Occasionally Someone Listens
Darya Pino, the popular food blogger at Summer Tomato, argued (with the help of NYU's Dr. Marion Nestle) that the recent meta-analysis contradicting the assumed link between dietary saturated fat and heart disease was tainted because it was industry-funded. ACSH's Jeff Stier engaged her on the topic of conflicts of interest in the comments on the blog post.
“I made the case that, even if the study was funded by the dairy industry, so what?” says Stier. “The dairy industry makes money whether people buy whole or fat-free milk, so they have no incentive to corrupt this study. I also quoted from our report on conflicts of interest, saying that if you have a problem with the study, point to the problem with the study. Very often we offer our arguments on these issues with the understanding that we'll never convince some people, but in this case, to her credit, she actually ending up coming around.”
Pino updated her post, writing, “After speaking with readers and colleagues I have made some revisions of this article to clear up my stand on this research. I do not intend to imply that the investigators of this study were influenced by their funding source, only that caution should be used when interpreting the results of any meta-analysis where there is a potential conflict of interest.”
“She got that right,” adds Stier. “We encourage Dr. Nestle and others to use such caution less selectively, such as when the results are in line with their policy agendas. Talk about bias.”
ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan notes, “Every once in a while, substantive debate can convince some people and those that follow their work.”
So the Plot of The Hulk Is Unrealistic, Then?
The FDA is working to reduce unnecessary radiation exposure from medical X-rays and scans in light of their investigations of over 300 patients at four hospitals who were over-radiated by CT scans used to detect strokes.
“There are instances where poorly calibrated or administered radiation therapy can leave patients burned,” says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. “But these events have nothing to do with the allegedly cancer-causing 'over-dosage' of diagnostic radiation. In fact, our peer review publication, 'Nuclear Energy and Health, and the Benefits of Low-Dose Radiation Hormesis,' concludes that the amount of radiation from medical procedures is not a threat to our health and can even be beneficial. It details how the amount of ionizing radiation we get from normal cosmic rays and environmental radiation far outweigh the dosage of medical tests. There are laws about radiation exposure, and those laws should definitely be followed, but the dogma that one photon of gamma radiation can cause cancer is simply not true.”
Consumers Union: Go Back to Burgers
Jim Prevor's Perishable Pundit blog points out the “lack of sophistication with which Consumers Union approaches the science” in their recent revelation that packaged salad can contain bacteria.
“Sure, Consumers Union is very good at finding bacteria; there's bacteria everywhere that won't necessarily make us sick,” says Stier. “It's unfortunate that people are being scared away from healthy, conveniently packaged vegetables at a time that our country is so concerned about dealing with obesity. Here the vegetable producers and marketers have offered a valuable tool to make vegetables more available, and the scar-mongers at Consumers Union are trying to alarm us about something on unscientific grounds. It's basically an effort to further a legislative goal of more food safety regulation.”
Dr. Ross adds, “Foodborne illness is a problem, but pointing out how many leafy vegetables have coliform bacteria on them does not add to the discussion about food safety.”
A Wakeup Call for Obese Rats
A new study published in the journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology reveals that obese rats give birth to newborns with altered body chemistry that puts them at greater risk for Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and other ills.
The study's co-author, Staci D. Bilbo of Duke University, is quoted by Live Science as saying, “Our hope is also that these data will lead people to consider the consequences of their dietary intakes not only for their own health, but also for their children's health, and potentially even their grandchildren's health.”
Live Science's coverage of the study featured the headline: “Mom's Obesity May Affect Baby's Health.” Dr. Ross observes, “This alarming headline gives no clue that, not only is this study based on rats, but the data was gleaned from newborn rats' brains, and their release of 'injurious substances known as cytokines.' There's nothing wrong with collecting this data, and it might even prove useful in human studies some day, but to say this headline is a gross and baseless extrapolation is an understatement, and all involved are to blame: The authors' statements, the journal's, and the reporter all conspired to aggrandize this small rodent chemical analysis.”
When They're Right, They're Right
Today's Wall Street Journal editorial page reluctantly admits, “Rarely is there much good to say about the Obama Administration's healthcare agenda, so its childhood anti-obesity campaign is a welcome turn. The American waistline is a genuine public health concern, and the White House's ideas may even do some good.”
“We may find things about Michelle Obama's plan to pick at eventually,” says Stier, “but for now, we are impressed with how she is handling this. For example, she went out of her way to say that it's okay to have a burger now and then, which gave heartburn to those that thought she was on their side when it comes to demonizing food. She's also not pushing 'organic' foods too much. We were the first to compliment her when she announced her plan, and we're pleased to see the Wall Street Journal editorial page is seeing eye to eye with her as well.”
“This is the way government should be involved,” says Dr. Ross, “by educating and encouraging.”
Curtis Porter is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org).