Archive for July, 2010

I’ll be spending tonight trying to finish up a system for one of those companies that hired me as a programmer despite my glaring lack of credentials, so this will be relatively short.  But my post(s) about experts and college degrees sparked a lot of comments, so I want to toss a few more of my own thoughts into the mix.

I went to college and I’m glad I did, but I haven’t used my degree for much of anything.  I worked at a small magazine for four years, and the degree in journalism no doubt helped me land that job, but journalism classes didn’t turn me into a writer.  Writing turned me into a writer.  I switched my major to journalism after I’d already landed a job with the college paper as a features reporter — and I landed that job because I applied for it shortly after winning a campus fiction contest sponsored by the newspaper.  My major at the time was psychology.

Since leaving college, I’ve had a strange assortment of jobs.  Some freelance writing, playing bass in a couple of bands, acting in commercials and industrial films (long before I took an acting class), composing music for a few industrial films (all through MIDI tracks; I don’t read music and have no formal training), several years of standup comedy, software trainer, and finally computer programming — again, self-taught.

Given my work history, it’s no surprise I don’t believe the only way to develop a skill or acquire useful knowledge is to attend classes.  And history agrees with me.  I mentioned Thomas Edison in my post.  Others have pointed out that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are college dropouts.  Same goes for Alexander Graham Bell, whose early interests were art and music and who, according to his biographers, used to entertain his family and their guests with vocal impressions.  I guess he was just a comedian for awhile.

Much as I admire Thomas Jefferson, I believe the greatest American who ever lived was Benjamin Franklin.  I can’t think of anyone else who succeeded in so many fields:  printer, author, humorist, diplomat, statesman, scientist, and of course inventor.  In addition to inventing the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, he was one of the top theorists and researchers of his day in the new field of electricity.  And he managed all this despite completing just two years of school.  (I’m currently reading his autobiography.)

All that being said, I’m not knocking formal education.  If I wanted to work in particle physics, I’d sure as heck attend a university and work towards a PhD.  Nor would I undergo an operation performed by a surgeon who hadn’t finished medical school, an internship, and residency. You get the idea.

My beef is with people who seem to believe experts with degrees should never be challenged by what my brother referred to as “the non-anointed.”  That’s utter hogwash.  Science belongs to everyone.  Math belongs to everyone.  Logic belongs to everyone. 

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned my college physics professor who told us, “Learn math.  Math is how you know when they’re lying to you.”  He said that as a guest lecturer in a humanities class.  This was a guy with PhDs in both physics and chemistry, but you’ll notice he didn’t tell us, “Learn math and then get a PhD, and then you’ll finally be worthy of questioning the experts.”  Nope … he was telling us that if we can do the math and apply some logic, then we can question the conclusions.

And we should.  If average citizens don’t question the experts, we’re all screwed.  Just look where the expert advice to eat a lot of carbohydrates and avoid fat has gotten us.  Look what happened when experts told us corn oil was good for our hearts.

If you tell me 5+5 =11, I don’t care if you have a PhD, I’m going to disagree.  If you tell me people with gray hair have a disproportionate number of heart attacks and that gray hair must therefore cause heart disease, I’m going to point out that we’re probably looking at an association, not a cause.  If you tell me a study proves that whole grains prevent diabetes and I discover while reading the study that whole grains replaced white flour in the subjects’ diets, I’m going to suggest that maybe it was removing white flour that made the difference. 

It doesn’t take a genius IQ to find the flaws in a lot of nutrition “science.”  It just requires mathematical literacy and perhaps some ability with Excel.  The American Heart Association tells us our LDL should be below 130 to prevent heart disease.  When I plugged their own data into Excel, I found that people with LDL below 130 account for more than their share of heart disease.  When I plugged the World Health Organization’s worldwide population data about cholesterol levels and heart disease rates into Excel and ran the CORR function, I found nothing except a very slight negative association (meaning lower cholesterol was correlated with a slightly higher rate of heart disease).  The math is what the math is.  If you disagree with my conclusions, do it with math.  Whether or not I have a medical degree is immaterial. 

And that’s what some of the experts with degrees (and their awe-struck followers) can’t stand, especially in today’s digital age:  we can call them out publicly.  We can find and call attention to the errors in their data or logic.  Knowledge and publishing have been democratized.  When they react to criticism by hiding behind their degrees instead of defending their conclusions, you should be very, very suspicious.

That’s exactly what happened when Denise Minger ran the numbers on T. Colin Campbell’s data to show his conclusions don’t hold up.  She didn’t even claim that plant-based diets aren’t superior — in fact, she said specifically that her numbers didn’t prove anything conclusive about diets and health.  She merely pointed out that Campbell’s data doesn’t prove anything either.  Toss in a variable here and there that Campbell left out, and some of his ballyhooed correlations disappear or start going in the other direction.

Campbell reacted by saying he sincerely doubted a young woman working in her spare time could have performed such a sophisticated analysis (then who did, Dr. Campbell, and what does that have to do with anything?), that she probably doesn’t fully comprehend the research, and that he’s too busy to answer her anyway.  Boil it down, and you get this:  I’m a researcher with a PhD and she’s 23-year-old, so don’t listen to her.

And of course Campbell’s True Believers have been jumping all over every blog that praised Minger’s analyses, acting like Taliban members who heard someone diss Allah, and all saying pretty much the same thing:  Do Not Question The Master.  Here’s an excerpt from one I received today:

So for those of you who choose to discredit the science and want to believe your bologny, it is for one reason and one reason only because you like to eat dead parts of animals, because you do not want to believe the truth, because you want to keep eating animal products. Go ahead and do what you want. I am so sick and tired of people like you trying to discredit the truth and having the large corporations obviously coining the billions of dollars from you, go ahead! You can all spend your lives taking medications being owned by the pharmaceutical industry. Keep making the cruel corporations rich, keep supporting the pharmaceutical industry. But, leave the truth alone!!!

So the only reason to question Campbell’s math would be a desire to eat dead parts of animals and support big pharma.  Can’t argue with that logic.  Here’s another:

It is not appropriate for a critic like Ms Minger to publish a technical critique of a scientific work without first subjecting it to evaluation by her peers through a peer-reviewed study because the public is not as equipped to analyze it as well as trained professionals. It is not appropriate to scribe equal credibility to her statements and those of the author either. If and when she does that I will be happy to read her critique and compare it to the original work and the peer review.

Ah yes, I’m sure Ms. Minger would have no problem convening a scientific committee to peer-review a blog post, so please don’t strain your brain reading her analysis until that happens.  And why exactly is it “inappropriate” for her publish a critique?  Once again, the math is what the math is.  A blessing by The Council of Elders doesn’t morph it from blasphemy into truth. 

Minger ran the same statistical calculations that Campbell ran, using his down data.  She merely pointed out correlations within his data that he chose to ignore.  Rather than thinking, the commenter is sticking his head in the sand … after hiding behind Campbell’s degree and some nonsense about how “the public” isn’t equipped to evaluate her work.  (Hey, that’s weird … she’s a mere member of the public, and she did quite an analysis of The Master’s work.)  In fact, despite all the comments posted on this blog by Campbell True Believers, I have yet to read one that disputes her math. 

Perhaps it’s because math is how you know when they’re lying to you.  And math belongs to all of us … brilliant 23-year-old bloggers and PhDs alike.


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If you read the comments, you know I occasionally hear from people who point out that I’m just a comedian and have no business commenting on the health sciences.  I get those on the YouTube channel too, usually in language that is far less polite than on the blog.  I guess people feel more anonymous on YouTube.

I’ve never understood the belief that only people with degrees have any real expertise, or that everyone with a degree is an expert.  I had a lot of great teachers in high school and college, but also a few who were dunces — dunces with PhDs.  Meanwhile, some of the most successful people I’ve met are working in fields that have nothing to do with what they studied in college — if they even attended college.

Anyway, I wrote a piece on the topic on my other blog.


Comments 28 Comments »

The Guy From CSPI is going to tie up the courts with yet another lawsuit.  This time he’s suing the Coca-Cola company over misleading consumers by making health claims for their vitaminwater drinks.  A judge who denied Coca-Cola’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit seems to agree with The Guy From CSPI:

Judge John Gleeson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York found that the company’s use of the word “healthy” violates the Food and Drug Administration’s regulations on vitamin-fortified foods.

The judge also took note of the fact that the FDA frowns upon names of products that mention some ingredients to the exclusion of more prominent ingredients such as, in the case of vitaminwater, added sugar. The names of the drinks, along with other statements on the label, “have the potential to reinforce a consumer’s mistaken belief that the product is comprised of only vitamins and water,” Gleeson wrote.

So basically, the judge agrees with The Guy From CSPI that consumers are idiots.  We’ll see the name vitaminwater and, after sucking down a mouthful of the stuff, assume the sugary taste comes from one of the vitamins.  It would never occur to us to, say, read the nutrition label.

But wait … wasn’t the push for nutrition labels one of CSPI’s proudest and most successful battles?  I thought whole idea was that if we put all that information on food packages, consumers will make smarter choices.  If the Coca-Cola company discloses the sugar content right there on the label, shouldn’t that be enough to inform consumers that what they’re drinking isn’t just water and vitamins?  Apparently not:

The judge also rejected Coke’s argument that disclosing sugar content on Nutrition Facts labels eliminates the possibility that consumers may be misled into thinking the product has only water and vitamins, and little or no sugar.

Okay, I get it now.  We need all those nutrition labels so consumers will make smarter choices, but by gosh, we can’t actually expect them to read the darned things!  If the product is named vitaminwater instead of vitaminsugarwater, people might be fooled.

In that case, I want to sue the makers of Grape Nuts.  I used to eat that stuff for breakfast, and it turns out there aren’t grapes or any nuts in it.  Rice Chex aren’t named Rice And Sugar Chex, Froot Loops aren’t named Sugar And Corn Flour Loops That Contain Almost No “Froot” Whatsoever, and Lucky Charms never brought me any luck that I remember. 


Or perhaps instead of recommending that parents give their kids Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars Oats ‘n Honey as a snack, CSPI would prefer to recommend WHOLE GRAIN OATS, SUGAR, CANOLA OIL, YELLOW CORN FLOUR, HONEY, SOY FLOUR, BROWN SUGAR SYRUP, SOY LECITHIN, BAKING SODA.  Heeeey, wait a minute, Guy From CSPI!   You never told me I’d be giving my kid sugar and brown sugar syrup!  I thought it was just Oats ‘n Honey!  And by the way, you just recommended I give her 29 grams of carbohydrates, including 12 grams of sugar.  I can see why the sugar in vitaminwater has you so upset.

Consumers are not stupid, and putting the sugar content on the label ought to be enough.  Anyone who’s interested in avoiding sugar will take an extra two or three seconds and read it.  I do it all the time.  Now that I’ve kicked my diet soda habit, I drink fizzy, flavored waters.  I always check the labels before buying them.  I don’t buy them if they contain sugar or artificial sweeteners.  It’s really not that difficult.

By the same token, people who aren’t interested in avoiding sugar don’t give a hoot, label or no label.  You can shove all the data in their faces you want, and won’t make any difference.  Even The Guy From CSPI had to more or less admit as much when one of those calorie-count menu laws failed to shame people into eating less in fast-food restaurants:

Nutrition is not the top concern of low-income people, who are probably the least amenable to calorie labeling,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group in Washington.

Follow that logic?  Let’s break it down:

1. We need more labels and menu laws because too many people are obese.
2. A disproportionate share of the obese population is poor.
3. Poor people aren’t “amenable” to labeling.
4. Conclusion:  we need more labels and menu laws.

The Guy From CSPI isn’t actually interested in using label laws to inform us.  His real goal is to use label laws to harass us into eating the way he thinks we should.  Nothing else explains this statement, from another article about CSPI’s nutrition-label campaign:

The Center says companies shouldn’t be able to brag about having “0 grams trans fat!” if the item contains significant amounts of saturated fat.

So … you’re selling a food product that doesn’t contain trans fat, but The Guy From CSPI doesn’t want you to make that claim on the label if the product contains saturated fat — a completely different substance with completely different biochemical effects.  Sure, I get it.  We also shouldn’t allow companies to claim “No Salt!” if a no-salt product contains paprika.  That would make just as much sense.

Part of CSPI’s lawsuit is based on vitaminwater making health claims that aren’t known to be true, such as “may reduce the risk of age-related eye disease” because of the vitamin content.  I agree that drinking sugar water to get some vitamins into your system is useless.  But so is eating Cocoa Puffs to improve the health of your heart, and I don’t see CSPI suing the American Heart Association for putting their stamp of approval on the box.  (If anyone has proof that Cocoa Puffs reduce heart disease, please share.)

When I read about these lawsuits, I’m convinced we need to amend the civil code to include a legal defense titled Go Pound Sand In Your @##.  No lawyers, no legal bills, nothing.  You should be able to walk into court, point to The Guy From CSPI or whichever of his litigation scumbugs is present and say, “Your honor, if it please the court, I’d like to invite the plaintiff to go pound sand in his @##.”

And the court should second the invitation.


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Turns out the federal government wasn’t satisfied with merely encouraging us all to become fatter through their dietary advice and grain subsidies. Nope, that wasn’t nearly intrusive enough. Now they want to track our BMIs and tell us how fat we are.

Some states are already getting into the act by sending BMI scores home on kids’ report cards. No, I’m not kidding. I really, really wish I were kidding, but I’m afraid it’s true. Check it out:

Apparently, the state governments believe parents whose kids are overweight are unaware of the fact. So you see, if we can just get the schools to inform the parents, they’ll wise up and put those fat little tykes on a diet.

It’s the same old, tired, failed confrontation theory: first tell people they’re fat, then shove the calorie counts in their faces whenever they go to buy food anywhere, and they’ll stop being such gluttons. It doesn’t work, but governments keep trying. After all, whenever they see a problem, politicians feel an irresistible urge to do something!  Whether or not that something will actually work doesn’t seem to matter.

The BMI report card idea has already been tried, by the way.  Arkansas began mandating BMI scores on report cards back in 2003.  So how much of an effect has the state’s intrusion had on the kids’ weights after seven years? I think you can guess:  none.  The program is failure.

But since we’re talking about government, failure is simply an excuse to do the same thing again, only bigger.  So now the federal government is getting in on the act.  A section of the “stimulus” bill requires doctors and hospitals to track everyone’s BMI electronically and report it to the federal government beginning in 2014.

If you can figure out how forcing hospitals to waste resources tracking my BMI stimulates the economy, please explain it to me.  (And if you thought the monster “stimulus” package and the monster health-care bill were great ideas, just wait … nobody in Congress read those beasts before voting on them, and we’re going to eventually find out all kinds of new government intrusions were included in them.)

Given the failure of mandatory BMI scores to inspire weight loss, you might wonder what kind of idiot — aside from the elected variety — could actually think this is a good idea.  Here’s what kind of idiot:

As you can see, Meme Roth is still disguising her disdain for fat people as a financial issue. If you’re fat, it costs her money, doncha know, so now it’s her business.  That’s a load of bologna.  Our neighbors just had their fourth child.  We have two.  I did the math, and they’re going to cost the public school system roughly $200,000 more than we will, while receiving two extra tax deductions. That doesn’t make the size of their family any of my business.  And as I explained in detail in a previous post, the idea that fat people cost “society” more than healthy people is a myth anyway.

It’s also a myth than everyone with a BMI of over 25 is unhealthy, or even overweight. Meme says BMI is only inaccurate for professional athletes and body-builders.  Oh, really?  If you’ve seen Fat Head, you’ll recall the scene where Dr. Eric Oliver informed that according to the BMI standard, he’s overweight. I had the guy stand up, and he’s about as lean as you can get.

My current BMI is 28, but there’s nothing wrong with my health.  And as far as I know, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Brad Pitt and George Clooney aren’t professional athletes … but they’re all overweight according to the BMI standard. (Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson are actually “obese.”)

When Meme pulled out a copy of the Constitution to justify further government intrusion, I was inspired to song.  The lyrics went something like this:  Meme, you incredible @#$%ing idiot!  Try actually reading the Constitution sometime!

Yes, of course the Constitution doesn’t require anyone to pay the cost of someone else’s decisions.  Nor would it allow the government to force hospitals to assist them in tracking everyone’s BMI.  The only reason we’re “all paying” for everyone else’s bad health habits in the first place is that Congress violated the Constitution when it forced taxpayers to support socialized medicine.

If we want to lower the financial burden that “everyone pays” for obesity, let’s get the government out of the health and nutrition business.  Allowing them to insert themselves ever more deeply into our lives isn’t the cure.  It’s the problem.


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It was a brutal weekend.  I spent nearly all of it, including last night, extracting extremely inconsistent data from Excel spreadsheets into a database for a customer.  Yuck. 

After that headache, I thought I’d go ahead and give myself a migraine by reading another major section of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines.  This one was titled Carbohydrates.  It was pretty much a love letter … if anyone dared write a love letter in Engfish.  (Dear One – it has been determined by moderately strong evidence that I typically experience an increase in levels of mood-elevating hormonal secretions when you are in close proximity, as measured by the vertical distance between subject one (you) and subject two (me), thus indicating …)

Before we get into the details, here’s the summary:

  • Carbohydrates don’t make us fat
  • Carbohydrates don’t cause heart disease
  • Carbohydrates don’t cause type 2 diabetes
  • Carbohydrates don’t cause anything bad, except maybe cavities
  • Carbohydrates from whole grains will cure all your ailments
  • Shut up and eat your carbohydrates

Stunning revelations from a committee empanelled by a government that’s heavily into the grain business.  Here’s some of the opening Engfish:

The role of carbohydrates in the diet has been the source of much public and scientific interest. These include the relationship of carbohydrates with health outcomes, including coronary heart disease (CHD), type 2 diabetes (T2D), body weight, and dental caries. The 2010 DGAC conducted NEL evidence reviews on these and other carbohydrate-related topics. The Committee also relied on evidence contained in the 2002 Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) report and conducted a non-NEL review of recent literature to specifically examine the relationship of carbohydrates with CHD, T2D, behavior, and cognitive performance. No detrimental effects of carbohydrates as a source of calories on these or other health outcomes were reported.

Well, that’s it, then.  The committee promised they’d review all the relevant scientific literature, and now they’re telling us carbohydrates have no detrimental effects.  I can quit reading the report and spend the rest of tonight watching re-runs of Seinfeld.

Dangit, no I can’t.  Thanks in part to my high-fat diet, I have an excellent memory.  And I seem to recall some important studies (many of which I read, even if the committee didn’t) found a link between high-glycemic carbohydrates and disease.  There was even an editorial about the subject in a recent edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  Here are some excerpts (IHD means ischemic heart disease, in case you didn’t know):

Numerous epidemiologic studies have found that higher intake of refined carbohydrates (reflected by increased dietary GL) is associated with greater risk of type 2 diabetes and IHD, whereas higher consumption of whole grains protects against these conditions.

In this issue of the Journal, Jakobsen et al compared the association between saturated fats and carbohydrates with IHD risk among 53,644 men and women in a Danish cohort of the Diet, Cancer, and Health Study. During 12 y of follow-up, 1943 incident cases of myocardial infarction (MI) were diagnosed. Multivariate analyses showed that saturated fat intake was not associated with risk of MI compared with carbohydrate consumption- a finding consistent with the results from a recent pooled analysis and a meta-analysis. However, replacement of saturated fat with high-GI-value carbohydrates significantly increased the risk of MI (relative risk per 5% increment of energy from carbohydrates).

This study is notable for its large size, long duration of followup, and detailed assessment of dietary and lifestyle factors. It is the first epidemiologic study to specifically examine the effects of replacing saturated fats with either high- or low-quality carbohydrates, and it provides direct evidence that substituting high-GIvalue carbohydrates for saturated fat actually increases IHD risk.

Replace saturated fat with high-glycemic carbohydrates, and the risk of heart disease goes up.  Perhaps the committee will at least acknowledge that we should be avoiding high-glycemic, refined carbohydrates.  Let’s see what they have to say on the matter:

When selecting carbohydrate foods, there is no need for concern with their glycemic index or glycemic load. What is important to heed is their calories, caloric density, and fiber content.

Got that?  High glycemic, low glycemic …  nothing to worry about.  Here’s the committee’s fuller conclusion:

Strong and consistent evidence shows that glycemic index and/or glycemic load are not associated with body weight and do not lead to greater weight loss or better weight maintenance. Abundant, strong epidemiological evidence demonstrates that there is no association between glycemic index or load and cancer. A moderate body of inconsistent evidence supports a relationship between high glycemic index and type 2 diabetes. Strong, convincing evidence shows little association between glycemic load and type 2 diabetes. Due to limited evidence, no conclusion can be drawn to assess the relationship between either glycemic index or load and cardiovascular disease.

So the only link negative link to high-glycemic foods is with type 2 diabetes, and by gosh, the evidence is inconsistent on that one.  After several pages of research summaries and citations (which I suspect were cherry-picked), the committee declares the evidence “mixed”  and tells us the glycemic index or load doesn’t make a difference. 

I found that fascinating because of their runaway enthusiasm for whole grains and fiber.  Whole grains, you see, will cure you of almost everything:

A moderate body of evidence from large prospective cohort studies shows that whole grain intake, which includes cereal fiber, protects against cardiovascular disease. Limited evidence shows that consumption of whole grains is associated with a reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes in large prospective cohort studies. Moderate evidence shows that intake of whole grains and grain fiber is associated with lower body weight.

Wowzers.  Eat those whole grains, and you’ll avoid heart disease, diabetes and obestiy.  To provide evidence for that paragraph, the committee cites a slew of observational studies showing an association between eating more whole grains and better health, and even tosses in a few clinical studies as well.  If you didn’t know better, the evidence that whole grains are a cure-all would be convincing.

But I do know better.  Several times, after seeing yet another news story about the wonders of whole grains, I’ve looked up the study that inspired the article.  I’ve always found paragraphs like this one, from a study cited by the committee:

Behall (2006) compared the effects of feeding three whole-grain diets on blood pressure with weight as an ancillary outcome. Participants (n=25) consumed a controlled Step I diet for 2 weeks after which approximately 20 percent of energy was replaced with whole wheat/brown rice, barley, or half wheat-rice/half barley, for 5 weeks each.

The researchers apparently didn’t have the courtesy to tell us what kind of food was “replaced” with whole grains.  I’ll bet you dollars to donuts (and you can keep the donuts) we’re talking about white-flour foods.  That’s been the case in every other study I looked up — except when the researchers didn’t feel like being specific.

Now, let’s think about this … what happens when you remove white-flour foods and replace them with whole-grain foods in a clinical study?  You lower the glycemic index and glycemic load of the meals.  And unless the people in observational studies who report eating a lot of whole grains are sprinkling bran flakes on top of their donuts and white-bread sandwiches, they’re also consuming less white flour.  Even goofball vegan doctors like Neal Bernard tell people to switch to whole grains specifically to reduce their glycemic load.

In other words, the many health benefits the committee ascribes to whole grains are probably the result of consuming less white flour — and thus reducing the blood-sugar blast from eating processed grains.  If the committee is going to cite those studies as solid proof that whole grains are good, then they’re citing studies in which a reduced glycemic load was associated with better health.

Like I’ve said before, if I compare people who smoke filtered and unfiltered cigarettes, the people smoking filtered cigarettes will probably have lower rates of lung cancer.  But that doesn’t mean filtered cigarettes prevent cancer.  It means filtered cigarettes are less likely to cause cancer.  Huge difference.  If we really want to determine the benefits of whole grains, let’s compare people who eat them to people who don’t eat any grains at all.

Even if whole grains contain some beneficial nutrients, it’s crazy to recommend that all Americans should base their diets on them.  Grains can cause all kinds of health problems.  Loren Cordain has written extensively about how grains can cause leaky gut syndrome and lead to autoimmune disorders. 

When I ate grains, I had arthritis.  I had gastric reflux.  I reached for the bottle of Pepto-Bismal at least once per week.  When I was a traveling comedian, I always had Pepto-Bismal chewable tablets in my overnight bag.  Now I literally can’t remember the last time I took Pepto-Bismal or an antacid.  At the premiere party for Fat Head, the sound engineer told me that after the film convinced him to give up grains, he no longer needed his daily dose of Prilosec.  He thanked me for changing his life.  But according to the committee, he’s now at risk for heart disease and diabetes because he’s not eating his whole grains.

While the committee recommends that Americans cut back on sugar, they concluded that sugar doesn’t play any particular role in causing weight gain. 

Added sugars, as found in sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB), are not different than other extra calories in the diet for energy intake and body weight. Thus, reducing intake of all added sugars, including sucrose, corn sweetener, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, and other forms of added sugars, is a recommended strategy to reduce calorie intake in Americans.

It’s all about the calories, you see.  And yet elsewhere in the report, they state that people who eat a lot of sugar tend to consume more calories overall.  Gee, do you think maybe there’s a connection there?  Gaining weight may ultimately be caused by over-consuming calories, but then we have to ask ourselves what causes people to over-consume. Recent studies have shown that fructose depletes your body’s supply of ATP, the usable form of energy.  When you’re low on energy, you’re going to eat more.  Sugar is half fructose, while HFCS is 55% fructose.  Put two and two together, and I’d say sugar and HFCS cause people to consume more calories.

Much of the report is dedicated to praising the benefits of fruits and vegetables.  I don’t have anything against fruits and vegetables.  I eat a lot of them, especially vegetables.  I’m not convinced they’re the key to radiant health — there have been plenty of cultures where people were lean and healthy but rarely consumed plants foods —  but if the committee wants to tell people to eat more vegetables, I don’t see any harm in it. 

But I see plenty of harm in the committee continuing to recommend that we get most of our calories from carbohydrates, and of course that’s what they do. 

Healthy diets are high in carbohydrates. Accepted Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDR) for carbohydrates are 45 to 65 percent from carbohydrates. A maximal intake level of 25 percent or less of total energy from added sugars is suggested, based on trends indicating that people with diets at or above this level of added sugars are more likely to have poorer intakes of important essential nutrients. Active Americans should consume diets at the high end of the AMDR range (65%) while Americans on low calorie diets will need to consume diets at the low end of the range (45%).

That statement didn’t surprise me.  It’s exactly what I expected.  The surprise was that in a document full of praise for the Almighty Carbohydrate, the committee included this sentence:

The amount of dietary carbohydrate that confers optimal health in humans is unknown.

So there you have it:  we don’t actually know how many carbohydrates people should eat to be healthy, but trust us … you should eat a LOT of carbohydrates.

And now, to pluck up everyone’s spirits a bit, I’m happy to report that a doctor who actually gets it was on TV:


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MSN published the newest state-by-state obesity figures on their web site today.  Here are the states with the highest and lowest rankings.  (Note:  in this table and all other tables, I’m skipping Washington, D.C.  It’s a city, for Pete’s sake, not a state.)

1 Mississippi
2 Alabama
3 Tennessee
4 West Virginia
5 Louisiana
6 Oklahoma
7 Kentucky
8 Arkansas
9 South Carolina
10 North Carolina
41 California
42 New Jersey
43 Montana
44 Utah
45 Rhode Island
46 Vermont
47 Hawaii
48 Massachusetts
49 Connecticut
50 Colorado

As you can see, southern states dominate the obesity list.  Quite a few articles have been published that attempt to answer the question Why Are Southerners So Fat? — that was actually the title of one.  I believe we’re looking at two factors, which are in part related:  poverty and race.  Cheaper foods tend to be high-carb foods, so it would make sense that poor people tend to eat high-carbohydrate diets.

Tennessee has the third-highest obesity rate.  And yet as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t see many fat people in our area.  In fact, in a list of county-by-county statistics, I saw that the average adult BMI in our county is 25.  Our county also has the highest per-capita income in the state. 

But I also believe race plays somewhat of a role apart from poverty.  Here’s the same list of states again, with another column showing each state’s rank by the African-American proportion of the population:

State Obesity Blacks/Capita
Mississippi 1 1
Alabama 2 6
Tennessee 3 10
West Virginia 4 37
Louisiana 5 2
Oklahoma 6 24
Kentucky 7 23
Arkansas 8 12
South Carolina 9 3
North Carolina 10 7
California 41 26
New Jersey 42 16
Montana 43 50
Utah 44 44
Rhode Island 45 30
Vermont 46 48
Hawaii 47 39
Massachusetts 48 27
Connecticut 49 21
Colorado 50  33

It’s hardly a perfect correlation, but the correlation is there.  The southern states tend to have a higher proportion of African-Americans than the northern states. 

As I mentioned in Fat Head, African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately labeled as overweight or obese, and to a large extent, the label isn’t fair.  I’ve had a few pinheads in cyberspace accuse me of being a racist for stating that on average, African-Americans and Latinos are genetically pre-disposed to be thicker than whites.  They may as well yell “racist!” if I say that those same groups are pre-disposed to have darker skin.  We’re talking about physiology here, pure and simple.

If you look up studies on osteoporosis, you’ll see it stated over and over that African-American and Latina women are the least susceptible.  You’ll also find the reason:  denser, thicker bones — African Americans in particular.  You’ll also see it stated that Asians on average have thinner bones than whites. 

Go figure … given the same height, smaller-boned people tend to be lighter, and thicker-boned people tend to be heavier.  The thicker-boned people also tend to carry around more muscle.  In addition, I’ve seen it stated in research papers that African-Americans on average tend to have bigger thigh muscles — some of the largest muscles in the body. 

So if we’re determining who’s overweight or obese by simply (and stupidly) comparing height to weight, African-Americans are going to have the highest BMI, followed by Latinos, whites, and Asians.  Yes, people with the highest BMI scores may also tend to be the fattest overall.  But the statistics are skewed.

As long as I was looking up data and making correlations, I decided to have a little fun with another set of statistics.  Below are the highest and lowest rates of cancer by state.  (#1 = highest rate of cancer, #50 = lowest.)

1 New Jersey
2 Maine
3 Rhode Island
4 Kentucky
5 Massachusetts
6 Pennsylvania
7 Connecticut
8 Washington
9 Michigan
10 West Virginia
41 Texas
42 California
43 Maryland
44 Montana
45 Hawaii
46 Colorado
47 South Dakota
48 Utah 
49 New Mexico
50 Arizona

Northern states dominate the top 10, while the bottom 10 is made up largely of sunshine states.  Most likely, we’re looking at the effects of vitamin D.  I was curious as to why relatively sunny states like Kentucky and West Virginia have such high rates of cancer, so I looked up smoking statistics.  Sure enough, West Virginia ranks #1 and Kentucky ranks #3, after Indiana.

But here’s what’s really interesting:  New Jersey, with the highest overall cancer rate, ranks #49 in smoking.  Maine ranks #27, and Rhode Island ranks #35.  In those northern states, it’s not smoking that’s causing the high cancer rate.

In previous posts, I’ve tried to pound home the point that correlations don’t tell us much.  Traits that are correlated often have independent causes … and yet researchers and health reporters too often assume that if two traits are related, one must be causing the other.

Look at the table below, where I’ve put the cancer rankings alongside the obesity rankings.  (I’ve removed Kentucky and West Virginia because of the high smoking rate — we’ll call that a confounding variable.)

State Obesity Cancer
Mississippi 1 24
Alabama 2 25
Tennessee 3 21
Louisiana 5 11
Oklahoma 6 31
Arkansas 8 38
South Carolina 9 33
North Carolina 10 35
California 41 42
New Jersey 42 1
Montana 43 44
Utah 44 48
Rhode Island 45 3
Vermont 46 26
Hawaii 47 45
Massachusetts 48 5
Connecticut 49 7
Colorado 50  30

You know what I see there?  I see evidence that obesity reduces your risk of developing cancer.   Or, to adopt the style I often see in health-article headlines, LOWER BODY WEIGHT RAISES CANCER RISK.

Somebody get T. Colin Campbell on the phone …


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