Soda Tax, Low-Cal Options, Cancer Screening, Birth Weight

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Dr. Whelan on the Stand
ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan says, “I'll be testifying this morning before a New York State Senate health committee on the subject of nutrition policy for the state. Specifically, I will be addressing questions about whether or not we should implement a soda tax, demand calorie-count labeling in restaurants, or ban trans-fats on a statewide level.”

You can read Dr. Whelan's prepared testimony on these subjects on ACSH's FactsAndFears blog.

Speaking of Healthier Food Policies...
According to today's Wall Street Journal, “Restaurants from Applebee's to Starbucks are pushing new low-calorie menu items in an effort to attract customers who say they want healthier options. Chain restaurants, traditionally known for peddling fatty food and sugary drinks, hope that offering healthier fare will give them a competitive advantage, especially with the prospect of a federal nutrition labeling law looming.”

“It's interesting that there's been no federal requirement here, no laws telling these restaurants to do this,” says Stier. “They are offering healthier options in response to consumer demand and trying to gain a competitive edge, just like soda companies did by offering sugar-free options before there was ever talk of a soda tax. While we don't agree with the notion that restaurants or sugary drinks are to blame for obesity, we always welcome it when companies offer healthy choices. This can happen without heavy-handed government intervention.

“The beauty of the market in action here is that different companies are trying different things to appeal to health-conscious patrons. Compare that to the often-disproved, one-size-fits-all government approaches promoted by some of those who Dr. Whelan is testifying in front of today, and you'll see how the free-market approach is more likely to foster an environment where consumers can make better -- and more appealing -- choices.”

Good News About Bad Diseases
HealthDay reports on two breakthroughs in cancer screening. First, a study published in the February issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology suggests that contrast-enhanced ultrasound combined with proteomic analysis of blood samples -- which tests for proteins that serve as biomarkers for cancer -- may help detect early-stage ovarian cancer.

Also, “researchers report they've developed a test that detects early-stage pancreatic cancer by measuring levels of a protein that's present in 90% of cancerous and precancerous lesions.”

“Both ovarian and pancreatic cancers are very deadly and almost always diagnosed in late stages,” says Dr. Whelan. “If indeed this technology is effective, we're still left with two important questions. First, whom do we screen? We can't screen all women for ovarian cancer, and it's even harder to say whom to screen for pancreatic cancer. Second, even if we knew whom to screen, which is very mysterious, would catching these cancers earlier save lives? Theoretically, these are important breakthroughs, but practically we have a long way to go.”

Birth Weight Drops
A study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology by researchers at Harvard says that the average birth weight in the U.S. has dropped 1.8 ounces in the past fifteen years, reversing the trend of rising weights for the previous fifty years.

“This is puzzling because overweight women are prone to having overweight children, and obesity rates have stayed steady for the past decade,” says Dr. Whelan. “It's not a huge difference in birth weight, but the bottom line on this is that these researchers have no idea why this is.”

“I predict that the folks at the Environmental Working Group and the Natural Resources Defense Council will have their own explanation for this,” says Stier. “Without any real scientific hypothesis, this is a great opportunity for them to try to scare us again.”

Curtis Porter is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health (