Having said that, I have to say I love people with strong opinions and a willingness to participate in honest, open discussion; I learn a lot from them. Solid facts, strong opinions, love them both.
What I don't love is when people repeat catch phrases based on opinion (or repetition) as if they were real live non-smooshy facts.
Like "Children born today will have a shorter life span than their parents."
Unless you have been off-planet for the last six months, you have heard this one, I know you have. Unlike many such sound bites, however, this one has a specific genesis: Jamie Oliver's TED speech.
What he actually said was this:
"We, the adults of the last four generations, have blessed our children with the destiny of a shorter lifespan than their own parents. Your child will live a life ten years younger than you because of the landscape of food that we've built around them."
Shorter lifespan? That's some scary stuff. This meme spread like wildfire. Maybe faster. Like wildfire on the Internet! Seriously, it seemed that within hours everyone who works with food, kids, school, or health was repeating it. The line is being used as the rallying cry for a long overdue reform of the school lunch program - a goal I support wholeheartedly.
There's only one problem: it's just not true.
The Centers for Disease Control's most recent report on life expectancy (2007) says that we have once again hit a record high life expectancy of 75.3 years for males and 80.4 years for females. Significant declines were seen in the mortality rates for more than half of the 15 leading causes of death including heart disease (4.7%), stroke (4.6%), diabetes (3.9%), hypertension (2.7%), and cancer (1.8%). The only place that the CDC notes an increase is, sadly, in infant mortality, which is up 1.2 percent from 2006.
This is almost old news so why am I bringing it up now? Well, it was brought to mind by the current kerfluffle over remarks made by British Health Secretary Andrew Lansley. According to the news, Lansley called Jamie Oliver's attempts to make over UK school lunches a failure. As you might expect, this led to a twitstorm of people denouncing Lansley for denouncing Oliver.
"If we constantly are lecturing people and telling them what to do we will actually find that we might undermine and be counterproductive in the results that we achieve. Let me give you an example, Jamie Oliver, quite rightly, was talking about trying to improve the diet of children in schools..."
He goes on to describe a sequence of events: more kids brought lunch from home, schools started checking the contents of those lunches, some parents switched to cash so the kids could go off-campus to eat lunch, now there are calls to ban certain foods from sale around schools. Apparently one result of this is that fewer kids are eating lunch at school and reaping the benefits of Oliver's work to improve their school meals.
In light of this sort of unintended consequences, Lansley simply calls for examining evidence when evaluating government programs. Which is not at all outrageous or catch phrase worthy. "Lansley Attacks Oliver" on the other hand, makes a great headline so I expect we'll be seeing a lot more of that.