichtenbelt, the lead author of the paper, said: “Indoor temperature in most buildings is regulated to minimise the percentage of people dissatisfied.

“This results in relatively high indoor temperatures in wintertime. This is evident in offices, in dwellings and is most pronounced in care centres and hospitals.

“By lack of exposure to a varied ambient temperature, whole populations may be prone to develop diseases like obesity. In addition, people become vulnerable to sudden changes in ambient temperature.”

Temperatures which were considered normal for homes, schools and work places a few decades ago are regarded as unhealthily cold now and linked to diseases of poverty like rheumatic fever.

But this research suggests that the warmer temperatures prescribed for healthier homes and work places while helping health in one way are contributing to problems in another.

These findings suggest we’re fatter because we’re warmer and we need to be cooler to be thinner.

Could the obesity crisis be due not just to too much sugar, but too much heat?

Hat tip: Tim Worstall


Green policy radical red

January 27, 2014

Labour’s former leader David Shearer has realised the faults in his proposal for free breakfasts in school:

. . . Is it right to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on to every low-decile school in the form of a food hand-out?

There’s an old saying: give someone a fish and it will feed them for a day; teach someone to fish and it will feed them for a lifetime.

Of course, we all agree that no child should be hungry at school. But what’s missing is a programme that will not only fix that but also improve nutrition and ensure self-reliance.

Before coming into politics I ran huge feeding programmes for starving kids, including one for 30,000 children in Somalia.

Without that food, those children would have died. But the programme was always designed to be temporary. As soon as the crisis passed, the families moved on, relying on themselves.

My fear is that we will institutionalise dependence through relying solely on a feeding programme. We need to be far more forward-looking. . .

Unfortunately Labour’s potential coalition partner hasn’t seen the light.

The party’s policy announced yesterday is to provide:

. . . 1.     A dedicated School Hub Coordinator ($28.5 million per annum)
The Hubs Coordinator will work for the school to recruit adult and community educators, early childhood, social and health services and explore other opportunities to develop a unique hub in conjunction with the school and its community.
 
2.     Free afterschool and holiday care programmes ($10 million per annum)
We’ll provide free after-school care and holiday programmes for every child at decile 1 to 4 schools, and we will expand access to Out of School Care and Recreation (OSCAR) low income subsidies to children at decile 5-10 schools.
 
3.     A national school lunch fund ($40 million per annum)
The Fund will make lunch available at all decile 1 to 4 primary and intermediate schools, but will be available to other schools based on need.
 
4.     Dedicated school nurses in decile 1-4 schools ($11.6 million per annum)
School nurses will deliver primary health care to children and their families in the school environment where they are known and trusted. . .

 Not only have the Greens not taken note of Shearer’s concerns, they haven’t done their homework on what support is already available:

Education Minister Hekia Parata says the Green Party appeared to be completely unaware of what happens every day in schools up and down the country when it wrote its latest policy ideas.

“We already have around 300 nurses working with virtually every school in the country and with a particular focus on low decile-schools.

“We already provide social workers for every decile 1 to 3 primary school in the country, under the Social Workers in Schools scheme.

“There are already a number of schools operating as community hubs, so it’s not a new idea, but it’s also not a concept that should be forced on every school.

“With Fonterra and Sanitarium we already provide a breakfast in schools programme five mornings a week to any school that wants it.

“We have increased our funding to KidsCan who provide services like raincoats and shoes for children and provide school lunch packs from donations.

“We already subsidise after-school care and holiday care for about 50,000 children, with assistance targeted at low-income families.

“We are already investing $1.5 billion in early childhood education, up from $860 million in 2007/08. Participation in early childhood education has risen to almost 96 per cent and we are focusing on improving participation amongst the most vulnerable groups.

“The Greens should do their homework. They are clearly unaware of all the things the Government is doing in this area, and they are also clearly in denial that the biggest influence on children’s achievement is quality teaching, says Ms Parata. 

“Quality teaching raises achievement for kids from all schools, no matter what their decile ranking, which is why we announced our big new investment on Thursday to raise teaching practice and strengthen school leadership.

“If the Greens really cared about getting better results in education they would back that policy instead of opposing it, and they would do the work to understand what is already happening in terms of providing additional support for children in school.”

Steven Joyce put it more succinctly:

Free milk and breakfasts (paid for by Fonterra and Sanitarium) are given to any schools which want it – and not all do.

Among those which don’t are some decile 1 -4 schools who will have publicly funded lunches foisted upon them.

Other support already provided is targeted at those in need.

In spite of the danger Shearer has seen, the Green Party will use public money to fund policies which institutionalise dependence, waste money where it’s not needed, foist food on schools that don’t want it and treat some of the symptoms but do nothing to address the underlying causes of the problems.


Pre-loading’s the problem

January 25, 2014

Pubs have known this for a long time – people are drinking, and often drinking a lot, before they get to them.

It’s called pre-loading.

Bars can lose their licences and staff face stiff fines if they serve drunks.

It must be hard enough to keep track of what customers drink when you’re serving them, bar staff can have no idea what people might have drunk at home if they aren’t showing signs of being drunk.

If they do suspect they’re drunk they can refuse to serve them and ask them to leave.

Hospitals can’t do that even though dealing with drunks costs them a lot of time and resources and pre-loading is a big part of the problem:

“We knew there was a problem with people turning up to our department with alcohol-related problems; this has confirmed that and it’s even shown that we’re underestimating it,” says professor of emergency medicine at Otago University Dr Mike Ardagh.

The study found alcohol contributed to almost one in three attendances at the hospital’s emergency department between 11pm on Saturday nights and 8am Sunday.

The median number of drinks consumed across alcohol-affected patients was 14 standard units -that’s about two bottles of wine or more than a dozen cans of beer.

The study also found that just 30 percent of that alcohol had been purchased at bars and clubs, with the overwhelming majority – 70 percent – bought at off-license premises such as supermarkets and bottle stores. . .
Dr Scott Pearson has worked in Christchurch Hospital’s emergency department for 15 years. He says alcohol related admissions place an enormous strain on the department – particularly on Saturday nights. . .

“We’d like to see a real public effort to try and reduce the number that are coming here because we’d like to spend that money on other things – things that can contribute to the public’s health in general.”

Increasing prices for at off-licence outlets is one suggestion but that imposes costs on the majority of people who drink moderately.

One problem with existing liquor laws is that people who serve drunks can be charged but the drunks don’t usually face the same risk.

Making drunks who cause problems and costs face the responsibility and be liable for their actions would be a better place to start than increasing taxes.


Case for optimism

January 9, 2014

At this time of year when people are making predictions on what the next 12 months will bring, it’s instructive to look back at what people were predicting a few decades ago.

In The Case for Optimism, entrepreneur Fabrice Grinda writes:

Let me take you back in time to the late 1970s for they seemed to mark the beginning of the end of Western Civilization. OECD countries were suffering from stagflation with inflation and unemployment above 10%. We had suffered from 2 oil shocks. The US had lost Vietnam. The Shah had fallen in Iran. The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. Dictatorships were the norm in Eastern Europe, South East Asia, Latin America and even Southern Europe. The Club of Rome had made dire predictions that the world would run out of oil, coal and many natural resources within 40 years.

No one predicted that over the next 40 years there would be democracies across Latin America, Eastern Europe and Southern Europe; that inflation and unemployment would fall dramatically; that we would see the greatest creation of wealth in the history of humanity as 1 billion people came out of poverty. 650 million came out of poverty in China alone, completely changing urban landscapes across the country as a whole. Despite 40 years of record consumption of oil and natural gas we now have more reserves than we did then. The way we work and live has been profoundly transformed by computers, the Internet and mobile phones.

If we take a further step back, we can see that over the last 100 years economic downturns, be they recessions that occur every few years or bigger crisis such as the great depression, as painful as they are while we live them, barely register in a background of unabated economic growth. In fact over the last 100 years human lifespans have doubled from 40 to 80, average per capita income has tripled and childhood mortality has divided by 10. The cost of food, electricity, transportation and communications have dropped 10 to a 1,000 fold. Global literacy has gone from 25% to over 80% in the last 130 years.

We have redefined what poverty means. Today 99% of Americans in poverty have electricity, water, toilet and refrigerator. 95% have a television. 88% have a mobile phone. 70% have a car and air conditioning. The richest people 100 years ago could only dream of such luxuries.

We are also living in the most peaceful time in human history; not just of recent history, but in the history of humanity. We are truly living in extraordinary times. . .

He goes on to look at improvements in technology, health, public service, education , transportation, communication and energy and concludes:

. . .  Think about it. Computing power was so expensive we had to limit access to it. Now it’s so ubiquitous we use it to play Angry Birds or check Facebook. Its very cheapness has unleashed an extraordinary wave of innovation.

The same will happen with energy. Once it’s cheap many of our other problems go away. The idea that we will face a fresh water shortage is also ludicrous. The earth is 70% covered by water. The issue is once again accessibility as only 1.3% of it is surface fresh water. However in a world of unlimited energy it’s easy to desalinate salt water. In fact we may not even need to wait that long as new innovative devices like the Slingshot are coming on stream that can generate 1,000 liters of pure water per day from any water source, even saline or polluted.

Once fresh water is abundant food also becomes abundant as you can grow crops in the dessert – and that’s not taking into consideration an agriculture productivity revolution that could come from urban vertical farms.

As people we are truly blessed to be living in this amazing time. As entrepreneurs and investors we have the privilege of helping create this better world of tomorrow, a world of equality of opportunity and of plenty.

Closer to home, Lindsay Mitchell notes 10 positive trends in New Zealand: Assaults in police, incidents of sudden infant death, recorded crime,  smoking, abortion, teenage pregnancies, road deaths, child mortality, Maori suicide and rheumatic fever have all declined.

Of course there are still major problems at home and abroad but both writers provide strong cases for optimism.

 


Coddled kids set up for failure

January 4, 2014

One of the strongest influences on my parenting was a business seminar on four quadrant leadership taken by Australian behavioural scientist Wilfred Jarvis.

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The quadrants referred to a graph with the employers’ control on the horizontal line and the employees’ skills and ability on the vertical one.

The first quadrant was at the bottom right where the employer had total control and the employee little or no skill. That was I’m in charge and I decide.

The next quadrant moved to the left and up as the employee developed some skill and the employer had less control. That was we’ll discuss and I’ll decide.

The third quadrant moved further to the left and up as the employee’s skill improved and the employer’s control lessened. That was we’ll discuss and we’ll decide.

The fourth quadrant was at the top left with the employee having all the skill required and the employer relinquished any control. That was you’re on your own, but I’m here if you need to consult.

This idea was just as useful in parenting as business.

Putting it into practice meant helping children develop their skills and giving them opportunities to learn and experiment. This let them experience the rewards of succeeding by themselves as well as learning to deal with failure. It fostered confidence, independence and resilience.

I was reminded of this when I read about these coddled kids:

Computer games, junk food, political correctness and apathetic parents are inhibiting Kiwi kids’ development, says physical educator Lee Corlett.

He has seen children cry because the grass on their school field hurts their bare feet, and kids who are so obese that they can’t get up off the ground without help.

“This is what our parents are doing to some of our children. It’s tragic, it’s awful,” he said.

It sounds like parental neglect at best and a form of abuse at worst.

Mr Corlett, of Sporting Initiative Nelson, every week teaches hundreds of Nelson children to “run, jump, throw, hop, skip, and catch, really well”.

He adores his job but says he is dismayed by many Nelson youngsters’ lack of physical skills and confidence, which he said were standard 20 years ago, before “PC gone nuts”.

“School teachers don’t have time any more, and mums and dads don’t have time any more.

“My job is to try and create a habit in the child’s mind that physical activity is real cool. And the hope is that will stay there for the rest of their lives.

“The physically capable children we are working with in Nelson tend to be the more academically capable child later on. That’s cool,” Mr Corlett said.

But parental apathy, and a lack of appreciation of the importance of physical activity for a child’s development, is affecting children’s attitudes toward exercise, something Mr Corlett fears will stay with them their entire lives.

“I’ll go to the park down the street from our house and I’ll see mum sitting there with her children. While they are playing, mum’s busy on the cellphone. There’s no interaction. It’s really sad.”

My parents and their generation didn’t do a lot with their children, they were too busy working. But they did encourage us to do things for ourselves and gave us the freedom to play outside where we ran, biked, climbed, indulged in rough and tumble and explored.

When our parents did have time to take us the beach, river or playground they might have chatted to other parents but they also watched and interacted with us.

Lazy parenting also affected a child’s work ethic, he said.

“Lots of New Zealand children don’t have any perseverance. Lots of things are done by mum and dad, because it’s quicker for mum to do it than for Johnny to learn to tie up his laces.”

However, children didn’t learn anything that way, other than reliance on their parents, Mr Corlett said.

It is often easier in the short term to do things for children but that sets them up for dependence and other problems in the longer term.

He said his programme encouraged kids to get stuck into physical activities and to push themselves further than they otherwise would, in a safe and supported environment.

“We’ll tell them why we do [an activity], and how it will help them later in life with sport or whatever. And we don’t give the option of not doing it. I will help them until they get it.”

He is imploring parents to do the same, so they can take an active role in their child’s physical development.

Five minutes a day of activities was all it took, he said. Parents should also allow their children to experiment, to go outside their comfort zones and perhaps their parents’ comfort zones. “If they climb a tree, let them climb a tree. It’s a good thing.”

It was also essential to create a balanced lifestyle, he said, “making art a part of their lives, physical activity a part of their lives, and, of course, schoolwork a part of their lives”.

Four traits were common indicators that a child would succeed later in life, Mr Corlett said.

“Confidence, perseverance, a ‘give anything a go’ attitude, and listening well. It’s all about attitude, and so much of that comes from parents.” . .

Parenting takes time and requires a degree of selflessness but the more you put into helping them learn for themselves when they’re younger, the more able they are to do things by themselves as they grow older.

Good parenting gives children the skills and confidence to succeed independently.

Coddling kids sets them up for failure.


Last call at the oasis

January 2, 2014

The people who brought the world An Inconvenient Truth have a new crusade – water.

Some of the issues identified in this trailer for Last Call at the Oasis are of concern here.

New Zealand by and large has plenty of water – though not always in the right places and water quality is good enough to drink and for swimming in most places.

But there is still pollution in some places about which we must not be complacent.


Can’t blame cows

January 1, 2014

Some Auckland beaches are too polluted to be safe for swimming.

One-third of New Zealand’s beaches are contaminated with sewerage and run-off, and even though local councils are aware of the problem, some are not acting on it. . .

The Auckland Council has released a report telling Aucklanders which beaches are safe and which are not, also identifying four places in the region that are highly polluted.

Weymouth Beach in south Auckland is one of the most polluted beaches in the country. Swimming or even fishing there could make you very sick. . .

If dairy effluent was causing this pollution farmers would almost certainly be prosecuted.

Cows can’t be blamed for sewerage  and some councils which are responsible for its safe disposal aren’t held to the same standard as farmers are.

This doesn’t excuse poor farming practices.

It does show that water pollution is an urban problem too.


Priorities

December 26, 2013

From water.org:

More people have a mobile phone than a toilet.
Even when you take into account most households don’t have a loo per person, that’s still far too few loos, too much inadequate sanitation and far too many preventable health problems as a consequence.

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