Archive for the “Government Foolishness” Category

I didn’t write a post last night because the Cubs were in a do-or-die playoff game that ran late. But I did come across an interesting study that speaks volumes about The Anointed and their never-ending plans to (ahem) “help” the rest of us.

It’s been awhile since I’ve explained how The Anointed think and operate, so rather than link back to previous posts, let’s recap.

I borrowed the term The Anointed from author Thomas Sowell, who described them in great detail in his fabulous books Intellectuals and Society and The Vision of The Anointed. As Sowell explains, here’s the pattern we see with these people over and over:

1. The Anointed identify a problem in society. That problem is now The Bad.

2. The Anointed propose a Grand Plan to fix the problem. The Grand Plan nearly always involves spending more of other people’s money and/or restricting more of other people’s freedoms.

3. Because they are so supremely confident in themselves and their ideas, The Anointed don’t believe they should be bothered with having to provide proof or evidence that the Grand Plan will actually work. In fact, they often insist that because the problem is So Bad, we must adopt the Grand Plan RIGHT NOW.

4. Because the problem is The Bad, The Anointed assume their Grand Plan to fix the problem is The Good. Therefore anyone who opposes the Grand Plan isn’t simply opposing a plan; no, he or she is supporting The Bad and opposing The Good. The Anointed take this as proof that anyone who opposes the Grand Plan is either evil or stupid.

5. Because only evil or stupid people would oppose the Grand Plan, The Anointed feel entitled to impose the Grand Plan on others — for their own good, of course.

6. If the Grand Plan fails to solve the problem (which it usually the case) or makes it worse (which is often the case), The Anointed will never, ever, ever admit that the Grand Plan was wrong. Instead, they will insist that 1) the Grand Plan was good, but was undermined by people who are evil or stupid, or 2) the Grand Plan didn’t go far enough … which means we need to do the same thing again, ONLY BIGGER.

So with that in mind, let’s look at the abstract of a study (actually a meta-analysis) with the title A Meta-Analysis to Determine the Impact of Restaurant Menu Labeling on Calories and Nutrients (Ordered or Consumed) in U.S. Adults:

A systematic review and meta-analysis determined the effect of restaurant menu labeling on calories and nutrients chosen in laboratory and away-from-home settings in U.S. adults. Cochrane-based criteria adherent, peer-reviewed study designs conducted and published in the English language from 1950 to 2014 were collected in 2015, analyzed in 2016, and used to evaluate the effect of nutrition labeling on calories and nutrients ordered or consumed. Before and after menu labeling outcomes were used to determine weighted mean differences in calories, saturated fat, total fat, carbohydrate, and sodium ordered/consumed which were pooled across studies using random effects modeling. Stratified analysis for laboratory and away-from-home settings were also completed. Menu labeling resulted in no significant change in reported calories ordered/consumed in studies with full criteria adherence, nor the 14 studies analyzed with ≤1 unmet criteria, nor for change in total ordered carbohydrate, fat, and saturated fat (three studies) or ordered or consumed sodium (four studies). A significant reduction of 115.2 calories ordered/consumed in laboratory settings was determined when analyses were stratified by study setting. Menu labeling away-from-home did not result in change in quantity or quality, specifically for carbohydrates, total fat, saturated fat, or sodium, of calories consumed among U.S. adults.

In other words, the evidence from several studies demonstrates what common sense should have told The Anointed years ago: mandatory listings of calories and other nutrition information on restaurant menus don’t prompt people to eat less (except in a laboratory setting, which is meaningless.) In fact, nothing changes … total calories consumed, total fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sodium, you name it. It’s almost as if when people go to restaurants, they order the foods they like, not the foods The Anointed want them to order.

It’s a perfect example of The Anointed in action.

The Anointed identify a problem in society.

The problem, of course, is the rise in obesity.

The Anointed propose a Grand Plan to fix the problem. The Grand Plan nearly always involves confiscating and spending more of other people’s money and/or restricting more of other people’s freedoms.

Restaurant owners complained that being forced to have every food item on the menu tested for calorie and nutrition counts and then listing them on menus would cost a ton of money (much of which would passed on to consumers.) The Anointed, of course, didn’t care. Spending other people’s money is what they love to do.

Because they are so supremely confident in themselves and their ideas, The Anointed don’t believe they should be bothered with having to provide proof or evidence that the Grand Plan will actually work.

There was never any evidence that forcing people to look at calorie counts would convince them to eat less. If The Anointed wanted to make a case for menu laws, they could have conducted some simple, inexpensive studies.  Put calorie counts on menus at a couple of restaurants and see if people ate less as a result.  But of course, The Anointed can’t be bothered with supplying evidence.  So the menu laws were rammed through.

I predicted back in 2009 that the menu laws The Guy From CSPI and others were demanding wouldn’t make any difference:

Here’s how the politicians and the nutrition-nannies believe those calorie-count menu boards will make us thinner:

  • Fat Customer waddles into McDonald’s, intending to order a Double Quarter Pounder value meal.
  • Fat Customer is confronted with the calorie count, right there on the menu board where he can’t possibly miss it.
  • Fat Customer says to himself, “Oh my gosh! I had no idea there were so many calories in this meal! I’m going to order a Filet-O-Fish and a bottle of water.”
  • Fat Customer is satisfied with this low-calorie meal and, thanks to the menu board, begins eating low-calorie meals at restaurants from this point forward.
  • Fat Customer loses weight, as do millions of other fat customers. The obesity epidemic is solved. Rates of heart disease, cancer, and type II diabetes plummet. Medicare expenditures drop by 50 percent.
  • Millions of formerly-obese citizens march on Washington to express their gratitude. Hallelujah, hallelujah! All praise the wise and wonderful politicians and Kelly Brownell and CSPI for saving us from our ignorance and gluttony!

This fantasy outcome was based on the belief that people are stupid. They go to restaurants, order high-calorie meals they somehow don’t recognize as high-calorie meals, get fatter, yet have no idea why. So by gosh, if we make them look at the calorie counts, they’ll finally realize what they’re doing wrong and eat less.

Nonsense. Here’s more of what I wrote in 2009:

Here’s an even more likely scenario:

  • Fat Customer waddles into McDonald’s, intending to order a Double Quarter Pounder value meal.
  • Fat Customer is confronted with the calorie count, right there on the menu board where he can’t possibly miss it.
  • Fat Customer says to himself, “I don’t give a @#$%. I’m famished, and I want the Double Quarter Pounder value meal.”

The calorie-count menu laws were, of course, imposed on everyone by The Anointed — for their own good.

If the Grand Plan fails to solve the problem (which it usually the case) or makes it worse (which is often the case), The Anointed will never, ever, ever that admit the Grand Plan was wrong. Instead, they will insist that 1) the Grand Plan was good, but was undermined by people who are evil or stupid, or 2) the Grand Plan didn’t go far enough … which means we need to do the same thing again, ONLY BIGGER.

So how will The Anointed do the same thing again, only bigger? Actually, they already have. Originally, they wanted restaurants to post nutrition information where everyone could see it. The restaurants complied, but people didn’t eat less as a result. Faced with this failure, The Anointed of course didn’t conclude that the Grand Plan was based on faulty ideas.

No, instead they decided that people were too lazy and stupid to walk over and look at that big nutrition poster on the wall before ordering a meal. So by gosh, we need to put the information right on the restaurant menu, where people can’t possibly miss it.

As the recent study shows, that didn’t work either. So we wasted a lot of time, effort, and other people’s money on a Grand Plan that didn’t make a dent in the obesity problem.

You’d think The Anointed would give up at this point. Maybe, but I doubt it. I think it’s more likely they’ll wait for more favorable political conditions, then propose new regulations requiring every restaurant to employ an on-site nutritionist. If you dare to order a meal full of saturated fat and sodium, the nutritionist will be required to stride up to your table and lecture you on your bad choices.

Yeah, I know … that sounds crazy. But we’re talking about The Anointed here. They are often wrong, but never in doubt – and no matter how many times they fail to control what we want and what we do, they never, ever stop trying.

Share

Comments 51 Comments »

As you’ve probably heard, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) recently gave the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee the spanking it deserves. Here are some quotes from an editorial in The Hill written by Rep. Andy Harris, who also happens to be a doctor:

The nation’s senior scientific body recently released a new report raising serious questions about the “scientific rigor” of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This report confirms what many in government have suspected for years and is the reason why Congress mandated this report in the first place: our nation’s top nutrition policy is not based on sound science.

In order to “develop a trustworthy DGA [guidelines],” states the report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), “the process needs to be redesigned.”

Among other things, the report finds that the guidelines process for reviewing the scientific evidence falls short of meeting the “best practices for conducting systematic reviews,” and advises that “methodological approaches and scientific rigor for evaluating the scientific evidence” need to “be strengthened.”

In other words, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are far from the “gold standard” of science and dietary advice they need to be. In fact, they may be doing little to improve our health at all.

Heh-heh-heh … remember what happened when Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, wrote a piece in the British Medical Journal criticizing the dietary guidelines as unscientific? Dr. David Katz (who reviewed his own novel under a false name and compared himself to Milton and Chaucer) dismissed her critique as “the opinion of one journalist.” The USDA’s report, he insisted, “is excellent, and represents both the weight of evidence, and global consensus among experts.”

Then for good measure, he and several other members of The Anointed tried to harass BMJ into retracting the article by Teicholz.

And now along comes the NASEM report, saying Teicholz was right. The “opinion of one journalist” (which of course was shared by countless doctors and researchers) is now the official opinion of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. You gotta love it. Perhaps Dr. Katz can write a rebuttal to the NASEM report, then review his rebuttal under a false name and compare himself to Albert Einstein.

Anyway, back to the editorial by Rep. Harris:

It seems clear that the lack of sound science has led to a number of dietary tenets that are not just mistaken, but even harmful – as a number of recent studies suggest.

For instance, the guidelines’ recommendation to eat “healthy whole grains” turns out not to be supported by any strong science, according to a recent study by the Cochrane Collaboration, a group specializing in scientific literature reviews. Looking at all the data from clinical trials, which is the most rigorous data available, the study concluded that there is “insufficient evidence” to show that whole grains reduced blood pressure or had any cardiovascular benefit.

So far, so good. Now for the part where I disagree a bit:

It is imperative that the advice championed by our national nutrition policy be unimpeachable. With the process for the 2020 guidelines soon to be underway, now is the time for the Congress to take action to reform the Dietary Guidelines development process so that proposed guidelines work as intended – as a tool to restore and protect our nation’s health.

I periodically receive requests to sign a petition to put this-or-that expert in charge of the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee. I always politely decline. Here’s who I think should be in charge of the nation’s dietary guidelines:

Nobody.

That’s right, nobody. We don’t need national dietary guidelines any more than we need national dog-grooming guidelines. People managed to figure out which foods were good for them long before the federal government got involved. In fact, it’s pretty obvious by now that the crowd wisdom handed down over the generations was vastly superior to the New & Improved! dietary advice concocted in Washington 40 years ago.

For reasons I can’t fathom, some people believe if you want a job done right, then by gosh, you need to put the feds in charge. Our history says otherwise. People don’t magically become smarter, wiser, or more ethical when they go to work for the federal government. They do, however, acquire the power to replace the diffused wisdom of crowds with the centralized decisions of the few. I don’t want a little group of experts in charge of dietary policy, even if they’re experts you and I respect.

As Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out in his terrific book Antifragile, centralized decision-making amplifies mistakes. If you empower one little group of experts to make decisions for everyone, their mistakes affect everyone.

That’s exactly what happened with our national dietary guidelines, which were imposed on schools, prisons, hospitals, the military, and pretty much every other institution run or funded by government. Worse yet, other countries adopted and imposed our dietary guidelines, apparently believing the people who wrote them had a flippin’ clue. Whoops.

Taleb points out that we rarely see big, disastrous governmental screw-ups in Switzerland. Why? Because there’s little centralized authority. Switzerland functions as a loose confederation of city-states that make most of their own decisions. If a city-state makes a bad decision, it doesn’t ripple through the entire country. The harm remains local. The other city-states see a plan that didn’t work and avoid it. On the other hand, if a city-state makes a very good decision, the other city-states see the happy result and adopt a similar plan.

That’s how the U.S. was originally intended to function as well. The states, not the federal government, were supposed to be the incubators of public policies. States and local governments can learn from each other’s successes and mistakes. When the feds make a mistake, what we usually learn is that while only death and taxes are forever, crappy federal departments and programs are so hard to kill, they may as well be immortal.

I’m glad the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine gave the USDA Dietary Committee the spanking it deserves. If the 2020 national dietary guidelines are based on rigorous science, that would certainly be an improvement.

But the best outcome would be if Congress decided, once and for all, that the rest of us don’t need the U.S. government telling us how to eat. There’s no good reason to have bureaucrats in Washington deciding what grade schools in Franklin, Tennessee are allowed to serve for lunch.

Low-carb, paleo, gluten-free, locally raised … they’re all grass-roots movements that are making a huge difference. Nobody’s in charge of them.  They weren’t designed by government committees – if anything, they were resisted by government committees, but thrived anyway because of the Wisdom of Crowds effect.

So instead of rooting for 2020 to be the year we finally get some real scientists on the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee, I’m hoping it’s the first year new dietary guidelines are scheduled to be released, but nobody bothers to write them.

Share

Comments 99 Comments »

If you want a clear example of a big part of the reason we’ve become a nation full of fat diabetics, take a look at this video from the Wall Street Journal.

“The agency plans to update its definition of healthy for the first time in two decades.”

Yup.  So for at least two decades — and know it’s closer to four decades now — perfectly good foods like avocados and almonds have been labeled “unhealthy” while complete-garbage foods made from sugar and grains have been blessed with the “healthy” label because they’re low in fat.

In fact, of the agency’s five criteria — fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium (“unhealthy”) and beneficial nutrients (“healthy”) — they were dead wrong on four of them.

This video is a year old, but I haven’t heard anything about the FDA changing its definitions yet.  In fact, I just visited the FDA site out of curiosity and found this gem:

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. today. You can use the Nutrition Facts Label to compare foods and decide which ones fit with a diet that may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Choose foods that have fewer calories per serving and a lower %DV of these “nutrients to get less of”

Total Fat
Saturated Fat
Cholesterol
Sodium

Sugar still isn’t on the list.  Processed grains aren’t on the list.  Industrial oils aren’t on the list.

Same old, same old, at least for now.

Share

Comments 56 Comments »

Hey Fat Heads! Long time.

Tom’s still off on the Low Carb Cruise, so I get to staff the Big Chair for a bit. Folks on the cruise are going to get to see the almost final cut of the Fat Head Kids DVD. Tom, being Tom, in order to avoid disaster (long time Fat Heads may recall there was an audio issue on one of the first cruises), took a copy on his laptop, a DVD, a backup drive, an extra laptop, and an extra projector. Just in case. He’s also left copies at home, and at the in-laws, just in case the ship sinks and his house burns down at the same time. I asked him if the odds weren’t pretty astronomical on that kind of coincidence, and all he said was

“Three words: President. Donald. Trump.”

That pretty much took care of that argument.

I meant to post last week, but, in addition to a flooded basement (again) and a mouse-infested camper to deal with, I also officially passed into old age last Tuesday. The Big Six-Oh. Doesn’t actually feel any worse than the day before, to tell you the truth. Tom called to rub it in a bit under pretense of “Happy Birthday” wishes, and we agreed that hitting a calendar date really never had much psychological impact.

Over the years, I’ve only had a couple of those “OMG, I’m getting OLD” moments. The first was a couple of months past forty — which I’d pretty much shrugged off – when the friend who’d been cutting my hair for the previous ten years or so was finishing up and nonchalantly went for my face with the scissors, explaining “I’m just going to trim those eyebrows up.” I was thunderstruck – “holy crap, my eyebrows have forgotten which direction to grow!”

The next time was a few years later. The same friend had just finished my hair (okay, and eyebrows) and then — just as casual as can be — shifted to my side and said “let’s get those ear hairs taken care of.” Fortunately for my self esteem, she retired shortly thereafter, and I was able to find a new barber with bad eyesight.

Anyway, on account of the milestone, I thought I’d give myself a present and commandeer the Big Chair and talk a little about health care and piss everyone off.

You were warned.

The source of my most current irritation wasn’t at the health care system, per se, but at some really good news. The good news being the amazing story of Jimmy Kimmel’s son. The boy was born late last month (April), and Kimmel did an emotional monologue on returning to his show on how the baby was rushed into surgery immediately after birth with the deadliest version of a rare heart condition. During the monologue, as he described the procedure he said the surgeon “did some kind of magic I can’t even begin to explain…”

And then kind of turned the whole experience into a morality tale on why we need to keep Obamacare, only bigger.

I don’t have a problem with Kimmel projecting his personal experience onto a larger issue that I’m sure he’s not particularly well-informed on. I do have a problem with how the media instantly elevated Jimmy to the status of Economic Savant, and I find it sadly not surprising that politicians on both (wrong) sides of the issue felt compelled to rush for a camera and pontificate as if this was some new large issue that hadn’t been debated.

As it turns out, I’m actually familiar with the condition and can also explain the “magic” to Mr. Kimmel.  The condition is called a Tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia, where there’s a blocked valve with a hole in the baby’s heart. It requires immediate surgery, with a couple of more “upgrade” heart surgeries as the child grows, because the replacement valves don’t grow along with the child.

See, the Oldest Grandson — the one we lucked into when the Middle Son got married last year – was born with the exact same thing. He’s nine now, so it turns out that treatment was available before Obamacare. Within a couple of hours of being born, he was whisked via helicopter from Springfield — where we have pretty damned good neonatal hospital departments – to Saint Louis, MO, ninety miles away where they had specialized facilities and pediatric cardiologists.

The actual Magic — the reason Jimmy Kimmel’s son and my grandson are alive – is called “the Market.” You see, if Jimmy and his wife, despite the blessings of wealth his talent and hard work have brought him, had been in Canada (the current darling of the “free” health care advocates) I suspect it would’ve been a much darker monologue.

Not necessarily, of course. They might’ve been lucky enough to have their baby in a city with one of the seven pediatric cardiology units within Canada’s 3.8 million square miles of land mass. There are 122 in the continental U.S., despite having 20% less area (3.1M). Caring, forward-thinking Canada has 81 Pediatric Cardiologists. Here in health care’s evil empire, we’ve got 2087 on tap.

And I do mean in a city. Ninety miles away doesn’t get it in Canada, like it works here. If you don’t believe me, ask Liam Neeson. In case you don’t recall, his wife died because it took over three hours to transport her 77 miles by ambulance as helicopters weren’t available where she was injured. But hey, what are the odds of needing an airlift for emergency medical care at a ski resort, right?

[Another helicopter story – several years ago, my brother-in-law’s niece was critically injured in an early morning slippery roads/tree vs. car accident on her way to school. This was in very rural North Carolina. They got a helicopter shortly after the accident was discovered. She flat-lined three times in the air, but she pulled through.]

It’s not like we don’t have major issues with the health care system in the good old U.S. of A. But the issues are with the availability of dollars, not doctors, and Obamacare makes both worse, not better. And Jimmy Kimmel is a terrific entertainer and wonderful human being and I am truly overjoyed at his good fortune, but he’s not a very good economist. Better than Paul Krugman. But not very good.

I’m going to address those dollars next, and my thoughts on that happen to dovetail nicely with Dr. William Davis’ book that Tom just reviewed. If you haven’t got your own copy yet, you’re missing a really good read that can do more to improve your health than any elected official can possibly do for you.

Cheers,

The Older Brother

Share

Comments 42 Comments »

The topic of so-called “food deserts” came up in comments on a recent post.  A reader included a link to a Eureka Alert article that included these quotes:

An analysis of a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults reveals that access to healthy foods in a supermarket does not hinder Americans’ consumption of empty calories. In fact, the study found, U.S. adults buy the bulk of their sugar-sweetened beverages and nutrient-poor discretionary foods at supermarkets and grocery stores.

The new findings challenge the “food desert” hypothesis, which posits that a lack of access to supermarkets and grocery stores in some communities worsens the obesity crisis by restricting people’s access to healthy foods.

As part of their never-ending quest to create a better society by spending other people’s money and/or restricting other people’s freedoms, The Anointed decided to take on the (ahem) “problem” of food deserts some years ago.  And boy, the Grand Plan they came up with to fix it is such a fine example of The Anointed in action, I decided to write a full post on the topic.

I haven’t discussed The Anointed for a while, so I’ll start with a brief review of how they operate.  This is my crib-sheet version of Thomas Sowell’s terrific book The Vision of The Anointed:

  • The Anointed identify a problem in society.
  • The Anointed propose a Grand Plan to fix the problem.  Strangely, the Grand Plan nearly always requires spending other people’s money and/or restricting other people’s freedom to make their own decisions.
  • Because they are so supremely confident in their ideas, The Anointed don’t bother with proof or evidence that the Grand Plan will actually work.  In fact, they cheerfully ignore any evidence that the Grand Plan won’t work.
  • If possible, The Anointed will use government coercion to impose the Grand Plan on other people (for their own good, of course).
  • Because the problem they’ve identified is The Bad, The Anointed assume whatever Grand Plan they design to fix it is The Good.  Therefore, anyone who opposes the Grand Plan is opposing Good itself … which can only mean those people are either evil or stupid.
  • If the Grand Plan fails (which it usually does), The Anointed will never, ever, ever admit the Grand Plan was wrong.  They will instead conclude that 1) the plan was good, but was undermined by people who are evil or stupid, or 2) the plan didn’t go far enough … which means we need to do the same thing again, ONLY BIGGER.

So with that in mind, let’s look at some examples of The Anointed identifying the “food desert” problem in America.

We’ll start with a USDA Today article titled Millions of Food Desert Dwellers Struggle to Get Fresh Groceries.  Heck, you don’t even need to read the article after seeing that title.  It tells you everything you need to know.  Millions of people are struggling to get fresh groceries.  Clearly they want those fresh fruits and vegetables, but find the task nearly impossible.  Here are some quotes:

There’s been little improvement in the country’s food accessibility in recent years, and that’s bad news for millions of Americans.

“Efforts to encourage Americans to improve their diets and to eat more nutritious foods presume that a wide variety of these foods are accessible to everyone. But, for some Americans and in some communities, access to healthy foods may be limited,” said a 2012 USDA report, which found that nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population lived in a low-income area more than a mile from a supermarket.

Other research suggests healthier food options are typically limited in low-income regions, as a team of Yale University professors concluded after a regional supermarket analysis that “lower-income neighborhoods (compared to those in higher-income neighborhoods) stock fewer healthier varieties of foods and have fresh produce of much lower quality.”

So there you have it.  We’re encouraging Americans to improve their diets, but nutritious food just isn’t available in many areas, especially poor areas.  Isn’t that odd?  Nobody talks about “athletic shoe deserts” or “flat-screen TV deserts” or “chicken-nugget deserts” in any of America’s big cities.  But for some reason, the same class of greedy capitalists who profit from those products apparently don’t want to swoop in and make a buck selling nutritious fruits and vegetables.

The USDA Today article was written by someone with the title of Economy Reporter.  That ought to scare you.  A little knowledge of basic economics should be a requirement for the job.

We can be a bit more forgiving of a group called DoSomething.org, since it describes itself as “young people + social change.”  When I hear that young people are motivated by “social change,” I’ll bet you dollars to donuts (and you can keep the donuts) they don’t know diddly about economics — which is why they’re often in love with Grand Plans that promise to DoSomething!  Anyway, here are portions of their deep analysis of the problem:

“Food deserts” are geographic areas where access to affordable, healthy food options (aka fresh fruits and veggies) is limited or nonexistent because grocery stores are too far away.

Residents living in food deserts also have a hard time finding foods that are culturally relevant and that meet their dietary restrictions.

People living in the poorest SES (social-economic status) areas have 2.5 times the exposure to fast-food restaurants as those living in the wealthiest areas.

With limited options, many people living in food deserts get meals from fast-food restaurants.

Food insecurity has a high correlation with increased diabetes rates.

Ain’t it awful?  Once again, for reasons nobody can explain, greedy capitalists apparently aren’t interested in turning a profit by selling nutritious (or even culturally relevant) foods to people who are struggling to find them.  So with those limited options, people living in food deserts turn to fast food (despite its lack of cultural relevance) and then develop diabetes.  Man, somebody needs to jump in and DoSomething!

It’s not just young people interested in social change who believe this nonsense.  Here’s part of a comment on a PBS article about food deserts (which we’ll revisit shortly):

I remember sitting in a seminar while attending Hopkins school of public health many years ago when this issue was gaining momentum and the speaker (a community advocate) believed there was some sort of conspiracy or concerted effort to keep healthy foods out of low-income, urban neighborhoods. He believed that corner store owners could make more money selling fruits and vegetables than junk food but just simply didn’t do it.

Yup, a community activist actually believes there’s a conspiracy NOT to sell fruits and vegetables in urban neighborhoods, even though the store owners would make more money.  Hey, maybe someday we’ll elect a former community activist as our president.  Then we’ll really see some brilliant economic programs.  Perhaps one that jacks insurance premiums through the roof while simultaneously chasing the major insurers and providers out of the market. In the meantime, I’d love to have a secret conversation with one of those store owners conspiring to keep fruits and vegetables out of urban neighborhoods.

“Listen, you know you’d actually make more money selling healthy food to these people, right?”

“Yeah, but I still don’t want to do it.”

“Why not?”

“I figure if my customers keep dying of diabetes, that’s good for business in the long run.”

With the problem identified, The Anointed of course proposed a Grand Plan.  Here’s what the PBS article had to say about it:

To change the situation in these areas — known as “food deserts” — Mrs. Obama called for action. “This is happening all across the country. We’re setting people up for failure if we don’t fix this.”

Notice the attitude:  it’s a problem and the government must fix it – by spending other people’s money, of course.  As usual, The Anointed didn’t bother looking for evidence that the plan would work.  They didn’t start by spending, say, $100,000 to open fruit and vegetable stands in a few “food deserts” to determine whether or not the desert-dwellers would actually buy them.  Nope, the plan must always be Grand.  The article on Eureka Alert explains just how Grand this one was:

The food desert hypothesis led the U.S. government to spend almost $500 million since 2011 to improve access to supermarkets and grocery stores in underserved communities. States and municipalities also have made efforts to increase the supply of healthy foods, offering financial incentives to build new grocery stores or to increase the amount of fresh food available in convenience stores and gas stations, for example.

And from the PBS article:

Pennsylvania has launched a program whereby 88 new or expanded food retail outlets have been created, giving healthy food access to around 500,000 children and adults. And in fact, when the House passed the long-awaited farm bill on Wednesday, it included a provision for the HealthyFood Financing Initiative, which would allocate $125 million for expanding food resources in underserved communities across the nation.

That’s more than a half-billion of your dollars.  So how’s it working?  I’m sure you can guess, but let’s look at some quotes from the PBS article:

Fast forward to 2014, though, and the problem of food deserts — and their effect on diet and health — still persists.

Really?  After a half-billion spent by the feds and millions more spent by states? How can that be?

The problem may not lie solely with food accessibility; it could also be due to people’s shopping and eating habits.

Gee, do ya think?

Steven Cummins, a professor of population health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, suggests that merely adding a new grocery store to a neighborhood won’t be enough to motivate individuals to shop there for healthier foods.

In other words, the Grand Plan isn’t working for the same reason those wunnerful, wunnerful fruits and vegetables weren’t available in “food deserts” in the first place:  THE LOCALS AREN’T INTERESTED IN BUYING THEM.  HOW DID YOU NOT SEE THIS COMING A HALF-BILLION DOLLARS AGO, YOU @#$%ING MORONS?!

Here’s the really fun part:  The USDA is aware of research negating the hypothesis that people don’t buy fruits and vegetables because they “struggle” to find them.  Look at these quotes from a USDA document, which explains (among other things) that most people living in “food deserts” actually travel to a superstore to buy groceries:

If poor food access affects consumers’ food choices, then the dietary quality of consumers with limited food shopping options should improve when they shop farther from home, where their choices are less constrained. Nielsen data confirm that the dietary quality of their purchases did improve, but just slightly. By driving an extra mile to the store, low-access consumers purchased 0.42 percent more fruits, 0.55 percent more vegetables, 0.61 percent more low-fat milk products, and 0.33 percent less nondiet drinks.

They travel to big stores, but buy perhaps one-half of one percent more fruits and vegetables than people who don’t travel to big stores.  So much for the struggle.

But what about people living in a neighborhood where a new (government-subsidized) store was built to make sure resident have easy access to fruits and vegetables?  Here’s what the USDA document says:

In Pittsburgh, the share of residents in the new-store neighborhood who were regular users of the new store was much higher—68 percent—but their diet quality was not different from their neighbors who were not regular users of the new store.

These results suggest that improving access to healthful foods by itself will likely not have a major impact on consumer diets or generate major reductions in diet-related disease.

No change in diet.  Big fat fail.  Another Grand Plan bites the dust.

Well, not really.  Grand Plans never bite the dust.  When a Grand Plan fails, The Anointed always conclude that it was undermined by people who are stupid or evil, or it didn’t go far enough.  Here’s what one economics genius commenting on the PBS article has to say:

Healthy food must become affordable and that means unhealthy food must become more expensive. A RISK tax’s – akin to the excise tax on tobacco – time has come.

Incentives to purchase vegetables and low glycemic fruit must be made part of the SNAP program and sugar (including refined grains) must be restricted or denied.

In-store marketing could be cooking demonstrations by folks savvy in nutrition using healthy food – limited ingredients, mostly plants – show them and they will buy SANE – Sustainable, Affordable, Nutritious food for Everyone.

Right.  The answer, of course, is to spend even more of other people’s money and restrict more of other’s people’s freedoms.  Restrict and deny choices, raise taxes, and spend more money to demonstrate how to cook healthy food.  Because by gosh, THEN the urban “food desert” dwellers will finally decide they want more fruits and vegetables.

What is so hard to try these approaches?

I dunno, but I bet someone who’s either evil or stupid is undermining them.

Ah! sorry, I know. It is that corporations such as Coca-Cola have infiltrated the first lady’s program to promote “let’s move” and forget the nutrition part of the obesity epidemic.

Well, that explains it.  The feds spent a half-billion dollars to make fruits and vegetables more accessible, but people aren’t buying them because the evil corporation Coca-Cola infiltrated Ms. Obama’s awesome Grand Plan.

Professor Cummins, who conducted the study covered in the PBS article, has this to say:

I want to stress that supermarket interventions — even though I don’t think they’re necessarily effective in the way people think they’ll be effective — are very important, and I am actually quite supportive of them.

Excuse me?  Your own study says supermarket interventions don’t change eating habits, but you still think they’re important and support them?!

In addition to improving physical access to food in disadvantaged neighborhoods, you also need to think about policies that help bridge this gap between perception and action. These might include things such as economic initiatives — like taxes or subsidies for healthy foods — but could also include harnessing in-store marketing to promote the purchase of healthy foods as opposed to unhealthy foods.

I see.  We need even more government action.  The Grand Plan obviously didn’t go far enough.

Here’s a thought to consider, Professor:  when people in some neighborhoods don’t buy fruits and vegetables even when the feds spend millions of dollars to bring them in, it’s not because they’re disadvantaged.  It’s because they buy what they prefer to eat.

So how about you just leave them (and the rest of us) alone?

Share

Comments 64 Comments »

The most recent Dietary Guidelines declared that cholesterol is “no longer a nutrient of concern.”  Yup, after nearly 40 years of warning people away from egg yolks, the government folks finally checked the actual science and then sort of admitted being wrong.  It was a step forward.  But, government being what it is, I suppose a corresponding step backwards was inevitable.  Here are some quotes from a recent article in The Chicago  Tribune:

The Obama administration is pressuring the food industry to make foods from breads to sliced turkey less salty, proposing long-awaited sodium guidelines in an effort to prevent thousands of deaths each year from heart disease and stroke.

So the Obama administration must have solid scientific evidence that reducing sodium in food products will prevent heart attacks and strokes … just like the First Lady must have solid evidence that telling kids “Let’s Move!” and cutting the fat and calories in their school lunches will reduce obesity.  But we’ll come back to the salt-cardiovascular disease evidence.

The guidelines released Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration are voluntary, so food companies won’t be required to comply, and it could be a year or more before they are final. But the idea is to persuade companies and restaurants — many of which have already lowered sodium levels in their products — to take a more consistent approach.

Ah, I see: the guidelines are voluntary.  Based on government history, here’s how that will work:

“Hey, food companies, we’d like you volunteer to reduce the sodium in food.”

“No thanks.  People don’t like the food as much when we lower the sodium.”

“You don’t seem to understand.  We’re asking you to do this voluntarily.”

“Got it.  Voluntary guidelines.  So we choose not to follow them.”

“Well, then, we’ll have to force you to follow them.”

“But you said the guidelines were voluntary.”

“Yes, but you didn’t volunteer, so now we’re imposing them.”

Sodium content already is included on existing food labels, but the government has not set specific sodium recommendations. The guidelines suggest limits for about 150 categories of foods, from cereals to pizzas and sandwiches. There are two-year and 10-year goals.

And a five-year plan issued by the Kremlin.

Health officials from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said overwhelming scientific evidence shows that blood pressure increases when sodium intake increases, increasing the chances of heart disease and stroke.

Overwhelming evidence, eh?  That would mean 1) the science shows that high sodium intake leads to heart attacks and strokes, and 2) the science also shows that most Americans have a high sodium intake that puts them at risk.  And let’s add a third point: before issuing a “voluntary” guideline for lowering the sodium in food, we’d want to be sure that people don’t respond to low-sodium foods by reaching for the salt shaker – which is what I do.

So how much sodium are we consuming, anyway?

Americans eat about 1½ teaspoons of salt daily, or 3,400 milligrams. That amount hasn’t gone down over the years, and it’s about a third more than the government recommends for good health. Most of that sodium is hidden inside common processed foods and restaurant meals, making it harder for consumers to control how much they eat.

I just explained that I have no trouble controlling how much sodium I eat.  Give me low-sodium food, I reach for the salt shaker.  That’s because 1) I like salt on my food, and 2) I’ve actually looked at the science – something regulators at the FDA apparently haven’t. Here’s a quote from a 2011 article in Scientific American:

A meta-analysis of seven studies involving a total of 6,250 subjects in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure.

And here are some quotes from a recent article about a new meta-analysis:

 A controversial new study contends that a low-salt diet could be dangerous for your heart health.

Notice how it’s only “controversial” if a study concludes that government advice is wrong?

Restricting dietary salt to below 3,000 milligrams a day appears to increase the risk for heart disease similar to that of high blood pressure patients who eat too much salt, said lead researcher Andrew Mente.

He said his study results showed that a low-salt diet increases the risk of heart attack or stroke 26 percent for people without high blood pressure and 34 percent for people with high blood pressure.

For those with high blood pressure, too much dietary salt increases their risk 23 percent, the study said.

On the other hand, a diet with excess salt doesn’t increase the risk at all if blood pressure is normal, the study reported.

“Most of the population eats what they’re supposed to eat, based on the data,” Mente said. “They fall in the middle and that’s actually the sweet spot — the safest range of intake.”

Mente’s study is observational, and you know what I think of observational studies are far as demonstrating cause and effect.  But keep in mind that if A causes B, A and B will be correlated.  So if A isn’t correlated with B, A doesn’t cause B.  Mente found that a normal sodium intake – the 3400 milligrams the government says is too much – isn’t associated with heart attacks of strokes.  But a lower sodium intake is.  So naturally, the FDA wants us to cut back.  And they’re (ahem) “asking” food companies to volunteer to help.

Back to the Tribune article:

Some companies have worried that though the limits will be voluntary, the FDA is at heart a regulatory agency, and the guidelines are more warning than suggestion.

Gee, do you think?

Share

Comments 51 Comments »