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.

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.

Follow the Money (A Preemptive Guide to Research Results!)

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Now that I’ve wedged open the door on the “research” that informs our total confusion and obfuscation around nutrition, let me follow with some good news.  There is, at least with respect to one agent in nutritional studies, some consistency.

In a meta analysis of nutrition research appearing in the established medical literature, we have been able to conclusively identify the one potent agent that is the primary explanatory variable in the outcome of nutritional research:

The source of the research funding!

Yes.  And I’m not just being histrionically cynical.  It’s true.  If you want to know in advance how a particular research study will come out, just look at who’s paying for it.

If the study is financed by the dairy industry, the results will show favorable outcomes for dairy consumption.

If the study is financed by the poultry industry, the results will show favorable outcomes for poultry consumption.

If the study is financed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the results will show favorable outcomes for the products of the industries that lobby congress most lavishly.

If the study is financed by the pharmaceutical industry, the results will demonstrate the relative efficacy of drug intervention in comparison with nutritional modification.

By the way, are you still looking for that one unsponsored study that supports the safety of consuming dairy products?  You won’t find it.  But you will find a multitude of dairy industry studies that glorify the phony health benefits of dairy consumption, while hiding the health dangers of this most perverse source of “nutrition.”

Does this mean that every industry-sponsored study yields results that are favorable to the industry?  No.  It only means that those supportive of the industry are the only results that will ever be published!