Heart Disease: Do Docs Have No Clue?

I am not a doctor, and I don’t even play one on TV. I’m just an academic economist who often reads stuff on blogs and in layman’s publications about health and fitness. And it seems that whenever I read something about heart disease, it contradicts the medical profession’s conventional wisdom. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, and doctors act as if they know and can do a lot about it, but much of the stuff I read suggests that they have hardly a clue about what really causes heart disease or how to prevent or treat it.

Your doctor carefully tests your cholesterol level, and tells you that you should follow that number as closely as a CEO follows his corporation’s stock price. But as I reported back in June, the latest research shows that cholesterol is not a problem.

Cholesterol does not cause heart disease in the elderly and trying to reduce it with drugs like statins is a waste of time, an international group of experts has claimed.

A review of research involving nearly 70,000 people found there was no link between what has traditionally been considered “bad” cholesterol and the premature deaths of over 60-year-olds from cardiovascular disease.

Published in the BMJ Open journal, the new study found that 92 percent of people with a high cholesterol level lived longer.
[…]
“What we found in our detailed systematic review was that older people with high LDL (low-density lipoprotein) levels, the so-called “bad” cholesterol, lived longer and had less heart disease.”

Vascular and endovascular surgery expert Professor Sherif Sultan from the University of Ireland, who also worked on the study, said…“Lowering cholesterol with medications for primary cardiovascular prevention in those aged over 60 is a total waste of time and resources, whereas altering your lifestyle is the single most important way to achieve a good quality of life.”…

Lead author Dr Uffe Ravnskov, a former associate professor of renal medicine at Lund University in Sweden, said there was “no reason” to lower high-LDL-cholesterol.

And yet, anti-cholesterol drugs remain today the leading class of drugs prescribed in America. Do docs read the same things I read? One of us must be missing something.

Next, consider last month’s piece in The Atlantic about unnecessary medical procedures. One of the procedures highlighted by the article is heart stents.

In 2012, Brown had coauthored a paper that examined every randomized clinical trial that compared stent implantation with more conservative forms of treatment, and he found that stents for stable patients prevent zero heart attacks and extend the lives of patients a grand total of not at all. In general, Brown says, “nobody that’s not having a heart attack needs a stent.” (Brown added that stents may improve chest pain in some patients, albeit fleetingly.) Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of stable patients receive stents annually, and one in 50 will suffer a serious complication or die as a result of the implantation procedure.

In particular, you can die from a post-operative blood clot. For the sake of an unnecessary procedure. Good work, docs!

Unlike statins, blood pressure medications are something I have never really questioned. Cholesterol numbers might be meaningless, but surely blood pressure means something, right?. And blood-pressure medications really do effectively bring down pressure. That would seem to be obviously beneficial, since lowering pressure reduces strain on the heart. Indeed, the conventional wisdom holds that blood pressure medications, known as beta-blockers, have saved untold numbers of lives. And yet, the same Atlantic piece casts doubt on the usefulness of beta-blockers.

[T]he latest review of beta-blockers from the Cochrane Collaboration—an independent, international group of researchers that attempts to synthesize the best available research—reported that they “are not recommended as first line treatment for hypertension as compared to placebo due to their modest effect on stroke and no significant reduction in mortality or coronary heart disease.”

That somewhat awkward language might require a bit of translation. “Not recommended…compared to placebo” means the beta-blockers are worse than doing nothing. They do more harm than good. And the “modest effect on stroke” refers not to a decreased but to an increased risk of stroke. The beta-blockers modestly increase the risk of stroke without reducing the risk of “mortality or coronary heart disease.” What a deal.

Finally, here’s something else I ran across this week. The so-called Seven Countries Study is the most famous study to link heart disease to saturated fat and cholesterol. The 25-year follow up to the original study again found a significant correlation between cholesterol and heart disease. Researchers in the U.K., however, analyzed the same data and found that heart disease correlated even more closely with…wait for it…latitude.

The Pearson correlation coefficient was calculated as 0.72 for baseline cholesterol and CHD deaths at 25 years. The data in the 1993 Menotti article has been examined to repeat the correlations found with CHD death rates and mean serum cholesterol to understand the data and methodology used. The same methodology was then used to explore alternative correlations. The strongest relationship found was for CHD death rates and the latitude of the country or cohort in The Seven Countries Study. The correlation coefficient for CHD deaths and latitude of the cohort was 0.93. The correlation coefficient for CHD deaths and latitude of the country was 0.96. While Keys did find a strong association with median serum cholesterol and CHD deaths, there were stronger associations that were discoverable.
The latitude finding offers an alternative explanation for the observed relationship with cholesterol and CHD. Vitamin D is made when sunshine synthesises cholesterol in skin membranes. In cohorts further [sic] away from the equator, cholesterol is less able to be turned into vitamin D.
Population mean serum cholesterol levels are higher and concomitantly population mean vitamin D levels are lower. Higher CHD could be associated with lower vitamin D, with cholesterol a marker, not a maker, of heart disease.

So according to this theory, the problem is not too much saturated fat, but too little vitamin D from sunshine. The theory casts doubt, therefore, on the alleged benefits of the ‘Mediterranean diet.’ The Mediterranean advantage would be the sunshine, not the food.

So much of what we think we know, might not be so.

So-Called Experts Lost the Trust of the American People

Tom Nichols is a professor and soi-disant expert on foreign and defense policy. He is apparently upset that people aren’t paying him enough attention.

It’s not just that people don’t know a lot about science or politics or geography. They don’t, but that’s an old problem. The bigger concern today is that Americans have reached a point where ignorance—at least regarding what is generally considered established knowledge in public policy—is seen as an actual virtue. To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to demonstrate their independence from nefarious elites–and insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong.

Well, people don’t as a rule lose confidence in experts that maintain a good track record of success. New England Patriots fans, for instance, generally retain a high degree of trust in the judgment of Bill Belichick. Only when supposed experts screw up do people start to lose confidence. And the fact is that, over the past 15 years or so, America’s experts and elites have put together an appalling record of failure that has resulted in real suffering for millions of ordinary people. Professor Glenn Reynolds offers a few of the more prominent examples.

It was experts that gave us the financial crisis, it was experts that gave us the Middle East meltdown, it was experts who gave us the obesity epidemic and the opioid crisis. And yet the experts pay no price for their failures, and cling bitterly to their credentials and self-esteem, while claiming that the problem lies in the anti-intellectualism of ordinary citizens.

Hard to improve on the pithy elegance of Reynolds’ statement, but I would like to point out just a few more of the recent failures of the elites, including the fact that many of the most eminent economists in the country said that Obamacare was going to be a resounding success.

A different group of experts at the FAA maintained until 2001 that airline passengers should not fight back against hijackers. Good thing the flight 93 passengers did not follow the advice of the experts.

Doctors spent decades telling Americans, “Stay out of the sun, you’ll get skin cancer.” Then half of Americans ended up deficient in Vitamin D, one of the most potent anti-cancer agents. Doctors also made statins the most-prescribed class of drugs in America, even though statins can cause severe unintended harm, and despite the fact that the lipid theory of heart disease on which the drugs are based has been all but discredited.

Over the last year and a half, every professional political prognosticator told us that Donald Trump would never win the GOP nomination, and then they told us that he could never win the presidency. They also told us that Brexit would never happen.

Given the record of failure, I sympathize with people wanting to “assert autonomy” from the credentialed-but-hapless experts. Trust is not given; it has to be earned. And the way to earn trust is through real success, not through lame-ass credentialism. Nichols’ piece should be re-titled “How the Experts Lost the Trust of the American People.”

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll close with a pic that sums up the state of ‘expertise’ in America today. But first, let’s introduce one of America’s foremost experts on nutrition and obesity.

Kelly Brownell is Dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, and is a professor of public policy. He also serves on the board of directors of the Duke Global Health Institute.

In 2006 Time magazine listed Brownell among “The World’s 100 Most Influential People” in its special Time 100 issue featuring those “.. whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world.”…

Brownell has advised the White House, members of congress, governors, world health and nutrition organizations, and media leaders on issues of nutrition, obesity and public policy. He was cited as a “moral entrepreneur” with special influence on public discourse in a history of the obesity field and was cited by Time magazine as a leading “warrior” in the area of nutrition and public policy.

Brownell is the guy on the left.

Reminder: Federal judges are just bureaucrats, not entitled to rule us

I was taken aback today by the title of an article at Breitbart.

The part that concerned me was not the refugee issue but that a lowly federal trial judge could issue an “order” to the President of the United States. Is that really the way our constitutional system is supposed to work?

Last month, a different federal trial judge, this one in Seattle, placed a restraining order on President Trump’s ban on travel from seven terrorist nations, and the president obeyed the order. Leaving aside whether or not Trump’s policy or motives are wise or moral, the question I have is: How can a trial judge give orders to the POTUS? I understand that a judge can issue an opinion. After all, everybody’s entitled to their opinion! But where does the Constitution grant a trial judge the power to give orders to the president?

Well, the answer is that the Constitution grants federal trial judges no such power. Even in the case of the Supreme Court, it’s not clear that the president has to obey–Andrew Jackson certainly didn’t believe he had to obey the Supreme Court.

But in any event, for a long time now presidents have acceded to the decisions of the Court. An argument can at least be made that the Court is constitutionally co-equal with the presidency. But the same cannot be said of the federal courts below the Supreme Court.

As Michael Walsh reminds us, the Constitution created the Supreme Court, but the lower federal courts are all creations of Congress.

[F]ar from being a “co-equal” branch of government, almost the entirety of the federal court system is a creature of Congress, and can be restructured or abolished at any time. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Article III, here presented in its entirety.

That’s right–Congress brought the federal courts into the world, and Congress can take them out. Congress, if it wants, can remove that Maryland trial judge and abolish his job.

Congress has it within its power to re-organize the judiciary below the Supreme Court level in any way it sees fit. It can also change the rules concerning lifetime tenure, removal and anything else it chooses.

A federal trial judge basically serves at the pleasure of Congress. So a trial judge is not co-equal with Congress. But the president is.

It follows that the constitutional status of the Seattle trial judge is no more exalted nor secure than that of a bureaucrat at the FAA or the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Nobody would accept that such a bureaucrat could issue orders to the president and unilaterally block presidential policies. And yet the president obeyed the Seattle judge, and in the weeks following the order, thousands of people entered the United States contrary to the president’s policy.

I would submit that the president had absolutely no obligation to obey the Seattle judge’s restraining order. The president could have and should have continued to implement his travel ban as the case made its way through the appellate courts. If eventually the Supreme Court had ruled against the president, then perhaps in that case the president would have had to yield. But that would mean yielding to the Supreme Court, not to some robed bureaucrat in Seattle.

Now, many people no doubt view this conflict as a kind of David vs. Goliath situation, and believe that it’s a good thing that even a lowly federal trial judge can check the power of the President of the United States. But that’s the wrong way to look at it. Unlike Congress and the president, the trial judge is unelected and not directly accountable to the people. The people can express their will only through the elected branches. The trial judge is therefore checking not just the power of the president but the power of the people. The trial judge is not David. The people–you and me–are David, and allowing judges to rule as petty tyrants over us diminishes our liberty and is intolerable.

The problem here is not just the arrogance of the judges who think they can overrule the people’s representatives, but that the judges are granted so much deference. These judicial opinions are nothing more than that–opinions–and should be treated as such. The idea that the president is obligated to defer to the Supreme Court is questionable enough. But how did we get to a place where lowly trial judges issue orders that the president must obey? The idea is not just absurd, but anti-democratic and unconstitutional. Some degree of judicial deference is to some degree desirable, but the practice has been taken much too far.

My solution to this sort of judicial tyranny is simple: ignore them. To paraphrase a hero of the left, Joe Stalin, how many divisions does the Maryland trial judge have?

Information Gatekeeping at the National Weather Service

One of the primary reasons why I’m sympathetic to libertarianism is that it presumes that people should be treated like adults, capable of making big decisions for themselves, rather than as children who need the guiding hand of the self-appointed social elites. Case in point would be the blizzard this week in the Northeast. My elderly mother in Massachusetts believed what the TV meteorologists were telling her about the storm. They predicted up to two feet of snow and likely power outages. My mom’s home has electric heat, and she didn’t want to risk getting caught without heating. So she packed a bag and drove across the state line to spend the night at my sister’s house in Rhode Island.

Turns out she needn’t have gone to all that trouble. Her town got only four or five inches of snow, much of which was washed away when the snow turned to rain. The meteorologists were not actually caught off guard by the lack of heavy snow. Even before the storm began, the models had already revised downward the predicted snowfall. But the meteorologists decided not to share that revision with the public; instead, they let stand the alarmist forecast.

Before the first snow fell, U.S. meteorologists realized there was a good chance the late-winter storm wasn’t going to produce giant snow totals in big Northeast cities as predicted.

But they didn’t change their forecasts because they said they didn’t want to confuse the public.

National Weather Service meteorologists in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington held a conference call Monday afternoon about computer models that dramatically cut predicted snow amounts. They decided to keep the super snowy warnings.

“Out of extreme caution we decided to stick with higher amounts,” Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations at the Weather Prediction Center in suburban Maryland, told The Associated Press. “I actually think in the overall scheme that the actions (by states and cities) taken in advance of the event were exceptional.”

On Monday, the weather service predicted 18 to 24 inches of snow in New York City. By late Tuesday afternoon, Central Park was covered with a little more than 7 inches of snow with rain and sleet still falling.

The meteorologists at the National Weather Service apparently think they can’t just level with us by telling us the real forecast and letting us decide for ourselves how to respond. They think the public is stupid and easily confused, and so they tell us only what they think we should hear. I guess it never occurred to these geniuses that over-hyping storms damages their credibility so that, eventually, when the alarming forecast happens to be true, people won’t believe it.

I have no problem with meteorologists making an honest mistake about a storm forecast. But not being on the level is something else altogether. The job of the National Weather Service is to forecast the weather, not to serve as gatekeepers of information.

The problem of not playing it straight, unfortunately, is not confined to the meteorologists, but permeates America’s credentialed and managerial classes. Surveys over the past few decades have shown that the public has lost trust in virtually all the major institutions in America–news media, schools, government, churches, banks, etc. The reason for this loss of trust is that the people eventually noticed that the elites weren’t leveling with them about all sorts of things, everything from over-hyping a late-winter storm to “Benghazi was caused by a youtube video.”

And that, incidentally, is how you get a President Trump.

I’m reminded of a scene from the dystopian Terry Gilliam movie Brazil, in which a government office displays a wall poster that reads, “Who can you trust?” When you can’t even trust the National Weather Service, a lot of Americans must be asking themselves that same question.

How Globalization Undermines Marriage

I seem to recall long ago reading about a survey that found that something like 96% of economists believed that free trade produced net benefits for the country as a whole. I remember thinking to myself that the other 4% of economists must be paid off by labor unions. How else to account for how out-of-step they were?

The effects of free trade, however, are not so simple as depicted in economists’ models. The models correctly identify some powerful mechanisms through which trade increases national productivity and wealth. What the models don’t consider, however, are the sociological effects of trade. International trade can have far reaching effects on the most intimate and important social institutions–marriage and the family.

In a recent working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson go where economists have rarely gone before by studying the effect of trade on marriage and the family. They found specifically that the outsourcing and automation of manufacturing jobs contributed to the following social phenomena:

  • A decline in marriage rates and an increase in the age at first marriage
  • An increase in the rate of illegitimacy
  • A rise in the proportion of female-headed households
  • A rise in self-destructive behavior by males such as illegal drug use

The way globalization contributes to these phenomena is by lowering the economic status of males relative to females. The loss of economic opportunity is greater for males than for females because imports and outsourcing have their largest impact on manufacturing, where men predominate. In contrast, the fields where women predominate such as education, healthcare, human resources, and other services do not compete as directly with foreign workers and imports.

Lowering the economic status of males relative to females makes males less marriageable. In marriage, pretty much the only value a man can bring to the table is as an economic provider. Taking away a man’s advantage in providing economic resources leaves him without leverage in the marriage market.

Women are almost universally extremely averse to marrying down in terms of socioeconomic status. Men, in contrast, have no problem marrying a woman who is of lower economic status. This key difference between the sexes means that any change that lowers men’s status relative to women’s will reduce the number of men whom women consider to be marriageable.

Note that this argument does not rely on an absolute worsening of men’s economic opportunities. The key is the economic status of men relative to women. For instance, let’s say a working-class woman who earns $11 per hour views a male who earns $15 as marriageable. If the man’s wage increases to $16 but the woman goes all the way up to $19, she might no longer view him as marriageable, since women as a rule do not marry down. The man became less marriageable even though his wage went up because the woman’s wage went up by more. Any such change that raises the economic status of women relative to men will lower the marriage rate and the number of stable marriages.

Of course, there exist many examples of stable marriages where the woman earns more than the man. But these are exceptions rather than the rule. Studies show that of all the factors that can contribute to divorce, the one that has the most predictive power is the man earning less than the woman.

The other day I was in a store and saw a nice Black&Decker toaster-oven on sale for just $15. The toaster-oven, of course, was manufactured in some low-wage Asian country. If the toaster-oven were manufactured by unionized labor in the United States it might cost several times as much. As consumers, lower prices for imported goods benefit all of us. This benefit is the reason why economists generally support free trade. Economists can put a price on that cheap toaster-oven.

But what price on children no longer being raised in stable, two-parent families? That’s a price to which economists need to give more consideration.

The World’s Most Expensive Bus Station

California’s high-speed rail project is a gigantic boondoggle that’s expected to require at least 12 more years of construction and cost overruns before the first trains run. That timetable, however, didn’t stop the single-party solons who run California from constructing a massive train station in San Francisco that will open later this year–more than 11 years before any trains arrive. For all those years, the facility will sit mostly unused, serving only as the world’s most expensive bus station. Literally millions of taxpayer dollars will be spent just to provide security to prevent the homeless from turning the world’s most expensive bus station into the world’s most expensive urinal.

San Francisco’s over-budget and oversize $2.4 billion Transbay Transit Center will open in December — but it’s going to cost an estimated $20 million a year to run the place, and no one knows where all the money will come from.

The three-block-long behemoth was envisioned as the Grand Central Station of the West, a dynamic hub for buses and high-speed rail that would draw more than 100,000 visitors a day.

Come opening day, however, there will be no high-speed rail. Instead, for many years, the five-level showcase just south of Mission Street between Second and Beale streets will be little more than the world’s most expensive bus station — serving mainly the 14,000 transbay bus commuters who roll in and out daily on AC Transit.
That reality is starting to sink in and has city officials scrambling — because without the big crowds that trains were supposed to bring in, there are serious questions about where all the money needed to keep the place secure, clean and well lit will come from.

With the transit center expected to stay open around the clock, officials say it will take at least 65 private security guards — plus police and sheriff’s deputies — as well as a staff of janitors, maintenance workers and others to keep the place from becoming a giant homeless camp.

Taxpayers and bridge commuters will probably be on the hook to pick up millions of dollars in costs, although the exact amount still isn’t known.

Meanwhile, the authority has been working for months to find a master lessee to run the transit hub, and to line up tenants for the 100,000-square-foot mall that will occupy a good portion of the building.

But there’s a problem.

Without the foot traffic that high-speed rail could draw, the mall is looking a lot less attractive to potential renters. That means the authority may have to offer sweetheart deals to lure stores — which, of course, means less money.

If nothing else, this whole fiasco offers an object lesson in the perils of government planning. Remember, there are good reasons why the Soviet Union collapsed. When government can’t even coordinate the opening of a new railroad with its station within 11 years, do you really want to put them in charge of your healthcare? Do you really want to leave it up to government to decide which antibiotics people need, and in what quantities? Or, say, how many maternity beds to provide?

In any event, if something like this train station fiasco had to happen in America, it’s probably no accident that it happened in loony left California.

Can’t wait to see how long it takes California to complete its transition into Venezuela del Norte.

Anti-Lincoln University

At Lincoln University in the UK, a conservative student group made a post to social media highlighting the university’s low rating on free speech. In response, the university’s student union took action to…wait for it…censor the conservative students.

A student union has banned a university Conservative society from using its social media accounts – because they challenged its position on free speech.

Lincoln University’s Conservative Society has been censored by its student union after it posted an image online showing that the university had been ranked “very intolerant” on free speech in a recent survey.

In response, the Students’ Union swiftly suspended the society’s social media accounts, on the grounds that highlighting the university’s ranking had brought it into disrepute.

In this case, it’s not the Conservative Society that is bringing the university into “disrepute.”

This episode reminds me of the time that George Costanza attended the meeting of ‘Rageaholics.’

Seinfeld- George Rageaholics

Confirmed: Schools Holding Back Bright Kids

Schools are supposed to be educating the next generation of doctors, scientists, inventors, and engineers who will create our bright future of technological wonders. In every age, however, human progress has always been driven by a tiny minority of brilliant thinkers and risk-takers. Our goal, therefore, should be to nurture and encourage our best and brightest students. Instead, however, the schools do the exact opposite. The schools simply do not challenge the brightest to fulfill their potential. They hold back the brightest and encourage mediocrity.

[A] new study out of Johns Hopkins University suggests that…children really are capable of learning far more than the schools are teaching them.

Drawing on statewide test scores from Wisconsin, Florida, California, the study examined more widespread examinations such as those from The Nation’s Report Card. Much to their surprise, researchers discovered that large percentages of students in elementary and middle school were scoring at least one grade level above the grade they were enrolled in…

In summarizing the data from all of the tests, the researchers declared:

“[W]e estimate that 20-40% of elementary and middle school students perform at least one grade level above their current grade in reading, with 11-30% scoring at least one grade level above in math.”
Such startling findings lead the Johns Hopkins team to wonder if the U.S. needs to reconsider its age-segregated education system.

Precisely. Students should be segregated by ability, not by age. Even if only the low end of the estimated math range is true, 11% of students are above grade. The vast majority of those students are probably also above grade in reading as well. Hence at the very least, roughly 10% of students are above grade in both math and reading. These students can and should get bumped up. People spend way too much time in school, and anyone capable of graduating high school at, say, age 15 should be given every opportunity to do so.

But pending that outcome, the results of the Johns Hopkins study are yet another very good argument in favor of home schooling.

What Hath Feminism Wrought?

By some measures, women in America are doing better than ever. For every three men in college, there are four women. Women outnumber men in law school. There are more women working than ever, making more money than ever. We would right now have our first woman president if not for the fact that her opponent managed to run the table in the electoral college by winning a series of close state contests.

The legal regime governing marriage, reproduction, child support and custody totally favors women over men.

And yet, for all this presumed progress, women report being less happy, and exhibit more of the symptoms of despair. At least, that’s what I conclude from the fact that American women appear increasingly to be drowning their sorrows in alcohol.

Back in December, the Washington Post published a remarkable article about the rise in binge drinking among women, particularly white, middle-aged women. Here are just a few of the astonishing facts.

  • Every year more than one million women end up in hospital emergency rooms for alcohol related reasons. This number may involve some double counting, as the same woman may be admitted to the hospital more than once, but the number nonetheless seems appallingly high.
  • Since 1997, binge drinking by white women has increased 40%.
  • Since 1999, alcohol-related deaths among middle-aged white women have soared by 130%.

The Post blames the problem on alcohol advertising, particularly advertising on social media targeted at women. The trend in binge drinking, however, started long before social media became a thing. I suspect the problem runs much deeper than advertising. Consider the fact that also drug overdoses have increased, particularly among middle-aged, white women. The drug overdoses likely have little to do with advertising and more to do with despair.

This same cohort of middle-aged white women has also exhibited a significantly higher suicide rate. From 1999 to 2014,

the age-adjusted suicide rate for women increased by 45%, while the rate for men increased by 16%.

The suicide rate increased for women of all ages, but the spike was especially pronounced for women aged 45-64.

The rise in alcohol and drug related deaths would seem to be of a piece with the higher rate of suicides, since alcohol and drugs often serve as methods of slow-motion suicide. One way or another, a lot more women are killing themselves.

What has happened to middle-aged American women? Historically, only about ten percent of 35-year-old women were unmarried. Now, 40 percent of 35-year-old women are unmarried, and that figure just keeps rising. Could the lack of support from family explain the despair among middle-aged women?

Many will say that the problems facing women are caused by ‘the patriarchy’ and we therefore need to double-down on feminism.

Maybe. But in the bad old days, before the triumph of feminism, women reported higher levels of happiness and weren’t succumbing nearly as often to the pathologies of despair.

Beware Big Soda

We’ve reported previously attempts by the sugar and soft drink industry to whitewash the role of sugar in chronic disease. In particular, the sugar industry in the 1960s paid Harvard researchers to divert attention from sugar by focusing on saturated fat as a cause of heart disease. Similarly, the soft drink industry pays health organizations to go easy on sugary drinks.

Regarding the influence of Big Soda on nutritional advice, more evidence came to light this week in the context of the election for the presidency of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the largest group of dieticians in the United States. The contest got really interesting when one of the two finalists, Neva Cochran, was exposed for having ties to Big Soda.

In a tweet, Anna Macnak, a member of the academy and a dietitian from Texas, revealed Cochran’s clients included the American Beverage Association, the soda industry’s lobbying group, and the Calorie Control Council, a group representing the low-calorie food and drink industry that functions as a trade group for artificial sweeteners.

Cochran’s pro-sugar bias was evident in her nutritional advice, at least as reflected by her tweets before she set her tweets to ‘protected’.

Cochran positions soda as part of a balanced diet, Pfister noted, explaining she even goes as far as promoting soda as a necessary source of calories for active kids and teens in a tweet that reads “Calorie needs R personal. Active teens: soda, lemonade, sweet tea & choc milk can replace calories & fluid. #Advisor.”

Cochran even illustrated her tweet with an old propaganda ad put out by the sugar industry in the 1960s.

Nothing says ‘cutting edge nutrition science’ quite like tweeting 50-year-old industry advertising.

Conveniently, Cochran also tweeted against soda taxes.

“Soda taxes fall flat – @USATODAY editorial. Better-informed consumers, not taxes, can help prevent obesity. https://t.co/BMdPIus97Z #Advisor” Cochran’s tweet read.

Not sure what qualifies dieticians to pontificate on the effects of tax policy, but hey, it’s a free country.

When some nutritionists tried to make public Cochran’s ties to Big Soda, elements of the nutrition establishment tried to shut them down.

Days after her tweet posted, the academy emailed Macnak and asked her to remove the tweet. In the email chain obtained by Mic, the academy told Macnak that her tweet provided a negative bias against Cochran, one of the two candidates. Using social media to spread negative messaging about candidates is in violation of the academy’s code of ethics, the academy said.

A member of the academy since 2008, Macnak noted that she sought transparency and wasn’t attempting a personal attack on Cochran. She was committed to “full disclosure of any real or perceived conflict of interest,” she said.

The academy’s response to Macnak’s concerns? They’ll put off discussing them until the spring, ostensibly after a new president would be elected.

When Kyle Pfister of Ninjas for Health, a startup that consults for public health organizations, included part of Macnak’s emails with the academy in a Medium piece about the presidential election. Representatives from Medium told him they received a complaint that he included “private communications…without the consent of all parties involved.” Medium asked him to edit the post or they would take it down.

A spokesperson for Medium later told Pfister he would not have to revise his post after all because Medium allows users to post email exchanges with “people speaking on behalf of business or organizations,” Pfister said in an email. Medium later confirmed to Mic that the post “was flagged as being in violation of Medium’s rules. On review it was found not to be in breach.”

“Censorship is yet another industry tactic to silence critics,” Pfister said. “It also seems to be an admission that these corporate connections are a problem, if so much effort is going into hiding them.”

Indeed. There certainly seems to be a lot of attempted censorship going around these days. That’s what happens when so many people rely on lies to maintain their wealth and status.