Argue over what’s bad for you, but this is what’s good

PUBLISHED: 15:58 12 March 2018

Our recommended weekly wine intake changes from week to week but some good habits are inarguable, says Peter Sharkey. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Our recommended weekly wine intake changes from week to week but some good habits are inarguable, says Peter Sharkey. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto


Were you to bundle them together in a single day’s publication, the week’s assorted headlines would supply you with a ready-made mixture of amusement, anger, happiness, frustration, laughter and a host of other reactions besides.

This column is brought to you in association with Almary Green. Photo: Almary GreenThis column is brought to you in association with Almary Green. Photo: Almary Green

Take last week for instance, when baby boomers were once again urged to reduce their alcohol intake, especially if they’re taking prescribed medication. According to some experts, older boomers, ie those in their 60s and 70s, are becoming the group at highest risk of suffering drink-related death.

As a (younger) baby boomer, quite partial to a glass or two of red, I find such stories annoying and the advice doled out by ‘experts’ often at odds with that previously dispensed. Last week, for example, the Royal College of Psychiatrists suggested that both men and women should limit themselves to 11 units of alcohol per week. Current government guidelines prefer a limit of 14 units; two years ago, it was 21 units (it still is in Ireland).

In the US, the limit for an adult male is 24, while the Spanish, such a civilised race, reckon 34 units is the maximum. No wonder so many British expats head to the Iberian peninsula.

The point is that most reasonably bright adult males and females already know whether they’re drinking too much and most can cut back without an army of experts or worse still, the state, telling them to.

Peter SharkeyPeter Sharkey

At the other end of the age scale, the ‘obesity crisis’ was in the news again after it was reported that the UK’s obesity levels have more than trebled over the past 30 years. More than 20% of 14-year-olds are considered obese, with a further 15% deemed overweight. According to some forecasts, more than half the nation is likely to be obese by 2050; we’re already top of Europe’s ‘Obesity League’, a position we appear likely to retain for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, the most effective strategy for tackling obesity, ie ‘eat less, move more’, has been quietly sidelined. Indeed, you could argue that it’s been challenged since the 1980s when only 6% of men and 8% of women were deemed obese.

According to the NHS website, “Rising obesity is not the result of a national collapse in willpower. Studies have shown the environment has a major influence on the decisions people make about their lifestyle. Known as “obesogenic environments”, these are places, often urban, that encourage unhealthy eating and inactivity.”

Once upon a time, the same places encouraged plenty of outdoor activity. Children walked to school and played for hours in local parks. Schools actively encouraged them to participate in sport, often competitively.

People deprived of this know that if they consider themselves a little overweight, there’s only one person who can rectify matters. It’s not the state or a gastric band; nor will apportioning blame to their obesogenic environment help. Willpower is the essential prerequisite because it nurtures a willingness to eat less and move more. The combination works.

Whether you’re a baby boomer boozer or overweight teenager, if you want to change your lifestyle, you can. No-one else can do it for you; but you must want to do it.

While we’re on the subject, I wish we saw more headlines telling younger people to save more. I appreciate that there are so many more demands on their hard-earned, but the earlier people get into the saving habit, the easier it becomes.

Let me give you an example. Someone I know very well (she’s in her 40s) had gone off the rails so many times, she could have had a siding named after her, but essentially, she’s a good, determined person who just needed a little encouragement to re-start a savings habit abandoned more than a decade ago. Every Saturday for the past four months, therefore, I’ve collected a modest sum from her and put it into an ISA in her name.

For the past few weeks, I haven’t needed to remind her that I’m calling to collect the cash – which occasionally makes me feel like an extra off the Sopranos. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but believe me, this represented remarkable progress, so I told her how proud I was of her.

My point is that you don’t need to have careered off the rails to start saving but it does become one habit which neither the state nor an army of ‘experts’ can dissuade you from continuing.

The Week in Numbers


Rise over the last decade in the number of those aged 65 and over who consume more than 14 units of alcohol per week (see opposite).

95 tons

The UN’s International Narcotics Control Board revealed that the UK produced 95 tons of legal cannabis in 2016, more than double the 2015 total of 42 tons. The UK’s production accounts for almost 45% of the worldwide total.

£423 million

According to the National Audit Office, BBC Worldwide paid out £423 million in dividends over the past five years, but spent £62.4 million annually supplementing licence fee income of almost £4billion. The BBC’s total commercial post-tax profits fell to £39 million for the five-year period to 2017.


The world’s oldest known message in a bottle, thrown off a German ship in July 1886, has been discovered on a remote beach in Australia. The message, in German, was bound and tied with string and in a 19th century Dutch gin bottle.

2 miles

Depth at which the USS Lexington, a US aircraft carrier which sank following the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942, has been found by the submersible research vessel Petrel owned by billionaire Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft.

1.5 inches

BA has announced that top-of-the-range seats on its Boeing 777 flights between Gatwick and the Americas will be 50% larger than previously. However, in economy, seats are almost 10%, or 1.5 inches, narrower. The changes will add a dozen more seats to each flight.

Peter Sharkey read economics at the University of Bristol. He was an accountant on three continents and has been a company director and investor for more than 30 years, building and selling three different companies.

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