Streep, Lead, TV, Soda, Smoking, and Ingredients

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The Award for Best "Eco-Mom" Goes to: Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep may not have won at the Oscars last night, but the Natural Resources Defense Council has declared her an "eco mom" and has interviewed her about her green/chemophobic approach to cooking. The irony, as ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan noted last year, is that Streep recently portrayed Julia Child, who hated the mounting paranoia over food ingredients.

Streep is aware of the irony and has denounced both Child and ACSH's take on the safety of our food supply. But then, Streep and ACSH have been at odds for twenty years, given her central role in promulgating one of the biggest food scares in American history: the groundless panic over the chemical Alar on apples.

More on Kids and Misplaced Caring
Much as we all sympathize with any mom out to aid kids, even when it comes to kids it's worth remembering that there are amounts too small to be biologically relevant -- that goes even for lead, despite an article in the Los Angeles Times suggesting that there is no safe level of lead whatsoever if one wants to avoid kidney damage in children.

ACSH's Jeff Stier says, "The claim is that there is mounting evidence that even extremely low levels of lead are harmful -- this seems more like litigation preparation than science...Whenever anyone says to you that only zero exposure is safe, it's usually a good indication they're overstating the science."

TV vs. Health (Directly or Indirectly)
So many of the studies (and media reports about those studies) that we criticize are troubling because of a tendency to treat things that are merely correlated as though one clearly caused the other.'s reporting of one recent study was a perfect example.

"There was a study that says watching TV causes all sorts of health effects," says Stier, but "any inactivity for a prolonged period is problematic." Watching TV is not uniquely dangerous, nor is sitting down or standing still, in the life of a generally-active, healthy individual. If TV is special in this regard, though, Stier suggests turning off MSNBC as a first step.

Target: Soda
A soda tax is looking more and more likely in New York State, with New York City's Mayor Bloomberg joining soda foes in the state capital to push the plan.

The industry group American Beverage Association is actually working with schools to reduce calories, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, a reminder that corporations these days are often more eager to look like part of the (ostensible) solution than to fight back against restrictions on their activities. Nonetheless, "I bet this won't satisfy the activists," says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. "I certainly believe a soda tax will bring in tax receipts big time -- but on the backs of consumers who can least afford it, and without clear evidence of public health benefit. The soda = obesity advocates work largely on supposition."

Stier notes that "at least AM New York says Bloomberg is being honest about part of the motivation here being to raise money, not just to curb obesity." (Might Bloomberg also know the answer to our recent question about who has the millions needed to fund the recent Healthier NY Now ad campaign in favor of soda taxes, including ones that ran during primetime Olympics coverage?)

Stier also notes that New York politicians had a summit of health officials to discuss the tax "and we were not invited." Perhaps that's because ACSH has been virtually the only health organization to point out how little sense this plan to demonize this one specific food makes. The politicians now make comparisons between soda and traditional vices such as cigarettes and alcohol, but, says Stier, "the only ones getting drunk off soda are the politicians drunk on thoughts of more money."

No Smoking, Even in the Home
Another of Mayor Bloomberg's targets for taxes and regulation, smoking, is one that we at ACSH naturally abhor. That doesn't mean, however, that we endorse every negative claim made about smoking or every regulation aimed at curbing it. Some landlords are now making rules against smoking even in one's own apartment, on the grounds that secondhand smoke might create health problems for neighbors.

We all agree smoking neighbors may cause annoyance or odors -- and that property owners can set the rules they like -- but "I think this just speaks to the politicized nature of dealing with this sort of situation," says Stier. "While we certainly discourage people from smoking, is someone smoking in his own home really endangering anyone else?"

Surely it can be annoying: Transient cigarette smoke can stink up curtains, towels, and bedding in adjacent apartment -- and if this happens, it is as intolerable as loud music -- and appropriate action should be taken to protect neighbors from this nuisance. But we are dealing here with a threat to quality and enjoyment of life, not a serious health hazard.

It would be troubling if this so-far voluntary effort by building owners became the basis for further regulation, says Stier. "Regulation should be narrowly tailored, and this is a blunt hammer. People don't think rationally about this. They just want to bash everything." While secondhand smoke can have effects such as increased ear infections in children chronically exposed to it, many of the claims made about its effect on heart and lung disease are exaggerated. Better to focus on avoiding becoming a firsthand smoker -- or quitting if you are one.

Warning: There Are Ingredients Inside This Food
On ACSH's HealthFactsAndFears blog, our advisor Dr. Dean Cliver offers an entertaining mock-denunciation of a pervasive, sinister presence in our food supply: ingredients. They're everywhere and may even be consumed by children. Call it silly if you will -- but it's no sillier than most of the paranoia ACSH combats daily.