Science from both sides – the INTERVAL study

As a regular blood donor, I was intrigued when I was invited to take part in a study on the effects of blood donation frequency. Apparently there is not much solid data on what blood donation intervals (between donations) are safe for the donor. And the recommended guidelines differ significantly around the world.

The INTERVAL trial assessed the effects of different  blood donation intervals. Participants, over 45,000 of them, were randomised to 8, 10, or 12 week intervals for men, and 12, 14, or 16 weeks for women for two years (I was an “8-weeker”). The results have now been published in the Lancet, and make for interesting reading.

The first finding (and I have to say I didn’t realise this was even one of the study aims) was that increasing the frequency also increased the amount of blood donated significantly. Adherence to the study was good, and participants also donated much more than they had in the past two years.

The impact on the health of the participants was what interested me most though. There wasn’t any change in self-reported general wellbeing measures. But “more frequent donation resulted in more donation-related symptoms (eg, tiredness, breathlessness, feeling faint, dizziness, and restless legs, especially among men…)”. And additional donations also led to “lower mean haemoglobin and ferritin concentrations, and more deferrals for low haemoglobin”. So donating very frequently isn’t exactly good for you, which does make sense.

So I was happy to take part, and pleased to read the results. From a quick read of the Lancet article, this seems like a well-designed and analysed study, and importantly large enough to provide robust results on an important topic. If only more of medical science was like this (or indeed any science about humans…).

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Low and no alcohol drinks: At festivals and in recovery

This post is a listing of some of my recent writings elsewhere. From looking at the date of the previous post I can confirm that I have been busy, with no time to update this blog…

The big thing for Club Soda in the Summer of 2017 was our, and the UK’s, first Mindful Drinking Festival. It was in August at Bermondsey Square in South London, and was a roaring success. Nearly 50 non-alcoholic drinks brands were there, as well as food stalls, beer yoga, talks and tastings, and much more. The weather was on our side too, as the Sunday of the festival was the only sunny day of that and the following week – as seen in the photo above. And we estimated that 2,500 people came to try the drinks on offer. And “mindful drinking” suddenly became a big thing, listed on the Guardian as a “trend”.

There are some images and videos from the festival on Club Soda website. Afterwards, I wrote a guest blog for the  Institute of Alcohol Studies: Club Soda hosts the first-ever Mindful Drinking Festival. I also wrote a guest blog for A hangover free life: Mindful Drinking Festival & Alcohol Free Drinks In Recovery. This article tackles the issue of whether people with alcohol misuse problems should avoid non-alcoholic beers and wines. The Club Soda view is that they can be really helpful in many ways, and it’s only if they trigger you to drink “the real thing” should you avoid them.

CAMRA also had their annual beer festival, and I did my second annual analysis of the alcohol-content of the real ales on offer. The main finding is that the average ABV has gone up slightly from last  year, which I really wasn’t expecting. And the lower-alcohol choice is still more or less non-existent at this event.

And finally, Laura and me did a joint Club Soda Sunday webinar on what we have learned about moderating your drinking habits.

The news for the next two months is that we are organising the second Mindful Drinking Festival, this one a pre-Christmas event, on 24 and 25 November at Spitalfields Market. So I will most likely be too busy to update this blog for a few weeks again…

What I’ve been up to – Spring 2017 edition

The big news is that the Club Soda Guide pilot project is now over. The Guide is still very much alive though, with over 250 venues signed-up so far, more joining every week, and the first batch of great places for mindful drinkers announced. We have also just released our evaluation report “Building a Mindful Drinking Movement” which has all the highlights from the project.

Non-alcoholic beers are becoming a bigger and bigger thing. Just the latest new entrant to the market is Nirvana, who have built the UK’s first dedicated low and no alcohol brewery in Leyton, east London. Their beers are very good, and they also do other fun stuff like non-alcoholic beer and yoga sessions. I also wrote a quick post about the five best non-alcoholic beers.

And low/no beers were a bit of a feature at Morning Advertiser’s MA500 pub event in Liverpool in May, where we were invited to talk about the Guide, and beer writer Pete Brown led a tasting of 0.5% beers and cider.

So that’s been the spring. The summer will mostly be taken by the organisation of UK’s first Mindful Drinking Festival that Club Soda is putting together in August, at Bermondsey Square. We are bringing together some of the best beers and wines under 0.5% abv as well as some great new soft drinks and even newer things like kombucha.

And we are also hoping to make some noise about the UK’s out-of-date labelling rules and regulations on low and no-alcohol drinks. It is an absolute mess at the moment, and so complicated that even lawyers are having a hard time figuring out what you can and can’t call “alcohol-free”.

Windsor Castle pub

Recent pub writings

We have been busy with the launch of Club Soda Guide, our listings site for the best licensed venues for mindful drinkers. A post at NudgingPubs tells the story in terms of innovation for and behaviour change with pubs.

Windsor Castle pubOver at the Guide website, I put together suggestions for pub crawls in the City and Hackney in three blog posts: Shoreditch and Old Street pub crawl routes, Dalston and Stoke Newington pub crawl routes, and City of London pub crawl routes. There is still a couple of these to follow in the next few weeks.

 

Irony is still alive

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that psychological studies on “priming” may have overstated the effects. It sounds plausible that thinking about words associated with old age might make someone walk slower afterwards for example, but as has been shown for many effects like this, they are nearly impossible to replicate.

Now Ulrich Schimmack, Moritz Heene, and Kamini Kesavan have dug a bit deeper into this, in a post at Replicability-Index titled “Reconstruction of a Train Wreck: How Priming Research Went off the Rails”. They analysed all studies cited in Chapter 4 of Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking Fast and Slow”. I’m also a big fan of the book, so this was interesting to read.

I’d recommend everyone with even a passing interest on these things to go and read the whole fascinating post. I’ll just note the authors’ conclusion: “…priming research is a train wreck and readers […] should not consider the presented studies as scientific evidence that subtle cues in their environment can have strong effects on their behavior outside their awareness.”

The irony is pointed out by Kahneman himself in his response: “there is a special irony in my mistake because the first paper that Amos Tversky and I published was about the belief in the “law of small numbers,” which allows researchers to trust the results of underpowered studies with unreasonably small samples.”

So nobody, absolutely nobody, can avoid biases in their thinking.

Guest blog on “Academic collaboration – a startup point of view”

I was asked to write a guest blog to University College London Centre for Behaviour Change‘s Digi-Hub. My brief was to talk about collaboration between businesses and academia, in particular from the point of view of a small startup company like Club Soda.

My post, which is part of a longer series of guest blogs, deals with evidence, evaluation, and the tension that working across organisational boundaries can create.

You can read the post here.

Guest blog on “Behaviour change for pubs and bars”

I was asked to write something for the Society for the Study of Addiction about our Nudging Pubs work in changing the behaviour of pubs and bars.

My guest post was on the two theoretical foundations of our project: a taxonomy of behaviour change tools, and a typology of nudges. The first is a UCL-led project, the second is from Cambridge University’s Behaviour and Health Research Unit.

Read the post at SSA’s website.