Junkfood Science: Speaking up

May 26, 2007

Speaking up

Most of us stopped believing a long time ago that politicians will ever follow good science. I guess that’s why it’s called politics. :)

When Montgomery County, Maryland, became the first county in the nation to totally ban trans fats this week, people who may not have believed before that any public official would actually take the junk science seriously, have been speaking out. The public reaction has been one of outrage and incredulity.

We’ve examined here how the trans fat scare campaign has tried to convince lawmakers and the public that this “unnatural fat” is deadly and even the tiny amount in our diet is a “risk factor” for everything from heart disease, cancer to infertility. The trouble is, there isn’t even a credible association they can hang their hat on. Not a single population study has been able to show even a link between trans fats or any other dietary fat and heart disease. Not only has our consumption of trans fats not changed in half a century, while we’ve been eating all of this supposedly bad stuff, the actual health of Americans has improved enormously, we’ve gained more than seven years in life expectancy; and heart disease and most cancers have dropped.

This isn't just opinion. The FDA, after spending years reviewing all available evidence on trans fats, said in its July 9, 2003, 260-page ruling (Docket No. 94P-0036), that any fears of a public health concern from the small amounts of trans fats in our diets were not supported by the evidence. These fatty acids haven’t been shown to be better or worse than any other dietary fat. The FDA expert panel specifically stated that trans fats needn’t be eliminated from the diet and they refused to establish a daily recommended intake due to lack of evidence. They agreed to add trans fats to food labels, but only after explaining it was only in response to a relentless, decade-long activist campaign. But those labels are being used by certain interests as proof that trans fats hold some health danger that’s imperative to control.

The government invading private lives to the point of telling people what they can and can’t eat, purportedly to protect us from ourselves, especially given it’s been demonstrated to be unsupportable, has resulted in an especially vehement public outcry.

“Becoming the first county in the nation to ban trans fats probably resulted in backslapping and high-fives in the council chambers in Rockville,” one resident opinioned. “Is creation of another county agency, the Trans Fat Inspection and Enforcement Division, just around the corner?

Another wrote this: “Guns or margarine? Trans fat is banned in Montgomery County. A bill to ban assault weapons never made it out of committee. Trans fat vs. assault weapons. Which would you rather not face on the street? Does something seem wrong here?”

The trans fat hysteria is spreading across the country — fears will do that when people let them. But Phil Maymin wrote a poignant commentary in the Hartford Courant, calling for some sanity and critical thinking. Speaking to those who might have gotten taken into believing the move to bans trans fats has merit, he said that by letting the government take away this choice, when they take on other personal choices, you won’t be able to argue later that it’s none of their business. And the next thing they decide to control or take away might be something you like. It’s well worth reading.

Keep the government out of my clogged arteries!

Do you think lawmakers in Hartford should decide what you can eat ...[and] keep unhealthy options away from you? They’ve taken one step closer to banning trans fats from being used in any restaurant in the state, not because the production of trans fats uses child labor, not to reduce our dependence on foreign trans fats, and not even because trans fats deplete the ozone. None of those tired excuses for interfering in your life were even trotted out.

This was pure paternalism. They think it’s bad for you. Therefore, you shouldn’t have the option to decide otherwise. Can’t a guy even eat a nice, greasy basket of fries anymore without the nanny state slapping his hand? Eating trans fat does not cause more crime or put pushers on school grounds (“Hey, buddy, want some trans fat?” is not a commonly heard schoolyard expression).

...Who gets to make decisions about your life and the amount of risk you can take? Can you go skydiving? Rock climbing? Can you attempt to hike Mount Everest, or should we file papers for permission from Connecticut’s Senate Deputy Minority Leader ...Perhaps you are okay with this legislation, even though it was underhandedly tacked on as an amendment to a bill to repair a swimming pool....

The real issue isn’t even about the trans fat. It’s about who runs your life when not a single other person is even remotely involved. As an aside, if you think the government should make this decision for you because otherwise you would be eating up public funds with health-care costs, then that same logic applies to the government deciding your friends, job, dates, hobbies, etc., because otherwise you might be depressed or hospitalized and take up public funds again....

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