Flutterby™! : Nutrition beliefs

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Nutrition beliefs

2009-06-30 12:50:04.854069+00 by Dan Lyke 4 comments

"Slightly overweight" people live longer than "normal weight" people (/. summary linking to Science Daily article and NY Times article).

Charlene and I have some differing views on health and nutrition. There are several places where each of us looks at the belief structures the other has and ask "how can you know that?" and "how can you believe that?". In particular, Charlene's a fan of the Gerson therapy, an alleged cure for everything that involves copious amounts of fresh vegetable juices, but whose health claims I believe don't hold up under scrutiny. On the other hand, her variant of this has helped her go from a size 18 to a size 6, so its hard for me to critique too hard.

But as I look at some of the claims of the proponents of Gerson therapy, its hard for me to critique them when on the conventional medicine side I'm met with things like the four food lobbies which became the ludicrous food pyramid, and I'm met with quotes like:

“It may be that a few extra pounds actually protect older people as their health declines, but that doesn’t mean that people in the normal weight range should try to put on a few pounds,” said Mark Kaplan, DrPH, coauthor and Professor of Community Health at Portland State University. “Our study only looked at mortality, not at quality of life, and there are many negative health consequences associated with obesity, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.”

Because high cholesterol might lead to heart disease which might lead to early death? Uh... yeah. Not to mention that the whole "high cholesterol" thing has morphed from "high cholesterol" to "high LDL cholesterol" to "the 'proper' ratio between....". And how did we come up with "normal" weight here in the first place?

[ related topics: Politics Health Food ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-30 13:40:54.970119+00 by: m

"And how did we come up with "normal" weight here in the first place?"

I have never been satisfied with the use of BMI as a metric for scoring weight/height appropriateness. It is more than simplistic in that it does not take major factors into account, such as gender, age, skeletal structure or muscular development. At the same height, health men will normally typically weigh more than healthy women. A large bone framed individual will weigh more than a person with a slight build. Adolescents will not have filled out. Naturally muscular individuals and athletes will have increased muscle weight without increased fat.

If they are of the same height, the same metric would be used for both, a 25 year old male athlete with a large frame, and a 16 year old sedentary female with a slight skeleton. BMI is obviously a poor indicator.

A better measure would be a simple measurement of abdominal fat ("pinch an inch" type of measurement with a visceral fat tonometer), or an estimate of total body fat which can be either a quick screen via an impedance measurement, or a body density evaluation which is more complex but more accurate.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-30 14:38:41.529815+00 by: Dan Lyke

But I think the larger question for any of those measurement techniques is: what's the process by which we're defining "normal" and "healthy"? Public health recommendations have gotten so tied up in politics and economics that they're actively undermining both science and health.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-06-30 15:47:36.814153+00 by: m

Yes, in certain aspects public health has become more political than scientific for quite some time. Obesity, smoking and AIDS surveillance are archetypal examples, but not the only ones.

Some of that degradation is endogenous (personal bias and empire building), some of it is the result of public health being forced to address political concerns that are external to its mission. An example of the latter is the sometimes insanity over barely measurable amounts of some supposed carcinogens in water, air or food. Those of concern for this discussion are the issues not tied to significant risk or mortality, but to publicity and political pressure.

For example, a panic about cake mixes which contained a preservative believed to cause cancer. The expected mortality rate from the cancer was less than that of the vehicular death rate of consumers returning the product to the supermarket.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-07-01 17:00:02.591819+00 by: jeff [edit history]

Clearly, there is something wrong with the diet of many Americans, and/or their exercise habits.

This recent report cites a study which states that "obesity rates among adults rose in 23 states over the past year and didn't decline anywhere..."

One trip to a mall is all that I need to visually/subjectively confirm this in Ohio.

The "decline of empire" or the "empire in decline" continues broadly.