TORONTO – President Donald Trump’s avowal to unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea in response to any military strikes against the U.S. has raised the spectre of a nuclear confrontation between the countries, ratcheting up public anxiety about the potential for such a devastating event.While the escalating rhetoric may be mere sabre rattling, psychologists say feeling fearful or anxious about the threat of a nuclear holocaust or any life-altering catastrophe is perfectly normal.“Sometimes we might experience a sense of being in constant danger, especially if we’re questioning if there’s this threat to life and safety,” said Dr. Katy Kamkar, a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.“And it becomes not only the concern for the safety of self, but then of course for the safely of loved ones, the destruction of everything we have established,” she said.“The uncertainty can induce more worry. We feel more vulnerable and it can lead to feeling more helpless and powerless.”Shmuel Lissek, founding director of the ANGST Laboratory at the University of Minnesota, said humans have been hard-wired to err on the side of caution.From an evolution perspective, organisms that were overly cautious in the face of low-probability threats were more likely to survive and pass on their genes — and humans inherited those genes, Lissek told the Washington Post this week.“So when there’s a very small-probability threat that is of very high intensity, we tend to worry instead of not worry,” he said.A person’s age may also dictate how they react emotionally to the perceived threat of nuclear war, Kamkar said.Many baby boomers grew up during the Cold War, when then U.S. president John F. Kennedy and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev took the world to the brink of a nuclear conflagration with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and the fear of annihilation was a seminal event in many of their lives.In his 2001 book “A Cook’s Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal,” New York-born chef Anthony Bourdain, 61, wrote: “I grew up thinking the Big One could come at any moment, and this country — or fear of it, the way my country reacted to the threat — radicalized, marginalized and alienated me in ways that still affect me.”While younger adults did not share that experience with their parents or grandparents, later military conflicts with or without the risk of weapons of mass destruction may have increased their psychological sensitivity to a perceived threat of atomic war.For instance, a study of Finnish students aged 15 to 19 around the time of the 1991 Persian Gulf War — in which a U.S.-led international coalition defeated Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait — found those adolescents who frequently worried about nuclear war had an increased risk of having developed a mental health disorder five years later.Kamkar said teens and children process events differently than adults, “but we know children look to their parents. So if they see any fear or panic within their parents, they might in turn feel it as well.“Also we know that if they hear it through the media … it can then in turn induce those negative or frightening images in them.”Richard John, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Southern California, agreed the war of words between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in the media can exacerbate public anxiety.“I think people react to the news a lot more strongly now because it’s hard to escape,” he said Thursday from Los Angeles. “In the ’60s, you heard one news report for half an hour at night and that was about it. And now, it’s a 24-hour news cycle.“You go on social media and you go on anywhere and you’re just bombarded with the media talking about this. And it gets amplified.”John, associate director of research at the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events — or CREATE, established by U.S. Homeland Security — is an expert in what’s known as probabilistic risk assessment. He suggested people do seem to have a heightened sense that some sort of attack is imminent.“I think right now they see the Korean dilemma as just part of the whole crazy Trump presidency … and so probably most people just think the North Koreans are reacting to Trump’s tweets … and they don’t see it in the context of the last 25 years of foreign policy towards the North Koreans.“My sense right now is most people really don’t appreciate much about history,” he said, noting that former president Bill Clinton began that policy by giving North Korea US$5 billion in exchange for its promise not to pursue a path of nuclear armament.And unlike in 1962, when both the U.S. and the Soviet Union were rapidly stockpiling nuclear weapons, there were no defensive weapons to knock down intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying those warheads, as is the case today, John said.“So from an objective standpoint, if you asked what is the level of threat, what’s the risk, how likely is this to happen, people should be a lot less anxious today than they were in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis.”– Follow @SherylUbelacker on Twitter.
A team of Oxford University experts has shown that proposed new European Union legislation could mean that 93% of foods will claim to be ‘nutritious’.The proposals, which go before the European Commission next month, suggest a limit of 8mg of saturated fat per 100g for bakery products. A Tesco jam doughnut contains 5.7mg. Under these criteria, Oxford researchers have concluded that just 7 per cent of foods in the average UK diet will be prevented from claiming to be nutritious, while 60 per cent could be marketed as ‘healthy.’According to Which?, the consumer group who commissioned the survey, doughnuts could soon be advertised as ‘low fat,’ and foods such as custard tarts, pork sausages and ready salted crisps could carry health and nutrition claims.Which? along with health charities the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK, have written to Health Secretary Alan Johnson asking the British Government to reject the proposals.Colin Walker, Which? spokeasperson, said the new rules would “weaken the fight against obesity and poor diets, doing far more harm than good.”Walker continued, “Jam doughnuts and crisps being allowed to make nutrition claims would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. The goalposts have been widened to the point that no one remembers why they were put there in the first place.”Some Oxford students voiced support for Walker’s views, with one saying “everyone knows that things like doughnuts aren’t actually nutritious – classifying them as such will just undermine the whole system of food labelling.”With almost one in four adults in the UK classified as obese, there are fears that poor food labelling could add to the problem and its related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.However, some students said they felt that the proposed changes would have a limited effect. “People aren’t stupid,” said Wadham college student Andrew Wilkinson, “they know what’s good for them, even if they then go and ignore it. Classifications are a bit unnecessary, especially if foods continue to have their GDA information. If something is ‘low fat’ but contains 90% of your daily allowance of sugar, it’s fairly obvious that the food is unhealthy.” The Food Standards Agency has also considered the issue, with a spokesman saying, “we must ensure that health claims do not mislead consumers. The Agency understands Which?’s position and shares some of its concerns. Labelling must help people make healthier choices and we would oppose any moves that might encourage consumers to eat more fatty, sugary and salty foods.”