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Busting obesity myths

The realm of weight loss is one where beliefs and myths abound. It seems everyone from the public to expert dietitians have views and beliefs around the causes of obesity, with these not always being supported by good science.

Coming from a firm scientific evidence footing, an eminent group of 20 respected obesity researchers scoured the Internet, popular media, and the scientific literature to identify prevalent obesity myths as well as facts that are well supported by evidence. Their findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on January 31 of 2013.

The research team arrived at a core group of ‘7 myths about obesity’, some of them certainly going against conventional wisdom. Following are a brief description of the 7 myths.

Anti-Indonesian bias, US a friend, China a future threat: Lowy poll

One could ‘sniff the wind’ and come up with similar responses to the Lowy Institute Poll 2013. But the poll does provide some detail, if again showing up a range of expected and occasionally surprising results on how the Australian public view our position in the world. And again, a large proportion of Australia’s foreign policy experts will tut-tut, shake their heads and say that the result explains why foreign policy is too important an issue to be left to the voters.
Perceptions on Indonesia is regularly held up as a case in point. Most Australians remain ‘luke-warm’ towards Indonesia, which scores 53 on the Lowy ‘thermometer’ scale. Most Australians (83%) say that Australia is a good neighbour to Indonesia, but only 54% believe that Indonesia is a good neighbour to Australia. People smuggling stands out as the major issue, with only 30% saying that Indonesia helps Australia combat people smuggling.
Consistent with these broader views, there also remain persistent perceptions of Indonesia as a source of terrorism and as a military threat. This is despite major efforts against terrorism within Indonesia and it never having had the capacity to meaningfully threatening Australia.
Only a third of Australians view Indonesia as a democracy, reflecting a range of competing images that are from time to time presented in Australia. Indonesia has had regular elections since 1999, but occasional reports of human rights abuses, corruption scandals and so on continue to sully the image of rule of law in Indonesia.
Without the Lowy Report asking why so many Australians view Indonesia as non-democratic despite regular elections, there appears to be a non-articulated perception that ‘democracy’ means more than just going to the ballot box every five years. This is consistent with a more ‘substantive’, as opposed to ‘procedural’ understanding of democracy.
The Lowy Report also showed that concern over the boat arrival of asylum seekers remained at around three-quarters, despite an increased arrival rate. Older people appear more concerned about boat arrivals than younger people, although the issue does resonate across generations.
Not unreasonably, China was overwhelmingly identified (76%) as key to Australia’s economy, but the US trumped it (82%) as important to Australia’s security. On this, 61% agree that China will eventually become the world’s major superpower. Related to this, most also believe that China will eventually become a military threat to Australia. But for the moment, Australians believe they can have their cake and eat it too.
The Lowy Report also surveyed perceptions on offshore processing (supported); action on climate change (more – 40% - say it is a problem and fewer – 54% - wanting to reverse the carbon tax), the Afghanistan war (61% say it is not worth fighting), WikiLeaks (58% support, down 4%) and terrorism, with 68% saying the government has struck the right balance.
Perhaps most disturbingly, though, what they survey did show was that younger people are increasingly ambivalent about democracy. Only 39% of 19-29 year olds agreed that democracy was preferable to any other form of government, and just over a quarter of all respondents agreed that non-democracy can be preferable in some circumstances.
In this, perhaps in the current domestic political environment, voters have increasingly adopted Winston Churchill’s famous dictum, that democracy is the worst form of government.
He qualified that statement, however, by adding ‘except for all the others’.

WHO Report reveals the devastating prevalence and impact of violence against women worldwide

This article was first published at The Conversation on the 21st June 2013

This week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report examining global estimates of violence against women. The report examines two forms of violence - intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence. 

The report reveals the terrifying extent of violence against women in our community. Globally, one in three women will experience an incident of intimate partner violence at some point in their lives. In the most extreme cases, this violence proves fatal. Up to 38% of female homicide victims worldwide having been killed by an intimate partner, current or former.

Sentencing should be based on just desserts, not pot luck

THE community outrage at the fact Adrian Bayley was free to kill Jill Meagher is justified. But the focus of the outrage shouldn't be on the parole board for not rescinding Bayley's parole (for offending while on parole). It should be on the fact Bayley was given only 11 years' jail with a minimum of eight years for the brutal rape of five women, after having been jailed previously for rape.

That an offender could be imprisoned for as little as eight years for gratuitously and violently stripping five women of their sexual integrity highlights the catastrophic failings of our sentencing (anti)-system.

no peace with honour in Afghanistan

When a war does not have a defined objective that can be equated with victory, it is easy to fudge its definition of defeat. This is the case in Afghanistan.

The US' "peace with honor" in Vietnam was, by any measure, a defeat. The Vietnamese won their unified state and the US won nothing. In Iraq, also, continued waves of terrorism and a slide back into civil war was not by any measure a success, Saddam Hussein's death notwithstanding.

Now the US is proposing peace talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai also saying he is looking forward to negotiating with his "brothers". Whether or not there a "peace agreement" is negotiated, Afghanistan’s future is only as certain as the allied withdrawal scheduled for December next year.

Foreign troops will depart, the Afghan National Army will collapse, and Afghanistan will revert at least for a while to a bloodier and more retributive version of what it was before the allied invasion. At least some Taliban will be out for vengeance, and there will be a continued commitment to assist their Islamist brothers, be they al-Qaeda, any one of a dozen of Pakistan’s domestic Islamist terrorist groups or more than 30 Pakistani trans-national terrorist organisations.

For himself, Karzai will not remain long. No matter what assurances he might receive before the allied withdrawal, he is seen as an illegitimate, deeply corrupt and fairly brutal US puppet, which is a broad but not inaccurate summation of his political qualities.

When the Soviet Union left the "bear trap" of Afghanistan in 1989, its puppet, president Mohammad Najibullah, clung to power for three years of civil war before hiding in the UN mission headquarters for a further four years. After winning the civil war, the Taliban took Najibullah from the UN, castrated him and then dragged him behind a truck through the streets, finally hanging his corpse from a lamp post.

Najibullah also tried a process of "reconciliation". But Karzai will be keenly aware of Najibullah’s fate, and his travel agent will be lining up many departure options.

With the date of the allied withdrawal so public, the Taliban has in effect already won. It is just waiting for the clock to tick over.

As with the Soviet Union and Najibullah, the US will support the Karzai regime, at least for a while. But that assumes Afghanistan’s soldiers don’t immediately desert in the face of the obvious. At best, those identified as the Taliban’s enemies will be hoping to be able to make good an escape before the door slams shut.

Of those who do manage to flee, more than a few will end up as "irregular arrivals" in Australia. One wonders if the new minister for immigration will still be using the line that they should not be seeking asylum as there is no more war in their country, which is used for some Iraqi and Sri Lankan refugees.

For the architects of the Afganistan war, however, the withdrawal will be cloaked in something akin to "peace with honour". They will know, however, that regardless of what agreements might or, more likely might not, be reached with the Taliban, there will be no peace in Afghanistan until one side -- undoubtedly the Taliban -- has again cemented its rule over the country. There will be no "honour" in any of it.

But by then, the West’s regional security concerns in that part of the world will have locked onto Pakistan. Afghanistan is so last year; Pakistan is the focus of longer-term strategic planning.

Explainer: overweight, obese, BMI – what does it all mean?

Australians are getting fatter and there’s no dispute over how this increasing weight is affecting our health. Different methods of assessing body fat can give different interpretations of just how much excess weight a person is carrying, but all methods point in the same direction when applied over time.

The most common measure of body fat and associated health risks is body mass index (BMI). BMI was developed as a simple way to compare different groups of people, based on the correlation between height and weight as an indicator of excess body fat.

Is obesity a social contagion?

With rates of obesity in Australia only marginally behind the United States and tracking at the same pace, mathematical and social modelling on the projection of obesity rates in America is sobering reading for Australians.

The most recent statistics on the weight and health of the Australian population paints the grim picture of one in four adults classified as obese (defined as a body mass index above 30 kg/m2). When overweight is added to this, 63% of adult Australians are likely carrying more weight than what is good for them. These rates have been consistently rising for the last three decades and do not appear to show any signs of slowing.

Can Aung San Suu Kyi turn Myanmar around?

Myanmar’s transition from authoritarianism has been given a boost by the announcement at the World Economic Forum meeting in Naypyitaw that Aung San Suu Kyi run for the presidency in 2015. Yet despite this unsurprisingly news and the world’s increasing acceptance of this once pariah state, deep structural problems look set to challenge the country’s reform process.

Myanmar must change its constitution to allow Suu Kyi to run by removing a ban on political leaders with family abroad. But this also applies to senior members of the current government, so that change is expected.

Myanmar’s recent seven-point agreement signed with the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) has also been a step in addressing challenges to the country’s reform process. However, the agreement is, to date, just an agreement to limit fighting and to discuss a ceasefire. It is not yet a ceasefire, much less a comprehensive peace agreement. International reports of its success have been greatly exaggerated.

The KIO and its armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army, have been fighting the central government since just after independence in 1948. Although it is the largest of Myanmar’s groups that have been fighting the central government, they are not alone.

Sporadic fighting also continues in Shan State South, and the Wa and Kokang autonomous regions continue to run narco-territories in the north-east of Shan State. These are now based mostly on amphetamines, which have largely replaced the more vulnerable opium.

The cultural and economic divide between the ethnic majority Bama (Burman) and Myanmar’s numerous minorities, including the 12 "ceasefire groups", remains as wide as ever. The people of central Myanmar continue to face serious poverty, but the outlying ethnic minorities experience even more debilitating conditions.

Lack of education is arguably the biggest problem facing the ethnic minorities, with Burman language teachers either refusing to work in non-Burman areas or leaving soon after they arrive. Without education, much less in a language they understand, minorities remain trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty and alienation. This, in turn, pushes them into illegal trade and drives armed resistance to the government.

With continuing armed threats to the state, the army -- the Tatmadaw -- continues to be the state’s institutional centrepiece. This is what led to the military’s seizure of power five decades ago, and it continues to insinuate itself into Myanmar’s "reformist" future. Suu Kyi is seen as leading the reform movement, but her views on Myanmar’s ethnic problems and the unity of the state places her closer to the military than to most ethnic groups.

As with many developing countries, the Myanmar army is deeply involved in its own business interests, both to fund itself and to enrich its officers. As Myanmar opens to the outside world, military businesses are partnering with outside companies to take advantage of the new economic openness. The "reform" process makes good business sense to the country’s military and business elites, and this alone will ensure greater economic openness. It also reduces military accountability to a civilian government.

And not all are happy with the pace or direction of reform. While reflecting historical anti-Muslim sentiment, last week’s anti-Muslim rioting in Lashio and recent rioting in towns between north of Yangon up to Mandalay and, of course, in Rakhine State, is believed to have been organised by forces wishing to limit the reform process.

Such forces include Tatmadaw recalcitrants, but also associated business interests and the more chauvinistic of the Buddhist community, notably under the banner of the ultra-nationalist ‘969’ movement. In this contest for Myanmar’s future, the country is very unlikely to return to its dark past. But the reform process may not go as far as many are suggesting, or would like.

The path of Myanmar’s change is increasingly being acknowledged as less than direct, with a number of detours, an occasional dead end and some unhelpful excursions along the way.

After the 2015 elections, Myanmar is likely to have a more representative and less overtly military dominated government. But, until or unless it can resolve its ethnic issues, its reform process may remain crippled by the defects that are characterising its birth, President Aung San Suu Kyi or otherwise.

Sophistication needed in cyber defence strategies

Original Article: ABC DRUM

We are now seeing true sophistication in the planning and implementation of cyber attacks. In the lead-up to the federal election both major parties must make public their future policies and strategies for protecting Australia against the growing cyber risk, writes Matthew Warren.

The recent cases reported on ABC Four Corners regarding the alleged stealing of information from Australian corporate and government systems highlights the potential threat of cyber espionage.

The ABC Four Corners program Hacked! presented the view that Australia is the victim of an ongoing cyber espionage campaign and the specific target is Australian corporate and government computer systems and the data contained within these systems.

Pay attention if you want to lose weight

Attentive eating is a hot topic in nutrition research. A recent review of the research to date finds that mindful eating can be a powerful behaviour change in helping with weight loss.

Diets come and go, yet few offer any real long-term solution for weight loss and weight maintenance. An overall change in lifestyle and behaviour is fundamental to addressing decades of slow weight gain and failed dieting.

One very simple strategy to help with weight loss, so simple that it puts to shame many complex dietary recommendations, is to be more mindful when it comes to eating. Mindfullness can be described as learning to pay attention to the present moment experience and to let thoughts and feelings come and go without providing judgement.

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