Junkfood Science: Dangers of a soundbyte world

October 02, 2007

Dangers of a soundbyte world

If scanning the headlines and catching the soundbytes on the news is how you get most of your health information, you’re not alone. Marketers count on the fact that most people are too busy to take the time to read the science behind the headlines and understand the real story. But relying on soundbytes can be really bad for your health. Here is one example in the news today.

An NBC station reported: “Sugar Can Shorten Life Span, Study Says.”

Science News reported: “Life can be sweeter if you cut out the sugar.”

Television viewers were told that sweets are bad news if we want to live a long, healthy life. A Reuters story said that giving up sweets could help us live longer, quoting German researchers with an impressive-sounding theory that restricting the simple sugar glucose could set off a complicated process to extend life.

The story being credulously reported comes from a press release. The study is so far removed from any science that can be credibly translated to anything practically beneficial to us, however, that in a sane world it would never have been seen as newsworthy. Certainly not warranting this much attention in mainstream media. The only reason we’re hearing about it is because it reinforces popular fears about sugar and supports admonitions of a “bad” food some don’t think we should eat. But they’re really grasping at straws in stretching the science this time...

The study was on worms. Apparently when worms are unable to process glucose, they live “longer.” Repeat after me:

“People are not worms.”

“Are you a worm? Of course not.”

“You are not a worm.”

The science of sweets, and over half a century of evidence, doesn't make for scary, attention-getting headlines. But it makes a lot more sense. All carbohydrates we eat, regardless of their source, are broken down to the same simple sugars and metabolized exactly the same by our body. The simple sugar glucose is the primary fuel needed and used by every cell in our body and by our brain. It’s the only true brain food.

I don’t think worms have brains, either. :)

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