The sugar industry and paying scientists

Anahad O’Connor at the New York Times – How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat:

The documents show that a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation, known today as the Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent of about $50,000 in today’s dollars to publish a 1967 review of research on sugar, fat and heart disease. The studies used in the review were handpicked by the sugar group, and the article, which was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, minimized the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat.

Even though the influence-peddling revealed in the documents dates back nearly 50 years, more recent reports show that the food industry has continued to influence nutrition science.

That last sentence is what gets me. This is going on right now, and has been going on for ages. It’s nothing new, and also it’s what happens in many other industries. Scientists are a little better regarding disclosures of funding now than 50 years ago, but industry is where a lot of research money comes from. An industry finds scientists who are either on their side of the issue or are sympathetic to their issue and funds their research.

What we need to do is to understand the biases and keep them in mind when making decisions on health policy.

Sugar is a drug?

German Lopez for Vox – The case for treating sugar like a dangerous drug, with an interview with Robert Lustig:

GL: Is that really grounds for considering it a controlled substance, though?

RL: There are four things that have to be met in order to consider a substance worthy of regulation. Number one: ubiquity — you can’t get rid of it, it’s everywhere. Number two: toxicity — it has to hurt you. Number three: abuse. Number four: externalities, which means it has a negative impact on society.

Sugar meets all four criteria, hands down. One, it’s ubiquitous — it’s everywhere, and it’s cheap. Two, as I mentioned, we have a dose threshold, and we are above it. Three, if it’s addictive, it’s abused. Four, how does your sugar consumption hurt me? Well, my employer has to pay $2,750 per employee for obesity management and medicine, whether I’m obese or not.


Additional thoughts on simple healthy eating

As mentioned in my previous post, in our household we’ve made many small changes over time to come to where we are in our healthy eating habits (as much as we are able to). But I’ve been increasingly conscious of the fact that our ability to get to this point rests on a number of factors which are not available to everyone, such as:

  • We have the resources, both money and time, to purchase and cook unprocessed foods
  • We can purchase a wide variety of unprocessed foods and due to allergy concerns, must stay away from lightly and heavily processed foods
  • We have the willingness and the ability to cook at home

It’s just something to keep in my mind, when I talk to people about our path to what we believe is a healthier eating lifestyle, and the possible perceptions or misconceptions about our privileges in the matter.

The NYT Restaurant Critic

Ian Parker for the New Yorker – Pete Wells Has His Knives Out:

In the days before publication, Wells said, he weighed “every possible” star rating but four. Recalling the process, he put his hands on his head, in mock woe. “It’s a complicated restaurant, and still does some things well,” he said. But “they’re charging so much money. It got to a level of math that I can’t do! It broke the computers in my head.” He decided on two stars: “That seemed as good as anything.” Any fewer, he thought at the time, “would be such a punk move.”

A great piece on the New York Times restaurant critic.

Book – First Bite, by Bee Wilson

Bee Wilson – First Bite: How We Learn to Eat

I’m only half way through the book, but it’s very thought-provoking and relevant to us right now, since our toddler is just nearing the age of 3. Chapter 4 on Feeding discusses several styles of feeding children that researchers have divided them into:

  • Uninvolved: low warmth and low demands
  • Authoritarian: low warmth and high demands
  • Indulgent: high warmth and low demands
  • Authoritative: high warmth and high demands

Where ‘warmth’ is described as being the level of sensitivity to the child’s needs. I think of myself as being somewhere between Indulgent and Authoritative. I tend to indulge our son in many of his wants but he tends to be quite good in his ability to accept small indulgences (one or two mini chocolate chips, for example) as sufficient, so it’s never a worry for me. At the dinner table; however, I tend to ask him several times if he wants to try a food, or if he wants to finish his soup or if he’ll have one more bite of something. Especially after he starts getting down from his chair to go play. The danger being that the high demands may skew his liking of certain foods that we serve. Regardless, the take-away is best stated by Wilson:

The art of feeding, it turns out, is not about pushing “one more bite” into someone’s mouth, however healthy the food. Nor is it about authoritarian demands to abstain from all treats. It’s about creating a mealtime environment where – as in Clara Davis’s feeding experiment – those who are eating are free to develop their own tastes, because all of the choices on the table are real, whole food.


Simple healthy eating

Aaron E. Carroll for the New York Times, The Upshot – Simple rules for healthy eating:

All of these rules are subtly trying to get you to be more conscious of what you’re eating. It’s far too easy these days to consume more than you think you are, or more than you really need, especially when eating out. I’ve found that it’s impossible to tell any one person how much they should be eating. People have varying requirements, and it’s important for all of them to listen to their bodies to know when they should eat, and when they should stop.

I’ve found that making change is hard. How many times have I started running, only to stop a few weeks later due to illness and not getting back into it when I’m better? But we have made the change in our diets. Slowly and over time (in the last 4-5 years) we’ve made small changes that have resulted in weight loss (30+ lbs for me over that time), reduction in cholesterol levels and overall feeling better about my body image.

The burden of unhealthy behaviours

Project Big Life – Life expectancy calculator based on Canadian community health surveys. The calculator bases their predictions on your (truthful) answers to their questions on diet, exercise and a few other factors.

What Do These Findings Mean?

  • Unhealthy behaviours contribute to a large burden of reduced life expectancy.
  • Linked population health surveys create an opportunity to estimate burden of disease using individual-based data, as in our multivariable predictive approach, and to supplement existing aggregate approaches.
  • Multivariable risk algorithms can be validated and calibrated for potential application in over 100 countries, potentially allowing widespread use of multivariable approaches.
  • Multivariable risk algorithms are more complex than alternative approaches to measure burden from health behaviours, but their use can be facilitated by reporting the algorithm in machine-readable format ( and/or by providing online calculators (

My life expectancy is 87 years, with my health age being 31 years. Not bad for a 37 year old?

Creating demand and exclusivity

Nick Paumgarten for the New Yorker – The most exclusive restaurant in America:

His story caters to such gastronomes, as they vie for superlative experiences—most extreme, most local, most remote, most odd. Here’s a Fäviken, the exotic farmhouse restaurant in rural Sweden, except it’s just one guy, in Earlton, and it’s booked through 2025. Its implausibility may be as important to its appeal as any range of textures or tastes. In June, the blog Opinionated About Dining released its list of the top hundred restaurants in the United States, based on a survey of globe-trotting pilgrims like Merrihue. Baehrel came in fifth, ahead of any other restaurant east of Chicago. (Blue Hill at Stone Barns was seventh; Eleven Madison Park was fifteenth.) just named it the best restaurant in the state of New York. One evening in May, I happened to be watching “Jeopardy!,” and under the category “Almost Fanatical Devotion,” in which the other questions had to do with Stephen Colbert, Soul Cycle, and Phish, the following appeared on the screen: “There’s a 10-year waiting list for Damon Baehrel’s Earlton, N.Y. restaurant & its 5-hour this ‘menu’ of small portions.” A contestant guessed correctly: “What is the tasting menu?”

There’s no question that Baehrel’s food is good (per the reviews). But is it too good to be true?

On celebrity food endorsements

Allison Aubrey at NPR – This is how much celebrities get paid to endorse soda and unhealthy food:

What’s certain is this: Celebrity-backed food is here to stay. Even Oprah is poised to get in on the branded-food bandwagon.

A search of the the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database shows Oprah has applied to trademark a range of food products — from Oprah pancakes and popcorn to pizza, to name just a few on the list.

And the actual study by Bragg et al:

CONCLUSIONS: This study demonstrates that music celebrities who are popular among adolescents endorse energy-dense, nutrient-poor products.

Follow the money.

Male baby chicks won’t be going to the grinder anymore

Dylan Matthews for Vox – This is the best news for America’s animals in decades. It’s about baby chickens:

But ending chick culling has become possible recently due to technology. United Egg Producers says it will replace culling with “in-ovo egg sexing.” This is a process that can determine the sex of chicks before they develop inside their egg. That enables egg producers to terminate the male eggs and potentially use them to help make vaccines or for pet food (most humans would presumably be grossed out by cooking fertilized eggs). Horrific infanticides will be replaced with humane, painless chicken abortions.

Great news. No more grinding male baby chicks.