Tag Archives: Australia

Bottle fed infants: fluoridated water not a problem.

Parents need no longer be concerned about using fluoridated water for baby formula. Photo credit: Life insurance for your heirs

New recommended fluoride dietary intakes by infants and young children in Australia and New Zealand were recently published. The updated values are available online at Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand.

This is a regular update – the Australian National Health and Medical research council advises these recommendations be reviewed every 5 years. But the new recommendations are interesting because the upper limit for fluoride intake for infants and young children is substantially higher than the previously recommended upper limit.

Public health policy in Australia and New Zealand aims to adjust fluoride intake at the population level to be high enough to prevent dental caries but low enough not to cause moderate or severe dental fluorosis or other adverse effects. But health professionals have noted an anomaly in recent years.  Dietary intake of fluoride by children may exceed the previously recommended upper levels – even when community water fluoridation levels are within the recommended targets. Despite this the occurrence of moderate or severe dental fluorosis in Australia and New Zealand was rare.

This led to health authorities acknowledging that, for example, bottle-fed infants may sometimes exceed the upper limits for dietary fluoride intake – but still recommending this was harmless. Anti-fluoride activists misrepresented this advice by claiming health authorities were recommending that fluoridated water not be used for preparing formula for bottle feeding. Their claims are incorrect and alarmist. The “warning” simply provided advice that there was no risk of harm but the if parents were concerned they should occasionally use non-fluoridated water to make up baby formula.

In part, this current report is a response to that conundrum.

Why the change?

Anti-fluoride propagandists will no doubt attack this change. They have made capital out of the situation in the past by claiming that infants and young children are getting dangerous levels of fluoride in their diet. They, of course, ignore or hide the fact that despite this, levels of moderate and severe dental fluorosis have not been a problem. They, also misrepresent the situation regarding dental fluorosis and its causes – see Dental fluorosis: badly misrepresented by FANNZ and Water fluoridation and dental fluorosis – debunking some myths.

However, the expert working group who reviewed the literature and came up with the new recommendations did have their reasons. And these were more than just the absence of moderate and severe dental fluorosis.

They also concluded the previous recommendation was not consistent. This is because it was based on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s use of mean dietary intake and not the higher percentile fluoride intake which should have been used for the upper limit.

Consequently, their recommendation for the upper limit of fluoride intake for children up to 8 years of age is 0.20 mg F/kg bw/day (kg bw = kg body weight). The previous limit was 0.1 F/kg/ bw/day. This produces the following upper limits for children of different ages.

In Australia and New Zealand, the estimated upper range of total daily fluoride intake for different age groups ranges from 0.09to 0.16 mg F/kg bw/day – considerably lower than the new recommended upper limit of 0.2 mg F/kg bw/day.

Conclusion

Will anti-fluoride campaigners top claiming that bottle-fed infants consume dangerous levels of fluoride if their formula is made with fluoridated water?

And the rest of us should not longer make the concession that intake levels are above the recommended upper limits – because they aren’t.

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2018 Global Atheist Convention

Looks like we are going to have another regional global atheist convention.Such

Such conventions were held in Melbourne in 20110 and 2012 and were very successful. However, a lot has happened between prominent atheists since then. People have fallen out and personal campaigns have been promoted for and against personalities. I hope these conflicts do not jeopardise this planned convention.

I guess it will depend on the invited speakers. Salman Rushdie and Ayann Hirsi Ali will be interesting and attract lots of people. I look forward to announcements of other speakers in the planned line up.

So, I have my questions at the moment – but will certainly consider attending if the other speakers are as interesting.

Must renew my passport.

Meanwhile – if you are interested here is the message from the organisers:


The Atheist Foundation of Australia is pleased to announce the third Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne in February 2018.

Bringing together like-minded thinkers, and those who want to challenge their current thinking, the three-day exhilarating event will feature world-renowned speakers and entertainers.

Sign up today for speaker and ticketing announcements.

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Australian census religion question – progress

One-World-Religion-300x287

World Religions. Credit: Islam Beyond Borders

Looks like Australians have won another small victory in the way that their religiosity is officially assessed. In particular how census forms pose the religion question on census forms is posed.

I discussed the problems in my article Non religious in Australia and New Zealand. The Australian census form buried the “no religion” option – and may, therefore, have skewed results – see below:

Compare that to the New Zealand census question below:

I asked the obvious question:

“Do Australians opt for a religion in their census answers because they don’t , at first glance, notice the “no religion” option?

Does the Australian census overestimate religiosity?”

Greater minds than mine also asked this question. Rationalist and sceptic groups lobbied the Australian Bureau of Statistics to change the question during the post-2011 census review. They argued it was about accuracy. And they succeeded (see Census change: Is Australia losing its religion?).

“No religion” moves to first

So, for the first time “no religion” will be first on a list of answers to the question “what is the person’s religion”, and the “Catholic” option will move into second place – see below:
New question

It may seem like a subtle change, a psychological victory for the “nones,” but The Sydney Morning Herald argues it “may completely change the way Australia sees itself and have drastic consequences for the way government money is spent on welfare and education.”

“If Christianity did lose its position as the majority religion, this could impact government spending programs such as the school chaplaincy program, according to those advocating for the change.

“Many government services and resources depend on census accuracy, and the figures are used by religious organisations to maintain their status and influence in terms of grants, tax-free services, access to schools for religious instruction, and for their generally privileged position within the community,” president of the Rationalist Society of Australia, Meredith Doig, said this week.”

So it is more than a psychological victory. Surely it is important that allocation of resources to people of different beliefs should not be wroughted by the trickiness of questions like that in the old census form.

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Religious instruction scrapped from school curriculum in Victoria

Coverting
Religious instruction scrapped from curriculum – what a great headline to see in the newspaper.

Unfortunately, it is just for the Australian state of Victoria. But it could well happen here, considering the opposition to religious instruction in state schools we are seeing in New Zealand.

Victorian schools are scrapping special religious instruction from class time to make way for new content on world histories, cultures, faiths and ethics. The changes to the state’s curriculum raise doubts about the future of the controversial religious instruction program.

The state government said “Extracurricular programs should not interfere with class time when teachers and students should be focused on the core curriculum.”  And curriculum changes mean that classes addressing domestic violence and respectful relationships will also become compulsory for all prep to year 10 students from 2016.

I certainly consider these subjects that are a far more important and necessary use of school time.

The changes mean that he weekly 30 minute religious instruction program will move to lunchtime and before and after school in 2016. Mind you, that opens up the possibility that other religious sects (and, heaven forbid, non-religious ones) may demand equal time for their own presence on school property for lunchtime and before and after school indoctrination opportunities.

These changes are welcomed by teachers – and no doubt by many parents. Lara Wood, a spokeswoman for Fairness in Religions in School, a group that has spent the past four years campaigning against SRI, claimed victory. “We won, we got what we wanted.”

She said religious instruction providers were proselytising in primary schools while students missed out on learning. This has been a common complaint from parents because the chaplaincy organisation involved is well-known for its evangelical orientation and attempts to convert children.

But, predictably, this move is opposed by some religious organisations – including the chaplaincy organisation Access Ministries, the main provider of religious instruction.

In New Zealand, the Secular education network (NZ) is working towards the same ends as the Australian Fairness in Religions in Schools. I hope we can see similar successes here in the near future.

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The bureaucratic solution to a problem

Sometimes satire is very close to the truth. Take this piece from The Shovel – Liberal Party Commits To Having 50% Women In Seats Shown On Camera By 2025:

parliament-women1-620x399

Tony Abbott says his party is serious about the advancement of women, and has set an ambitious target to have half of all seats shown on TV filled by women within five years.

“We are deeply committed to giving the impression that a high proportion of Liberal MPs are women,” Mr Abbott said.

“These are plum seats – not just any old seats. They’re right behind where the men and Julie Bishop stand when they’re giving a speech, so it’s not just a token gesture”.

He said women had an important role to play in the party. “The party’s women are crucial for the Federal Budget, for example. They’re on screen for the entire length of the budget speech, which is beamed to millions of Australians. They feature on the front page of the nation’s newspapers”.

A Liberal Party spokesperson said there was still work to be done to meet the target. “At the moment women make up 20% of Liberal MPs, and around 45% of those on camera, so we’re not quite there yet”.


So often on issues like these bureaucrats are interested only in appearances – not correcting the problem. This reminds me very much of the approach taken by Human Resources bureaucrats in dealing with the issue of laboratory safety in my earlier life when I was employed. They talked a lot about “signage.” To them the way to resolve (or appear to resolve) a safety issue was to put up a lot of signs!

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Water fluoridation effective – new study

A recent Australian study shows community water fluoridation (CWF)  has a beneficial effect on oral health, even after taking into account the known effects of socioeconomic status and sugar consumption.

This is important because anti-fluoride propagandists are always pushing the mistaken claim that CWF is based only on “old science” and that “the science establishment” refuses to check these old findings. These propagandists have also latched onto the concern over the effects of excessive sugar consumption on general and oral health to claim that any apparent beneficial effect of CWF would disappear if sugar consumption was reduced.

The study is reported in:

Blinkhorn, A. S., Byun, R., Mehta, P., & Kay, M. (2015). A 4-year assessment of a new water-fluoridation scheme in New South Wales, Australia. International Dental Journal.

It  followed changes in the dental health of children in Gosford City, NSW, after introduction of CWF in 2008. It compared this with the oral health of children living in areas that had been fluoridated for over 40 years, and with those in the Shires of Ballina and Byron which were unfluoridated and had no plans to introduce CWF.

CWF clearly beneficial

The figure below compares the average numbers of decayed, missing and filled teeth (dmft) of 5-7 year-old children in 2008 (just before introduction of CWF to Gosford city – the “newly fluoridated area) with new batches of 5-7 year-old children in 2010 and 2012. In all three periods comparisons were made to similar children in the unfluoridated and long-term fluoridated areas.

dmft-aus1

Of course, anti-fluoridation activists might pick up on the improved oral health of children in unfluoridated areas in 2012 (and they might even try to ignore the rest of the data). But the clear message is that even though there may be a general improvement in oral health over time the children in the fluoridated areas still showed a clear benefit.

Influence of other factors

This study included measurement of other factors known to influence oral health. Statistical analysis of the data showed poorer dental health was significantly related to:

  • lower socioeconomic status;
  • origins (poorer dental health when mothers were born in a non-English speaking country;
  • lower educational level attained by parents, and
  • sugary drink consumption (poorer dental health where children consumed one or more drinks a day).

But, importantly, the statistical analysis showed a significant beneficial influence of CWF after taking these other factors into account. The following graph compares the dmft for newly fluoridated and unfluoridated areas relative to long-term fluoridated areas (defined as 1.0)

dmft-aus2

We can see that by 2012, 4 years after introduction of CWF, there is no significant difference between the oral health of children in the long-term and newly fluoridated areas. However, the oral health of children in the unfluoridated areas was significant poorer at all times.

Conclusion

Origins, socioeconomic status and consumption of sugary drinks have a statistically significant effect on children’s oral health. However, even when these are taken into account this research shows a clear beneficial effect of CWF on children’s dental health.

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Down-under Christmas

It’s that time of the year again.

Tim Minchin describes the joys of Christmas down under.

Dirty politics over MH17?

I have followed events in Ukraine for a year now and learned very early on never to be surprised. There have been so many seemingly outrageous things happen. On the one hand this has kept the Ukrainian events in the news. On the other it probably serves as a warning. There is just so much corruption in that country that anything seems possible.

Since August there have been rumours of an agreement between Ukraine, Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium about revealing information from the MH17 investigations. Specifically an agreement on nondisclosure – that the results of the investigation will be published once completed only if a consensus agreement of all parties that have signed the agreement prevails.

While the source for this was apparently a statement made under the auspices of the office of the Prosecutor General Yuri Boychenko. I haven’t seen anything more official than that

Until recently when I came across this letter which appears to be a response to a Freedom of Information request in Australia.

Doc-Aus

This confirms the existence of a nondisclosure agreement and that worries me for 3 reasons:

  1. I had hoped that assurances made at the UN Security Council meetings that the investigations of the MH17 tragedy would be transparent were genuine. This agreement seems to contradict the assurances and is particularly concerning as the current Ukraine government, or elements within it, is a possible suspect for criminal actions leading to the crash.
  2. The non-disclosure agreement itself is classified! What the hell could be in the agreement which makes it a state secret in Australia, Ukraine, Belgium and the Netherlands?
  3. Malaysia, whose airline owned the crashed plane and whose citizens comprised a significant number of the victims has been excluded.

Yes, I know nondisclosure before a report is normal and reasonable. Even sensible because of the rumour mongering and political maneuvering around such events – particularly this event. But why make the nondisclosure agreement itself a state secret? What could they have to hide?

And why exclude Malaysia? I have picked up excuses relating to the existence of a death penalty in Malaysia – but how should that effect this agreement?

Malaysia is often described as cooperating in the investigation, or as a member of the investigation team. But they have formerly been excluded from this agreement – and possibly others.

I can’t help feeling this has more to do with the fact that Malaysia has got off-side with the Kiev government because it was prepared to negotiate with the authorities in the crash area. That contact enabled early progress in recovery of the black boxes and bodies. The OSCE observers also were able to give early help because of their contacts with these authorities. In contrast, the Dutch investigation and recovery teams have been extremely tardy because of their unwillingness for direct contact. And their apparent subservience to the wishes of the Kiev government who have discouraged this contact.

trucks

Trucks carrying the wreckage of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 arrive from the Ukraine at Gilze-Rijen military base, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014. Photo credit: Peter Dejong/AP

Many wild accusation have been made against Vladimir Putin, the president of the Russian Federation, over this incident. But he at least retained the moral high ground when he warned governments and politicians not to use this tragedy for political purposes.

I think that warning was humane and important. Those using this tragedy for political purposes are showing the worst form of disrespect for the almost 300 innocent victims.

But won’t the governments and investigators who conspire to withhold information or findings also be showing the same disrespect?

Update

Malaysia-acceptedMalaysia annnounced last week, 4 months after the above agreement was signed, it has been accepted as a full member of the MH17 joint investigation team (see MH17: Malaysia to help identify perpetrators: Liow.

I cannot find any indication that this means it has signed the secret non-disclosure agreement or not.

 

wreckage-protocol

 

Also, the Dutch investigation team did eventually get around to negotiating with the local authorities in the crash area – and this lead to rapid decisions (on November 20) on collection and removal of the wreckage to the Netherlands.

This could have happened so much more quickly.

 

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The true meaning of Christmas

I reckon you can’t beat Tim Minchin’s song “White Wine in the Sun” to convey the real atmosphere of Christmas – at least in Australia and New Zealand.

Here’s a new version – recorded at the Uncaged Monkeys show in Manchester on 6th December 2011. It’s a bit shaky at the start but gets better.

Tim is accompanied by Prof. Brian Cox on keyboard in this version

Tim Minchin & Prof Brian Cox – White Wine In The Sun

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Australia’s “New Normal?”

Sometimes the local climate change deniers/sceptics/contrarians behave as if they aren’t on the same planet as the rest of us. Well, perhaps that’s a bit extreme – but they do sometimes seem to at least be in a different hemisphere. While we are currently sweltering in New Zealand, and Australia is burning, they are scanning Northern Hemisphere newspapers trying to find headlines about local snow, record low temperatures, etc!

For  a while there they did start to discuss the Tasmanian fires – but what do you know? Temperatures were ignored – instead they were blaming the fires on the Australian Green Party (see Greens win, so Tasmania burns)! (Rather supports the idea that climate change denial is motivated by right wing politics).

Of course it’s easy to pontificate on local weather and temperature records (high and low) and cherry pick data to suite one’s prejudices. But as the New York Times recently pointed out the effect of climate change has been to increase the frequency of extreme weather and temperature, rather than cause specific examples (see Heat, Flood or Icy Cold, Extreme Weather Rages Worldwide).

Anyway, just to underline the local extremes here’s a climate change infographic produced by the GetUp Action for Australia Campaign. (see GetUp! – Our New Normal).

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Click on image to enlarge