The government is being urged to move away from the ’nudge’ approach of encouraging the population to change their eating habits (see News), to the traditional ’kick up the backside’ of days of yore i.e. regulation and wrist-slapping.

In light of this, Stop the Week offers a timely reminder that when it comes to questions of public health, nobody really has a clue. While The Daily Mail (unintentionally, of course) highlights the daily contradictions in nutrition science far better than we could hope to emulate, here are some examples from the last two weeks.

Too much salt will kill you

From The Archives of Internal Medicine comes a new report that suggests people with a high-sodium, low-potassium diet are 50% more likely to suffer death from any cause, and are almost twice as at risk from heart disease. The study, which warns against high sodium foods like breads and pastries, adds that consumption of high potassium foods like potatoes and citrus fruits may offset heart risks.

"This study provides further evidence to support current public health recommendations to reduce sodium levels in processed foods," said Elena Kuklina, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emory University and Harvard University. An alternative interpretation is ’eat more chips’.

Not enough salt will kill you

In the same week, the American Journal of Hypertension claimed that moderate reduction in salt intake does not reduce the risk of heart problems or premature death. The University of Exeter reviewed seven scientific studies on the subject, covering adults with high blood pressure who had reduced salt intake in their diets.

No clear link was found between cutting salt and reducing the chances of premature death from heart disease or other ailments. One study actually pointed to a much higher incidence of death from a reduced sodium diet.

Lack of sleep causes obesity

Not getting enough sleep can lead to a higher risk of obesity, ran the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The New York Obesity Research Center’s researchers found that people who survived on just four hours’ sleep would eat 300 more calories in a day, after four days of deprived sleep, especially from sat fats.

Sleeping in causes obesity

The International Journal of Obesity reported that those of us skipping breakfast are more at risk of obesity. The University of Hong Kong found that the body mass index (BMI) among Chinese children who skipped was higher than brekkie munchers.

Aaargh, who to believe???