Obesity in the News; Nutrition Advice in Corporate Pockets

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“For first time, more than 4 in 10 women in U.S. are obese” reads a June 8, 2016 headline in The Seattle Times. And, of course, the reason for this depressing milestone, according to the article, “remains a mystery to health researchers.”

 

Of course it’s a mystery; it’s always a mystery.  The reason can never have anything to do with what people are eating.  How pedestrian and naïve would that be?

 

Yesterday (June 12, 2016), in the Parade magazine supplement that sneaks its way into most Sunday newspapers, a page was devoted to The Skinny on FAT, and of course the Skinny is that dietary fat is now the elixir of good health.  The first sentence on the page says it all: Eating fat doesn’t make you fat.  Right.  Nor do guns kill people.  Nor does playing footfall cause CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

 

I think you’ve heard this story before.  Low and behold, after all these decades thinking that dietary fat is anything but salubrious, we are now finally enlightened to the magic of “good fat” and the “neutral” impact of “saturated fats – once considered bad guys,” to quote from the Parade magazine.

 

I’ve notice recently that a lot of the nutrition “studies” that support these outrageous claims about fat are published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a publication of the American Society for Nutrition (ASN).  I’ve also noticed that the ASN maintains an untoward propinquity to many of the pillars of healthy eating in America: Coca Cola, Monsanto, the Sugar Association, ConAgra, McDonald’s, Mars, the National Dairy Council, Pepsi, etc.

 

Okay, call me cynical, or maybe even a conspiracy theorist.  Or — maybe the “mystery” about why American women are now suffering a 40 percent obesity rate is hiding somewhere in the information above.  And, maybe, the causes of obesity are not a mystery among those who know and believe in the fundamentals of human nutrition.

Obesity Link – to the Coca Cola Company?  Say it Ain’t So!

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Under the theme of “follow the money” we have this unsurprising revelation from earlier this month.  A nonprofit corporation calling itself the Global Energy Balance Network (funny name, no?), which was established to combat obesity, claimed that it had received an “unrestricted gift” from the Coca Cola Company to help carry out its work in fighting the scourge of obesity.  Oh, and for those skeptics out there, this was a genuine no-strings-attached gift and involved “no input” from Coke.

I can tell some of you readers aren’t quite buying this!  You cynics, you!

Well, OK, maybe you were right to follow the money on this nefarious caper.  The Associated Press looked a little deeper into this relationship (which is surprising in itself!) and found emails showing that Coke a) helped with the selection of the nonprofit’s leaders, b) edited its mission statement, and c) suggested content for its website!  Now that is what I call a truly “unrestricted gift” with “no input” from the donor!

The anti-obesity group lasted about one day after severing its relationship with Coke, which was tantamount to cutting off its head and severing its limbs.  Coca Cola, by any other name (like, for example, the disingenuous Global Energy Balance Network), is still Coca Cola.  And, yes, “things go better with Coke,” especially if Coke is paying for them.  Just ask the defunct Global Energy Balance Network!

 

Prostituting to “Big Food” (aka, at least by me, as “Big Junk”)

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Last month the World Health Organization (WHO) finally conceded publicly that processed meats dramatically elevate the risks of getting myriad cancers, thereby giving the WHO’s imprimatur to a fact that everyone in the scientific nutritional community has known for decades.  The occasion of this news was the release of a meta-analysis of hundreds of studies reaching this conclusion, including studies sponsored by members of the “Big Food” industry.   If we were to remove the sponsored studies from this meta-analysis, the case against eating processed meats would be even more pronounced.

The information in this blog series is largely based on meta-analyses (summary results of large bodies of research) of unsponsored nutritional studies.  Studies sponsored by food-industry giants (these would include Tyson Foods, Nestle, Kraft, ConAgra, ADM, General Mills, etc.) are always flawed by research designs tailored to produce results sympathetic to the sponsoring industry – in other words the studies are rigged!  And if a study doesn’t produce the intended biased result, you will never hear about it.

The WHO study (meta-analysis) was mammoth, incorporating the results of over 800 studies conducted over a period of decades.  So, in a serious world, the results and implications of this research should have been the unequivocal message of media reports, right?  Wrong!  Not when the media itself is “sponsored” at a pretty hefty level by Big Food.  Whether you received this report on CNN, or PBS, or from the New York Times, the capper for each report was an unbridled repudiation of the report by an organization calling itself the North American Meat Institute.  The spokeswomen from the NAMI assured media consumers that the far reaching health benefits from eating meat far outweighed the alleged, negligible risks claimed by the WHO report.

Pretending that an unsupported proclamation from an industry trade association is “news” and belongs in a news report is the pinnacle of media hypocrisy.  Reading press releases written by trade groups, and inviting their unscientific comments on WHO research studies, is not, if I may understate, journalism.  It is, if I may again understate, prostitution.  And prostitution of the worst kind.

A Very Brief Sojourn into Bad Science

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I really hate to intellectualize this sweeping swath of dietary truths, but …. I know you’ve been hearing something quite to the contrary, thanks to press releases pitched to media for egregiously flawed – and, of course, industry-supported — “research” results.  For example, you’ve been reading how amazing the Mediterranean Diet is, and how wrong we are to demonize fat.  So let’s see where the problem is.

Take a recent study published by the venerable New England Journal of Medicine in February 2013, entitled “Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet.”  If you actually look at the study, with a modicum of academic scrutiny, you will see that it compares two groups on variations of the so-called Mediterranean Diet (an “olive oil” group and a “nut” group) with a control group that was merely told to eat a diet low in saturated fat – which it didn’t actually do.  So, basically, the study compared one high-fat diet (Mediterranean – comprised of both the olive oil dopers and the nut suckers) with another high-fat diet, and concluded that the Mediterranean Diet was superior to the “low fat” alternative (yes, the “low fat” alternative that didn’t exist!).  Excuse me!  With proper credits to George Orwell, in sponsored (that is, industry paid for) nutritional research, “low fat” always seems to mean “high fat!”

A similarly fraudulent study was published in 2007 by the Journal of the American Medical Association, entitled “Influence of a Diet Very High in Vegetables, Fruit and Fiber and Low in Fat on Prognosis Following Treatment for Breast Cancer.”  The problem with this study was — and I’ll be blunt — the controls and definitions employed in this study were totally bogus.  Both groups ate diets that were high in saturated fat and animal protein, and neither was high in vegetables or fruit, despite the title of the article.  Low and behold, no differences were observed between these two groups!

The scary thing is, in addition to publishing the deceitful JAMA, members of the AMA are actually giving nutritional advice to the public!  At long last, is there no shame left in criteria for accepting studies for publication in the NEJM and the JAMA?