Posts Tagged ‘Health’

The effect of Alcohol. And Meat. And…

February 25, 2011


Hot on the heels of an article telling us that excess alcohol consumption is killing people, the BBC now report that insufficient alcohol consumption is also killing people. Specifically the article says:

… the overall risk of death was lower for those consuming small quantities of alcohol, 2.5g to 14.9g, compared with non-drinkers.

This corresponds roughly to a glass of wine a day. So the message is that people who live longest drink alcohol modestly.  Next the BBC tell me that eating too much red meat will also kill me prematurely, but are keen to stress that a little red meat is good for me.

Friends forgive me. But at my age (51) I have grown tired of reading this kind of nonsense portrayed as ‘news’. Doctors, who pronounce  this kind of stuff with earnest tones, do of course belong a profession well known for the avoidance of alcoholic excess. But the way it is reported makes me think the BBC is ignorant of the writings of Confucius who 2500 years ago developed the idea of ‘the middle way‘ and suggested that:

The guiding principle of the middle way is that one should never act in excess.

Well, I’ll drink to that.

The effect of alcohol

February 21, 2011


”]A bottle of wine and thou... [Ed- surely that's 'a glass' not 'a bottle'?]My few regular readers (hello :-)) may have noticed that I have recently been concerned about the additional risk I am taking on by being officially ‘overweight‘ (BMI = 27). Shifting my BMI involves a good deal of effort and attention to details of my life that I feel to busy to pay attention to at the moment and, in short, I would like to know ‘ Is it worth lowering my BMI to 25?’.

On a  similar theme, I was taken by a recent BBC story about the effects of alcohol. The gist of the story is that a group of Doctors say that:

… if nothing is done, deaths from all alcohol-related causes – including cancers and road accidents – could claim the lives of 250,000 people in England and Wales over the coming two decades

Now that is a lot of people, but on the other hand 20 years is a long time. So the additional deaths amount to 12,500 per year. Again, a large number, even compared to the roughly 500,000 deaths per year in the UK (link to barely comprehensible Statistics Office Data see table D). But of course these people would have died anyway so they are not additional deaths but in fact earlier deaths. And often quite horrific deaths which are expensive to treat. So people drinking too much shorten their own lives, bring suffering on themselves, and bring avoidable costs to us all. And it’s these facts that ought to be the focus of these reports.

However from my personal perspective, I am frustrated that from the data given in the article it is impossible to work out anything meaningful for an individual. Like an answer to the questions:

  • If I have one more glass wine every day, how much am I shortening my life?
  • If I have one less glass wine every day, how much longer might I expect to live?

Now I don’t pretend that these are easy questions to answer, but these are the questions to which I personally would like an answer. And since we all pay the BBC to report and analyse ‘news’, it’s the kind of analysis I would like to read, instead of reading the simple repetition of statements from a press release.


Health and Efficiency

February 6, 2011
A rowing machine

A rowing machine

Being overweight as I am, I attended the gym yesterday and amongst other endurances, I spent 5 minutes on a rowing machine. Now rowing is, of necessity, a repetitive activity and gave me plenty of time to reflect on – well, this, and that – but amongst my reflections was the realisation that the machine was measuring the efficiency with which I turned food energy into mechanical work. How so?

The rowing machine calculated the rate at which I produced useful mechanical energy. Over 5 minutes I averaged exactly 150 watts of output power. Now output power is relatively easy to measure, and so I trust this estimate. Producing 1 watt of power corresponds to producing 1 joule of energy per second. So producing 150 watts for 300 seconds corresponds to producing 150 x 5 x 60 = 45,000 joules of useful mechanical energy.

The rowing machine also calculated the rate at which I used up food calories. It told me that the work I had done was equivalent to 62 calories of food. I don’t know how the machine could have estimated this so I don’t really trust this estimate. Now one food calorie is an old unit and is misleading in two ways. Firstly, it actually corresponds to 1 kilo-calorie of energy i.e. 1000 calories of energy and converting to modern units, 1 calorie of energy corresponds to 4.2 joules of energy. So my 62 food calories amounts to 62 kilo-calories which amounts to 4.2 x 62,000 = 260,400 joules.

So in order to produce 45,000 joules of work, I need to eat 260,400 joules of food energy. In other words my body was just 17.3% efficient. I don’t really know what to make of this figure, but it’s one that one doesn’t see often, and I thought I would just write it down before I forgot.

Now I will return to letting my body ache 🙂

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