In brief

11th June 2004 at 01:00
Keeping Well at Work: second edition

By Philip Pearson

TUCKogan Page pound;9.99

Am I in a dangerous occupation, sitting at a desk fashioning words on a computer? You wouldn't think so, yet Philip Pearson points out that I am in the third most dangerous job, behind deep-sea fishing and coal mining. Why? Because I drive long distances to accomplish my missions.

Yet I can do more than many workers to keep myself safe: by being fresh and rested; taking advanced driving tuition (which I do annually); choosing safe routes; being conscious of my attitude; avoiding driving at night and in bad weather as much as possible.

Others can't control the dangers. A relative of mine played, as a young factory worker with asbestos left lying around in his workplace. It seemed harmless. Forty years on, retired, he's terminally ill with mesothelioma.

All the more reason, perhaps, to guard against the dangers that we do know about.

This guide covers just about every issue to do with health and well-being in the workplace. It tells you your rights and responsibilities, and guides you in what to do when things go wrong. There are lessons for everyone: employers (including heads, governors and local authorities) and employees.

I like its approach to stress. Too often, the answer is to tackle not the work but the workers, with palliatives such as free massage and counselling. As this book points out: "Almost any factor linked to stress can be resolved by better work organisation." In other words, the best cure for stressed workers is to stop abusing them.

Our Overweight Children: what parents, schools, and communities can do to control the fatness epidemic

By Sharron Dalton

University of California Press pound;16.95

It's received wisdom that American kids are fat and getting fatter, and that our own youngsters are headed in the same direction. Certainly, when you read Sharron Dalton's description of the American child's day it seems chillingly familiar: chocolate cereal (or snacks in the car) for breakfast; vending machine fare or fast food at lunchtime; pre-prepared meals in front of the TV in the evening. "What is missing almost entirely from this day?"

she asks. "Fresh, wholesome food in reasonable portions; physical activity; and time to talk." Of all of this, only the more unbelievable portion sizes haven't yet made it across the Atlantic from the nation where a sandwich is something you couldn't contemplate picking up with one hand.

There are no surprises here: the links between obesity and physical and mental ill-health, the intractability of the problem, and the futility of yo-yo dieting. It's relentlessly set out, and if you want to arm yourself, or someone else, with an understanding of the seriousness of childhood obesity, this is the source you need. If some of the proposed solutions seem idealistic - community action to promote play and activity areas; pressure on the food industry on portion size and ingredients - we only have to ask whether it is not worth at least attempting to effect radical change in order to protect the health of our children and future adults.

The Epidemic: the rot of American culture, absentee and permissive parenting, and the resultant plague of joyless, selfish children

By Robert Shaw with Stephanie Wood

HarperCollins pound;18.99

The book's title and long-winded sub-title do it no favours. Add the knowledge that it comes from the United States and you leap to stereotypical conclusions: maybe this is going to be one of those "tough love" books from the land of "Three strikes and out".

It's not like that. Here's a passage to prove it. It's about the contrast between pushing an infant into a rigid sleeping routine on the one hand, and just letting things take a natural course on the other. "There is a middle ground here," the author goes on, "one that some gurus and their camps can't seem to recognise. Life is not the sharp black and white that ideologues demand. There are all kinds of greys that work fine."

Reassured, we go on to share Dr Shaw's quiet outrage at the way many parents allow their children to rule the roost to the accompaniment of tears, tantrums, bribery and the collapse of any pretence at an adult social life. He shows us how to read the early signs that appear long before the "terrible twos" - for example: "You have very little time or energy for your spouse, and your marriage is showing signs of strain" - and how to treat children firmly, kindly and, above all, with love. For it's true, of course, that many "spoiled" children are actually bereft of love.

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