Thursday 27 October 2016

Chocolate helps us lose weight so how come the Irish are set to be the fattest?

Everybody knows that eating chocolate helps keep you slim. Right?

Apparently, it's something to do with a complicated equation between BMI (body mass index) and some of the chemical ingredients in cocoa speeding up your metabolism.

Never mind that various medical studies over the years have announced the calorie-neutral qualities of chocolate (not all of them published on April 1), most people convince themselves they'd be even fatter if they stopped eating chocolate. Fair enough.

In a week when unctuous Sepp "I am now president of everybody" Blatter has cornered the market for daftness, American science journalist John Bohannon comes dangerously close to undermining his academic credibility by constructing elaborate bogus research that asserts eating chocolate helps you lose weight. (It doesn't.)


Bohannon's objective may well be laudable. But does it require such a complex effort to prove that reporters can sometimes report scientific facts without sufficient scrutiny? The lad needs to up his game.

The self-styled "gonzo scientist" has been struggling since the time his research on whether people could tell the difference between pate and dog food made it on to American television.

As far as I know, he has yet to try to fool the art world with a masterpiece painted by a chimp. But having already wasted hours of his life on this choc-shock scam, it may only be a matter of time before he challenges MOMA or the Tate to disprove that a pile of laboratory rat pooh is a long-lost Leonardo da Vinci model for the Mona Lisa. Playing a similar satirical gag as Private Eye did with Dr Thomas Utterfraud, the smartest bit of John's sting was possibly calling himself Johannes. Apart being from an exercise in futility, what we scientists call stating the bleedin' obvious, Bohannon's stunt is lame.

OK, so he fooled a few reputable websites. But conning busy young internet hacks is not rocket science. Not any kind of science. Seeing as he has a PhD in the molecular biology of bacteria, or something, you might think John would be beavering away at finding a cure for warts or foot fungus or something.

Or maybe even attempting to directly solve the obesity crisis.

More than one third of US adults are overweight. Recent World Health Organisation research indicates a looming obesity crisis in Europe, with Ireland trending on fatness.

You don't need a WHO report to confirm this. Like in a zombie movie, obese people are everywhere. And there are more of them piling on to our streets every day.

You can see them blocking the aisles in supermarkets or making life difficult for other people getting on public transport. Their XXXXL trousers, gúnas and t-shirts dominate the rails in department stores. They even have their own product websites.

The core concern is that abnormal or excessive fat accumulation presents a risk to health. The direct cost of obesity to Ireland's healthcare system is estimated at over €400m annually.

Tobacco is a product that kills 50pc of its users. Ireland introduced a smoking ban in 2004 with measurable positive results. No wonder a strong case is being made for the introduction of what's being called a 'fat tax'.


If people insist on piling on the pounds, with fatty foods and fizzy drinks, then let them or the companies who peddle the calories, pay a little extra.

If that doesn't act as a deterrent at least it will help towards the medical care the consumers will be requiring sooner rather than later.

Bohannon, our chocolate agent provocateur, once embedded with the military in Afghanistan and engineered the voluntary release of civilian casualty data by the military and the UN. So helping persuade people to stop stuffing themselves with gunge shouldn't be outside his capabilities.

Otherwise, just a few generations after the Great Famine, Ireland is set to become the fattest country on the planet.

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