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“People should take better care of their health!” says private healthcare company

Constant tiredness means we’re useless at work, with nearly 10% of people saying they do ‘barely anything’ when they’re exhausted.

Everyone has, on occasion, turned up at work after a late night feeling rather the worse for wear. But now, a new study has revealed that the problem is endemic in Britain’s workplaces. It revealed 57 per cent of people have turned up for work feeling tired on at least one occasion in the last three months.

Some 20 per cent of these employees said their tiredness was due to socialising and drinking, 18 per cent said they had staying up late watching TV and seven per cent admit they had spent too long playing computer games.

And this is bad news for employers – 52 per cent of the people surveyed admitted that their exhaustion affected their performance at work and six per cent admitted they ‘barely did anything’ at work when they were tired.

Source: Daily Mail, 30 May 2014

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Clearly a failure to properly look after one’s health can have serious repurcussions for the nation’s workforce – and the nation’s employers, too. If only something could be done to help employees take better care of themselves, perhaps something akin to a private healthcare service:

The research, from AXA PPP healthcare, also found 40 per cent of people say that if they are tired they ‘coast’ through the day only doing easy tasks and 18 per cent said they only managed to do ‘bits and pieces’.

The breadth of the statistics behind this story are interesting, and worth taking a look at – not least the relationship between the headline’s “Constant tiredness” and the quoted statistic showing the majority of people have felt tired at work at least once in the last three months. If ‘at least once in three months’ is the new definition of ‘constant’, I’m sure there are a lot of people feeling much better about their lives – by those definitions, most of us are constantly exercising and constantly on holiday, which I imagine makes for quite a nice lifestyle, all things considered.

Unfortunately we’re also relentlessly being checked up by the dentist and, given the national averages of sick days taken per year, we’re constantly unwell. The latter of those may explain why ACA PPP healthcare are so keen for us to sign up.

“Everyone has loads of sex at university!” says university-specialist hook-up site

Those keeping a keen eye on statistics in the media last week would have been confronted with the revelation that a shockingly-high percentage of our educational elite are less than intelligent where safe sex is concerned:

A quarter of students will catch an STI in their first year

Half aren’t even sure who they got it from.

University is certainly a time for fun and frolics – but new research suggests that some students may be taking their partying a touch too hard, and endangering their health in the process.

In fact, 23 per cent will catch an STI before they finish their first year of university, half of whom (54 per cent) aren’t even able to remember who gave it them, according to a survey conducted by shagatuni.com.

Source: Independent, 17th October 2013

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A QUARTER of students catch an STI during their first year at university – and half are too drunk to remember who gave it to them

It is known as a time to let your hair down while at a safe distance from your parents.

But new research suggests many students are risking their health through irresponsible sexual habits.

Some 23 per cent of students admit to having caught a sexually transmitted infection during their first year alone, according to a new survey.

Source: Daily Mail, 17th October 2013

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On the surface, both of these stories appear to be responsible pieces of reporting – if it’s indeed true that vast swathes of university attendees are endangering their health by practicing unsafe sex, it’s commendable and important that the media are taking steps to highlight and tackle.

However, as is often the case with PR-led data in the media, the source of the story can entirely undermine the message – especially when the content of the news article or press release is often nothing more than a delivery mechanism for the brand name of the company who originated the story. In the case of this report on the prevalence of STIs in the student population, that company is a no-strings-attached hook-up site aimed at university students:

The poll, rather ironically conducted by the website www.shagatuni.com, also revealed that 21 per cent caught an STI after their first year but before they finished their studies.

Source: Daily Mail, 17th October 2013

For those unaware of who shagatuni.com are – and I expect that’s the vast majority of you – I’ll let them explain in their own words:

We’re the naughtier and sexier sister site of DateatUni.com

Our sole purpose is to help students meet up for sex. This isn’t an ordinary student dating site. We offer a space for students to get laid any night of the week and not have any of the strings attached with dating. So if you want to find sexy students at your university who just want a shag, JOIN UP! We’re sure you’ll have fun!

Source: shagatuni.com

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It may seem counter-intuitive that a site aiming to advertise themselves to students would run a lead about the prevalence of STIs, but the real purpose of the release is actually buried a little below the lead – to advertise the promiscuity of their members:

The research also revealed that theatre studies students appeared to be the most promiscuous, with an average of 28 sexual partners while at university.

Source: Daily Mail, 17th October 2013

A message which ties in somewhat neatly with their own sales pitch, taken again from their website:

Whether you’re a shy student who feels more comfortable making introductions online or a university player who needs to guarantee they’re getting action each night of the week – our site accommodates every type of student. We even get female students sign up who are already in a relationship. We don’t judge! When you’re away from home and away from your partner for that length of time, we understand you have sexual needs to be fulfilled.

Source: shagatuni.com

It may well be that the statistics in the original articles in the Mail and Independent are actually accurate – but it’s certainly cause for concern that they’re obtained via a self-reported poll on a site dedicated to helping university ‘players’ guarantee themselves some ‘action each night of the week’. 

There are other causes for concern, too – take for instance the headline statistic that 23% of all students will catch an STI by the end of their first year. This would be a deeply alarming figure if taken from, perhaps, records at the student health clinic or STI clinic – however, taken from a self-reported poll on a site such as ‘shagatuni.com’, it’s impossible to take seriously.

For one, there’s no accounting for students who had an STI prior to joining university, but only discovered it or received a diagnosis while studying. On the flipside, there’s also no guarantee that the respondents to the poll actually even had an STI – it’s not beyond the reaches of a teenage boy to give false positive responses as a puerile joke; after all, it’s only an online poll on a hook-up site, it’s not like it matters, right?

Perhaps more damningly, despite all reports claiming the 23% figure represented all students, in fact only a subset of students were eligible for the poll:

The poll, which only involved people who had remained single while at university, also revealed that 73 per cent of students were under the influence of alcohol when engaging in the majority of their sexual encounters.

It’s therefore unlikely to assume those questioned in the poll are reflective of the full university population, given that those in stable relationships (and presumably therefore less likely to be engaging in the kind of sexual behaviour most associated with a high risk of contracting an STI) weren’t included.

That said, an even more glaringly confounding sample bias is clearly at play here: only students who elected to sign up to the site ‘shag at uni’ were included in the survey. Even amongst the student population who consider themselves to be single, it’s unlikely that those polled are representative – it’s strongly possible that those who would seek out and sign up to a site such as this may engage in riskier sexual behaviour, and with multiple partners. In essence, that’s the very business model of this website.

So, in summary, we have a relatively niche subset of a subset of a population, likely predisposed to more risky sexual behaviour, self-reporting in an online poll with no verification of their answers, and no incentive not to report a false positive as a joke. Hardly groundbreaking research.

Nor is it a difficult statistic to critically examine: the number of students currently at university in England alone is around 1.6million, of which we can reasonably assume no more than 600,000 are in their first year at university. Meanwhile, according to the HPA there were 450,000 STI diagnoses in England in 2012 – meaning that the 23% of first year students contracting an STI represent 30% of the overall STI diagnoses for the entire country. Even if we were to assume every other year of university sees an unblemished record of sexual health, it seems tremendously unlikely that university freshers represent almost a third of all STI cases.

Of course, none of this renders the underlying assertion that large numbers of students are engaging in unsafe sex and contracting STIs – but this poll and the associated news coverage can barely be said to offer anything on the matter, given the compromised motives of the data source and the flawed methodology of the survey.

Still, at least you can remember the name of the website, so the only aim of the whole story was a success.

This post was originally published in the Guardian, 23rd October 2013.

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“Looking at screens all day will give you eye problems!” says opticians

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“You look exhausted – you should take a break!” says private health spa

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“Women complain worse about being ill than men, after all!” says cold remedy

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“Your skin condition is repulsive and will ruin your relationship!” says psoriasis treatment

“Stress is bad for your health, you should do something about it!” says private healthcare firm

How’s your blood pressure? Are you eating well? And getting plenty of sleep? Because I read that modern life is really weighing heavy on the modern Brit’s shoulder:

Almost half of Britons consider themselves ‘stressed’

The research carried out by health insurers Bupa found that of those, 27 per cent said they regularly “feel close to breaking point”.

The study found stress levels were highest among those aged between 45 and 54, with women more likely than men to describe themselves as suffering from such pressures.

Source: Telegraph, 4th November 2013

The study – which also made the Daily Mail on the same day – comes with a genuine health message: be aware of the effect stress can have on your life, and seek help where needed. 

However, the headline statistic – that half the population of the country suffer from stress – is nothing more than scaremongering. For one, it’s unclear what the research methodology was, nor how well defined what counts as ‘stress’ was. Did they ask people ‘do you feel stressed?’, or was the line of questioning more nuanced and effective? How does this compare with other countries, or with Britain 10 years ago? Is this really cause for concern, or run-of-the-mill grumbling? It isn’t made clear.

In fact, even the Mail’s coverage was somewhat more conservative, specifying only the percentage of people who feel ‘at breaking point’. 

Overall, this level of headline scaremongering is merely aimed at creating an impression of an epidemic… an epidemic that private healthcare company Bupa are more than happy to be on hand to help out with, for a fee.

Not content with one PR survey, the Telegraph actually double-down with an even more transparent piece of pseudo-sociological data late in the article: 

A separate poll of 2,000 people found that one in 10 found changing jobs more stressful than getting married or having a baby. Overall, the survey by Kalms herbal stress remedies found that moving house was rated as the activity most likely to induce anxiety, followed by having a baby and getting married.

While the Kalms survey may be more obvious in its intent, it’s no more cynical than Bupa’s data, and no more infuriating for regular trackers of PR nonsense in the press.

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“If you fall ill, you’ll have no way to pay those bills!” says life insurance company

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“Research can help us sleep better!” says scientists paid by bedding company

“You know you’re going to die some day, right?” says makers of dubious health supplement

“You know you’re going to die some day, right?” says makers of dubious health supplement

It’s a sobering thought, our own mortality. I know just reading the Daily Mail makes me think a long and hard about my life, and how I spend it reading too much of the Daily Mail. Still, I’ve a whole decade before I should suddenly fear for my health, so I’m fine.

Speaking of fearing for one’s health, just who was it who put this fear-mongering story directly into the health section of the Daily Mail?

Professor Alf Lindberg, Science Director behind the ‘tomato pill’ Ateronon, said: ‘I have spent a lifetime dedicated to preventing and curing diseases.

‘But it never ceases to amaze me how easily people are prepared to throw away their good health by abusing their bodies with poor diet, booze and lack of exercise.

‘This survey is yet more evidence of that – it seems that people leave it until they reach the age of 39 before they start to take their health seriously.’

I don’t know about you, but if my health advice doesn’t come from someone trying to sell me a ‘tomato pill’, I just don’t listen. It’s why I get all of my healthy living tips from the Dolmio puppets.

In case you’re wondering exactly what these magical tomato pills are suppose to do for us, wonder no more – they come with a range of non-specific and vague health benefits as attested to by a former member of the Nobel Foundation. Fortunately, the Daily Mail article goes one better than the zero claims made on the Ateronon website, with said for Nobel work declaring:

‘We want to collect as much clinical trial evidence as we can, to demonstrate its efficacy in reducing risk in a wide range of conditions, from heart disease to cancer.’

Well that’s OK then – we all know that if you want to demonstrate the efficacy of your supplement in treating diseases you’re forbidden by law to discuss, the first step is to sell the product, pay for a PR company to place it into the news with a fear-mongering headline, convince consumers that it’s in their best interests to buy your product, and THEN set about seeing if it actually works. Y’know, science.

I can’t believe Alf missed out on those recent Nobel prizes, frankly. Better luck next year, Alf.