Odds and Ends

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Odds and ends from the news and reader emails …

Mayor Bloomberg is at it again

Hizzoner in New York City seems to think he was elected Chief Food Nanny. A couple of years ago (geez, time flies!) I wrote about his moronic assault on salt (which isn’t based on anything resembling good science, never mind good policy).

Now Hizzoner wants to ban the sale of large sodas – you can guess why:

New York City plans to enact a far-reaching ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts, in the most ambitious effort yet by the Bloomberg administration to combat rising obesity.

The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March.

Remember when McDonald’s was under pressure (from Morgan Spurlock, to name just prominent one busybody) to get rid of super-sized meals? They did – seven years ago. Boy, the nation sure got thinner and less diabetic, didn’t it?

No, of course not. That’s because the idea that large drinks and large meals sold by vendors are the root cause of obesity is based on a flawed theory:  we eat too much because others serve us too much.

That’s not how it works. We eat (and drink) to match our appetites. One of the obese people Spurlock interviewed in Super Size Me said he fills his traveling Big Gulp cup six times per day. Ban 7-11 from serving someone like that a 44-ounce drink, and he’ll just make more trips to 7-11. Or he’ll buy a 2-liter bottle at the grocery store and carry it with him. Soda addicts will get their fix, period.

I suspect the law of unintended consequences will kick in, too. Restaurants and convenience stores will offer 2-for-1 specials on sodas, and the soda addicts will buy themselves two (or three, or four) drinks that meet Hizzoner’s limit on cup size. Then a year or so after the big-cup ban sets in, New York newspapers will be running articles on the sudden and unexplained rise in empty cups and bottles littering the streets.

But here’s the biggest reason the ban is stupid: it’s none of Mayor Bloomberg’s business how much sugary soda you drink.  I’d urge you to drink none at all, but that should be your decision … not mine, or his, or anyone else’s.

Nope, it’s still HFCS … not “corn sugar”

The FDA has denied a petition by the Corn Refiners Association to legally change the name of high fructose corn syrup to corn sugar. Frankly, I don’t care either way. Poison is poison, no matter what you call it. The mystery to me is why the Corn Refiners think renaming their product will make a difference. I can only guess they assume most people are stupid.

“Marge, don’t order that! It’s full of high fructose corn syrup! Don’t you know what people say about that stuff?”

“But this brand is sweetened with corn sugar.”

“Oh … well in that case, order me one too.”

Obese and homeless

In his books and lectures, Gary Taubes has pointed out that poverty and obesity are often found in the same populations … so much for the popular idea that we’re fat because we’re too prosperous. Apparently even the poorest of the poor in America have a high rate of obesity, according to this CNN article:

While the popularized image of a homeless individual is one of skin and bones, a new study shows the reality is not so. One in three (32.3%) homeless individuals in the United States is obese, highlighting a hunger-obesity paradox.

The paradox is that hunger and obesity can exist in the same person. And although a person may be overweight or obese, he or she can lack proper nutrition.

Nutrition is a daily challenge for homeless people, as the foods they manage to get are often full of preservatives and high in sodium, fats and sugars. They may not have access to healthier options like fresh fruits and vegetables.

Here we go with the fruits and vegetables will solve the obesity problem nonsense again. I give it maybe five years before the federal government has stepped in to ensure that absolutely every American has easy access to fruits and vegetables – and we’ll be just as fat.

By the way, a friend of mine once handed an apple to a homeless guy in Chicago. The guy cursed at him and threw it in the street. He didn’t want an apple; he wanted a couple of bucks so he could buy a bottle of cheap liquor.

The human body might be hoarding calories, as an adaptive response when people do not consistently have enough to eat. The body’s response could contribute to obesity, by “becoming more efficient at storing more calories as fat,” according to the report. Also, people who are homeless are more likely to suffer from a lack of sleep and high stress, which contribute to obesity.

Now we’re getting somewhere …

“It just mirrors what Americans look like in general,” said Barbara Dipietro, policy director of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council. “It follows the homeless in general. They are more economically driven. They are intact families and people who are coming into homelessness, who don’t come with behavioral health issues. When we look at the homeless population, we think they’re different, but they’re like everyone else.”

Uh, no, they’re not. As much as homeless advocates (and Hollywood film producers) like to portray the majority of the homeless as people just like you and me who happened to hit an unlucky streak, that’s simply not the case. Most are addicts or mentally ill. An estimated one-third are schizophrenics. But that’s another issue.

“Nutritious food is really expensive compared to other food choices,” she said. “If you’re living on food stamps, on disability or safety net, or living on nothing, that’s the food you’re going to have to get. A salad is not in the cards.”

It doesn’t take salads to make fat people thin, Ms. Homeless Advocate. But I agree about the cheap food. I served meals in a homeless shelter in Chicago when I lived there, and the food was mostly carbs, carbs and more carbs. Pasta was on the menu several times per week, bread was on the menu every night.

Or it could just be that the homeless are choosing too much highly-palatable food.

Shoe company sued for health claims

Boy, the U.S. government is really cracking down on unfounded health claims:

Skechers advertised that its toning shoes would help people lose weight, build muscle and get in shape, claims that will now cost the company $40 million in a settlement with U.S. regulators.

The Federal Trade Commission announced today that the company has agreed to the settlement on charges that it “deceived consumers by making unfounded claims” about its Shape-ups, Resistance Runner, Toners and Tone-ups lines of shoes. Consumers who bought the shoes are entitled to refunds.

“Skechers’ unfounded claims went beyond stronger and more toned muscles. The company even made claims about weight loss and cardiovascular health,” David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “The FTC’s message, for Skechers and other national advertisers, is to shape up your substantiation or tone down your claims.”

So … does mean the FTC is going to sue all the companies promoting healthywholegrain cereals? Or the pharmaceutical companies pushing statins for women and elderly? Talk about unfounded health claims.

Better yet, how about if the FTC sues the USDA for its lousy and unfounded dietary recommendations?

The Institute for Justice takes on the Cooksey blogger case

Yes! Yeee-har! The Institute for Justice, a pro-liberty legal group, is coming to the aid of Steve Cooksey, the blogger who was targeted by North Carolina after some dietitians complained about him giving out dietary advice without a license. Here’s part of their online announcement:

Can the government throw you in jail for offering advice on the Internet about what food people should buy at the grocery store?

That is exactly the claim made by the North Carolina Board of Dietetics/Nutrition. In December 2011, diabetic blogger Steve Cooksey started a Dear Abby-style advice column on his popular blog (www.diabetes-warrior.net) to answer reader questions. One month later, the State Board informed Steve that he could not give readers advice on diet, whether for free or for compensation, because doing so constituted the unlicensed, and thus criminal, practice of dietetics.

But the First Amendment does not allow the government to ban people from sharing ordinary advice about diet, or scrub the Internet—from blogs to Facebook to Twitter—of speech the government does not like. North Carolina can no more force Steve to become a licensed dietitian than it could require Dear Abby to become a licensed psychologist.

That is why on May 30, 2012, Steve Cooksey joined the Institute for Justice in filing a major free speech lawsuit against the State Board in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division.

Go baby, go baby, go baby, go!

I just made a donation to the Institute for Justice while writing this post. If you’d like to do likewise, here’s the link. We need to support the people who support freedom.

Dietary advice those North Carolina dietitians would approve

I received this email from a reader:

I’m a Health teacher, and the attached worksheet is what’s in my curriculum to teach first graders. I have to spin it in a way that won’t leave me with a guilty conscience.

He attached the graphic you see below.

Yup, that low-fat diet full of grains will sure make those first-graders lean, healthy and attentive. (Okay, at least the advice to eat foods low in sugar is good. Kids will read that before heading down to the school lunchroom to consume their USDA-approved lunches that include lowfat chocolate milk, breaded chicken nuggets and peaches in syrup.)

My daughters don’t eat grains except on rare occasions and their diets are full of fat. (We had zucchini stuffed with cheese and sausage for dinner tonight.) They’re both lean and energetic. They both love their gymnastics classes, and Sara has taken to scaring the hair off my head by doing cartwheels in the pastures. As for their cognitive abilities … okay, here comes more shameless bragging.

Alana just finished first grade, where the scores are given as 4 through 0 instead of A through F. She got all 4s.

Sara just finished third grade.  She’s been bringing home straight-A report cards all year with numeric grades in the upper 90s, including a 98 last quarter in math. We were pleased, but wondered if perhaps she had an easy teacher. That concern was put to rest when we received the results of her TCAP (standardized state testing) scores last week:

English: 96
Social Studies: 97
Math: 100
Science: 100

That’s right … my girl answered every single question in math and science correctly on the state test.  She’s already asked me to give her more complicated math problems to solve during the summer so she doesn’t slip during vacation.

Last night I was going through video footage so I can put together our 2011 family DVD.  (I usually create the previous year’s DVD January, but it’s been a crazy-busy year with me working full-time while preparing speeches and roasts.)  Sara was looking over my shoulder as I logged a clip of Alana standing on the fireplace at my mom’s house to deliver a singing solo during a visit in July. Once the clip was transferred, I announced I was done reviewing footage for the night.

“No, Daddy, watch the next clip!”


“It’s funny.”

“Huh? How do you know what’s on the next clip?”

“Because I remember what happened when Alana finished singing. Grandma said she wishes she could sing, and I said, ‘Grandma, you can sing. You just can’t sing well.’ Then everybody laughed.”

“And I had the camera going for that?”

“Yes. You turned it off, then you turned it back on, then Grandma said she wishes she could sing.”

So I watched the clip. It was exactly what she said it would be. That all happened nearly a year ago, but Sara remembered it word for word. Her memory for details is almost spooky.

Yes, intelligence is largely inherited. Maybe she’d score 100 in math even if she ate Pop-Tarts for breakfast. But her grain-free, high-fat diet sure doesn’t seem to be diminishing her inherited abilities.


62 thoughts on “Odds and Ends

  1. Dana W.

    When you mention the carb-filled foods at homeless shelters, it reminds me of
    a comment from a friend of mine who volunteers at a food shelf in my area.
    The boxed rice, potatoes, breads, etc. are the first things to go. And these items go fast, they frequently run out. The fresh produce is barely touched, despite a recent effort to provide more of these foods. They can’t give the veggies and fruits away!

    Reminds me of what Prof. Eric Oliver told me in Fat Head: according to a USDA study, to get people to eat more leafy green vegetables, we’d have to pay people to eat them.

  2. LCNana

    Hi Tom! Did no one else pick up on your comment “and Sara has taken to scaring the hair off my head by doing cartwheels in the pastures”??? Really Tom, don’t you think it’s a bit churlish to blame your innocent child for your shiny pate?

    On the topic of gifted children, in Calgary Alberta years ago my son went to a Gifted Child School set up within the Public System – for two years – then the tide shifted and we were told this was “elitist” and the poor kids were all shuffled back into the system. This was the same time that children with mental/physical disabilities, who were in the same school with the gifted kids (interacted with them too, and did so well) were all put back in regular classrooms – to the satisfaction of no one. What a mess that was. Seems the nut jobs who run our schools change their minds every few years and to my way of thinking churn out kids who are dumber and more badly behaved each year.

    Think I’ll go eat some fatty meat. That will cheer me right up.

    Well, seeing Sara doing cartwheels in a pasture full of dips and bumps and insects certainly isn’t helping matters anyway.

    Unfortunately, some people make “equality” their primary concern, even if that means limiting the progress of gifted students — certainly a fabulous idea in a country where everyone is complaining that we don’t have enough kids excelling in math and science. For now, at least, our district still has advanced-track classes in the upper grades.

  3. Galina L.

    Tom, I did what I could to challenge my gifted son more, but still it was not enough. Of course it is a good thing to have a good memory, but it creates the situation when a growing child gets an impression that a very little effort is needed in order to learn. It worked through school, but now my son finished his second year in university, and the first time in his life he had to work really hard for his grades. He told me he found out he didn’t have good study skills, and it was an obstacle for him. I hope he will overcome it, but I am concerned.

    I saw that happen with people I knew in high school. We’re watching out for that.

  4. lantenec

    ” Reminds me of what Prof. Eric Oliver told me in Fat Head: according to a USDA study, to get people to eat more leafy green vegetables, we’d have to pay people to eat them.”

    Of course you know what would happen, people would just throw them out and take the money to go buy what they want. Did you say the same thing somewhere else?

    I might have, but it sounds more like something The Older Brother would point out.

  5. Lynnanne

    Galina L.

    Even MIT is aware of the problem of gifted students never having been challenged. When I attended, the first year of university was pass/fail for that very reason. Most of the students were in the top 1% of their high school classes, so it was shock to them to have any competition. But if brilliant college students are surrounded by equally brilliant fellow students, wonderful things can happen.

  6. Walter B

    Maybe if we gave them butter or fatback with the greens they’d eat them? Of course that would kill the power that be to encourage fat consumption, especially if the fat doesn’t come from birdseed.

    My daughters sure don’t have objections to eating their greens — lots of butter helps.

  7. pjnoir

    I always bring some food with me when I go into the city ( where I work) or bring home left food from the office trays and give it to homeless I see on the street heading to the interstate. I have been doing this for years and NEVER has the food been refused, your apple story is just BS, made to make street people unworthy of the offers.

    And you know the apple story is b.s. how, exactly? Did you notice the other comments from people who couldn’t get homeless people to take the fruits and vegetables they were giving away for free? Do you think we all got together to make this stuff up? Do you actually find it inconceivable that some street bum was standing there with his hand out, hoping to get a few bucks for a bottle of liquor and was pissed when he got an apple instead?

  8. Lori

    I don’t have any kids in school, but to my mind, learning to think clearly is more important than grades, effort or going to college. Lots of bright people use their brain power to defend dumb ideas.

    Sad but true. Just look at Paul Krugman.

  9. Underground

    We’re pulled up in front of a grocery store on a trip, broke college kids eating baloney and crackers for lunch. 3 guys pull up in a new tricked out truck, then get out and start panhandling in the parking lot.

    By the time they get to us I figure maybe they didn’t know we saw them drive up. Guy goes up to the driver’s side window and says “Can you give me some money? I’m hungry.” Guy driving hands him a stack of saltine crackers and says “Here, if you’re hungry eat this.”

    The surprised look on the panhandler’s face said it all, but he took the crackers and did munch a couple as he walked away. Although, he quickly dropped the crackers (detouring around another vehicle to try and hide it from us) to solicit more people coming out of the store. They were pulling in a good amount of change, some bills. About $40+ an hour at the rate they were going it appeared.

    Not a bad hourly rate.

  10. johnny

    One day, on my way to a liquor store, I saw a homeless man outside panhandling.

    I was in a good mood that day and bought for him a pint of Southern Comfort.

    When I gave it to him, he was so happy and grateful that it almost brought tears to my eyes.

    And he didn’t tell you he was hoping for an apple instead?


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