Thursday, January 10, 2013

Something must be done! Even if it's the wrong something.

Last Friday, on their pay site and in the dead-tree edition, The Chronicle ran an AP story focusing on a recent poll around public opinion on solving the obesity "crisis". ($$$)  Given that this is a story for which the Chron is inexplicably charging for access to I went out and found the same story (for free) at the Denver Post's online site.

There's a lot in this poll that will not surprise you.  Most Americans like the idea of calorie counts on menus, we like increasing physical activity for children, and we like the idea of nutritional education for children. We don't want the government telling us what we can and can't eat, and we definitely don't want the government limiting our choices. Unfortunately, for those of a progressive persuasion, the things that we don't want are exactly what they think we need, provide what we 'need' is in line with what they 'want' that is.
What bothers me, and what is the point of this post, is the following comment by one of the poll respondents:
"That's a start," said Khadijah Al-Amin, 52, of Coatesville, Pa. "The fat content should be put up there in red letters, not just put up there. The same way they mark something that's poisonous, so when you see it, you absolutely know."

Read more: Poll: Obesity's a crisis but we want our junk food - The Denver Post
Read The Denver Post's Terms of Use of its content:
The emphasis is mine.  And therein lies the rub.  Of all the things you ingest when you eat out the fat content is probably the least of your worries.  Those who fixate on it have fallen prey to something that's called the lipid theory.  What we've found out, after years of it being applied and the nation growing fatter, is that the science behind the lipid theory is not science at all.  In fact, it's almost totally junk science. It might help at this time to take a hard look at what the lipid theory has produced:

Margarine:  Which, we now know, is less healthy than the animal lard and butter that it was intended to replace. This is mainly due to trans fats, which are nasty little things that can actually go significant damage to your heart.

"Low Fat" supermarket items:  Which are loaded down with sugar, carbohydrates and other substitutes for fat, many of which have increased the rates of diabetes to never before seen levels.

"Safe" cooking oils:  We now know that the best cooking oils are natural ones period.

As a matter of fact, were I to list the dangerous things on a mythical, fast food, menu fat content would be well down the list behind carbohydrates, sugars and artificial flavorings and colors.  This is not to say that you should go out and eat a bucket of lard. But by focusing, and singling out, fat as similar to something that's "poisonous" is just wrong.

Then there's the argument that the government, who we're now looking toward to solve all of our problems has, in large part, gotten us into this mess in the first place. By subsidizing the corn and soy farmers they have inadvertently shifted our diets from leaves to seeds.  You can read a lot more about how they've done this in Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food".  By cheapening corn the government has reduced our dietary spectrum, made our meat less healthy by switching feed-stock from grass to meal, and we haven't even gotten to the stupidity that is ethanol. As for soy, there is an increasing amount of research showing that over consumption of the bean is bad for men.  Can we really trust the same people who have done this to us to bail us out of the issue?

Finally, there's the entire issue of What is really obese, and it it really all that bad for you to be overweight?  There's no doubt that, at this time, certain diseases are called "obesity related" but the fact is many of them might not be.  First off, it has been known for years now that BMI is a terrible way to measure health.  According to BMI measurements Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster are all obese.  As a matter of fact, pretty much everyone who is not an ecotomorph is probably going to be labeled "obese" by the measurement whether they are or not.

All of this brings us back to the poll which, as we're seeing, is the opinion of people who don't fully understand what is happening in health sciences these days.  And that's not meant as a knock on the public.  In my side job, as a features writer for Iron Man Magazine, it's my job to keep at least somewhat up to date on fitness and nutrition trends, and even I struggle with weight issues mainly due to my past acceptance of the lipid theory.  How in the world do we expect people to sort through all of the government provided misinformation to make dietary changes that might not even be necessary?

Once, on Twitter, I got into a discussion with a Texas Progressive about calorie counts on menus. He, naturally, thought this was a grand idea.  Even when I started to address the accuracy of the counts, and the enormous expense on testing foods to ensure accuracy, he wasn't deterred.  He figured the food industry would absorb the cost without passing it onto the customer if only they were made to.  He didn't understand that accurately tracking calorie counts would involve new government bureaucracy that would cost a lot and, to be honest, he didn't care.  All he wanted was for "big corporations" to pay for the damage that they had (in his mind) inflicted on society. I was able to walk him through a maze of regulation and testing that ultimately would cost taxpayers Millions of dollars to implement (because, that's what it would take) and he didn't skip a beat.  "Make 'em Pay".

Sadly, it doesn't really matter if what we're making them pay for is the true problem, or that they provide the right information, or if, given societies apparent inability to correctly apply the data, it would do any good at all.

Something! Must be done!  And I have a feeling something will be done. That it's going to be another wrong something is not the problem of those who are hell-bent on making it seem like we're addressing it.


  1. It is amazing how much crap is in our diets in the name of low fat.

    As much as I'm for calorie counts, people need to learn nutrition and act on it.

    Do you have a take on the "no sugar" theory of trying to remove sugar and HFCS from your diet?

  2. I think a little sugar is fine. But it's a high calorie density food so if you're trying to lose weight it's best to get it from natural sources w/fiber as in fruit. Contrary to what some say, I think HFCS is nutritionally identical to sugar but it's much cheaper so it's everywhere in our food supply which makes it more dangerous due to volume.

    All that said, I don't think a dessert at special occasions is going to sabotage any diet.


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