What Paul Krugman Could Learn From How Big Government Created The Obesity Epidemic

plkrgmnOne of the most frightening forces at work in the world today is the tendency of Big Government toward perversion of science. The scientific method is pristine. Scientists are human, and fallible. The secular beatification of scientists and demeaning of science is a perversion. Better to beatify the scientific method and reserve some skepticism for scientists (and bureaucrats).

Paul Krugman’s New York Times column again and again deploys vilification of challengers to the “human-driven climate change” narrative. Krugman defames them as “deniers”— implying a similarity with holocaust deniers. Prof. Krugman, an economist rather than a climatologist, would be better off abandoning his “Professor Ludwig Von Drake, Expert on Everything” pretensions. (Such humility, admittedly, would make his shtick less entertaining.)

Krugman, in an ensuing column Pepperoni Turns Partisan, makes a public spectacle of his Big Government Fundamentalism. Krugman studiously ignores the widely reported story (including in his own flagship venue, the New York Times) that it was not Big Food but Big Government that caused America to get fat. He states:

Why should pizza, of all things, be a divisive issue? The immediate answer is that it has been caught up in the nutrition wars. America’s body politic has gotten a lot heavier over the past half-century, and, while there is dispute about the causes, an unhealthy diet — fast food in particular — is surely a prime suspect.

At a still deeper level, health experts may say that we need to change how we eat, pointing to scientific evidence, but the Republican base doesn’t much like experts, science, or evidence. Debates about nutrition policy bring out a kind of venomous anger — much of it now directed at Michelle Obama, who has been championing school lunch reforms — that is all too familiar if you’ve been following the debate over climate change.

Yes, Paul. We are very familiar with your your venomous anger. With your inversions of fact.

And with your celebration of the perversion of science.

Scientists, finally succumbing to science, now at last officially exonerate dietary cholesterol as a cause of heart disease. Some now implicate its ban as the root of cause of the “obesity epidemic.”

Journalist Nina Teicholz, in her book The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet (tabbed by The Economist as one of the best books of 2014) makes a compelling case. It is a thorough, and shocking, piece of investigative reporting. Meanwhile, her inquest on the matter of the questionable bans isn’t merely a retrospective.  This is not an academic dispute. It has urgency.

As the New York Times recently reported:

A nutrition advisory panel that helps shape the country’s official dietary guidelines eased some of its previous restrictions on fat and cholesterol on Thursday ….

“For many years, the cholesterol recommendation has been carried forward, but the data just doesn’t support it,” said Alice H. Lichtenstein, the vice chairwoman of the advisory panel and a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University.

The advisory panel does not issue the official guidelines. Its report is sent to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, which publish Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years. The agencies usually adhere very closely to the panel’s recommendations.

Adele Hite, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the nonprofit Healthy Nation Coalition, said that in the decades since their inception, the guidelines had played a direct role in the explosion of obesity and chronic disease by steering people away from nutritious whole foods like meat, eggs and butter.

Since the 1980s, Americans over all have been eating more grains, produce, cereals and vegetable oils, while generally lowering their intake of red meat, whole milk and eggs, Ms. Hite said, and yet the population is fatter and sicker than ever.

“Despite the unavoidable conclusion that the guidelines have failed in some fundamental way,” she said, “the response from the advisory committee seems to be that an even more restricted list of acceptable foods will, this time around, do the trick.”

Teicholz promptly upon the nutrition advisory panel’s report summarized some of the conclusions of her reporting in a New York Times op-ed, The Government’s Bad Diet Advice:

FOR two generations, Americans ate fewer eggs and other animal products because policy makers told them that fat and cholesterol were bad for their health. Now both dogmas have been debunked in quick succession.

First, last fall, experts on the committee that develops the country’s dietary guidelines acknowledged that they had ditched the low-fat diet. On Thursday, that committee’s report was released, with an even bigger change: It lifted the longstanding caps on dietary cholesterol, saying there was “no appreciable relationship” between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol. Americans, it seems, had needlessly been avoiding egg yolks, liver and shellfish for decades. The new guidelines, the first to be issued in five years, will influence everything from school lunches to doctors’ dieting advice.

How did experts get it so wrong? …

Instead of accepting that this evidence was inadequate to give sound advice, strong-willed scientists overstated the significance of their studies.

Uncertain science should no longer guide our nutrition policy. Indeed, cutting fat and cholesterol, as Americans have conscientiously done, may have even worsened our health. In clearing our plates of meat and eggs (fat and protein), we ate more grains, pasta and starchy vegetables (carbohydrates). Over the past 50 years, we cut fat intake by 25 percent and increased carbohydrates by more than 30 percent, according to a new analysis of government data. Yet recent science has increasingly shown that a high-carb diet rich in sugar and refined grains increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease — much more so than a diet high in fat and cholesterol.

Teicholz reports in The Big Fat Surprise itself:

“I discovered [after having “read thousands of scientific papers, attended conferences, learned the intricacies of nutrition science, and interviewed pretty much every single living nutrition expert in the United States, some several times, plus scores more oversees”] that on the whole, the mistakes of nutrition science could not primarily be pinned on the nefarious interests of Big Food. The source of our misguided dietary advice was in some ways more disturbing, since it seems to have been driven by experts at some of our most trusted institutions working toward what they believed to be the public good.

The (dietary fat) hypothesis became accepted as truth before it was properly tested. Public health bureaucracies adopted and enshrined this unproven dogma. The hypothesis became immortalized in the mammoth institutions of public health. And the normally self-correcting mechanism of science, which involves constantly challenging one’s own beliefs, was disabled. While good science should be ruled by skepticism and self-doubt, the field of nutrition has instead been shaped by passions verging on

zealotry. And the whole system by which ideas are canonized as fact seems to have failed us.

Once ideas about fat and cholesterol became adopted by official institutions, even prominent experts in the field found it nearly impossible to challenge them. One of the twentieth century’s most revered nutrition sciences, the organic chemist David Kritchevsky, discovered his thirty years ago when, on a panel for the National Academy of Sciences, he suggested loosening the restrictions on dietary fat.

“We were jumped on!” he told me. “People would spit on us! It’s hard to imagine now, the heat of the passion. It was just like we had desecrated the American flag.”

Zealotry. Passions. Dogma.  Not “science.”

We are witness to, and victim of, the ongoing perversion of science. The US nutritional guidelines now are indicted as the root cause of many unnecessary deaths. The suppression of the debate over climate change similarly portends much misery. We are enmeshed, in the subversion of science to political ends, in a battle of epic proportions.

Often, common sense proves a better guide for life than the guidance provided by the officious.  Claiming “the Republican base doesn’t much like experts, science, or evidence” is, of course, progressive zealotry. Progressives show a chronic propensity to demean anyone who has the temerity to question their Articles of Faith.

Paul Krugman often plays Torquemada, not Isaac Newton.

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