October 26, 2011

But what about all those studies?

Isn't it true that "studies show" eating low fat and whole grains prevents heart disease and cancer and fatness?


Because it's not ethical to lock a bunch of people in a room and randomly assign them to lives on weird diets, there's many ways science uses to get around this most direct approach. These ways, in turn, all have their own problems that need to be gotten around. And so forth.

This graph proves my point.
But the real problem is that so much of what we are told to eat comes with hidden agendas.

Once someone has an agenda, "studies" can be tormented into yielding up whatever is being sought.

These conclusions are then simplified in a way that highlights their controversial or frightening content once they reach most press outlets.

That's because such conveyors of information are not... conveyors of information.

They are ways of selling advertising.

If a media outlet's reason for being is to convey information, the resultant article will explain that this conclusion is tentative because it is from a rodent study, and common lab animals are known to react to foods differently than the way humans do. Or that this is a correlation, and such studies only suggest fruitful places to find theories, not create strong support for them. Or that this study was done through self-reporting, and those are notoriously inaccurate.

But if a media outlet's reason for being is to sell advertising, such dull facts will not get the job done. They need something dramatic, like Eating Fat Will Kill You. Only people who read all the way to the bottom will discover that trans-fats make cellular membranes unstable. Since they don't understand what that means, they will only remember the headline.

Then this same article will get used by someone who wants to sell statin drugs and scare people about cholesterol. Or by a vegan who is promoting their diet for political reasons but wants to make it about health. Or by a weight loss expert selling their low fat diet book.

There is strong evidence that trans-fats (if the label says partially hyrdogenated, beware!) are dangerous to health because of their dysfunctional effect on the way our cells transport nutrients and defend against intruders. So my example headline is accurate... but also misleading.

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