Friday, February 15, 2008

That fast food study....

Deception, conspiracy or just bad reporting?

The more I think about the way that this study on fast food has been reported the more annoyed and puzzled I get. The scientists found one thing, yet the media have reported something quite different.

Yesterday I only pointed to the abstract, but it is worth reading the whole study in Gut, which is freely available.

Whatever questions you have about the method, the article says some straightforward things. As Dr Briffa points out in an excellent post:

Over the course of the 4-week study, those on the fast-food regime put on an average of about 6.5 kg in weight. In particular, waist size increased significantly. The level of the liver enzyme known as ALT (alanine aminotransferase) went up from an average of 22.1 U/L (normal) to 97.0 U/L (abnormally raised). This would be taken, generally speaking, as a sign of liver damage. Not only that, but the fat level in the liver cells of these individuals increased by over 150 per cent. One of the 18 participants developed full blown fatty liver (quite a feat in just four weeks of unhealthy eating).....

....they wanted to see if they could find out what it was about fast food that seemed to damaged the liver.

Here’s what they found:

  • Intake of FAT was NOT associated with ALT levels
  • Intake of PROTEIN was NOT associated with ALT levels
  • Total CALORIE INTAKE was NOT associated with ALT levels
  • Intake of CARBOHYDRATE WAS associated with ALT levels

The problem with the diet was not excess fat, but excess carbohydrates!

As Dr Biffa says:

Any of you wanting to remember that it’s carbs that cause fatty deposition in the liver can do this contemplating the making of foie gras. What is it that geese are force-fed to turn their livers into something that is mainly fat? The answer, of course, is grain.

However, did you see how was this study reported? I flicked thorugh the coverage on Google News and the media cannot see past their assumption - their presupposition - that Fat is Bad....

Here is a particularly bad example:

But blood tests revealed a more serious health issue; people eating the fast food had elevated levels of proteins in their blood that signaled potential liver damage. The liver is responsible for processing fat in the body, but the fat levels in fast food are too much for the liver to handle on a regular basis.

The excess fat builds up in liver cells and causes damage.

Forget what the study said! It was the fat what did it!!!!

(One or two other reports were more balanced e.g. this from Australia)

Regina Wilshire points this out as well:

Then there is the CBS article, "The study, published in the advance online edition of Gut, doesn't show which was more damaging - bingeing on fatty food or being sedentary."

ABC News, "The extra fat is the big enchilada here..."

My take? There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Deception? / Conspiracy? / Bad journalism? I don't know

Maybe it is simply that we live in a world in which fat is bad. Contrary evidence is just not understood, not heretical, merely incomprehensible. It is like when Copernicus came up with his heliocentric model of the solar system (with the sun in the middle rather than the earth). The old model was no longer working - things like the retrograde motion of Mars were being observed that were difficult to explain in the old model, but still people clung to that old model. They couldn't accept a different way of seeing the world. Perhaps it is time for a similar revolution with respect to fat?


Anonymous said...

Well, no, the study doesn't show that all carbs are bad, just the highly-refined simple carbs found in fast foods. You can't use this study to justify a low-carb diet.

Chris said...

i didn't say the problem was with all carbs. The point of the post was the demonisation of fat.

Anonymous said...

Chris, sometimes it is helpful to keep in mind something Robert Heinlein said, "Never attribute to conspiracy that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

Lots of reports and media types are plain stupid and/or incompetent.

generic cialis said...

I guess that all this kind of problems related with food quality should be fixed by goverments and we also must try to eat healthy food.