Junkfood Science: Maybe, we’re overlooking a problem

August 17, 2008

Maybe, we’re overlooking a problem

Maybe one reason that public health policies so often completely disregard the scientific evidence — in fact, increasingly propose the opposite of sound medical research — is that medicine is being practiced without a license and politicians are playing scientists.

It has been argued that politicians don’t do science, and political science is not a hard science. But irrefutably, medical licenses are not required to practice politics or economics. So why are we listening to politicians and political analysts and letting them decide health care policies that affect all of us and our children, families, businesses and way of life?

This past week, obesity hysterics hit a new high. And not a single claim or health policy proposal was based on a lick of credible evidence. Each worked from the most biased of underlying assumptions.

Fat people = terrorists

Virtually every newspaper in the UK this past week became advertorials for professed public health expert and government adviser, professor David Hunter, who claimed that obesity poses as big a threat to the nation as terrorism. Fat people threaten the future as much as the current security threat, he claimed. [Add all the usual doomsday indictments here.] The crisis has reached a critical point — “half the population will be obese by 2032” — and the government’s voluntary initiatives have been on a “piddling scale,” he said. It’s time for the government to step in with strong action, he advised, meaning mandatory enforcement.

Fat people = stupid

Of course, the larger point is that politicians believe they know best and, in this case, that people are too stupid to know how to feed themselves. So, just like those dumb label warning us not to eat garden pebbles and styrofoam peanuts, or that grapes are dangerous, professor Hunter said public ministers should force food manufacturers to put cigarette-style warning labels on “fattening” and “unhealthy” foods — those with “high” levels of fats, sugars and salts. [Traffic lights, a few posts: here, here, here, here, here and here.] This could lead to the eventual elimination of unhealthy foods from the supermarket shelf, he suggested. Rather than bans, he believes that mandatory food labels will simply put the products out of business from loss of sales and the companies will have no choice but to phase them out. This is also supposedly in the best interests of food producers, he added, since they’re currently killing off their customers and making them so unwell that they won’t be able to keep buying their products anyway.

He doesn’t appear to be joking, nor to have read the health statistics showing that consumers are not eating any more fats, sugars or salts today; that they’re living longer than ever; and are growing increasingly healthier — all while eating all of this supposedly bad food. So, this clearly isn’t about health.

Fat people = diseased burdens (and) Cancers are your own fault

As a government advisor, professor Hunter claims that the national healthcare service is paying too much attention on medical care and not enough on preventive health and wellness. If the government took major “well-informed” action to control obesity, he claims it would reduce their huge burden on the health system. Health care is focused on sick care, rather than wellness, he said. Where have we heard that before? He provided no evidence, though, to support the ability of any New Age wellness and preventive health program to prevent or reduce obesity or those costly cancers he wrongly attributes to fat people... because there isn’t any.

He is a professor of Health Policy and Management at Durham University and director of the Centre for Public Policy and Health and, according to the university website, his background is in political science, medical sociology [that’s not a medical discipline], and policy analysis. Professor Hunter has a healthy policy book coming out.

Fat children = child abuse

But the greatest calls for the government to step in came from a press release issued Friday from the Local Government Association, which represents 400 government councils across England and Wales. It claimed that an epidemic of childhood obesity in the UK has become so dangerous, that government authorities will have to step in and “deal with the problem.” This threat was issued “for the welfare of children.” The councils called for a national debate about the extent to which childhood obesity should be considered parental neglect. The LGA spokesperson argued that: “If parents consistently place their children at risk through bad diet and lack of exercise is it right that a council should step in to keep the child's health under review?”

These politicians also appear not to have actually analyzed their own health statistics or examined the medical literature, which show little change in children’s weights in the UK over the past decade; that the natural diversities in children’s sizes are not caused by diets or exercise; and that there is no crisis of bad diets, sloth or poor health. In fact, kids are healthier than ever. Given that the medical literature shows that not a single school, community or medical anti-obesity initiative has proven effective in eliminating obesity, what final solution to the obesity problem are they are really leading us to?

Missing risk-benefit analysis

Most of all, not one of these politicians has considered the harm and costs of their obesity programs or how the millions of dollars could be spent to address real problems facing children in need.

The strongest evidence presented this past week has not been for the need to eradicate obesity, but politicians ... from practicing medicine without a license, I mean.

[Myths of couch potato kids, a few posts: here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Childhood obesity initiatives, a few posts: here, here, here, here and here.

Preventive health, a few posts: here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Wellness, a few posts: here, here, here, here, here,
here, here, here, here, here, and here.

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