What “Everyone Knows” May Be Changing

Part of the problem with convincing people to cut back on carbohydrates and eat more natural fats is what I call everyone knows knowledge.  As in everyone knows whole grains are good for you.  Everyone knows saturated fat and cholesterol will clog your arteries and kill you.  Just try convincing someone who isn’t a critical thinker that what everyone knows can be flat-out wrong.

Everyone knows knowledge permeates the culture.  I enjoy watching old reruns of Seinfeld, and while they still crack me up, they include a lot of everyone knows ideas about health and nutrition.  I recently watched the episode in which Jerry is trying to get healthier by eating veggie sandwiches and salads.  Elaine’s cousin cooks dinner for him and asks how he likes his pork chops, to which Jerry replies, “I like mine with an angioplasty.”  In another episode, Jerry and his friends gain weight eating frozen yogurt that was advertised as fat-free, but turned out to contain fat.  (As if sugary fat-free foods won’t do the trick.)  And of course, in countless episodes, Jerry chows down on breakfast cereals.  Nothing wrong with those, right?  Everyone knows cereal is health food.

In the hilarious film My Cousin Vinny, a cook in a small-town diner plops lard onto a grill to begin fixing breakfast, prompting Vinny to remark something along the lines of “Are you by any chance aware of the rather large cholesterol problem in this country?”  And in the very witty film Thank You For Smoking, the scheming tobacco lobbyist defends himself against a crusading senator by pointing out the senator’s state is known primarily for producing “artery-clogging” cheese.

I’m not knocking the writers of these great films and TV shows, you understand.  They were simply relying on everyone knows knowledge.  I did the same while writing for a small health magazine 20-some years ago …Should you switch to a low-fat diet?  Of course!  Everyone knows fat is bad for you.

I’m an optimist, so I may be engaging in wishful thinking here, but it seems to me that what everyone knows about diet and health is changing — slowly, perhaps, but changing.  When I began my research for Fat Head, I discovered some well-researched articles claiming that the anti-fat hysteria sparked by the McGovern committee was misguided, but those articles appeared mostly on blogs and alternative-medicine sites.  (The Gary Taubes article What If It’s All Been A Big Fat Lie? was a notable exception.)

Lately, I’ve been noticing more articles in the mainstream media knocking the standard-issue advice.  Back in December, the Los Angeles Times ran an article titled A Reversal on Carbs with the sub-headline Fat was once the devil. Now more nutritionists are pointing accusingly at sugar and refined grains.  Here are a few quotes:

Most people can count calories. Many have a clue about where fat lurks in their diets. However, fewer give carbohydrates much thought, or know why they should.

But a growing number of top nutritional scientists blame excessive carbohydrates — not fat — for America’s ills. They say cutting carbohydrates is the key to reversing obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

“Fat is not the problem,” says Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. “If Americans could eliminate sugary beverages, potatoes, white bread, pasta, white rice and sugary snacks, we would wipe out almost all the problems we have with weight and diabetes and other metabolic diseases.”

Outstanding.  I can say it, you can say it, Jimmy Moore can say it, Dr. Eades can say it, a hundred other bloggers can say it, and the average mainstream journalist either won’t know or won’t care.  But when Dr. Willett at Harvard says it, mainstream journalists pay attention.  “Fat is not the problem” ends up being printed in the Los Angeles Times.  Now it stands a chance of becoming everyone knows knowledge, at least among newspaper readers.

Over the weekend, readers sent me links to other articles that appeared in the popular press.  An article in Consumer Reports that rated diets gave the top pick to the Jenny Craig plan because of a high level of adherence – that’s the bad news.  The good news is what the article said about the Atkins diet:

The 2010 edition of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which we’ve used as the basis for the diets’ nutrition Ratings (available to subscribers), still frowns on eating 10 percent or more of calories from saturated fat from meat and dairy products and more than 35 percent from fats overall. So the Atkins diet, which is 64 percent fat calories overall and 18 percent saturated fat, ends up with only a Fair nutrition score.

But there’s more to the story. Evidence is accumulating that refined carbohydrates promote weight gain and type 2 diabetes through their effects on blood sugar and insulin. “If you have insulin resistance, your insulin may go up to 10 or 20 times normal in order to control your blood sugar after you eat sugar or carbs,” says Eric C. Westman, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Duke University who co-wrote the newest version of the Atkins diet. “But the insulin also tells your body to make and store fat. When you restrict carbs, your insulin goes down and you can burn your body fat, so you eat fewer calories and aren’t as hungry.”

Isn’t it dangerous to eat so much fat? That’s still a subject of vigorous scientific debate, but it’s clear that fat is not the all-round villain we’ve been taught it is. Several epidemiology studies have found that saturated fat doesn’t seem to increase people’s risk of cardiovascular disease or stroke.

Moreover, clinical studies have found that an Atkins or Atkins-like diet not only doesn’t increase heart-disease risk factors but also actually reduces them as much as or more than low-fat, higher-carb diets that produce equivalent weight loss.

So there’s an interesting admission for you:  Consumer Reports uses the USDA Guidelines as the basis for its nutrition rankings, then explains that actual research doesn’t support those guidlines.  Perhaps in the future, Consumer Reports can do one of its famous reliability tests on the USDA Dietary Guidelines.  (“A whopping 92% of our readers report these guidelines failed within the first year.”)  But this article is a good start.

Another reader informed me over the weekend that the Dallas Morning News ran an opinion piece that shredded the government’s dietary advice.  I couldn’t access that article without a subscription, but found that the same article (I think) was also published in City Journal magazine:

America’s public-health officials have long been eager to issue nutrition advice ungrounded in science, and nowhere has this practice been more troubling than in the federal government’s dietary guidelines, first issued by a congressional committee in 1977 and updated every five years since 1980 by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Controversial from the outset for sweeping aside conflicting research, the guidelines have come under increasing attack for being ineffective or even harmful, possibly contributing to a national obesity problem. Unabashed, public-health advocates have pushed ahead with contested new recommendations, leading some of our foremost medical experts to ask whether government should get out of the business of telling Americans what to eat—or, at the very least, adhere to higher standards of evidence.

… The McGovern committee, in coming up with its diet plan, had to choose among very different nutritional regimes that scientists and doctors were studying as potentially beneficial to those at risk for heart disease. Settling on the unproven theory that cholesterol was behind heart disease, the committee issued its guidelines in 1977, urging Americans to reduce the fat that they consumed from 40 percent to 30 percent of their daily calories, principally by eating less meat and fewer dairy products.

… The latest nutritional thinking has indeed zeroed in on carbohydrates as a likely cause of heart disease. Easily digestible carbs, in particular—starches like potatoes, white rice, and bread from processed flour, as well as refined sugar—make it hard to burn fat and also increase inflammations that can cause heart attacks, several studies have concluded. A 2007 Dutch study of 15,000 women found that those who ate foods with the highest “glycemic load,” a measure of portion sizes and of how easily digestible a food is, had the greatest risk of heart disease.

Looking at such evidence, several top medical scientists have concluded that the government’s carb-heavy guidelines may actually have harmed public health …“In general,” the doctors wrote, “weak evidentiary support has been accepted as adequate justification for [the U.S. dietary] guidelines. This low standard of evidence is based on several misconceptions, most importantly the belief that such guidelines could not cause harm.” But, they concluded, “it now seems that the U.S. dietary guidelines recommending fat restriction might have worsened rather than helped the obesity epidemic and, by so doing, possibly laid the groundwork for a future increase in CVD,” cardiovascular disease.

I certainly don’t expect the nutrition geniuses at the USDA to change their guidelines, no matter how many articles like these appear in the mainstream press.  But I don’t think it’s overly optimistic to believe we’re approaching the time when everyone knows those guidelines are a load of bologna.


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134 thoughts on “What “Everyone Knows” May Be Changing

  1. Jimmy Moore

    We need Willett and others who are becoming enlightened to be on the USDA Dietary Guidelines panel for 2015. I sense the tide is turning and quickly. It’ll take a few years for the public to become reeducated…but it’s gonna happen. And we’ll be there to help teach the lessons we’ve already figured out.

    Maybe next time you testify, they won’t look at you like you just flew in from Mars.

  2. Tracee

    “leading some of our foremost medical experts to ask whether government should get out of the business of telling Americans what to eat”

    I may see public thinking on diet change in my lifetime…maybe. But I would really love to see people ask why the government is telling us what to eat in the first place. We make fun of politicians and seldom trust them, but then we eat what they tell us too…hello…can anyone explain the logic to me…anyone?

    Preaching to the choir on that one. Having government get out of the nutrition-advice business would be my first choice. Having them get it right would be an improvement, but still means they’re mucking around in area where they don’t belong.

  3. Dana

    You should see how CBS News reported on that Consumer Reports study. I won’t link to it, and you can decide for yourself whether your BP needs raised about twenty points today.

    I can only imagine. I’d best get my desk-pad first to prepare for a head-bang-on-desk episode.

  4. David H

    I was ecstatic when a friend posted this on Facebook about his attempts to lose weight “The doctor told me to eat more meat and vegetables, and less carbohydrates if I want to lose weight. Finally a doctor who has common sense.
    ” He’s known rice is fattening, but never bothered with the effort, but now he has a green light to go ahead. Soooo happy that more and more doctors aren’t closed minded. But on the other hand I see more fat family members on my mom’s side trying to cut down on fatty foods with plans including veganism (I would like to point out you eat them with copious amounts of rice, bread and dough! and with poison (vegetable oil) But I’ll do my best not to give up hope!

    It will take some time, but I believe the tide is turning.

  5. tracker

    The truth won’t be hidden forever. Once “everyone knew” the earth was flat, and that the stars were permanently pasted to the night sky.

    They’re not pasted up there? Why don’t they fall down?

  6. Nick

    Hey Tom….keep posting the truth! Thanks so much for being an advocate! Fat Head Rules!!!!!

    Thank you, Nick.

  7. Jim T.

    http://john-adams.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/risk%20and%20freedom.pdf

    This whole book, by Prof. John Adams of University College London, is quite interesting, but Chapter 5 will really raise your eyebrows, from the “everybody knows” perspective. It is about seat belt legislation.

    As Prof. Adams himself points out, there is abundant evidence that in the event of a motor vehicle crash, a motor vehicle occupant is far less likely to be killed or injured if he or she is wearing a seat belt. But when seat belt use is mandated by law, there is usually no statistically significant reduction in deaths, and in some cases (Manitoba comes to mind) the number of deaths rises. Also, the number of pedestrian deaths usually also rises.

    Opposition to those laws was almost always on libertarian grounds. Even the opponents of seat belt laws assumed that such legislation would reduced road fatalities; they simply dismissed this as irrelevant.

    The most reasonable explanation of the actual observations is that people seem to drive slightly more aggressively if they are made to wear seat belts; the safety benefit is consumed as a performance benefit instead. That would also explain the increase in pedestrian deaths after such legislation is passed. “Risk compensation” is the term Adams uses to explain this.

    I’m not a libertarian, and I’d wear a seat belt even without a law. (I’ve been in 3 collisions, and have benefited from wearing a seat belt in each.) But how many other health and safety rules do we follow or mandate because “everyone knows” that they protect us, even though the evidence does not support them?

    I once read something similar about big vehicles. People feel safer in them and take more chances. Anecdotally, when I drove a little car in L.A. and shared the highways with type-A competitive freaks in SUVs, I was WAAAY careful.

  8. Andrew

    I’ll link it: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7365599n

    It’s confounding how the doctor can hold two opposite beliefs in her head at the same time without exploding:

    1. If you are male you must eat 1600 calories a day.
    2. It is safe to go low-carb if you also go low-fat.

    Please explain, Dr. Jennifer Ashton, what I’m supposed to eat on a 1600 calorie, low-carb, low-fat diet? 1600 calories of chicken breast? She sputters out a politically correct stream of words that boil down to, “Everything you know about dieting is probably wrong, but I’m too scared for my job to tell you anything different than what you already believe.” The best thing she did the whole time was pointing out that the study that found Jenny Craig to be #1 was paid for by Jenny Craig.

    “We gauged how well they matched federal guidelines.”

    “Low-carb diets can be safe if you’re still getting the healthy carbs like whole grains … and not substituting high fat in place of those carbs you’re trying to avoid.”

    Head. Bang. On. Desk.

  9. Ginger

    What may eventually happen is that the doctors will reverse their thinking on animal fats and then blame the government for the problem, which while somewhat true, the big question we are still left with is how so many doctors were fooled into believing the low-fat myths in the first place. In listening to the doctors who didn’t buy into it or stopped buying into it, the story is always the same, “Something about the low fat thing didn’t seem to make sense from a biological standpoint”. So are we to believe that only a few “radical” doctors and “quacks” thought animal fat was good because they understood the human body and the whole rest of Western medicine didn’t/doesn’t? Or is this really consensus medicine at work? Most doctors knew low fat was bad, but were afraid to recommend anything else? In the end, I think kids entering the medical and nutrition professions are told what to preach as acceptable and then they graduate and perpetuate this stuff without question – after all, “everyone knows fatty meats will kill you”.

    I think it’s two things: 1) As a doctor recently told me, medicine is supposedly based on science, but most doctors aren’t taught to actually think like scientists, and 2) going against the standard advice can get you sued if a patient who was going to die anyway happens to do so after you put him on a low-carb, high-fat diet. If the same patient dies after you follow standard protocol, you’re safe.

  10. johnmc

    The ‘nutrition geniuses’ at the USDA want to do one thing: sell us grain. Their entire existence hinges on that.

    Bingo.

  11. Jeff Kiefer

    Great post, but what is up with the HCG diet adverts?

    Google places the ads. They make some weird choices.

  12. Kristopia

    Unfortunately, I don’t think the government stance will change as early as 2015. The government is now too reliant on corporations, and one of the most powerful of those is Monsanto – a group so wrapped up in corn and grain that it will NEVER endorse a low-carb way of living. The ruling that allows corporations to appear as people in voting and political power cements that even more. Don’t expect the food pyramid to change anytime soon. 😉

    Monsanto and the USDA should just merge and get it over with.

  13. Jimmy Moore

    We need Willett and others who are becoming enlightened to be on the USDA Dietary Guidelines panel for 2015. I sense the tide is turning and quickly. It’ll take a few years for the public to become reeducated…but it’s gonna happen. And we’ll be there to help teach the lessons we’ve already figured out.

    Maybe next time you testify, they won’t look at you like you just flew in from Mars.

  14. Tracee

    “leading some of our foremost medical experts to ask whether government should get out of the business of telling Americans what to eat”

    I may see public thinking on diet change in my lifetime…maybe. But I would really love to see people ask why the government is telling us what to eat in the first place. We make fun of politicians and seldom trust them, but then we eat what they tell us too…hello…can anyone explain the logic to me…anyone?

    Preaching to the choir on that one. Having government get out of the nutrition-advice business would be my first choice. Having them get it right would be an improvement, but still means they’re mucking around in area where they don’t belong.

  15. PK

    My greatest hope about this trend is that eventually people will stop seeing the government as their all-knowing parent, realize that it’s pretty much always wrong, and go against it. But I know that’s probably an even more minority opinion *g*

    Every time I see some journalist justify dietary advice by quoting government guidelines, I want to scream. You may as well quote your plumber, who probably is just as well informed and far less biased.

  16. Amy Dungan

    It’s very encouraging to see some of these headlines. Makes what we do even more exciting as people look for more information on low-carb living. As you’ve said, we won’t likely change the guidelines, but we are starting to make them irrelevant. 🙂

    That’s the goal.

  17. Sue

    isn’t it interesting that the Dietary Guidelines are put out by the USDA instead of the FDA? or NIH? its all about the money.

    Indeed.

  18. Dana

    You should see how CBS News reported on that Consumer Reports study. I won’t link to it, and you can decide for yourself whether your BP needs raised about twenty points today.

    I can only imagine. I’d best get my desk-pad first to prepare for a head-bang-on-desk episode.

  19. Sam

    I really want to drop the carbs, but I am addicted to Powerade. I have made the switch to their “zero” branded ones which are (slightly) better, but I know there has to be a better option out there. Do you have any suggestions?

    That’s a tough one. I gave up my diet sodas in favor of iced tea or flavored fizzy waters (no sugar, no sweeteners).

  20. Thom

    From above “..rice is fattening..” lol. The Chinese and Indians sure doesn’t suffer from obesity and rice are the base of their food. Could it be that we in the west are just too lazy to get up and move our arses instead of sitting down to find a shortcut to skip exercise?

    1) Despite the rice, Asians consume fewer carbs overall than Americans, who consume rice, donuts, bread, cereals, sodas, pasta, ice cream and Little Debbie Snack Cakes.
    2) Now that they’ve become more prosperous and aren’t living on poverty rations, India and China both have burgeoning rates of diabetes. Heart disease is also rampant in India. I wouldn’t hold up the Indians as an example of fine health.
    3) Most forms of exercise do little to produce weight loss.

  21. David H

    I was ecstatic when a friend posted this on Facebook about his attempts to lose weight “The doctor told me to eat more meat and vegetables, and less carbohydrates if I want to lose weight. Finally a doctor who has common sense.
    ” He’s known rice is fattening, but never bothered with the effort, but now he has a green light to go ahead. Soooo happy that more and more doctors aren’t closed minded. But on the other hand I see more fat family members on my mom’s side trying to cut down on fatty foods with plans including veganism (I would like to point out you eat them with copious amounts of rice, bread and dough! and with poison (vegetable oil) But I’ll do my best not to give up hope!

    It will take some time, but I believe the tide is turning.

  22. The Older Brother

    @ Jim T re: seat belt mandates increase deaths. There’s a pretty fundamental concept called “moral hazard.”

    The idea is that — regardless of the stated good intentions — reducing the perceived pain or punishment associated with an unwanted behavior results in more of it.

    So forcing aggressive drivers to wear seat belts reduces the perceived risk of poor driving habits and results in worse behavior/more accidents.

    That’s why as Employee Assistance Programs were embraced across corporate America (that, for instance, offered counseling and treatment for drug or alcohol issues), incidents of drug and alcohol abuse tended to increase. The old “treatment” was you’d get fired. Bad. The new paradigm was you’d have to do some company-paid rehab, but the risk of losing your job was removed.

    You can argue whether it’s better or worse, but you’ll definitely get more of the unwanted behavior as people at the margins see the cost lowered below their risk threshold.

    Walter Williams, when discussing moral hazard, suggests that if you truly want safe, courteous drivers, the driver’s seat should be bolted to the front bumper of the car with no seat belts or other safety equipment!

    Cheers

    With granny sitting in a rocking chair on top?

  23. tracker

    The truth won’t be hidden forever. Once “everyone knew” the earth was flat, and that the stars were permanently pasted to the night sky.

    They’re not pasted up there? Why don’t they fall down?

  24. Nick

    Hey Tom….keep posting the truth! Thanks so much for being an advocate! Fat Head Rules!!!!!

    Thank you, Nick.

  25. Jim T.

    http://john-adams.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/risk%20and%20freedom.pdf

    This whole book, by Prof. John Adams of University College London, is quite interesting, but Chapter 5 will really raise your eyebrows, from the “everybody knows” perspective. It is about seat belt legislation.

    As Prof. Adams himself points out, there is abundant evidence that in the event of a motor vehicle crash, a motor vehicle occupant is far less likely to be killed or injured if he or she is wearing a seat belt. But when seat belt use is mandated by law, there is usually no statistically significant reduction in deaths, and in some cases (Manitoba comes to mind) the number of deaths rises. Also, the number of pedestrian deaths usually also rises.

    Opposition to those laws was almost always on libertarian grounds. Even the opponents of seat belt laws assumed that such legislation would reduced road fatalities; they simply dismissed this as irrelevant.

    The most reasonable explanation of the actual observations is that people seem to drive slightly more aggressively if they are made to wear seat belts; the safety benefit is consumed as a performance benefit instead. That would also explain the increase in pedestrian deaths after such legislation is passed. “Risk compensation” is the term Adams uses to explain this.

    I’m not a libertarian, and I’d wear a seat belt even without a law. (I’ve been in 3 collisions, and have benefited from wearing a seat belt in each.) But how many other health and safety rules do we follow or mandate because “everyone knows” that they protect us, even though the evidence does not support them?

    I once read something similar about big vehicles. People feel safer in them and take more chances. Anecdotally, when I drove a little car in L.A. and shared the highways with type-A competitive freaks in SUVs, I was WAAAY careful.

  26. Andrew

    I’ll link it: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7365599n

    It’s confounding how the doctor can hold two opposite beliefs in her head at the same time without exploding:

    1. If you are male you must eat 1600 calories a day.
    2. It is safe to go low-carb if you also go low-fat.

    Please explain, Dr. Jennifer Ashton, what I’m supposed to eat on a 1600 calorie, low-carb, low-fat diet? 1600 calories of chicken breast? She sputters out a politically correct stream of words that boil down to, “Everything you know about dieting is probably wrong, but I’m too scared for my job to tell you anything different than what you already believe.” The best thing she did the whole time was pointing out that the study that found Jenny Craig to be #1 was paid for by Jenny Craig.

    “We gauged how well they matched federal guidelines.”

    “Low-carb diets can be safe if you’re still getting the healthy carbs like whole grains … and not substituting high fat in place of those carbs you’re trying to avoid.”

    Head. Bang. On. Desk.

  27. Ginger

    What may eventually happen is that the doctors will reverse their thinking on animal fats and then blame the government for the problem, which while somewhat true, the big question we are still left with is how so many doctors were fooled into believing the low-fat myths in the first place. In listening to the doctors who didn’t buy into it or stopped buying into it, the story is always the same, “Something about the low fat thing didn’t seem to make sense from a biological standpoint”. So are we to believe that only a few “radical” doctors and “quacks” thought animal fat was good because they understood the human body and the whole rest of Western medicine didn’t/doesn’t? Or is this really consensus medicine at work? Most doctors knew low fat was bad, but were afraid to recommend anything else? In the end, I think kids entering the medical and nutrition professions are told what to preach as acceptable and then they graduate and perpetuate this stuff without question – after all, “everyone knows fatty meats will kill you”.

    I think it’s two things: 1) As a doctor recently told me, medicine is supposedly based on science, but most doctors aren’t taught to actually think like scientists, and 2) going against the standard advice can get you sued if a patient who was going to die anyway happens to do so after you put him on a low-carb, high-fat diet. If the same patient dies after you follow standard protocol, you’re safe.

  28. johnmc

    The ‘nutrition geniuses’ at the USDA want to do one thing: sell us grain. Their entire existence hinges on that.

    Bingo.

  29. Jeff Kiefer

    Great post, but what is up with the HCG diet adverts?

    Google places the ads. They make some weird choices.

  30. mezzo

    Jeff Kiefer: if you use Firefox for your browser, go to the addons and install AdBlockPlus. It removes all the ads – very nice feature. I hated all these attention-grabbing visual contamination, now my screen is as quiet as a Zen monastery.

    Re Fat in Films:

    Check the scene in “Pleasantville” where Jennifer and David walk to school on their first day after having ingested a traditional breakfast. Jennifer loudly complains about all those fatty foods that are damaging her insides….Otherwise – great film, I love it.

    Great film. I saw it years ago, so that remark didn’t catch my attention at the time. Funny how the kids back in those days managed to stay lean with damaged insides, eh?

  31. Paul

    Great blog. But a cautionary thought.

    As I understand it, low-carb works because it changes the way the body works and, in particular, insulin (hormone) levels. However, is it possible that the metabolic changes caused by (very) low carb diets could also have unfavorable effects on other hormones in susceptible individuals. For instance, I am a treated hypothyroid and my thyroid hormone levels fell back into hypothyroid territory when on low-carb. My weight loss stopped and I also got a tooth abscess – ouch!

    It is well known that untreated hypothyroidism is a risk factor for heart disease and is also bad news in pregnancy.

    Dr Davis has some blogs on thyroid which are well worth a look for starters.

    That’s a good point. Any diet and indeed almost any food can have a negative effect on someone.

  32. Kristopia

    Unfortunately, I don’t think the government stance will change as early as 2015. The government is now too reliant on corporations, and one of the most powerful of those is Monsanto – a group so wrapped up in corn and grain that it will NEVER endorse a low-carb way of living. The ruling that allows corporations to appear as people in voting and political power cements that even more. Don’t expect the food pyramid to change anytime soon. 😉

    Monsanto and the USDA should just merge and get it over with.

  33. gallier2

    Congrats Tom, that’s all your achievement… seriously. The McGovern part is the clue to it, except for Gary Taubes your film is the main source of the idea that the McGovern commity is a likely culprit in the obesity epidemy. This info in GCBC is drawned under hundreds of other scandalous factoids, so it doesn’t stand out. In Fathead, even if the sequence is quite short, it stands out. Because of the black&white, bad picture and sound quality, it is in stark contrast to the rest of the production. So even a casual viewing of the documentary will drive that point very deeply on the viewer. I suppose that the hulu and netflix distribution has much more impact than your natural humility will allow you to admit.

    I don’t know how many people have actually seen Fat Head, but I can tell you that when I found that news clip (after a LOT of searching), I was jumping up and down. Nothing is quite so convincing as seeing and hearing that doctor begging McGovern to avoid making recommendations until more research is done, and McGovern replying that he doesn’t have time to wait for all the evidence to come in.

  34. PK

    My greatest hope about this trend is that eventually people will stop seeing the government as their all-knowing parent, realize that it’s pretty much always wrong, and go against it. But I know that’s probably an even more minority opinion *g*

    Every time I see some journalist justify dietary advice by quoting government guidelines, I want to scream. You may as well quote your plumber, who probably is just as well informed and far less biased.

  35. Amy Dungan

    It’s very encouraging to see some of these headlines. Makes what we do even more exciting as people look for more information on low-carb living. As you’ve said, we won’t likely change the guidelines, but we are starting to make them irrelevant. 🙂

    That’s the goal.

  36. Sue

    isn’t it interesting that the Dietary Guidelines are put out by the USDA instead of the FDA? or NIH? its all about the money.

    Indeed.

  37. Sam

    I really want to drop the carbs, but I am addicted to Powerade. I have made the switch to their “zero” branded ones which are (slightly) better, but I know there has to be a better option out there. Do you have any suggestions?

    That’s a tough one. I gave up my diet sodas in favor of iced tea or flavored fizzy waters (no sugar, no sweeteners).

  38. Thom

    From above “..rice is fattening..” lol. The Chinese and Indians sure doesn’t suffer from obesity and rice are the base of their food. Could it be that we in the west are just too lazy to get up and move our arses instead of sitting down to find a shortcut to skip exercise?

    1) Despite the rice, Asians consume fewer carbs overall than Americans, who consume rice, donuts, bread, cereals, sodas, pasta, ice cream and Little Debbie Snack Cakes.
    2) Now that they’ve become more prosperous and aren’t living on poverty rations, India and China both have burgeoning rates of diabetes. Heart disease is also rampant in India. I wouldn’t hold up the Indians as an example of fine health.
    3) Most forms of exercise do little to produce weight loss.

  39. The Older Brother

    @ Jim T re: seat belt mandates increase deaths. There’s a pretty fundamental concept called “moral hazard.”

    The idea is that — regardless of the stated good intentions — reducing the perceived pain or punishment associated with an unwanted behavior results in more of it.

    So forcing aggressive drivers to wear seat belts reduces the perceived risk of poor driving habits and results in worse behavior/more accidents.

    That’s why as Employee Assistance Programs were embraced across corporate America (that, for instance, offered counseling and treatment for drug or alcohol issues), incidents of drug and alcohol abuse tended to increase. The old “treatment” was you’d get fired. Bad. The new paradigm was you’d have to do some company-paid rehab, but the risk of losing your job was removed.

    You can argue whether it’s better or worse, but you’ll definitely get more of the unwanted behavior as people at the margins see the cost lowered below their risk threshold.

    Walter Williams, when discussing moral hazard, suggests that if you truly want safe, courteous drivers, the driver’s seat should be bolted to the front bumper of the car with no seat belts or other safety equipment!

    Cheers

    With granny sitting in a rocking chair on top?

  40. Day

    Things might change, but it’s going to be a long slow pull. I just read this article http://247wallst.com/2011/05/17/the-american-companies-with-the-most-valuable-brands/3/, and was dismayed to see that fully eight of the top ten most valuable brands in the US are purveyors of virtually nothing but junk food.

    1)Mars
    4)PepsiCo
    5)Kraft Foods
    6)The Coca-Cola Co
    7)General Mills
    8)ConAgra Foods
    9)Kellogg’s
    10)Dr Pepper Snapple Group

    Combined those companies have a lot of clout with the government and media. Throw in Big Pharma and the battle to get the facts out seems daunting. Thanks for giving it your best, though.

    Those rankings may not be as disturbing as you’d think. If people buy eggs, pork, beef and vegetables from hundreds of sources, none of those sources will show up in a list like this, even if those foods are highly popular.

  41. mezzo

    Jeff Kiefer: if you use Firefox for your browser, go to the addons and install AdBlockPlus. It removes all the ads – very nice feature. I hated all these attention-grabbing visual contamination, now my screen is as quiet as a Zen monastery.

    Re Fat in Films:

    Check the scene in “Pleasantville” where Jennifer and David walk to school on their first day after having ingested a traditional breakfast. Jennifer loudly complains about all those fatty foods that are damaging her insides….Otherwise – great film, I love it.

    Great film. I saw it years ago, so that remark didn’t catch my attention at the time. Funny how the kids back in those days managed to stay lean with damaged insides, eh?

  42. Paul

    Great blog. But a cautionary thought.

    As I understand it, low-carb works because it changes the way the body works and, in particular, insulin (hormone) levels. However, is it possible that the metabolic changes caused by (very) low carb diets could also have unfavorable effects on other hormones in susceptible individuals. For instance, I am a treated hypothyroid and my thyroid hormone levels fell back into hypothyroid territory when on low-carb. My weight loss stopped and I also got a tooth abscess – ouch!

    It is well known that untreated hypothyroidism is a risk factor for heart disease and is also bad news in pregnancy.

    Dr Davis has some blogs on thyroid which are well worth a look for starters.

    That’s a good point. Any diet and indeed almost any food can have a negative effect on someone.

  43. Pete Ballerstedt

    Yes, there ARE grounds for optimism. Great post. But while we’re on this road, we need to guard against some of the new “everybody knows” ideas that are common in our own subculture. I call them “new conventional wisdom,” with a hat tip to Mark Sisson:
    http://grassbasedhealth.blogspot.com/2011/02/new-conventional-wisdom.html

    Thanks, again, for all you do. (I hope your desk is well padded!)

    Pete B.

    I agree completely. We should always be asking questions.

  44. gallier2

    Congrats Tom, that’s all your achievement… seriously. The McGovern part is the clue to it, except for Gary Taubes your film is the main source of the idea that the McGovern commity is a likely culprit in the obesity epidemy. This info in GCBC is drawned under hundreds of other scandalous factoids, so it doesn’t stand out. In Fathead, even if the sequence is quite short, it stands out. Because of the black&white, bad picture and sound quality, it is in stark contrast to the rest of the production. So even a casual viewing of the documentary will drive that point very deeply on the viewer. I suppose that the hulu and netflix distribution has much more impact than your natural humility will allow you to admit.

    I don’t know how many people have actually seen Fat Head, but I can tell you that when I found that news clip (after a LOT of searching), I was jumping up and down. Nothing is quite so convincing as seeing and hearing that doctor begging McGovern to avoid making recommendations until more research is done, and McGovern replying that he doesn’t have time to wait for all the evidence to come in.

  45. Milton

    I consider this to be step one in the process of getting the country on the proper dietary track. Step two will be the backlash as low-fat advocates fight back for various reasons (conditioned by Everyone Knows, protecting a reputation, protecting a job, protecting the cash flow from government grants, protecting the cash flow from statin manufacturers, etc). Step three will probably happen when a hacker dumps an email archive on a Russian server and we learn about how “Mike’s triglyceride trick” was being used to “hide the decline” in overall mortality when cholesterol readings go up.

    LOL. Did Mike rely on belt-ring data from just six or seven people to reach his conclusions?

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