Tuesday, January 29, 2008

FOOD FIGHT. alicublog Editor Emeritus Martin Downs, not heard in these precincts for quite some time, is wasting his health reporting credentials (CBS HealthWatch, WebMD, Master of Public Health, Dartmouth) on a goddamn blog. A goddamn good blog, too, it is shaping up to be. In this post he tells us what's wrong with the latest "counterintuitive" OpEd at the New York Times:
Today, in a Times op-ed piece, "What’s Cholesterol Got to Do With It?" [Gary Taubes] explains one more way in which everything you think you know is wrong, and doctors are lying to you. Bad cholesterol (low density lipoprotein, or LDL) isn't bad, and neither is saturated fat. Bad lipoproteins are bad, and so is a certain kind of LDL cholesterol that's the "smallest and densest"...

...he writes, "Because medical authorities have always approached the cholesterol hypothesis as a public health issue, rather than as a scientific one, we’re repeatedly reminded that it shouldn’t be questioned."

But cholesterol, diet, and exercise are public health issues. Taubes' relentless mythbusting does nothing to help readers make informed choices about their health. It only serves, at best, to make people throw up their hands in frustration. Worse, the take-home message of the three articles I've mentioned amounts to, eat all the fat you want, don't waste your time exercising, and watching cholesterol is for simps.
I am more hesitant than Martin to criticize the placement. Like most of us semi-literate scriveners, I don't like to say someone shouldn't publish in the popular press just because he might be misunderstood. My free-speech fetish to one side, this sort of thing gives ammunition to the folks who think their intel is being suppressed.

But experience shows that Martin is right that most readers won't plug this new information into what has already been discovered about nutrition. It will become a ill-digested piece of folk wisdom that helps us defend to ourselves our decision to consume crap. Those doctors are all mixed up -- look, now they say bad cholesterol is good for you! Might's well have the Three-Quarter Pounder.

Recall the recent Scripps-Howard 9/11 polls showing that ordinary Americans are, in our info-rich era, yet prone to conspiracy theories. Evidence that contradicts or challenges conventional wisdom is to be welcomed, but let's not deceive ourselves that it will lead quickly to better-informed choices. In the short run, and maybe the medium run, we may expect increased cynicism and little else.

The best choice is better education, not just in health but in basic logic. I know, it's a faint hope. But I would like to attach this hobby-horse to that "change we can believe in" bandwagon that's going around.

No comments:

Post a Comment