Friday, July 12, 2013

From Junk Science to Junk Food: The Food Police in Action

Armed with the latest findings from behavioral economics politicians have been trying to take control of what you eat.

It’s in your best interest, don’t you know?

Americans are in poor health. They are living longer, but they are living unhealthier.

Those who believe that government must solve all problems have set out to restore American health. How can you argue with people who want nothing but good health for you?

Then again, how can you not argue with people who want to control you and your children’s metabolism?

The politicians want to nudge you in the right direction, toward healthier living. Invariably, they end up pushing and shoving you to do as they want you to do.

It’s as American as that cherry pie you are no longer allowed to eat. Obviously, it’s an offshoot of the American mania about dieting. People have been trained to ignore what their bodies are telling them and to follow the this or that diet. Is it any wonder that Americans have serious problems with food?

Now, the government is trying to solve the problem by dictating a new healthy American diet. Doesn’t it feel like institutionalizing, even validating the problem?

Now we discover that much of the science that has been invoked to deprive people of more of their freedom is… how can we put this nicely…  wrong.

Just as the climate change crowd has been trumpeting “scientific consensus” as “settled science,” so too have the food police latched on to scientific fads.

Some of the fads make sense. Still, they are junk science.

Take salt.

A few years back New York’s Mayor Bloomberg decided that salt was bad. He had been told that salt caused high blood pressure, heart disease and God knows what else. So he launched a campaign to remove much of the salt from everyone’s diet.

The Daily Telegraph told the story in 2010:

The city's Health Department has announced that it is coordinating a nationwide effort to reduce salt in restaurant and packaged foods by 25 per cent over five years.

The National Salt Reduction Initiative, a coalition of cities and health organizations, hopes the food industry will back its campaign to combat high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes by voluntarily reducing the sodium in the US food supply

It must have seemed like a good idea, but yesterday the Centers for Disease Control reported that there is no advantage to be gained by reducing the amount of salt you consume. Besides, having too little salt might be bad for you.  explained the findings here:

A recent report commissioned by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reviewed the health benefits of reducing salt intake and the take-home message is that salt, in the quantities consumed by most Americans, is no longer considered a substantial health hazard. What the CDC study reported explicitly is that there is no benefit, and may be a danger, from reducing our salt intake below 1 tsp per day….

It may be that we're better off with more salt than less, up to 2 or even 3 tsp per day

And this does not even consider the fact that salt makes food taste better. When food tastes better, we eat less… but don’t let that get in the way of another of Mayor Mike’s crusades.

And then there’s skim milk. You may have missed it but in 2010 Congress passed and the president signed something called: The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Naturally, it prescribes skim milk for everyone. Everyone knows that cholesterol is bad for you. Unfortunately, no one seems to be aware of the fact that not-enough-cholesterol is not very good for you.

Time Magazine reports other salient facts:

In an editorial in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, Ludwig and nutrition expert Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the department of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, argue that there is actually little data to support the idea that skim and low-fat milk lead to better health outcomes than whole milk.

Why should that be so? It happens that children who are forced to drink skim milk feel nutritionally deprived. They compensate by eating more high calorie snacks.

Time explains:

Reduced-fat foods and drinks may not be as filling, so consumers may end up compensating for the lack of calories and eating or drinking more. In a study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood in March, scientists found that kids who drank lower-fat milks were actually more likely to be overweight later on.

“Our original hypothesis was that children who drank high-fat milk, either whole milk or 2% would be heavier because they were consuming more saturated-fat calories. We were really surprised when we looked at the data and it was very clear that within every ethnicity and every socioeconomic strata, that it was actually the opposite, that children who drank skim milk and 1% were heavier than those who drank 2% and whole,” study author Dr. Mark Daniel DeBoer, an associate professor of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and the chair-elect for the AAP Committee on Nutrition, told TIME in March.

Today, an Indiana school district is losing government funding because it has not been providing healthy lunches to its students.

Apparently, when the school started providing vegetables that the children did not want to eat, the children threw the food away. Whoever imagined that children could exercise their freedom not to be nudged? Thanks to the “hunger-free kids” act, children are hungry and malnourished.

The Washington Times has the story:

School officials in Carmel Clay, Ind., said they lost $300,000 last school year because students are rejecting the healthy menu changes brought on by First Lady Michelle Obama’s federal lunch regulations.

“I’ve had a lot of complaints, especially with the little guys,” Linda Wireman, a food service director for North White School Corp.told JCOnline. “They get a three-quarters cup of vegetables, but if it’s something they don’t like, it goes down the garbage disposal. So there are a lot of complaints they’re going home hungry.”

As soon as they get the chance, these starving children repair to fast food restaurants to load up on junk food:

“I’ve got kids who can stop at Panera and pick up a sandwich that meets none of these criteria. I’m not maybe your typical school district, and they’re assuming that every student doesn’t have access to food, and that’s incorrect in this community,” Amy Anderson told the paper. “Our kids can just wait and just hop in their BMWs and go to McDonald’s, which they’re rebuilding, making it bigger.”

So, Michelle Obama’s signature piece of legislation is making kids hungry and obese. But, it is doing great things for McDonald’s.

Let us not forget Diet Soda. Everyone drinks the stuff. Everyone feels virtuous while drinking it. How can something called “diet” be bad for you? It must be healthier than the sugary stuff.

The latest science tells a different story. The New York Post explains:

Zero-calorie beverages may seem appealing – but a new paper argues that artificially sweetened drinks could actually throw off your metabolism, affecting the way your body processes regular sugars.

Published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, the report argues that artificially sweetened beverages are not only linked with ill health effects similar to those associated with consuming regular soda – but they may even cause worse long term health outcomes.

“In lots of ways, (artificial sweeteners) have been given the benefit of the doubt just because they don’t have any calories,” lead author Susan Swithers, of the department of psychological sciences and ingestive behavior research center at Purdue University, told

“[But] when the body responds normally to sugar, it signals that an intake of both calories and sugar has occurred so the body can release the hormones needed to prepare,” Swithers said. “(This) prevents big spikes in blood sugar, and those same hormones are thought to have direct effects on satiety,” Swithers said.

Yet, when people eat something that tastes sweet – but introduces no real sugar into the blood system – it may throw off the body’s response mechanism, Swithers noted.

How come that no one thought of that?


Anonymous said...

No one thought of it because the most scarce resource in the world today is a thinking human being. All modern politicians, corporations and media purveyors depend on escalating mass ignorance using the latest lifestyle fads and terror-inducing health news.

Often the most cowardly among us gravitate to such absolutist crusades. Such is the case with the "food science" types. Like the Climate Change (AGW) druids, they wave their "irrefutable data" and place all opponents into Flat Earth Society status. They cling to the anti-smoking model of inducing social change. First there was cholesterol in eggs, then saturated fat in dairy, and then high blood pressure from salt. Horrors! The solution? Mandating uniform consumption behaviors, limiting choices, and getting other government agencies involved in a national movement so non-conformists can't escape. This sort of megalomania knows no bounds. Enough of the utopian, one-size-fits-all solutions, please.

It may come as shocking to the food police, but there are those of us in the world who actually ENJOY eating, finding it to be one if life's great pleasures. Those who are obsessed with others' sins can never be satisfied. The human condition is to want more, more, more. Whether it's salt, fat, carbs, or control over others' choices, these "experts" know what is best for us. All of us. After all, "studies say..."

When you are employed as an expert, that's your livelihood. We all want to have an impact and be successful. Life is to be enjoyed, but we of the proletariat are told of our culinary sins. And it's a high-stakes, deadly game, with a great story of good-versus-evil. At least that's how it's portrayed for maximum drama: sinner, sinner, sinner. It's a cacophony of heretic humiliation that would make the most savage preacher blush. And it's easy... who needs scripture when you have the Food Pyramid?

So what about the humanity of it all? What are the "deadly sins?" There are seven. Gluttony is certainly a cardinal sin, but it's in play whether you eat mounds of tofu or candy bars. This is also true of sloth, which contributes to ill health. That said, we are also wise to remember that lust is also a cardinal sin, with sex being interchangeable with power. And then we have PRIDE, the most serious of these deadly sins, which includes the desire to be more important and attractive than others. Rounding out the list of seven, there is greed (also applicable to power), wrath (especially applicable to undesirables like fat people), and envy (for those who actually enjoy life). The moral of this story? Look in the mirror and mind your own business. But politicians, experts and activists can't, because with government-run healthcare, your health choices are their business! Lucky you.

Amen on the diet soda farce -- one of the great, less-heard-of health scandals. Some people actively shame overweight people for drinking regular soda, yet diet soda is also linked to metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes. Maybe trying to trick your body into enjoying "no-guilt" fake sweets has consequences?

We're all human, and none of us is more human than others. We drown in data, we're awash in information, yet we are progressively less wise. Looking at humanity as billions of statistical data points is the Frankenstein-type sickness of our age. When will we ever learn that all this command-and-control, expert-driven, bureaucratic, control-freak stuff doesn't work? Enough bad music from Mayor Mike & The Witchhunters! Or is it Witchdoctors?


Stuart Schneiderman said...

It's interesting that for all the rules and regulations and government intrusions into food intake, we have been told that when it comes to sex, anything goes... no rules or regulations or government interference allowed. Hmmmm.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to Modernism, where we know more and more about less and less. We have abandoned the sacred Truth about life and the eternal. Materialists and relativists run the show. One is the extreme of rational, the other extremely irrational. Amidst the steady tidal wave of isms (always claiming to solve our problems) we've lost our understanding of what it means to be human. Yet we find ourselves desperate to connect with another. Sex is one of the few remaining experiential ways of doing so. It's also very convenient, as it is philosophically inclusive: one can treat their sex partner as a meaningless material object; or find deep, powerful relationship within a commitment that honors the other and ourselves. It's called sacrifice, the loss of self, something powerfully transcendent. And it's (gulp!) spiritual, and difficult to explain without theology or philosophy. Given the widespread Western abandonment of Christendom, we have no common language. Wejust have "plural viewpoints," all supposedly equally valid, though we know this is a lie. Our vaunted goal of "freedom of conscience" with no glue has left us as billions of disconnected individual human consciences. It's very lonely, and loneliness is man's most terrifying emotion. So of course we seek to protect the sex act from State intrusion, regardless of f
perversions, because it's the only intrinsically spiritual part if life we all have left, that we all share. It is our last stand for meaningful privacy and intimate understanding of another. Yet, like all Modern promises in man's search for meaning, it comes up short, because life is a mystery. We've given up on mystery, our sense of wonder, because it's... well, mysteriousness. And in our God-less magnificence we're supposed to have it all figured out, aren't we? Yet we know we don't. And so we find ourselves adrift in Modern meaninglessness. So some grasp for culinary, nutritious and gastrological purity... the latest idol, the newest brass ring in the quest for our own immortality. Isn't that hilarious?


Stuart Schneiderman said...

That's an interesting point-- since many religions have strict dietary codes, are the current fad diets merely a way to practice something like a religion while pretending to be an atheist??

n.n said...

Atheism is a philosophy based on a single principle: denial of theism. This does not, in and of itself, determine the faith of any individual adherent.

It can be readily observed that atheists are likely to defer their dignity to mortal gods. It seems that their faith is oriented to fulfill dreams of material (e.g. money), physical (e.g. sex), and ego (e.g. self-esteem) gratification during their mortal existence, which is something denied by the Judeo-Christian alternatives.

Tip is right. Atheism is merely an alternative (and older) to the traditional religions. Its realizations resemble a cult where mortal sins (e.g. elective abortion or premeditated murder) are rationalized for the convenience of its members.

n.n said...

Any effort and evidence which is not scientific (i.e. constrained to a limited frame of reference, reproducible and testable) is either a religion (or cult) and article of faith, respectively. Atheists are prone to corrupt scientific enterprise in their pursuit to marginalize their principal competing interests: theists, who in America are primarily Christians. The worst offenders (i.e. hypocrites) are individuals who are willing to sponsor corruption in order to advance their political, economic, and social standing.

Anonymous said...

Stuart @2:03 PM:

Quite. It is rather chic to pretend to be an atheist. Indeed, it's more of it. Who's going to question an atheist?