Archive | September, 2014

Eating lots of cheese will save you from diabetes ?

30 Sep


The last week has seen a run of stories in the UK press suggesting that the solution to diabetes maybe a diet rich in full fat dairy products. The Daily Telegraph’s version of the story was sub headed ‘Eating eight portions of full-fat dairy products a day could cut the risk of diabetes by 25 per cent, a study has suggested’. The Daily Mail’s version of the story  even managed to include a swipe at doctors, who had clearly got things very wrong !


What I find rather interesting about this story, and what separates it from the usual run of media health is quite how specific the newspapers are about the study, for example the Telegraph story says ‘The new findings compared people who ate eight portions of full fat diary products a day with those who ate one or fewer per day and found they were 23 per cent less likely to developed type 2 diabetes.”. This same story has appeared around the world, the farthest example I’ve found is this one from New Zealand.

At face value this story seems to be reasonably strong, the newspapers reporting that it used a sample of 27,000 people and was conducted by a respected university in Sweden. However, it’s a lovely example to use to encourage students to delve a little deeper into the story.

As ever, the UK’s National Health Service provides a great resource for rational thinking about health related stories. The ‘Behind the Headlines’ section of the NHS Choices website does a great job of rapidly unpicking the media’s coverage of health news. What’s interesting here is that this seems to have stemmed from a study conducted over two years ago. This study Europe-wide  (of 340,2234 people) did find a relationship between high levels of fermented diary products in the diet and reduced diabetes, HOWEVER the results were rather more complex than that !

  • There was no relationship between total diary intake and diabetes risk
  • People in France who ate more cheese had reduced diabetes risk
  • People in the UK who ate more cheese were at increased risk of diabetes

A rather different story from the Swedish study that prompted the current round of stories. It’s also of note that the Swedish study is in fact a conference paper that has yet to be published. It could also prompt a discussion about sampling i.e. is a study of 27,00 Swedes more reliable than a study of 340,000 people from across Europe ?

All in all, if nothing else this is a great example of getting students to dig a bit beneath the headlines. It might also be worth asking students if other illnesses might be made worse by eating large quantities of cheese !




The start of a new year, and my mind turns to economics (in praise of @TimHarford)

17 Sep


In a couple of weeks time our new academic year begins, and for the first time I’ll be teaching a year-long rational thinking course to our new undergraduate students. This doubling of the length of my course has forced me to think about that I want to spend more time on, or address for the first time.

I’ve written elsewhere about my surprise that so few undergraduate psychology programmes address ‘religion’, so for the first time this year I’ll include a ‘psychology of religion lecture’, and given that this first running of the new course will finish at the time of a UK general election, I’ll also include. ‘The psychology of politics’ for the first time, however the thing that is really interesting me at the moment is economics. One of my great thinking heros, Jim Flynn, has written about the laws of  ‘supply and demand’ being one of the key ideas that people should grasp, but I’m going to try a different tack from just teaching introductory economics.

Tim Harford wrote a column in the Financial Times for many years called ‘The Undercover Economist’, and has now written a serious of books applying economic theory to everyday life. He also maintains an excellent website that is a great source of teaching examples. The nice thing about Harford’s work is that he uses everyday examples like ‘Why is coffee so expensive in Starbucks’ or ‘Why do shops have sales’ and manages to work in complex economic ideas without the reader really noticing. He can also be found on Twitter @TimHarford, well worth a ‘Follow’

The great thing about Harford’s work is that it gives you loads of teaching ideas, for example I shall be sending this article about the impact of increased sentences after the London 2011 riots to my Forensic Psychology colleagues.





Suddenly, looking at ‘screens’ might actually be good for you.

17 Sep

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the spate of reports that computer screens are addling the brains of teenagers. Imagine my delight to this week come across a paper saying that playing video games and watching TV might actually be good for you !

What’s interesting about this is that is seems a quite plausible study, and actually suggests that the reason that some people don’t benefit from ‘relaxing’ in front of the TV is that they negatively interpret it as procrastination. This seems quite valuable in a teaching situation. The idea that a popular idea i.e. ‘the internet is bad for children’ might get more media coverage than a less popular idea i.e. ‘watching TV might do you good’ might be a good way of getting students to thing about sources of information, and whether they might only ever hear about ideas that are ‘popular’

It also occurs to me that this is a lovely illustration of the necessity of reading around the literature, not just relying on one study !

%d bloggers like this: