All entries for April 2011

April 14, 2011

Make mine a one–shot, skinny, decaf latte!

Close up of cup of coffeeDr Rebecca Lang is Public Health Nutritionist at the University of Warwick

Many start their day with a caffeine hit in the form of a mug of tea or a cup of coffee.  With the rise in coffee shops across towns and cities and in work environments, it’s a habit that many can’t do without.  But should it be a concern?

There are no upper limits on daily caffeine intake for the general population, although pregnant women are restricted to no more than 200mg per day.  For the majority of the population intakes of around 300mg are unlikely to have any effects on health.  There are some people who may be susceptible to the stimulating effects of caffeine, and may want to restrict intakes accordingly.  People generally consume caffeine either through tea, coffee or colas, but it is also found in chocolate (50mg in an average bar), and cold remedies (around 45mg per capsule).   The average mug of tea contains about 75mg, and a mug of coffee contains around 100mg increasing depending on strength.  Cola drinks contain around 40mg per can, while a small energy drink can contains 80mg.  

Caffeine consumption is associated with alertness and concentration and scientific studies have supported this view.   Habitual caffeine consumers will notice a few days of discomfort in the form of headaches and irritability if they choose to remove caffeine abruptly from their diet.  Caffeine is often cited as being dehydrating but the amount of fluid consumed in caffeinated drinks offsets the amount lost through its diuretic effect, and so caffeinated drinks do count towards daily hydration.

For those sensitive to caffeine, or choosing to reduce or avoid it in their diet, there are decaffeinated varieties of tea, coffee and colas which provide the taste without the effects.  However many are not completely devoid of caffeine, so check the label.  Alternative options include herbal teas, water and other sugar free soft drinks. 

Try this handy caffeine calculator to check how caffeine-loaded you are.

April 07, 2011

Wellbeing – how do we measure it?

Last autumn, David Cameron proposed that the government should monitor the wellbeing of the people it governs and that the success of government policies should be determined by their effect on wellbeing. This is an important and welcome departure from past reliance on the country’s gross domestic product to indicate success or failure.

GPD is important for the wellbeing of the economy but, at the individual level, money is only one aspect of the various influences on wellbeing. Relationships and social harmony matter a lot; the capacity to escape the stresses and strains of modern living from time to time is important; self confidence, agency, autonomy, resilience and the capacity to grow, learn and develop all contribute to our wellbeing.

As it becomes clearer that health is holistic and that mental health and wellbeing underpins not just quality of life but also physical health, the time has come to ensure we start to acknowledge its importance. Without a sense of self worth, agency, autonomy the capacity to change it is difficult to live a healthy lifestyle and manage the occasional or chronic illness well. Living with continuous stress puts great strain on normal physiological processes which eventually start to fail. People often turn to drugs and alcohol to manage stress with all their potential for damage to health.

For all these reasons, we at Warwick Medical School, are leading the way at in research into mental wellbeing and its determinants. But because this is a new subject we have to start from first base. There are some widely agreed definitions of mental wellbeing, but there is still also much room for debate round the edges. Some tools have existed for many years which purport to measure wellbeing, but few of these cover modern definitions adequately and many in reality focus on lack of wellbeing or disease. So we need better ways to measure.

Wellbeing is a subject on which everyone can have an opinion; Indeed, in order to improve wellbeing we all need to think about it a bit.

So have your say. Let us know what you think

Start by coming to the Wellbeing Debate we are hosting at Warwick Medical School on 7 April at 5-7pm where we will be discussing approaches to measuring wellbeing. A summary of this debate will be fed into the Office of National Statistics consultation which closes on 16 April.

Sarah Stewart-Brown is Professor of Public Health at Warwick Medical School.

April 2011

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