Obesity, Epigenetics and a Wild Card

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DNA methylation is one of several epigenetic processes that cells can use to control gene expression by switching genes off. Apparently, we can influence the impact of DNA methylation by avoiding sugar and stress, and by getting enough quality sleep, and probably through a multitude of other means that we don’t even know about yet.

As Bailey Kirkpatrick says:

Perhaps even more intriguing is the discovery that certain epigenetic marks may be maintained and passed on through generations, known as transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. Ultimately, the inconsistent evidence indicates to us that the molecular mechanisms by which these tags are inherited have yet to be understood. Currently, the evidence points to more questions than answers.

Not long ago, a large international study found that high BMI subjects had DNA methylation tags “at more than 200 areas on the genome.” Also, “the researchers showed that the epigenetic changes occurred as a result of being overweight.” In other words, “alterations in DNA methylation are predominantly the consequence of adiposity, rather than the cause.”

The thing is, these changes can be passed along to the innocently unsuspecting next generation. This might be good to keep in mind, for any parent who blames a child for being fat. There is reason to suspect that the “sins of the fathers” (an expression from the King James Bible) might be responsible for the next generation’s woes, through epigenetic transmission.

The markers are, writes Eric Boodman, “like Post-it notes stuck onto the DNA telling a cell whether or not it should express a specific gene.” He reports on a study of six obese men who underwent weight-loss surgery:

By comparing sperm from before and after the surgery, they could see that the dramatic shift in a man’s weight also changed the epigenetic tags in his reproductive cells.

After centuries of the onus for everything falling on mothers, the accountability of fathers has become a real issue. For instance, a study of obese fathers showed that “The microRNA signatures of the father’s sperm and his daughter’s breast tissue was changed… [M]ammary gland development was altered and there was an increased risk of breast cancer in their daughters.”

Prepare for a shock

New and potentially explosive research from Serbia has found, as the title of a PLOS article has it, “Evidence for host genetic regulation of altered lipid metabolism in experimental toxoplasmosis supported with gene data mining results.” The parasite Toxoplasma gondii, spread by rats and mice via cats, is present in one-third of humans worldwide. The infection can exist in either acute or chronic form, and is suspected of contributing to mental health disorders such as schizophrenia. Affected fetuses can develop neurological and ocular diseases.

In the quoted study:

The results showed that acute infection was associated with a decrease in Chl content in both the liver and periphery (brain, peripheral lymphocytes), and a decrease in Chl reverse transport… We propose that the observed changes in Chl metabolism are part of the host defense response.

The liver plays a crucial role in lipid metabolism, which affects a person’s vulnerability to obesity and diabetes. The thing about T. gondii is, it can’t synthesize the cholesterol it needs, “and thus depends on uptake of host Chl for its own development.”

According to the study:

In acute infection, the host responds by an attempt to deprive the parasite of Chl, necessary for tachyzoite proliferation and development. The influence of T. gondii infection on Chl metabolism may have a significance beyond this immediate effect, as Chl influences various key physiological processes such as role in the metabolism of lipid soluble vitamins, synthesis of sex hormones etc.

Is it such an absurd idea that this widespread parasitic infection might have something to do with the obesity epidemic? One barrier to complete understanding is simply the immense number of variables that must be accounted for.

A person has about 20,000 genes. They act in different combinations, and an awful lot of traumas can happen to DNA that are capable of influencing the expression of those genes.

Another problem is that people get hold of one bit of news, and go crazy jumping to conclusions. It will take an incredible amount of research to sort out what is going on, and then more research to figure out what can be done about it.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Epigenetics: Avoiding the Pull of Pseudoscientific Nonsense,” WhatIsEpigenetics.com, 11/03/15
Source: “Being Overweight Adds Distinct Epigenetic Marks to DNA,” WhatIsEpigenetics.com, 12/27/16
Source: “A father’s sperm could predict whether his child will be obese,” StatNews.com, 12/03/15
Source: “Overweight Fathers May Epigenetically Increase Their Daughters’ Risk of Breast Cancer,” WhatIsEpigenetics.com, 07/05/16
Source: “Evidence for host genetic regulation of altered lipid metabolism in experimental toxoplasmosis supported with gene data mining results,” PLOS.org, 05/01/17
Photo credit: Flavio via Visualhunt/CC BY

Fat-Shaming, a Longtime Tradition

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A lot of people certainly want fat-shaming to be effective, and, sadly, many of them are parents. There are too many instances where parents damage a child because their own self-esteem and reputation are at stake. They don’t want the world to look down on them, blaming and shaming them for having an overweight child. So they pass it along, which is a failing strategy and a great unkindness.

Other fat-shamers, like siblings, age peers and strangers, don’t really have any skin in the game, so to speak. If the obese child should happen to lose weight, they just move on and find another target for their bullying. When attacking adults who are too big, other grownups have an arsenal of weapons, from guilting them because they won’t live to see their kids grow up, to suggesting that fat people should pay more taxes to compensate for the general aggravation they cause society. (Just kidding. The reason given is they they show “poor personal responsibility.”)

In the case of New Jersey governor Chris Christie, some constituents began to mutter that a guy who couldn’t control his own appetite should probably not be running a state. It may have been fat-shaming that motivated him to have bariatric surgery, but as for whether it helped him become a better politician, the jury is still out.

The career

Then, there are professional fat-shamers whose only interest is in building their YouTube or Twitter following. Of course, this ambition is disguised in a cloak of concern, and they may even regard themselves as brave prophets who just want to help.

Video personality Nicole Arbour, for instance, achieved brief notoriety by making it her mission to offend people into losing weight. Someone floated the idea of popularizing “Tell a Friend They’re Chubby Day.” Emily Shire of The Daily Beast defined this urge as stemming from an erroneous belief that “you can tease and torture people into weight loss.”

Other professionals, with earnest good intentions, are sometimes accused of fat-shaming. Who can forget the turmoil in the state of Georgia when a certain collection of billboards appeared along the roadsides? Ron Frieson of the Georgia Children’s Health Alliance created the ad campaign based on the premise that kids want straight talk. Of course, controversy ensued, and there were some bitter complaints. But in response to a news organization’s inquiry, more than half the people polled said that the billboards were just the wake-up call that parents seemed to need.

Plenty of shame to go around

Meanwhile, across the nation, hardcore resisters of the “nanny state” groused about Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! program. Some paranoid types insinuated that by trying to transform America into a no-fat-kids zone, the former First Lady meant to commit a kind of genocide. Even the gentler critics were convinced that trying to make school lunches more nutritious was a sneaky form of bullying.

Plus-size models feel fat-shamed, because they would prefer to be known simply as models. On a bad day, an overweight person might feel that entire industries exist just for the joy of fat-shaming. Otherwise, why are there no clothes that fit, or movie theater, airplane, or amusement-park ride seats that are capable of being sat in?

Last year, Glamour magazine included comedian Amy Schumer in its issue praising women who are “Chic at Any Size.” Schumer, who did not appreciate being classified along with Melissa McCarthy, Ashley Graham, and vocalist Adele, identified the Glamour editors as “not cool.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Amy Schumer Slams Glamour,” Greatist.com, 04/05/16
Photo credit: Daniel Oines (dno1967b) via Visualhunt/CC BY

When Fat-Shaming Doesn’t Work

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Jenny Kanevsky sang in a rock band, went to grad school, ran a business, tried stand-up comedy, wrote a novel, and raised two children. Considering the obstacles she faced growing up as a broad-shouldered, rather hefty girl, it is rather wonderful that she emerged as such a versatile and self-realized being. As a grownup who has been through the wringer, she wants the world to understand that “No one changes by being shamed.”

This was her childhood:

I was strong. I was a swimmer… I was an athlete… Given that passion and, if left to my own devices with food choices, I am convinced, I’d have developed a healthy body image and a normal size for my bones.

But there were bullies at school, eager to punish her for being a poor kid with the wrong religion. In the societal environment, there was the ubiquitous presence of skinny models on magazine covers and on television.

To top it all off, she had “already been shamed by my family who watched every morsel that passed my lips.” Even so, Kanevsky does not deeply blame her parents, who were caught in the drama of a crumbling marriage. In their distracted way, they cared, and worried about her unpromising fat-girl future. Sometimes they resorted to hiding food.

Kanevsky writes:

I was watched, judged, criticized, and shamed. I was willed, shamed to change… As a result, I developed a full-blown eating disorder. I snuck food and binged. I dieted obsessively, exercised chronically, and the cycle was in place.

All through college, the constant loss and gain of weight felt like living on a roller coaster. At some point, sick with frustration at the everlasting fluctuation, Kanevsky experienced what she describes as a metamorphosis. She studied up on eating disorders and realized that the unconscious fear of future deprivation was a strong driver of her voracious appetite.

Even someone mired in an emotional swamp may seize upon a rational point and use it as the impetus to get out of the vicious cycle. A firm grasp of an objective truth can promote helpful self-talk.

A person might think, “Stop looking at that serving plate. You’ve had enough, and you know it’s just some primitive, deluded corner of your brain panicking because there may not be anything to eat tomorrow. But you have a good job and a full refrigerator, you’re not going to starve, and you need to push back your chair and get up from this table right now.”

Meghan Tonjes made a video called “Hate the Donut, Not the Fatty.” She was tired of people giving her grief in real life and online, and disgusted with a culture that glorifies food, then judges and ostracizes people who appear to enjoy food too much. She was weary of being expected to explain the obesity of others, and to express an opinion about it. But then, there is also the opposite, oppressive reaction to cope with:

The minute a fat girl opens her mouth to say, “Hey! Stop doing this!” people are like, “Just go for a walk and eat a salad, and then we’ll like you enough to respect your opinion…”

Tonjes speaks to fat-shamers lucky enough to grow up in environments where access to fresh, real food was taken for granted, with caring mentors who demonstrated how to obtain nourishment without dragging in a bunch of emotional baggage. She scolds these people who don’t acknowledge their own good fortune:

Realize that your experience in life is not everyone’s experience. Your access to food, nutrition, all these things, there’s privilege in that, and you don’t know everyone’s story…

A lot of you assume that we’re just an example of what’s wrong with the world, without taking any responsibility for the fact that you’re a part of it.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “It’s Time to Love, Not Shame Your Body,” HuffingtonPost.com, 03/18/15
Source: “Woman Explains Why Shaming ‘Fat People’ For Eating Junk Food Is So Bad,” EliteDaily.com, 07/20/15
Images: @phantomunmasked

Fat-Shaming in American Culture

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The 1985 film The Goonies included what appears to be a classic bit of media fat-shaming. In a memorable scene, before his friends would let him inside, one boy had to hop up on a tree stump and do the “truffle shuffle,” a maneuver that involved lifting his shirt and jiggling his chubby tummy.

Director Richard Donner called it a “painful scene” and arranged to help young actor Jeff Cohen get his life in order. Thirty years later Donner told the press:

I got him a gym and some instruction and someone to work with. He lost lots of weight and built this great physique and became captain of his wrestling team in high school, captain of his football team, and president of his school class for two years in a row.

Unfortunately, casting directors were only interested in Cohen for “fat kid” roles, and rather than return to acting, he went on to become instead an entertainment lawyer and professional writer.

A previous post mentioned Childhood Obesity: Ethical and Policy Issues, written by Dr. Garrath Williams and two coauthors. Dr. Williams followed up with an article discussing artwork chosen for the book cover, and the iconography of obesity in general.

He objects to the tendency of editors to “reach for a small stock of images”:

There’s the headless fat person… There are pictures of food… Pictures of bathroom scales or tape-measures or calipers invite us to fixate on body size…

These images aren’t just cliches, though — they’re misleading and even stigmatizing. Pictures of fat bodies, robbed even of the dignity of an individual face, are worst of all. They perpetuate vicious stereotypes of laziness, gluttony, and even stupidity — as if obese people were just space- and food-consuming objects, not people who contribute to society and struggle and love and make mistakes like everyone else.

A 2011 study by Rebecca M. Puhl, Ph.D. (Senior Research Scientist at Yale University’s
Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity), and two colleagues gathered information to assess the need for laws against weight discrimination. Its title posed the question, “Obesity in the news: do photographic images of obese persons influence antifat attitudes?”

The Abstract read:

Results indicated that participants who viewed the negative photographs expressed more negative attitudes toward obese people than did those who viewed the positive photographs. Implications of these findings for the media are discussed, with emphasis on increasing awareness of weight bias in health communication and journalistic news reporting.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “How the ‘truffle shuffle’ helped turn The Goonies’ ‘Chunk’ into a star athlete,” NationalPost,com, 09/04/15
Source: “Picturing childhood obesity: what’s behind the cover?,” Lancaster.ac.uk, 06/11/14
Source: “Obesity in the news: do photographic images of obese persons influence antifat attitudes?,” NIH.giv, April 2011
Twitter images (top to bottom) by @Melonenbrot@ilovegreggo@hdfatty@starkspectre

Disappointment in the United Kingdom

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Still attempting to catch up with the multitudinous events on the obesity front in the United Kingdom, we looked at the historic “Childhood obesity: a plan for action,” released in August of 2016 and updated three months ago. The report divulged some alarming statistics, such as the most recently calculated yearly cost to the National Health Service (NHS) of treating illnesses related to overweight and obesity, which was £5.1 billion (a little over $6.5 billion).

It also said:

We [the UK] spend more each year on the treatment of obesity and diabetes than we do on the police, fire service and judicial system combined.

Let’s put that another way. If the costs of policing the country, and putting out fires, and running the courts — three vital public services — are all added together, that total is less than the amount spent on treating obesity and diabetes.

In order to avoid the impending NHS financial disaster, Point #2 “challenged” food manufacturers to reduce by 20% the sugar in the nine categories of junk food that children are most likely to eat. Makers of breakfast cereal, cookies, yogurt, cakes, pastries, candy, puddings, ice cream, and sweet spreads are being asked to do this voluntary action, sometime between now and 2020.

Point #5 suggested putting better stuff in vending machines. In other words, the “plan for action” was underwhelming.

Weak sauce

Obesity researcher Zoe Harcombe’s take on the so-called action plan was less than flattering. She counted up the number of times the word “encourage” appears — 10 times in 13 pages. Apparently, if the government attempted to make any measures obligatory, it would upset the whole British applecart. So, corporations are being asked nicely to do things they have not the least desire to do.

Children are also encouraged to do something, namely, to be active for at least an hour a day. Primary schools are encouraged to provide the means of obtaining this physical activity. The new soda tax is expected to kick in a share of the revenues to fund school sports.

Harcombe remarked:

The government clearly thinks that children can outrun a bad diet. The more soft drinks that are consumed, the more money there will be to fund children to try to burn off the soft drinks. It’s so daft it’s almost funny.

She also takes issue with the whole idea of the “traffic light” food labeling plan, saying,

If you want clearer food labelling, how about “Don’t eat anything that requires a label!”

Apparently, the long-awaited plan to deal with childhood obesity was touted as being SMART, i.e. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Instead, Harcombe judged it to be the opposite:

The report is complete waffle and vagueness. There is nothing tangible; no targets; no key performance indicators; nothing measurable… Going through the 14 points, 1 may not happen; 2 won’t happen and 3-14 would make no difference or make things worse (by reinforcing current bad dietary advice).

Harcombe has irreconcilable differences with the British government’s concept of healthy eating, “based as it is on starchy foods (sugar in different forms),” and so concludes on a pessimistic note:

If the dietary advice were sound, children would not need to outrun it. Given that it’s not, children have got no chance.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Childhood obesity: a plan for action,” Gov.uk, January 2017
Source: “UK Childhood Obesity ‘Strategy’,” ZoeHarcombe.com, 08/22/16
Photo credit: Robert Huffstutter via VisualHunt/CC BY

More About BFRBs

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In the previous post we saw how a lab rat in physical discomfort might deal with that feeling by eating as much as possible, even if the food is nothing special, but only mundane rat chow. In the first W8Loss2Go trial, Dr. Pretlow found that the main stumbling block for participants was the inability to stop eating too much at mealtimes. Hyperpalatable treats were not the temptation here, but standard nourishing food that would be perfectly fine in moderate amounts, and only becomes problematic with overconsumption.

This looks like a sign that a lot of unnecessary eating takes place for purposes other than fueling the body. Many times, people who can’t stop eating are looking for distraction, in the hope of escaping negative or uncomfortable sensations. This describes displacement activity.

Many former smokers say it isn’t really the tobacco they miss, but having something to do with their hands — the familiar motions of pulling a cigarette from the pack, maybe tamping the end on a flat surface, lighting the cigarette, blowing out the plume of smoke, tapping the ash… Where there used to be comforting repetitive behaviors, now there is nothing.

Eating addiction

During the years when Dr. Pretlow has been developing his ideas about food addiction, it has become clear that the condition could more accurately and appropriately be called eating addiction. Of course, when any aspect of the human condition is sorted out, there are always causes, effects, and associated phenomena that are neither cause nor effect.

Humans are notorious for being complicated. Dr. Pretlow has said:

I believe that stress eating is an entire realm of overeating that is fueling obesity, separate and distinct from comfort eating. Stress eating is likely even more contributory to obesity than comfort eating.

There are many nuances. Sensory addiction plays a part, because we seek the comfort we felt as babies, quaffing from breast or bottle. On the motor addiction and nervous eating bands of the spectrum, there is not only sucking, but biting, chewing, gnawing, crunching, and swallowing. They all play their parts in the behavioral addiction of overeating.

As it turns out, food addiction appears to be not so much a substance addiction as was previously thought. In other words, it’s more about sensation than chemistry. Or is it? There is plenty of evidence that many pseudo-foods are specifically engineered with the conscious intention of rendering them irresistible, which is a synonym for addictive.

Also, there are copious anecdotal sagas of people whose eating disorder fixates on one particular food. Still, it is undeniable that repetitive behaviors are incredibly captivating to the psyche. The whole concept of the hand-to-mouth motion as a powerful addictor is worth a separate discussion or at least a digression at some point.

Sleepy drivers are advised to chew gum, which is said to stimulate blood flow to the brain. So maybe chomping on popcorn really does help a student to study. Childhood Obesity News has written a lot about Horace Fletcher, the Guru of Chew who advocated extended mastication even after food is thoroughly pulverized. This body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) undoubtedly aids the digestion, and may also promote mental health, by constituting a displacement activity that burns off a lot of emotional energy that might otherwise be misdirected.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Image by WiffleGig

Self-Inflicted Wounds

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Research has been done involving lab rats, standard rat chow, and hyperpalatable foods. To see the whole fascinating picture, view the presentation that Dr. Pretlow recently took to the Global Conference on Obesity Treatment and Weight Management — especially slides 14-19.

Rats raised on lavish banquets will get fat — no surprise there. More intriguing is the evidence that, once they have gotten used to cheesecake, bacon and cake frosting, rats will put up with considerable pain to get more high-sugar, high-fat goodies.

Conversely, if rats who have only ever known nutritious and boring pellets are offered the good stuff — at the cost of enduring an electric shock first — well, those rats Just Say No. They are not that interested in discovering what gourmet fare is all about.

But never mind the fancy treats. This next part is about dull, everyday kibble. As we can see in Slide 21, a rat stressed by the nagging discomfort of a clamp on its tail, and given the chance to overeat standard rat chow, will do so to the point of obesity.

To Dr. Pretlow, this resembles displacement behavior “which is what animals do when they’re stressed.”

There is never not stress

Back in the Great Depression, when people could not afford dentistry, they invented folk remedies, such as self-inflicted torture. If you had a toothache, you could pinch yourself on the arm and obtain a very brief distraction. As long as you felt terrible anyway, you could do some hated job, like scrubbing a floor on hands and knees. If the pain was bad enough, you could repeatedly bang your head against a wall for a perverse kind of relief.

Back then, of course, people were unlikely to deal with either physical, mental or emotional pain by overeating. There simply wasn’t that much food around.

Overeating to drown out existential angst can only make things worse. When a person’s coping mechanism is a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB), like shoveling in spoonful after spoonful of sugary cereal, this qualifies as self-sabotage.

Very few people’s lives are improved by the addition of extra pounds. Many Americans — more than two-third of adults and about one-third of children — are overweight or obese. If asked to describe how being overweight or obese improves their lives, few would have a ready answer, because it doesn’t.

Compulsive eating is a big topic, and, as the saying goes, “It’s complicated.” For Psychology Today, Billi Gordon, Ph.D., wrote:

Emotional eating is always symbolic eating and among the chief architects of compulsive and binge eating. The probable source of conditioned fear is the associative, collateral context of aversive objects and events. It’s also likely that compulsive overeaters have more conditioned fears than normal eaters because they have more aversive experiences.

As Dr. Pretlow has said, “The bottom line is, how do we treat BFRB-type compulsive eating?”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model,” Weigh2Rock.com, 2017
Source: “Symbolic Eating,” PsychologyToday, 11/23/13
Image: Weight2Rock

The Dietary Guidelines Saga

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The Congressional hearing about the revision of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans came up in October of 2015. As we discussed, tension was in the air between the writer Nina Teicholz and people who thought she was not acting ethically. The other side was aghast at the knowledge that The BMJ had been paid by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to publish an article in which Teicholz criticized the proceedings of the Guidelines committee.

On the eve of the hearing, a new political action group suddenly emerged. This was the Nutrition Coalition, and the response of the other players was “skeptical” to put it mildly. In addition to the controversial journal article, Teicholz had written a book proposing that dietary fat is not such a bad thing. She generously distributed copies around Washington to influential people whose acquaintance she was able to make through the Nutrition Coalition’s lobbyists.

Bill Tomson at Politico learned that the Nutrition Coalition/Arnolds had already spent, one way and another, somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million on improving nutrition science. Their foundation claims not to be rigidly biased, and to be genuinely interested in pursuing truth no matter where the chase leads. The blogger known as CarbSane goes into great detail about the funding mechanisms that are utilized to advance the Arnolds’ interests.

There is not necessarily anything wrong with these strategies. It is the way things are done. And just because someone publicizes a book that praises dietary fat, that does not mean dietary fat is ipso facto an evil.

Fancy hospitality and entertainment are always features of events designed to persuade thought leaders. For Politico, Chase Purdy and Helena Bottemiller Evich evoked the atmosphere of a gathering held at a hotel in Georgetown, a very elite section of Washington, D.C., for heavy hitters concerned about the Guidelines. Among the attendees were lobbyists, consultants (lobbyists with multiple clients), food industry executives, and “nutrition power players.”

The writers said:

Some were interested in changing the guidelines for commercial reasons. Others were deeply concerned about the scientific integrity behind the government’s advice. But the Arnold’s lobbying group had brought them together.

Sometime after that meeting, the separate Nutrition Coalition — funded solely by the Arnolds’ Action Now Initiative — started to take shape, several sources told POLITICO. The Nutrition Coalition does not allow industry funding or membership.

Suspected of subpar ethics by some, and scorned in some quarters for advocating saturated fat, Nina Teicholz became one of the human assets in the Nutrition Coalition’s “vigorous advocacy campaign to reshape how the U.S. government determines what makes a healthy diet.”

One critic called the Nutrition Coalition’s campaign dangerous and harmful. This was Dietary Guidelines panel member Barbara Millen. Teicholz retorted that Millen should not have even been on the panel, much less chairing it, because of a rather glaring conflict of interest.

Meanwhile the renowned Marion Nestle came down on the side that doubted Teicholz’s legitimacy to speak on the subject. And on and on.

(… To be continued.)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Billionaire-backed coalition edges into nutrition sphere,” Politico.com, 10/07/15
Source: “Laura and John Arnold Foundation,” CarbSanity.blogspot.com, 10/08/15
Source: “The money behind the fight over healthy eating,” Politico.com, 10/07/15
Photo credit: Evil Erin via Visualhunt/CC BY

The Problematic Dietary Guidelines

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The theme here is how the most recent set of Dietary Guidelines for Americans went from recommendation to reality. The Guidelines may not sound like a big deal, but they matter. Their publication every five years influences hundreds of millions of people and billions of dollars worth of commerce.

How does nutrition policy get made? We spoke of the article Nina Teicholz wrote for The BMJ criticizing how the revision of the Guidelines was handled.

A highly opinionated author who goes by the handle “CarbSane” asserts that Teicholz misled readers. (CarbSane, by the way, has only a first name, Evelyn, and has worked as a research scientist.) At any rate, Teicholz is said to have pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes by referring to a “BMJ investigation,” when in actuality the article originated not with any sort of investigative body, but in the mind of a freelance writer (Teicholz). Worse, the medical journal was actually paid to publish it, a practice that is frowned upon in many quarters.

Is this okay?

The money came from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), the philanthropic endeavor of a billionaire couple. The LJAF is against a lot of things, like when the click-baity results of an outlier study are blown up into a story that seems to imply causation where there is only correlation. The foundation favors rigorous science and modest journalistic claims. Its position is to decry bad research and bad science — which some critics saw as hypocritical, considering how the LJAF conducted itself in this instance.

To put it another way

No independent person or team was commissioned by The BMJ to investigate the Dietary Guidelines committee. Instead, The BMJ accepted the LJAF’s money, said CarbSane, as a “publishing fee for a Nina Teicholz hit piece.” By implication, the once-respected journal performed like a sleazy vanity press.

CarbSane was also doubtful of the objectivity, given that Teicholz received speaking fees for addressing various professional and business groups, including the dairy industry and especially the meat industry. In fact, Teicholz gave seminars on how to “gain the tools to intellectually and scientifically defend meat.”

Coincidentally, one of Teicholz’s own recommendations for the newly revised guidelines was more dietary fat, such as that contained in meat. Whether or not she was completely right about that, the fact that her patrons bought her a platform served, in the eyes of many people, to invalidate her claims. Among other inquiries, CarbSane used the Internet to question the credentials of the Nutrition Coalition vis-a-vis its official non-profit status or lack thereof, and to suggest that The BMJ ought to reveal how much money it received to publish the controversial article.

(The saga of the Dietary Guidelines will continue.)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Nina Teicholz Reports in the British Medical Journal: The Conflicts and Funding,” CarbSanity.blogspot.com, 09/27/16
Photo credit: BullionVault via Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

Guidelines of Contention

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How did the most recent revision of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans come into being? The backstory is more complicated than a spy novel. We mentioned how the process attracted interest from a billionaire couple, the Arnolds, and scornful derision from the president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

In September of 2015, The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) published a widely discussed article by journalist Nina Teicholz. Basically, she asked why the bureaucrats in charge did not seem to be paying attention to the actual science of how the body is affected by food.

Teicholz wrote:

The expert report underpinning the next set of US Dietary Guidelines for Americans fails to reflect much relevant scientific literature in its reviews of crucial topics and therefore risks giving a misleading picture, an investigation by The BMJ has found. The omissions seem to suggest a reluctance by the committee behind the report to consider any evidence that contradicts the last 35 years of nutritional advice.

The author pointed out that rather than reinventing the wheel, many other countries adopt the American dictums, so the Guidelines are not just theoretical, but have a profound real-world effect. Inside out country, they translate into concrete reality in the form of “public feeding programs which are used by about a quarter of Americans each year” — school lunches, for instance, and the WIC program for new mothers and infants. Furthermore, Teicholz asserts that the National Institutes of Health allots research funds based on the Guidelines.

Of course, the government would be foolish to spend millions on studies, and then decline to consult the findings of those research projects. Yet that appeared to be exactly what the government was doing, or, more accurately, not doing. We might add that each five-yearly revision offers the opportunity for a new graphic to be designed, like the $2 million “My Plate” icon unveiled in 2011 (pictured.) But back to Teicholz, whose eloquent and multi-faceted indictment of the government committee’s shortcomings is best experienced in her original prose.

Saturated fat was a subject very much on the author’s mind. Although the committee had been active since 2012, it had resisted reading up on the latest discoveries about dietary fats, having ignored “several prominent papers, including a meta-analysis and two major reviews (one systematic) that failed to confirm an association between saturated fats and heart disease.” Government employees and officials were also found to be woefully ignorant about controlling both obesity and type 2 diabetes by slashing carbohydrate intake.

Teicholz raised questions about ingrained bias, special interests, conscientious intent, undue influence, and conflicts of interest among the committee members. The chair, for instance, was Barbara Millen, president of a company that produced “web based platforms and mobile applications for self health monitoring.”

Coincidentally, the committee’s recommendations included the use of self-monitoring technologies. Needless to say, Teicholz’s article garnered much criticism, especially from Millen, who is quoted as saying:

On topics where there were existing comprehensive guidelines, we didn’t do them.

But… But… Would it be out of line to suggest that the purpose of a revision is to do exactly that — to revise?

The next post will delve into this and other questions.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “The scientific report guiding the US dietary guidelines: is it scientific?,” BMJ.com, 09/23/17
Image by MyPlate.gov

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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