Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Source of Dietary Deception

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about how I suspected that in someway, somehow, giant corporate food product manufacturers and agribusinesses were behind the promotion of lies and propaganda to make people think that saturated fats were bad, and fat free/fat reduced products were healthy.

Indie film producer Tom Naughton, made a movie to counter the propaganda film Supersize Me, called Fat Head. He also writes a blog under the same name, and he too is a proponent of the high fat/high protein diet contrary to the conventional wisdom.

Well, his latest blog post, Warning, Bologna May Cause Cancer Headlines, he digs deeper into the article I referenced earlier regarding animal fats supposedly linked to pancreatic cancer.

My initial skepticism regarding the veracity of the study was based on the methodology of the short, I thought it was quite ridiculous to claim a connection between cancer and ANY kind of food through a mass mailed questionnaire. I admit I didn't even try to find or read the study, I merely drew my own conclusions based on the article written about the study that drew the conclusion that animal fats causes cancer.

Naughton takes it much further and thoroughly debunks the initial study completely!


Oh my gosh! I eat a lot of animal fat … I can feel my pancreas swelling up with tumors as I write. I’ve been issued a death sentence, and I know it’s accurate because – hold onto your seats, now – the article included the magic words STUDY FINDS right there in the sub-headline.

And what an amazing study this has turned out to be. So far it has indicated that being overweight in middle age will kill you, a lack of physical activity can increase your odds of breast cancer, red meat will give you colon cancer, alcohol can lead to pancreatic cancer and fruits and vegetables may protect against lung cancer … uh, but only in men. The study also achieved the amazing feat of indicating that dietary fat may lead to breast cancer – but red meat doesn’t.

Considering how many headlines this study has already produced – with more sure to follow – I’m going to suggest you memorize the name: The NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. I’m also going to suggest that when you spot an article that cites this study, you bookmark it, download it, print it, and then use the pages to paper-train a puppy.

Apparently, this one study that the NIH and the AARP conducted by mailing out questionnaires to AARP members has been used to generate all sorts of dietary/health conclusions...all of which have been than used generate an informational cascade in which it has now become the conventional wisdom that saturated fats are bad for you.

Here’s the first big problem with the study (the largest of its kind!): the survey itself. In order to determine what people eat, the investigators sent them a list of 120 foods and asked them to answer questions like this:

Over the last 12 months, how often did you eat the following foods? (Ignore any recent changes.)

Whole milk (4%), NOT in coffee, NOT on cereal: Never | 1-6 per year | 7-11 per year | 1 per month | 2-3 per month | 1-2 per week | 3-4 per week | 5-6 per week | 1 per day | 2-3 per day | 4-5 per day | 6+ per day. Portion size: less than ½ cup | ½ to 1 cup | more than 1 cup.

Breads or dinner rolls, NOT INCLUDING ON SANDWICHES: Never | 1-6 per year | 7-11 per year | 1 per month | 2-3 per month | 1-2 per week | 3-4 per week | 5-6 per week | 1 per day | 2-3 per day | 4-5 per day | 6+ per day. Portion size: less than 1 slice or roll | 1 or 2 slices or rolls | more than 2 slices or rolls.

Mayonnaise or mayonnaise-like salad dressing on bread: Never | 1-6 per year | 7-11 per year | 1 per month | 2-3 per month | 1-2 per week | 3-4 per week | 5-6 per week | 1 per day | 2-3 per day | 4-5 per day | 6+ per day. Portion size: less than 1 teaspoon | 1 to 3 teaspoons | more than 3 teaspoons.

Ground beef in mixtures such as tacos, burritos, meatballs, casseroles, chili, meatloaf: Never | 1-6 per year | 7-11 per year | 1 per month | 2-3 per month | 1-2 per week | 3-4 per week | 5-6 per week | 1 per day | 2-3 per day | 4-5 per day | 6+ per day. Portion size: less than 3 ounces | 3 to 7 ounces | more than 7 ounces.

Damn...just as I suspected. Ridiculous questions with no real possibility of getting accurate results to bolster their arguments when they reach their predetermined conclusions...

around 600,000 people did return the survey, which leads to the second problem: this is a self-selected group that doesn’t mirror the general population.

In the baseline data, it’s obvious that compared to the general population, the survey group is far more likely to be white (over 90 percent), well educated, and non-smoking. The authors admitted they were concerned about the low response rate (about 17 percent), but managed to discern that “a shifting and widening of the intake distributions among respondents compensated for the less-than-anticipated response rate.”

In other words, they declared this cross-section of the population varied enough for a study and decided to keep going. (Gotta pay that mortgage, you know.)

This, folks, is called MARKETING...NOT SCIENCE. I took Marketing in college, and this is the standard tactic for gathering marketing information so you can formulate a business plan.

Here’s the third problem: the self-selected group was winnowed down even further by the investigators. Yes, it’s common practice to try to dump incomplete or suspicious data, but in explaining how they determined if a survey was sufficiently complete, they stated, “In calculating our initial cohort sample size of 350,000 we focused on a single nutrient, dietary fat.”

Hmmm … sounds to me like they already had an opinion about which nutrient would wind up being linked to cancer. If they could determine how much fat you ate, you were in. Why fat? Why not sugar, or white flour, or corn flakes?

Why the fat? Gotta sell We the Sheeple on all of that highly profitable manufactured food products that are fat-free...non-fat...lite...reduced fat! We don't want them to know that REAL food that nourishes and strengthens the body is full of natural FAT.

Nearly ten years after the first survey, the authors mailed a similar questionnaire, along with others that asked about exercise, smoking and medications. Then they compared the respondents’ diets with their rates of various diseases, focusing primarily on cancer. That’s where they came up with all the crunchable numbers.

I've argued vehemently on the internet at various forums with people who are so brainwashed into believing that the modern, conventional dietary wisdom about saturated fats and heart disease and cancer are SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN. Is this what you call science?

So how well do numbers like these crunch? That’s the fourth big problem: they don’t crunch very well. They’re more on the squishy side. In one of their many papers, here’s how the researchers evaluated the accuracy of their own food-intake data:

For the 26 nutrient constituents examined, estimated correlations with true intake (not energy-adjusted) ranged from 0.22 to 0.67 … When adjusted for reported energy intake, performance improved; estimated correlations with true intake ranged from 0.36 to 0.76.

So what does that statement mean? Here’s what a site that explains statistics in plain English has to say about correlation:

Correlations of less than 0.1 are as good as garbage. The correlation shown, 0.9, is very strong. Correlations have to be this good before you can talk about accurately predicting the Y value from the X value...

...But for this study, the estimated correlation (after being adjusted upwards) is between 0.36 and 0.76. In other words, the investigators themselves estimate that the accuracy of their food survey is somewhere between lousy and decent. Well, decent might be stretching it. The same analysis of their own study included this statement:

However, previous biomarker-based studies suggest that, due to correlation of errors in FFQs and self-report reference instruments such as the 24HR, the correlations and attenuation factors observed in most calibration studies, including ours, tend to overestimate FFQ performance.

So the lousy-to-decent estimate might be overestimated. Kudos to them for saying as much. And yet from this data, they’re going to look for correlations between diets and diseases and write a slew of research papers on what they find.

A slew of research papers, which are then cited as SCIENTIFIC STUDIES that are turned into headlines like Eating Animal Fat May Lead to Pancreatic Cancer.

Don't forget to stock up on your high fructose corn syrup-laden, monosodium glutamate-enhanced, bleached white flour fortified, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil incorporated food's FAT FREE!

Which brings us to the fifth big problem: the associations you find when looking at data depend largely on the associations you seek. In a study like this, you gather a huge amount of data, then you ask the data some questions. How you ask the question affects the answer.

Some months ago, the researchers asked this data if there was an association between red meat and colon cancer, and wouldn’t you know it, the data answered “yes.” At least that’s the story that made the headlines. But the truth is, the question they asked went more like this: “Do people who eat a lot of steaks, hot dogs, hamburgers, sausage, pizza, cold cuts, bacon and deli sandwiches have a higher rate of colon cancer?”

Grouping all those foods together under the label “red meat” confounds the question – and it wasn’t necessary to confound the question. In the food survey, “steaks” is a separate item. If you really want to know if red meat causes cancer, why not simply ask, “Do people who eat a lot steaks have a higher rate of colon cancer?” Maybe they did ask that question. Maybe they didn’t like the answer, so they asked it again and included pizza and hot dogs.

Here’s another strange grouping: the food survey lumped butter and margarine together as a single food item. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I read that one. Talk about confounding the data! Butter is natural. Margarine is a processed frankenfood. The only similarity is that people spread them on toast. You may as well lump cigarettes and carrot sticks together because they have the same shape.

Haughton is making a similar point to the one I made in my earlier post:

"Take your typical value meal at a hamburger fast food joint. It will contain saturated fats from the hamburger, partially-hydrogenated soy bean vegetable oil in the bun, rancid, poly-unsaturated vegetable oil for the deep fried french fries, not to mention copious quantities of corn syrup sweeteners and additives in the soda and condiments. If you are eating fast food, restaurant's meals, convenience food, etc., your meal will contain a variety of both animal and vegetable fats in it.

How the hell is a self-answer supplied questionnaire supposed to be able to adequately account for that?

Haughton continues:

Even when researchers ask well-designed questions, there’s the “don’t ask, don’t tell” problem: there may be associations lurking in the data that no one is looking for. When Ancel Keys cherry-picked six countries and went looking for an association between fat and heart disease, he found it. But the same overall data showed a much stronger association between sugar and heart disease … and an even stronger association between television ownership and heart disease.

Which brings us to the sixth problem: Associations are only useful for providing clues. They don’t identify the cause. There’s a strong association between obesity and type II diabetes. Does that mean being fat causes diabetes? Nope. It could mean diabetes makes you fat. Or, more likely, it could mean obesity and diabetes are both caused by excess insulin. You get the idea.

I certainly do. Too bad the dupes and useful idiots in the mainstream press don't. No, they take these biased, subjective and erroneous conclusions based on faulty methodology, and indoctrinate society into accepting falsehoods as conventional wisdom with a myriad of articles, columns, TV reporting stories all pushing the same BS.

Haughton's conclusion is going to be my new reference point whenever I read the latest "FAT IS BAD" propaganda...

The next time you see yet another paper from this study (the largest of its kind!) generate yet another round of alarmist headlines about the possible dangers of animal fats (and you will), keep this in mind about The NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study:

What we’re looking at is 1) a survey study with a low response rate that 2) required old people to accurately recall what they’d eaten in the past year (twice), which then provided data that is 3) almost certainly polluted by self-selection and confounding variables, and is 4) being analyzed by researchers who indicated from the beginning that their main concern is dietary fat, all for the purpose of 5) identifying associations, which don’t tell us very much anyway.

I'd like to see just who it was that REALLY financed the NIH to conduct this study with the willing dupes in the AARP...let's just say I wouldn't doubt it if somehow the money trail eventually got back to giant food/agriculture producers.

You know, the same people responsible for lobbying the Federal governmental agencies to produce a "Food Pyramid" guide telling everyone to eat copious amounts of grains.


Mr.M said...

I'd like to see just who it was that REALLY financed the NIH to conduct this study with the willing dupes in the AARP...let's just say I wouldn't doubt it if somehow the money trail eventually got back to giant food/agriculture producers.

That's exactly the same thing I was thinking while reading this post.

Its really depressing seeing how brainwashed (and at the very least, unwilling to try new things) sheeple are. I try to talk to some people I know, in this case specifically about dietary concerns, and i get the same ol "saturated fats BAD, avoid like the plague" nonsense. For no other reason than it is "common knowledge," as one person put it.

Not to detract from your post or blog, but I stumbled upon this website while searching for info re: high fat low carb diets:

Its a little gimmicky, but informative nonetheless.

Keoni Galt said...

Oh yeah Mr. M....been reading up on the daily apple for about a month or so. While my main source of info that I used as a guideline for my own dietary changes was the Weston Price Foundation. When I discovered Mark's daily apple, and began reading through his archives, I realized that I pretty much have switched to a paleo diet...I just never called it that. :)

Amy said...

I usually just lurk on your blog, but simply had to tell you how wonderful this post is. Since coming across the Weston Price Foundation several years ago, my husband and I have switched our diets and have enjoyed wonderful health ever since. Both of us have never felt or looked better than we have since going high fat/high protein and our daughter has done wonderfully on the diet as well. Our daughter was born a few weeks early, but in perfect health and quite large considering her early arrival and she never had so much as a drop of formula as this diet makes the milk very plentiful. My husband and I both credit this diet & the Brewer's Diet guidelines for my easy pregnancy, our daughter's quick & successful natural birth, my breastfeeding success for our goal of 2 years, and our daughter's continuing excellent health. She's been ill exactly one time in her life: an ear infection last December.

Oh, and I must add, neither my husband nor myself can keep the weight on, despite the conventional wisdom which would claim we'd be fat and unhealthy while eating grassfed beef, drinking lots of raw milk, and using coconut oil as our oil of choice. ;o)

I am especially intrigued about "following the money" behind the standard American diet as I have celiac disease & a soy allergy and am well aware that *many* other people are walking around undiagnosed as I once was. Nearly every meal in American contains wheat or another glutenous grain in some form and even without symptoms of the illness, one's health is adversely effected. I'm convinced the reason many folks feel better while doing Atkins or another low carb diet is due to an undiagnosed food allergy, intolerance, or full blown celiac disease. A grain/carb heavy diet promotes poor health as is, but especially when very common food allergies come into play. Gluten, corn, and soy are among the most prevalent food allergens and they are in *everything* that is a processed "food" product....

Thank you for yet another fantastic post on the "diet deceptions". Hopefully more people will wake up and begin to question the mainstream wisdom!

Keoni Galt said...

My pleasure Mrs. Amy! It seems like most people don't get it when I try to explain these things to them. Usually, people cling to their conventional wisdom, just HAS to be wrong!

In a way, I empathize....I remember the very first time I saw something online (I don't even remember where,) that said "eat all the bacon, eggs, steak, shrimp, oysters, fish, ham, sausage, cheese you want...and lose weight! Never count calories again! You don't even need to exercise!

It sounded too good to be true.

Only now do I realize that eating "FAT FREE" or "REDUCED FAT" food as the "key to health and weight loss," is really the pernicious lie that sounds too good to be true.