Archive for May, 2011

In his terrific book The Great Cholesterol Con, Dr. Malcolm Kendrick describes how the Lipid Hypothesis, despite the mounting evidence against it, is kept alive by ad-hoc hypotheses:

Ad-hoc hypotheses are devices scientists use to explain away apparent contradictions to much-loved hypotheses.  Ad-hoc hypotheses work along the following lines:  you find a population with a low saturated fat intake — yet, annoyingly, they still have a very high rate of heart disease.  Once such population would be emigrant Indians in the U.K.  The ad-hoc hypothesis used to explain away their very high rate of heart disease is as follows:  Emigrant Indians are genetically pre-disposed to develop heart disease, which then leads to heart disease.  Alakazoom!  The paradox disappears.

On the other hand, if you find a population with high saturated fat intake but a low rate of heart disease, such as the Inuits, you can always find something they do that explains why they are protected.  In their case it was the high consumption of Omega 3 fatty acids from fish.

This particular game has no end.  There is no evidence that cannot be dismissed one way or another.  And there is also no end to the development of new ad-hoc hypotheses.  You can just keep plucking them out of the air endlessly… There is no end, ever, to the ability of researchers to come up with a reason that every single paradox is not really a paradox at all.

We saw some of that recently when autopsies on ancient Egyptian mummies indicated a high rate heart disease.  You could almost imagine the researchers stammering.

“This can’t be right!  Their diets were full of fruits and vegetables and healthy whole grains.”

Maybe grains aren’t actually the health food we thought they were, professor.

“They were physically active, and they didn’t eat much saturated fat.”

Professor, can I interrupt?  Maybe saturated fat has nothing to do with heart disease.

“And yet look at all these clogged arteries.  You know what this means, don’t you?”

Yes, professor.  It means the Lipid Hypothesis is a load of bologna.

“It means we’d better warn people to eat even less saturated fat than the Egyptians if they want to avoid heart disease.  That’s the only possible conclusion.”

Professor, may I borrow your desk?  I need to bang my head on it.

Now a new study has been reported on the Medical News Today website under the headline:

Heart Attack Risk Not Elevated By Dairy Consumption

Dairy products can be high in harmful saturated fat but not necessarily in risk to the heart. A newly published analysis of thousands of adults in Costa Rica found that their levels of dairy consumption had nothing to do statistically with their risk of a heart attack.

Read that first sentence again and try to make sense of it.  I dare ya.

To conduct the study, [researchers] analyzed data on 3,630 middle-aged Costa Rican men and women who participated in an epidemiological study between 1994 and 2004 by co-author Hannia Campos of the Harvard School of Public Health.

They split the study population between two equal groups: 1,815 “cases” who had non-fatal heart attacks and 1,815 comparable “controls” who did not. The researchers looked not only at the subjects’ self-reported dairy intake, but also at measurements of dairy fat biomarkers, namely 15:0 and 17:0, in their bodies.

I’m not sure why Medical News Today felt the need to put “cases” and “controls” in “quotes.”  I guess they assume “readers” are too “stupid” to figure out what those terms “mean.”  Anyway …

The dairy biomarkers mentioned in the article are pentadecanoic and heptadecanoic fatty acids removed from the subjects’ fat tissues, according to the study abstract.  From what I read elsewhere online, concentrations of those acids in our fat tissues provide an accurate measurement of long-term dairy-fat intake … which makes me wonder why the researchers also had the subjects fill out food-intake questionnaires.

“Thank you for turning in your diet log, Mr. Rodriquez.  Now if you’ll just step over here, we’d like to insert this needle and suck some fat from your belly.”

“What?  Why?”

“Because everybody lies on food questionnaires.”

So for once, we apparently have an observational study with reliable data for dairy-fat intake.  But it’s still an observational study, and I’ve said many times that observational studies don’t prove cause and effect, right?

Right.  Just because two traits are correlated, it doesn’t mean one of them is causing the other.  However, if two traits are not correlated, the odds are overwhelming that there’s no cause and effect going on.

For example:  if I prove that people with yellow-brown stains on their teeth are more likely to develop lung cancer, that correlation doesn’t prove that yellow-brown teeth cause lung cancer.  It could simply mean that both are caused by something else, such as smoking.  But if I look for a correlation between yellow teeth and lung cancer and don’t find one, you can bet your bottom dollar yellow teeth don’t cause lung cancer.  If they did, we’d see a correlation.

With that in mind, here’s what the researchers found — or didn’t find, to be more accurate:

What they found is that the dairy intake of people who had heart attacks was not statistically different than the intake of people who did not. After breaking people into quintiles, based on their dairy consumption amount, there was no significant linear relationship between consumption and heart risk, even among the most voracious consumers. The highest consumption quintile consumed an average of 593 grams of dairy foods a day.

When the researchers controlled for such risk factors as smoking, waist-to-hip ratio, alcohol intake, and physical activity, the lack of a statistically significant association between dairy intake and heart attack risk remained.

The study abstract also mentioned that the researchers found a “protective association” in all but the highest quintile of dairy-fat intake.  In other words, within the other four quintiles, people who consumed more dairy fat had a slightly lower rate of heart attacks.  People who consumed the most dairy fat merely had the same rate of heart attacks.

So … you’re a researcher crunching these numbers.  You’ve been told for your entire academic career that saturated fat causes heart disease, which is why we urge people to cut back on butter, cheese and whole milk.  Then your own research shows that full-fat dairy products, if anything, may slightly lower the risk for heart disease.  What should you conclude?  How about something like this:

Rather than suggesting that the saturated fats in dairy products are harmless, Aslibekyan and co-author Ana Baylin, an adjunct assistant professor of community health at Brown, hypothesize that other nutrients in dairy products are protective against heart disease, for all but perhaps the highest dairy consumption quintile in their study. The potentially beneficial nutrients include calcium, vitamin D, potassium, magnesium and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).

Got that?  Saturated fat is bad, and dairy products are full of saturated fat, but dairy products don’t cause heart disease because … uh … because you’re so protected by the calcium, vitamin D, potassium, magnesium and CLA that you end up with a lower rate of heart disease than people who don’t consume all that artery-clogging saturated fat … uh … unless you consume a whole lot of these protective nutrients, in which case they stop protecting you, and then consuming lots of artery-clogging saturated fat merely means you have the same risk for heart disease as people who don’t.  So saturated fat is still bad, you see.

Head.  Bang.  On. Desk.

I keep wondering how this kind of nonsense can continue.  The Lipid Hypothesis fails over and over in research and ought to be long dead by now.  But then I noticed this study was funded by the NIH.  So here’s my ad-hoc theory:  when it comes to bad science, government exerts a protective effect.

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I received one of those hate mails this week, full of the usual brilliant observations: 

Your film was obviously paid for by McDonald’s … Super Size Me was awesome and a really important film because it alerted people to the dangers of fast food … your on-camera experts must be beef-industry hacks if they say saturated fat isn’t bad for you … you think you’re funny but you’re not, you’re just really annoying … your film sucked so bad, I stopped watching before the end … etc., etc., etc.

People have asked me how I deal with those hate mails.  The answer:  I laugh them off, and find it increasingly easy to do so.  Because while I know Morgan Spurlock has plenty of die-hard fans and admirers, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts (and you can keep the donuts) he never received a letter along the lines of:

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Dear Morgan,

Thank you so much for making Super Size Me.  After watching it, I finally understood what’s been wrong with my diet all these years.  Like you, I was eating three huge meals at McDonald’s every day, along with several desserts and a couple of milkshakes.  It never occurred to me that eating this way could make me fat and sick, so I just kept doing it and getting bigger and bigger year after year.  It was really frustrating.

Then in your wonderful film, you explained to me that I’m really, really fat and stupid, but it’s not my fault because McDonald’s should have taken more responsibility for my eating habits by not offering me so much food.  Now there’s hope.  Thanks to your efforts, perhaps someday McDonald’s will stop selling sodas, french fries, desserts and milkshakes, and then I’ll be able to stop stuffing myself with them.  In the meantime, I know my lousy diet isn’t my fault — it’s theirs.  I can’t tell you how much better that makes me feel about myself.

I’d also like to thank you for explaining my post-meal puking problem.  About 20 minutes after every meal, I puke violently.  I thought it was some kind of serious medical condition.  Then I saw how you puked after stuffing yourself at McDonald’s and began to wonder if perhaps it’s the food that’s causing my puking.  When you showed a close-up of your own puke with bits of french fries sticking out, I knew for sure it must be the food.  It’s a real comfort knowing I probably don’t have stomach cancer or something like that, so the puking no longer worries me so much.

Sincerely,
One of the really fat and stupid people you care so much about

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Yeah, I’m pretty sure that letter has never been sent.  If Spurlock did receive a sincere fan letter, it would be something like:

Dear Morgan,

Thank you for confirming my cherished beliefs that McDonald’s is evil and fat people are stupid.  Now and then I feel a need to be reminded of my own superiority.  Your film did the trick nicely.

Around the same time I received the hate mail mentioned above, I also received this message from a gentleman named Cary:

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Dear Tom,

Where do I even begin? I don’t want this letter to turn into a novella so I will attempt to limit my typical long-windedness.  I was always a guy with an average-looking build. I’ve never been muscular and really never had the desire to be so. My frame was more typical of a lean, athletic basketball player. I was always fairly active until moving from Ohio to Georgia 12 years ago. After moving here, I became less and less active. That change to a sedentary lifestyle combined with my general poor eating habits quickly caught up with me in my early thirties.

For the past seven or eight years I have struggled mightily with my weight, general mood, and energy level. I’ve tried numerous diet plans and exercise routines with limited-to-no results. If anyone tried to categorize my frame of mind about this uninterrupted string of failures, the word “frustration” would be an understatement. I have chided myself so many times because I couldn’t lose weight or because I didn’t have the energy to exercise.

Basically, for the past 5 years I’ve felt like a “fat cow” with no motivation or energy to do much of anything to change my situation. I mean, I limited my calories and ate lots of carbs (you know… “your body’s fuel source” according to the so-called “nutrition experts”). And yet I felt tired ALL THE TIME. It didn’t matter how much sleep I got, I was ALWAYS exhausted upon waking. I went to see a sleep specialist because I thought I might have sleep apnea. Nope. I had my thyroid checked because of my weight gain. No problems there. I was at a complete loss as to why I went from an active 190 pound guy with tons of energy to a lazy 266 pound guy with no energy. For the past few years I’ve been rationalizing to myself that it was simply a product of “getting older.”

Then in mid-April I was on the Netflix website looking over their recommendations for me and your documentary “Fat Head” was listed. I read the brief description and it piqued my interest. I noticed that it was available through the Instant View so I added it to my queue and watched it later that week.

Watching your film was one of those ultra-rare moments in a person’s life when the vastness of the entire universe seems to scrunch together to form a lens of lucidity through which one can view the senselessness and mysteries of life with complete and life-altering clarity. Over and over again you and your interviewees made points and revealed facts and used human biology and physiology to explain things. Being a science geek, this caused me to become absolutely transfixed on your film. As more and more information was presented, a smile of empowerment and discovery kept involuntarily finding its way onto my face. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing. This was way too good to be true. It’s as if you made this documentary with me specifically in mind.

After the film had ended I sat there on the couch with an overwhelming sense of hope and resolution for what seemed like an hour. THE VERY NEXT MORNING I changed my diet to match the one you practiced in the film – meats, cheeses, vegetables, lots of saturated fats, and hardly any sugars, carbs, starches or the like. I’m eating meals that fill me up and that I ENJOY! No more disgusting “diet food.”

Within the first three days I noticed a serious change in my mood and energy level. Rather than feeling run down and tired I was feeling awake, alive, alert, focused, and energetic. I began exercising to get rid of the excess energy I had… and I’ve been exercising four or five days a week for 60-90 minutes each session ever since! And that still doesn’t tire me out! I am overflowing with energy now. I never wake up tired any more. I feel full between meals instead of feeling hungry all the time. I used to snore… not anymore! I’ve had an embarrassing facial skin “condition” for the past six or seven years… it’s almost completely GONE! And in the first month of this lifestyle change I’ve lost 20 pounds! If anyone had told me 6 weeks ago that something like this could happen, I’d have told them they were certifiably crazy.

Tom, I don’t know how else to say this except to say that YOU HAVE GIVEN ME MY LIFE BACK. I can’t begin to put a price on what you have done for me. I’ve been sharing your worldview-changing documentary with everyone who will listen to me. I’m eagerly awaiting the continued transformation of my body and mind back to what it was before I started doing what the “experts” told me to do.

Tom, from the deepest depths of my mind and soul… THANK YOU!

Cary

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Maybe it was Cary’s obvious sincerity, maybe it’s that I have my own clear memories of feeling like a frustrated “fat cow,” or maybe I just happened to read this one at the right moment, but by the time I read the last line, I had a lump in my throat.

This is why we do what we do … and it’s why anyone who thinks he’s going to wound my ego with a snarky little hate mail is dreaming.

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All week long, readers have been sending emails or posting comments asking about the latest study purporting to show a link between red meat and colon cancer.  Here’s a sample headline from an online article about the study, followed by some quotes:

Red meat ‘increases risk of bowel cancer’

Eating less red meat could prevent 6000 cases of Australia’s second deadliest cancer every year, experts claim. They say studies confirm that consuming roast beef, lamb and pork increases your risk of developing bowel cancer.

The World Cancer Research Fund said there was convincing evidence of a link between bowel cancer and red meat in its latest report, which combines existing research with 10 new studies.  It had already warned people to avoid eating processed meats and restrict their weekly intake of red meat to five medium portions – or 500g – to lessen the likelihood of developing bowel cancer.

Pretty scary so far, eh?  Eating meat raises your risk of bowel cancer, so you’d better cut back on the stuff.  Now check out this quote:

Milk appears to cut the risk of bowel cancer, but the WCRF does not recommend dairy foods because evidence for overall cancer risk is unclear.

Apparently the WCRF doesn’t view consistency as a necessary trait for researchers.  Meat raises your risk of cancer, so you’d better cut back.  Milk reduces your risk of cancer, but we’re not going recommend milk, because … uh … well … because the evidence on milk is unclear! Yeah, that’s how we get around that one!

The implication, of course, is that the evidence linking red meat to colon cancer is clear.  So is it?

Hardly.  In my Science For Smart People speech, I listed several critical-thinking questions we need to ask when some new study warns that this-or-that food is going to kill us.  If you haven’t seen the speech, you may want to give it a look before continuing.

Let’s examine this latest study and ask ourselves those questions.  (By the way, if you’re not as prone to banging your head on your desk as I am, you can download and read the full WCRF document.)

Q:  Is this a controlled clinical study, or an observational study?

A:  The WCRF study is a meta-analysis of other observational studies.  In other words, they took the data from some observational studies and pooled the results.  So in effect, this is yet another observational study.  As I explained in the speech, observational studies at best provide evidence for a hypothesis.  They don’t even come close to proving cause and effect.  That alone means you could pretty much write off the sensational headlines and head out for a nice steak dinner. But what the heck, let’s continue.

Q:  If A and B are linked, is possible that B causes A?

A:  I’m going to step out on a limb here and conclude that developing colon cancer doesn’t cause people to eat more red meat.

Q:  If A and B are linked, is it possible that A is connected to B because they’re both caused by C?

A:  Dern tootin’ it’s possible.  Health-conscious people — who are different in many ways from their I-don’t-give-a-hoot peers — avoid what they’re told is bad for them and gravitate towards what they’re told is good for them.  Even if the WCRF researchers really and truly found a meaningful link between red meat and colon cancer (which they didn’t), it could simply mean that health-conscious people eat less red meat because they believe it’s bad for their health.

Q:  Did the researchers control their variables?

A:  Nope.  Just as with a recent study I mentioned in my speech, the studies included in the meta-analysis lumped red meat and processed meat together.  Here’s a quote from the full text:

The summary relative risk was 1.17 for colorectal cancer for each 100g/day increase in red and processed meats … The definition of red meat varied between the studies. Red meat was described by the studies as fresh red meat, red meat or a combined exposure of beef, pork and lamb.

In other words, we’re putting burgers, pizza, burritos, hog dogs, deli sandwiches, pigs in a blanket, prime ribs, pork chops, filets with béarnaise and racks of lamb with mint sauce all into one category.  Whole foods or processed foods that are typically served with a heapin’ helping of white flour … all the same to us.

To be fair to the WCRF researchers, it would be nearly impossible to make the distinction anyway, since the data came from observational studies that were based on food-recall surveys.  Which leads to another critical-thinking question I included in the original draft of my Science For Smart People speech, but deleted to stay within my allotted time:

Q:  Is the data reliable?

A:  HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!  Sure, about as reliable as a congressional budget forecast.  The largest study included in this meta-analysis (and therefore given the most statistical weight) was the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, which I analyzed in a long post nearly two years ago.  Here’s how the data for that study was gathered:

Throughout 1995 and 1996, the investigators mailed a food-frequency questionnaire to 3.5 million members of the American Association of Retired Persons, all aged 50 to 69, who lived in six states (California, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, Louisiana), plus two metro areas (Detroit and Atlanta).

Only 17% of those who received the surveys responded.  They were overwhelmingly white, affluent and (of course) elderly.  The investigators decided this wasn’t a problem because “a shifting and widening of the intake distributions among respondents compensated for the less-than-anticipated response rate.”  Uh-huh.

Ten years later, similar food-recall surveys were sent out again, along with questions about any health and medical issues the respondents may have experienced.  From these two data sets — gathered ten years apart — the researchers reached their conclusions.

Now, about those food surveys … have you ever taken one?  I have, because I was required to by an employer.  My co-workers and I found the questions impossible to answer accurately, so we just started making up the answers.  Then we went out for happy hour (during which none of us recorded our food intakes).  I’ve reproduced part of the NIH-AARP food questionnaire below:

Over the last 12 months, how often did you eat the following foods? (Ignore any recent changes.)

Whole milk (4%), NOT in coffee, NOT on cereal: Never | 1-6 per year | 7-11 per year | 1 per month | 2-3 per month | 1-2 per week | 3-4 per week | 5-6 per week | 1 per day | 2-3 per day | 4-5 per day | 6+ per day. Portion size: less than ½ cup | ½ to 1 cup | more than 1 cup.

Breads or dinner rolls, NOT INCLUDING ON SANDWICHES: Never | 1-6 per year | 7-11 per year | 1 per month | 2-3 per month | 1-2 per week | 3-4 per week | 5-6 per week | 1 per day | 2-3 per day | 4-5 per day | 6+ per day. Portion size: less than 1 slice or roll | 1 or 2 slices or rolls | more than 2 slices or rolls.

Ground beef in mixtures such as tacos, burritos, meatballs, casseroles, chili, meatloaf: Never | 1-6 per year | 7-11 per year | 1 per month | 2-3 per month | 1-2 per week | 3-4 per week | 5-6 per week | 1 per day | 2-3 per day | 4-5 per day | 6+ per day. Portion size: less than 3 ounces | 3 to 7 ounces | more than 7 ounces.

Could you answer those questions accurately about your diet for the entire previous year?  No, I didn’t think so.  But the WCRF researchers expect us to believe that based on questionnaires like this one, they can determine what people eat accurately enough to link various foods to minor changes in cancer rates.  (Yes, minor changes … we’ll get to that soon.)

But let’s suppose for the sake of argument that we’re looking at accurate dietary information and move on …

Q:  If a scientist proposes that A causes B, do we find that connection between A and B consistently and repeatedly, or are there glaring exceptions?

A:  Allow me to quote the WCRF document.  Here’s what they said about the first group of studies they analyzed:

Sixteen cohort studies on colorectal, or if not available colon cancer risk were identified. Eleven studies provided sufficient data to be included in the highest versus lowest analysis. Nine studies reported an increased risk for the highest versus lowest processed meat comparison, one was statistically significant. One study observed no association. In addition, positive associations were observed in men, and in women in the study that reported on the subgroups separately. Only the result in men was statistically significant.

Out of 11 studies with sufficient data, nine reported higher cancer rates for heavy meat-eaters … but only one was statistically significant, and only if they teased out the data for men separately.  I guess women can eat all the red meat they want, but men will die of cancer if they chow down on burgers.  The paragraph above also means, by the way, that two studies with “sufficient data” showed no increase in cancer rates among heavy meat-eaters.

Here’s the official word on the second group of studies analyzed:

Twelve cohort studies on colorectal cancer risk were identified and included in the highest versus lowest forest plot. Eight studies reported an increased risk for the highest versus lowest red meat comparison, one was borderline significant. Two studies reported no association and two studies observed a statistically non-significant inverse association.

Head.  Bang.  On.  Desk.

Of the eight studies that showed an increase in colon cancer among heavier meat-eaters, apparently only one was “borderline significant” — it’s difficult to tell, since the sentence is poorly written.  Two studies showed no increase, and two other showed a slight decrease in cancer rates among heavy meat-eaters.  That means one-third of the studies — one-third! — failed to show a correlation between eating red meat (and processed meat) and colon cancer.  If red (and processed) meat causes colon cancer, how can that possibly be?  Were people in one-third of these studies somehow immune to red meat’s cancer-causing effects?

So there’s your evidence from the studies the researchers chose.  Before we move on, here’s the conclusion from another meta-analysis of 14 studies published in 2004:

Greater intake of either red meat (excluding processed meat) or processed meat was not related to colorectal cancer risk.

So I’m guessing if we could somehow overcome cherry-picking and publication bias, even more than a third of the studies would fail to show a link between meat and colon cancer.  A researcher who criticized a previous WCRF report certainly seemed to think there was some cherry-picking going on.  Here’s part of what he wrote in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:

The report omits 13 cohort studies on red meat and colorectal cancer with a total of 1,578,970 subjects, including a very large 1992 study by the American Cancer Society and studies by Hirayama, Heilbrun et al, Goldbohm et al, Knekt et al, Gaard et al, Hsing et al, Jansen et al, Flood et al, Kojima et al, Chao et al, and Sato et al. All but 2 of these studies found no significant association with red meat.

The report omits the follow-up of 5 groups of vegetarians compared with socially matched omnivores by Key et al. They found no difference in mortality from colorectal cancer.

But back to the current WCRF analysis … Below, I’ve copied some charts that were included in the full text of the report.  Take a look at this one:

In the chart above, you’re seeing the relative risk of developing colon cancer for each 100 grams of red (and processed) meat consumed each day.  The black vertical line represents a relative risk of 1.0 – that is, a neutral risk.  Notice that in two of the studies (Lee and Pietinen), each 100-gram increase in red (and processed) consumption was correlated with a lower risk of colon cancer.  Now look at the last figure labeled Overall.  That’s the statistical average for all the studies, and it’s the figure being trumpeted by the researchers.

Yup, based on some studies that showed a decrease in colon cancer among meat-eaters and other studies that showed an increase, the WCRF folks declared that we should all be cutting back on red (and processed) meats.

Now here’s the chart showing the dose-response change in relative risk for women:

Notice anything interesting there?  Three of the studies showed cancer rates going down as meat consumption went up.  The others showed a very slight increase in cancer rates.  The average (for what it’s worth, which isn’t much) was essentially no change at all.

But wait, it gets even better.  The chart below shows what happened to rates of colon cancer in several of the studies as meat consumption went up:

This is laughable … look at the studies by Lee, Wei and Jarvinen.  Rates of colon cancer went up, then down again as meat consumption rose.  I swear, next time I have lunch in a restaurant and see someone eating meat, I’ll feel obligated to offer a warning:

“Excuse me, but did you just eat some red (or processed) meat?”

“Why yes, I did eat some red (or processed) meat.  So what?”

“Well, you better eat more red (or processed) meat for dinner, and lots of it.  You don’t want to develop colon cancer.”

Rather than simply declare the data inconsistent — which it clearly is — the researchers plugged their pooled data into Excel, came up with a tiny average increase in colon cancer risk as meat consumption went up, then called a press conference.  (Then probably sent out more fund-raising letters.)  But again for the sake of argument, let’s assume that tiny average increase represents something meaningful and ask our next question:

Q:  What was the actual difference?

A:  The WCRF people proclaimed that the average relative risk of developing colon cancer among heavier meat-eaters (in the studies they chose to include) was 1.17, otherwise known as a 17% increase.  Sounds kind of impressive, huh?  A lot of media reporters certainly thought so.  But what does that actually mean?  In the Science For Smart People speech, I explained that the actual difference — otherwise known as absolute risk – means subtraction.  Relative risk is calculated using division, which usually produces a more impressive (or more frightening) number.

According to some data I found online, the lifetime odds of developing colon cancer in America are 1 in 20.  So with a little Excel magic, I extended the figures to a population large enough to avoid comparing fractions of people.  Here’s how it would work out if eating red (and processed) meat really and truly produced a 17% increase in colon cancer:

In a population of 4,000 Americans, there would be about 100 lifetime cases of colon cancer among people with a lower intake of red meat, and about 117 lifetime cases of colon cancer among people with a higher intake of red meat.  So the actual difference (117 – 100) would be 17 additional cases of colon cancer for every 4,000 people.  I’m pretty sure I’ll beat those odds, especially since the relative risk was calculated using unreliable and inconsistent data.

Q:  Do the results actually support the conclusions reached by the investigators?

Let’s tally up the score, shall we?  The WCRF analysis is 1) based on observational studies that 2) lumped red meat and processed meat in the same category and 3) relied on food surveys that are notoriously inaccurate.  The WCRF took the results of those observational studies, which 4) did not show a consistent link between red meat and colon cancer, and averaged the results in order to produce 5) a small increase in relative risk that translates to 6) a meaningless rise in absolute risk.

Based on that analysis, the researchers declared that there is now convincing evidence that red meat increases the risk of developing cancer.

Like I concluded in my speech:  Scientists Are Freakin’ Liars.

One of the media articles I read about the study included this blaring headline:

Scientists confirm direct link between bowel cancer and red meat consumption

So I guess it’s time to reach another conclusion:  Journalists Are Freakin’ Idiots.

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File this one under You just made my day … I received this email from someone who recently watched Fat Head:

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I’m sure you get plenty of hate mail and plenty of love mail, but I wonder how much you hear from nutritionists whose minds you’ve changed. I’m a nutritional consultant (and a 6-year vegan/vegetarian), and I’ve gotta say… your movie totally blew me away. I went into it FULLY expecting to disagree with it from the very beginning. I was expecting to watch a few minutes, find key misinformation, and use that as an excuse to disregard & stop watching the film. Instead, I continued avidly watching, absorbing, and had an ‘aha’ moment of clarity & understanding that you were totally right.

I’m amazed that you were able to convince me to change my mind. I’m the crazy health nut among my friends & family, so they will be totally bamboozled to hear my stance has changed. I salute you for taking the time to create this much-needed documentary, and I can only hope that nutritionists & health teachers catch on. Today I have to create individualized diet plans for four of my clients, and your movie has completely changed what I’m going to recommend for them. I’m blown away, and I feel like I need a moment (a day, a week) to let this all sink in, to let it… saturate :)

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I told her in my reply that I was impressed she remained open-minded while watching the film, since vegetarianism can be a like a religion to some people.   Thinking about it later, I was even more impressed that she was willing to reverse the advice she’s been giving out as part of her job.  As explained in the wonderful book Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), it’s difficult psychologically to reverse strong positions we’ve taken publicly.

She wrote back:

Oh my diet was definitely a religion for me, to the point where I developed an unhealthy obsession with health! I’m so glad to be back in a place of balance, and my clients will definitely benefit more from my new viewpoints (which began because of your film).

Yes, that sound you hear coming from the middle of Tennessee is me patting myself on the back.  But the little ego boost aside, I’m delighted to know people who’ve spent years promoting meatless and low-fat diets as the key to health can change their minds.

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This blog experienced some kind of server crash and was down for much of the day. When it first came back online, comments couldn’t be approved, edited, or deleted.  After several failed attempts to fix the corrupted WordPress tables, my internet provider ended up having to restore yesterday’s backup of the WordPress database to fix the issues.

If you left a comment any time after around 10:00 PM Central last night, it’s gone. Sorry.  I think my replies to some earlier comments went away too.

Now that we’re back up and running, I want to say thanks for all the Wheat Is Murder t-shirt orders. We ran out of what we had in stock for most of the sizes already, so today we ordered a much larger print run. (This means, of course, that if the shirts don’t continue selling, everyone I know will be receiving one for Christmas … and for Halloween … and for Thanksgiving … and maybe for Columbus Day.)

The new stock should be ready in 5-7 days, and we’ll fill all outstanding orders as soon as it arrives.

And now, after a long day of dealing with web providers, t-shirt printers, emails from readers, software-business customers, etc., I’m going to go for a nice, long walk instead of writing a new post.

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Readers have offered some good suggestions for Fat Head-related t-shirts over the past year.  We created one Fat Head t-shirt awhile back through Café Press and sold maybe two of them.  The trouble with Café Press is that we never actually see the shirts, plus their prices are so high that by the time you tag on a profit of a buck or two, you’re looking at a pretty expensive piece of cotton.

So we decided to roll the dice and get some t-shirts produced locally.  The first, which I chose because several readers asked for it, is a Wheat Is Murder t-shirt — guaranteed to be a conversation-starter if you wear it to a vegan rally or a screening of Forks Over Knives. We’ve listed them on our updated Fat Head Store page.

That’s my lovely wife modeling one of them in the picture at left.  We originally planned to sell them for the same rate in the U.S. and overseas, but it turns out overseas postage would reduce the profit margin to zero, so there will be an international shipping charge.

Depending on how this one sells, future candidates for t-shirts include The Guy From CSPI and Scientists Are Freakin’ Liars.

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