We do sometimes wonder about the boffins


One of the endearing things about the very British idea of a boffin is that they are assumed to be entirely indifferent to the real world. What matters is the theoretical world going on inside their heads, not the more mundane one in which we all pass our lives. This does, of course, lead to some hilarity when that theory is applied to said real world. Perhaps our favourite example of this was when the new economics foundation decided to take their principles of what constituted the good life and rank countries so as to decide upon where was the very bestest place to live. Their answer was Vanuatu (subsequent versions of the report changed the ranking method so as to produce a less embarrassing result). The best society on the planet was one of Stone Age tribesmen, wearing penis sheaths, who worship the Duke of Edinburgh as a Living God. This rather startling result does of course tell us a great deal about the theories the nef uses to evaluate the world.

We've a close contender for this in The Lancet Global Health:

Belgians are known for their chocolate and waffles, while Hungarians are famous for their rich goulash.

But now, a global study has revealed they are among the nations with the worst diets in the world.

Meanwhile, Chad and Sierra Leone, in Africa, have the best diets, consuming the most fruit, vegetables, nuts and wholegrains.

It will be interesting to see what "best diet" here means.

As part of the study, a team of international researchers analysed data on the consumption of 17 key food items and nutrients related to obesity and major diseases like heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and diet-related cancers.

They looked at the changes in diets between 1990 and 2010 in countries around the world.

They looked at three different diet patterns and gave each a score.

The first was based on 10 healthy food items: fruit, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, milk, total polyunsaturated fatty acids, fish, omega-3s, and dietary fibre.

The second was an unfavourable diet based on seven unhealthy items: unprocessed meats, processed meats, sugar-sweetened drinks, saturated fat, trans fat, dietary cholesterol, and salt.

The third was an overall diet pattern based on all 17 food groups.

Hmm. So, by this ranking system the top five countries, the countries with the "best" diets are Chad, Sierra Leone, Mali, Gambia and Uganda. And the five with the "worst" diets are Armenia, Hungary, Belgium, Czech Republic and Kazakhstan.

Average lifespans in our best diet countries are, respectively, 51, 46, 51, 59, 56. For the worst diets, 74, 75, 81, 78, 68.

Meaning that whatever criteria our boffins are using for best and worst diet it seems to be an entirely theoretical one, existing in their heads not this reality we inhabit. For at the very least there's not even a correlation between their idea of better diet and longer lifespan. Which, we would all rather assume, would be a useful definition of "better" in relation to diet, no?

We are reminded of the New Yorker cartoon with one caveman saying to another: "If all our food is free range and organic then why are we all dead by 30?"