News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 23rd June 2013

Irish people pay more for food and drink than the rest of Europe


Irish people pay more to eat, drink and smoke than nearly everyone else in Europe.

And for some staples such as fruit, vegetables and potatoes we’re paying a whopping 38pc more than everyone else.

Overall, the price of food and non-alcoholic beverages in Ireland was 18pc more expensive than the European Union average in 2012, a new Eurostat survey shows.

Alcohol prices here are 62pc higher than average and cigarettes are twice as dear – making them the most expensive in the whole EU.

Ireland was the fifth most expensive country in the EU for foodstuffs, with milk, meat and bread all well above average.

And the price gap has widened since 2011 when it stood at 17pc.

The survey found that Denmark was the most expensive EU country with prices 43pc higher than average, followed by Sweden, Austria, Finland and Ireland.

The survey is based on a basket of 500 comparable products across EU member states and 12 other countries outside the EU such as Turkey and Norway.

For alcohol, Irish prices were double those in cheapest Bulgaria, Romania and Germany.

And for cigarettes, Irish consumers pay 99pc more than average – four times as much as in Hungary, Lithuania and Bulgaria – and eight times as much as the cheapest, Macedonia.

Even though we’re a huge producer and exporter of dairy products, the price of milk, cheese and eggs here is 19pc above average.


And for meat – which we also produce in abundance and export across Europe – prices are 10pc higher than in our nearest neighbour, Britain, whose prices are bang on the average for the EU.

Norway is by far the most expensive country to shop in, with the price of food a massive 86pc higher than in any other country in Europe, while alcohol and cigarettes are prohibitively priced at three times the EU average.

Macedonia is the cheapest country in Europe, with food prices 58pc and tobacco 25pc of the EU average.

Of our favourite holiday destinations, Spain is one of the cheapest, with most products around 10pc cheaper than average, but food prices in Italy and France are both around 10pc above the norm.

And though prices in Britain have increased in recent years they’re still much cheaper than ours coming in at 4pc above the EU average.

Ibec’s Retail Ireland director Stephen Lynam said alcohol and tobacco prices were higher because of government tax, while for foodstuffs the price gap reflected the higher cost of doing business here.

“For example, labour costs are 17pc higher than in Britain and electricity costs are 18pc higher and there are also economies of scale in other countries,” he said.

While Ireland was a big producer of meat and dairy products, high labour costs to process and handle these products resulted in prices being higher, he said.

Nelson Mandela health now reported as in a critical condition


Nelson Mandela’s health has deteriorated and he is in critical condition, the South African government said this Sunday.

The office of President Jacob Zuma said that the president had visited the Mandela, the former president of the country who was imprisoned for nearly three decades as he battled the country’s apartheid system of racial separatism, Sunday evening.

Zuma’s office said he was informed by Mandela’s doctors that his condition had become critical in the last 24 hours.

Mandela, 94, has been intensive care for more than two weeks week. He was hospitalized on June 8 for what the government said was a recurring lung infection.

Britain’s Sky News reported that Zuma and ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa visited Mandela in hospital Sunday.

Zuma said in a statement: “The doctors are doing everything possible to get his condition to improve and are ensuring that Madiba is well-looked after and is comfortable. He is in good hands.”

Madiba is Mandela’s tribal nickname. He turns 95 on July 18.

Mandela became South Africa’s first black president after the end of apartheid in 1994.

Does the continuing use of mobile phones increase our cancer risk?


The mobile goes everywhere with her, and I literally have to prise it out of her hands at bed time. I must admit, I am also very fond of my iPhone. I can’t imagine how I survived so long without one. 

“Mum, will you get off your phone,” my children will shout. And yes, because of my job and organising their social lives, it can feel like it is permanently attached to my ear. Should I worry?

Well, yes, as according to some scientists my constant use could put me at a higher risk of developing a brain tumour or some other form of cancer.

I can still remember the first mobile phone I ever used. It was Saturday, Mar 31, 1990, and I had been asked by my then newspaper, The Independent on Sunday, to cover a demonstration against the poll tax in London.

“Here take the office phone,” my editor shouted at me as I walked out the door.

It was the size of a brick, it was very heavy to carry, with a large aerial, and ran out of battery within 15 minutes. When the demonstrators began to riot, I had to file copy from a phone box.

In 1996, Neil Whitfield, a father of six from Wigan, was promoted to sales manager and was given his first mobile phone by the company. “My job required me to use it heavily and after a few months of getting the phone I had to visit my GP as I was suffering from severe headaches,” he recalls.

“The doctor advised me that they were probably caused by driving long distances for work and to take painkillers. The headaches persisted, accompanied by fatigue and memory loss. When my hearing started to deteriorate in my left ear, I went for tests.”

Unfortunately, the neurologist discovered a tumour in Whitfield’s brain, just behind his left ear, the side he held his mobile phone on.

“The specialist asked if I had ever used a mobile phone and when I said; ‘Yes,’ he replied that the mobiles might be ‘the smoking of the 21st century.” I was given five years to live without surgery so underwent a nine-hour operation,” he says. Now completely deaf in his left ear, which affects his balance, Whitfield, 56, still gets headaches and facial twitches. All, he believes, thanks to his Nokia mobile phone. “I am angry that they don’t warn the public,” he says.

So should we be worried about our mobile phone usage ? Are they killing us ? The argument has already lasted over 20 years so what is the truth?

Will we ever find out — or, if we do will it be too late ?

The most comprehensive study was complied in 2011 by the International Agency For Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organisation, after listening to over 30 experts and reviewing all the evidence and data, they decided to reclassify radiation from category 3, with “no conclusive evidence” of causing cancer, to a Group 2B a “possible human carcinogen.”

Dr Timothy Moynihan, a medical oncologist with the Mayo Clinic in Florida, believes that more research is needed to prove a link.

“It often takes many years between the use of a cancer-causing agent, like tobacco, and the observation of an increase in cancer rates. At this point, it is possible that too little time has passed to detect an increase in cancer rates directly attributable to cellphone use,” he explains.

“The bottom line? For now no one knows if cellphones are capable of causing cancer. Although long-term studies are ongoing, to date there is no convincing evidence that cellphone use increases the risk of cancer.”

But Dr Jack Philips, a neurosurgeon for over 30 years at the Beaumont hospital, Dublin, suggests if there was a link, neurologists around the world would have already seen a marked increase in the incidence of brain cancer, especially in countries like America, where the usage of mobile phones is so high.

“Yet we haven’t,” he says. “The incidence of brain tumours has not increased at all in the 30 years I have been practising, and you can quote me on that. We normally see about 80 people with malignant tumours each year.

“I would have expected to see a change. Like always there are contrary reports, some may be based upon poor research or subjective research, which are not objective. The neurologists that I have spoken to feel that the emissions from phones have not led to brain cancer.”

In 2000, Dr Philips was part of a team at Beaumont hospital investigating a link between 73 of their patients suffering from glioma (the most common type of malignant brain tumour) and which hand they held their mobile phone in.

“We believed if there was a link the patient would get the tumour on the side of the head they held their phone too. We didn’t find any side dominant, we found often they had the tumours on the opposite side that they used the phone. Most people hold the phone in their right hand and there has not been a change in the dominance in all of these years,” he explains.

Dr Philips also points out that most of the “alarming” scientific reports tend to focus on the effect of mobile phones on children.

“They argue that the immature brain will be affected by them. The neurologist and paediatricians at Beaumont hospital meet every week, and there has never been a case in 30 years of a child presenting with cancer because of the use of mobile phones. So for me it doesn’t hold water,” he says.

The Irish Cancer Society also agrees that to date the research is “inconclusive’, but suggests more needs to be done to explore the linkage.

Dr Sinead Walsh, the research manager at the ICS, says people should be aware of the “possible risk” until it can be proved otherwise.

“Many studies around the world have found no evidence of an increased risk of cancer due to mobiles, but we cannot yet be sure about the long-term effects of their use,” she explains.

“The Irish Cancer Society recommends that until more conclusive information becomes available people are advised to limit exposure to the potential harm by keeping calls short, using hand free devices or texting.”

No doubt this debate will continue for many years to come, but as for me? Well, my mobile phone is essential for work and keeping track of my children’s hectic lives. But maybe I’ll stop charging it up, next to me as I sleep. And perhaps I will listen more to my children when they shout; “Get off the phone, mum!” At least my monthly bill will be cheaper.

The lack of Physical Education in Irish schools damages students health


The low levels of physical activity in Irish schools may get even lower.

In 2009, Professor Thom McKenzie wrote that “school physical education was the pill not taken”. This seems to be the case in Ireland with recent worrying developments in the provision of physical education.

A new framework for the Junior Certificate has been devised by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, and will be implemented in September. The framework provides an innovative way of looking at education in our secondary schools. Key features of the framework include project work, ongoing assessment and increased autonomy for schools, allowing them to design and deliver a curriculum to suit their students’ needs.

However, in the process of developing this framework, physical education (PE) has somehow fallen through the cracks.

The new Junior Certificate proposes the delivery of 100 hours of PE over a two-year period in the form of a ‘PE Short Course’. This move allocates less time to PE. In the majority of cases schools offer a double class (or two single classes) of PE per week over a three-year period at Junior Cycle level. This equates to 147 hours. The change means a potential decrease of almost one third in the time students aged between 12 and 16 will spend learning physical education.

This lack of provision for PE is worrying, and when reflecting upon European figures, it becomes clear that the health and well-being of students may not have been considered when this new Junior Certificate framework was designed.

Eurydice, the network responsible for providing information on, and analyses of European education systems and policies in 36 countries, published a comprehensive analysis of Physical Education in schools in March. The report positioned Ireland third from last in Europe. When compared to our counterparts, Ireland offers 1.2 hours of PE per week, as opposed to France (2.8), Portugal (2.8), Hungary (2.4), Germany (2.2) and the UK (2). For a country that prides itself on its education system, this is an uncharacteristic shortcoming.

It is these international figures that make the recent developments in education so baffling. Given our standing in Europe, it might be expected that the NCCA would make a sincere effort to increase the provision for PE in schools. However, contrary to all international trends where the health and well-being of the student is becoming more central to the education process, Ireland is instead cutting the time allocation to PE by almost one third.

The implications of this on today’s teenagers are compelling. Clearly, it will exacerbate an already dire situation:

* Three out of every four Irish adults and four out of five Irish children do not meet the Department of Health and Children’s National Physical Activity Guidelines (CSPPA, 2010).

* The CSPPA report also showed that one in four children is unfit, overweight or obese and had elevated blood pressure.

* In 2012, The Lancet medical journal reported that in the Republic of Ireland, 53.2 per cent of the population do insufficient exercise.

* Physical inactivity is the main cause for approximately 21-25 per cent of breast and colon cancers, 27 per cent of diabetes and 30 per cent of ischemic heart disease burden in the EU (World Health Organisation, 2013).

* Ninety per cent of people with diabetes have type-two diabetes, which is largely the result of excess body weight and inactivity. In Ireland, over a 12-month period in 1999/2000, the health care costs for treating the condition were estimated at €580.2m. This equated to 10 per cent of the total health expenditure, but it is expected that this will increase to 25per cent by 2040.

When designing and implementing education policy the student must be at the centre of all considerations. In a society where the problem of obesity is foremost in the minds of all citizens and physical activity levels are at an all-time low, physical education must be part of the solution.

PE alone will not save our teenagers (who will live shorter lives because of this physical inactivity and lack of access to PE), but it is one vital cog in the wheel if we are to turn current trends around and reverse childhood obesity, increase activity levels and develop a culture of healthy living.

PE is taught by highly educated teachers who engage in professional development to keep up to date with new teaching and learning techniques. Gone is the day of the science teacher/GAA coach taking a class out to PE with his tracksuit pants tucked into his Doc Martins. With three universities now graduating 180 PE teachers each year, there has never been so many highly qualified and enthusiastic teachers to deliver a balanced curriculum. Dance, gymnastics, orienteering, health studies, functional movement, diet and lifestyle, field games and team challenges are but a few of the areas covered in a modern-day PE class.

The focus now is to prepare our students for a lifelong involvement in physical activity through exposure to a wide range of sporting genres, and more importantly to educate our students on what it is to be healthy, fit and active. Only then can they be competent participants in physical activity.

In a time when PE has never been more essential in terms of physical, social and emotional wellbeing, as well as the proven positive impact on mental health, why is the NCCA cutting the time allocation for the subject? Our students need PE. They need exposure to a variety of sporting and physical activity endeavours. They need an opportunity to develop the physical movement skills necessary to participate, and our society needs a better understanding of what it is to live a healthy and active lifestyle. Physical Education in Irish secondary schools is truly in a perilous position.

Currently, there are some excellent initiatives being developed in the area of health and physical activity. Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe and the Department of Health have just launched a Healthy Ireland Strategy 2013-2025, Senator Eamonn Coghlan has been leading a programme called the ‘Points for Life Initiative’ to improve physical activity levels in primary schools, and a new cross-border initiative, All Island All Active, launched by Dr Fiona Chambers and Prof Deirdre Brennan which aims to increase activity levels to three in five citizens by 2025. However, PE in our secondary schools has been overlooked.

It is time for the Government to take responsibility for the well-being of students in their teenage years.

Doctors issue Ramadan advice to Diabetic Muslims


Experts have warned that Muslims with diabetes who choose to fast during Ramadan may be putting their health at risk.

More than 191,380 people in Ireland currently have diabetes – equating to 6.1% of the population. As of the most recent census, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) estimates there to be 49,204 Muslims in Ireland

A figure that shows a sharp increase over the previous five years. Ireland’s Muslim population included 8,322 primary school aged children and 3,582 of secondary school age – among whom diabetes is also on the increase.

Many Muslims with diabetes may choose to fast during Ramadan, which takes place from July 9th to August 7th this year, abstaining from eating, drinking and using oral medications from dawn to sunset, despite guideline recommendations for the management of diabetes during this time.

For people with type 2 diabetes, this decrease in food intake along with changes to medication means they risk hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) which, if left untreated, can lead to serious medical problems including loss of consciousness, convulsions or seizures.

“Prolonged fasting poses health risks for people with diabetes especially when undertaken without medical guidance. Despite this, Diabetes Ireland is aware that many do fast for religious or personal reasons and as a consequence may develop acute complications.” said Dr Anna Clarke, Health Promotion and Research Manager with Diabetes Ireland.

“It’s important that healthcare professionals discuss fasting and dieting with people with Type 2 diabetes at diagnosis and on an ongoing basis. This is practically challenging for Muslims who take medication to manage their diabetes and this year given that Ramadan is falling over the summertime with longer daylight hours, it is vital that patients and their GPs plan ahead and discuss any necessary changes to treatment at least two months before Ramadan.” she continued.

Does a Super-moon have a super effect on us earth people


The term super-moon denotes a full moon that occurs at roughly the same time the moon is nearest Earth in its monthly orbit.

An astrologer, not an astronomer, coined the term super-moon, and it has only recent come into common usage.

Although this term is of little to no importance in astronomy, its significance to astrologers may be greater, and some may suppose that a super-moon has some kind of effect on people on Earth. But does it? I decided to calculate the values of different influences on individuals at the extreme of lunar perigee (when the moon is closest to Earth, and presumably has the greatest effect on our planet).

Astronomers use the term perigee to describe the moon’s closest point to Earth, from Greek wordsperi meaning “near” and gee meaning “Earth.” In astronomy and other sciences, a related term –perigean tides – refers to the higher tides that can occur when full moon and perigee coincide, as they fairly frequently do. Simply put, an extra-close full moon causes higher-than-usual perigean tides.

What’s more, given the change in distance between the moon’s farthest and closest points, the full moon can appear as much as 14% larger in the sky and 30% brighter to our eyes than at minimum size and brightness.

These changes do not come all of a sudden from month to month, however, and without anything with which to compare them, the changes in the moon’s size or brightness are hard to quantify by simple observation. To notice the difference, you would need to see the apogean (smallest) full moon and theperigean (largest) full moon side by side, which only possible through photography or through some form of direct measurement.

During the time of a super-moon, or any full moon, our satellite is in line with the sun. At that time, the sun and moon’s gravitational effects combine. For reasons we will not discuss here, the sun’s gravitational effect on Earth (as in influencing the tides) is only about half that of the moon. For this discussion, we will simply ignore the sun’s influence.

When the moon is closest to the Earth, its gravitational pull is at its peak.

So the question becomes, how much does the moon’s gravitational influence on Earth vary from minimum (apogee, or farthest point from the planet) to maximum (perigee)?

I will not bore you (or scare you!) with the math, but the variation from minimum lunar pull to maximum pull is roughly 23 percent. That sounds like a lot. However, it amounts to less than 2 ten-thousandths of the mass (or less precisely, the “weight”) of the moon.

More importantly from an astrological perspective (I presume, since I decidedly am not an astrologer) would be the effect on a human being. Consider an 80-kilogram (176-pound) human being. The maximum difference between apogean and perigean moons is about 73 milligrams, or about 1/14th the mass of an ordinary paper clip. If you factor in the solar gravity effect for a super-moon, or full moon closest to Earth, this effect may rise to about 110 milligrams, roughly equivalent to about 1/9th the mass of a paperclip.

In either case, the effects are imperceptible, and far smaller than those encountered in other everyday situations, such as being near a mountain or even a large building.

But, you might counter, I said earlier than an extra-close full moon causes higher-than-usual perigean tides. The tides are a very different situation from human beings. Tides work through what is called adifferential gravitational effect. Specifically, the force of gravity exerted on the part of the Earth opposite the moon (the far side of Earth, as seen from the moon) is slightly less than the force of gravity exerted on the part of the Earth directly beneath the moon (the Earth’s near side, as seen from the moon) at any given time. Why? Because there’s an additional distance – about 8,000 miles – from one side of earth to the other. The force of gravity weakens rapidly with increasing distance, producing the differential.

The result of this differential gravitational effect of the moon is that our planet is stretched slightly, along a line between the Earth and moon. The body of the Earth is fairly rigid, so it does not stretch much, but the oceans are much more easily moved. Thus the effect piles up water on either side of Earth, and these piles of water – created by the differential gravitational effect – are the tides. Note that, on average, the tidal effect is quite small. It raises tides only a few feet across an 8,000-mile-wide planet Earth.

Technically, the same effect acts on your body as well, since one side is farther from the moon than the other. However, the difference in distance is on the order of one foot, rather than thousands of miles. Thus the differential is millions of times less, and the effect on a human body infinitesimally small and irrelevant.

Super-moons are important because they focus attention on the moon, and nature in general. But the bottom line is that any physical effects of super-moons are not exactly super. There is no reasonable evidence that they cause super disasters. The effects that people may attribute to them are psychological rather than physical.

There are several super-moons this year and every year. To learn about super-moons in general try these Earth Sky posts:


Comments are closed.