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.

 

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 (https://github.com/Ottawa-mHealth/predictive-algorithms) and/or by providing online calculators (https://www.projectbiglife.ca).

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

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.

Ontario fast food restaurants will soon require food labels

Laura Wright for the CBC – Ontario fast-food labels could cause women to gain weight, public health advocate says:

Along with the calorie information, chain restaurants will have to display a “context statement” meant to help consumers better understand the calorie count. The statement will say adults require 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day, but that individual calorie needs vary.

Hospital food gets an update – only after the managers try it out

Elizabeth Payne at the Ottawa Citizen – Ottawa Hospital managers, after eating the food for a week, say changes are coming:

Getting food managers to eat three meals of hospital food a day for a week, he said, brought the point home that much of the food being served was bland, institutional and not what people would normally eat.

No kidding.

Maybe carbohydrates aren’t that bad after all

Julia Belloz at Vox – We’ve long blamed carbs for making us fat. What if that’s wrong?

The main scientific model behind the low-carb approach is the “carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis,” which journalist Gary Taubes, Harvard professor David Ludwig, and others have extensively promoted. It suggests that a diet heavy in carbohydrates (especially refined grains and sugars) leads to weight gain because of a specific mechanism: Carbs drive up insulin in the body, causing the body to hold on to fat and suppress calorie burn.

But what’s often lost in all the boosterism around the low-carb approach is that it is still an unproven hypothesis in science.

So they did a study to show whether a low-carb diet can actually help to reduce weight. 17 overweight or obese men in a metabolic chamber for 4 weeks and fed either a high carbohydrate diet or ketogenic diet with the same number of calories. Results? No increased body fat loss with the ketogenic diet.

But as Bazinet points out, “The study … doesn’t see any [relationship between a decrease in insulin and an increase in fat loss]. Show me a better study that supports this.”

There isn’t any, he added.

Ah. Conclusions?

Tobias urged dieters not to lose sight of the bigger picture. “Low-carb versus low-fat should not be the focus for people selecting a weight loss diet.” The focus, she said, should be on improving the quality of food that people eat instead.

On Fat and Sugar

Jill Eisen for the CBC – Fat and Sugar, Part 1

First, fat was the dietary bad guy. We were warned back in the 1980s to cut back on eggs, meat and full-fat dairy to avoid heart disease. So we started eating more bread, rice and pasta and fat-free snacks. But we got sicker and fatter. Now sugar is the bad guy. Contributor Jill Eisen explores the complex, and sometimes contradictory, science of nutrition — and tries to find clarity amidst the thicket of studies and ambiguous research.

There’s also a great list of research references and a reading list at the link, for more information.

Part 2 airs on June 22, 2016.