Friday, 16 March 2012

A Tale of Two Studies

The Harvard School of Public Health continue to piss away their intellectual capital and general esteem.  I am starting to think that their nutrition researchers couldn't empty piss out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel.

But what has really annoyed me is the reaction of NHS Choices - a media outshoot from the UK's widely loved, much supported and highly regarded National Health Service.  NHS Choices has a 'Behind the Headlines' section which was set up with this aim:
  • Behind the Headlines provides an unbiased and evidence-based analysis of health stories that make the news.
That seems pretty noble and much needed element given the hysteria whipped up by the media.  And oh how they've hyped stuff recently.  Let's look at a recent example of their 'unbiased and evidence based analysis of health stories that make the news'.

The first study that caught my attention this week was the link between red meat and 'death risk'.  The quality of the research has been covered very well on Gnolls, Taubes, Harcombe and Denise (at MDA).  The take home message is:
  1. Correlation does not equal causation (umbrellas are strongly correlated with rain, but do not cause rain). 
  2. Beware confounders.
  3. Consider the compliance effect in particular.
  4. Total Recall makes a good film, but a bad methodology.
So what of NHS Choices 'Behind the Headlines'?  On the red-meat story they commented thus (my emphasis):
  • This was a well-conducted study but it could not conclusively prove that red meat raises the risk of premature death, although the results are of key interest and the evidence is mounting on the issue.
Hmmmm.  Now is it just me or are they torturing that sentence to make it confess that 'red meat increases your death risk'? 

And now to the second story.  This time it is the v*gan favourite 'rice' - linked to diabetes.  And how does the NHS Choices 'Behind the Headlines' section cover this story (my emphasis):
  • Although the review has found an association, it cannot prove that white rice itself directly causes type 2 diabetes, as there are many other factors that could affect the risk of developing the condition (such as physical activity, alcohol and obesity). The four individual varied in the factors they accounted for.
Hmmmm.  That seems to be a more sympathetic analysis don't you think?  Sounds to me like white rice is just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  It all circumstantial guv'nor.

We can't know what our ancient ancestors ate, but we do know what they cannot have eaten.  Avoid the foods they cannot have eaten.  We can eat an approximation of what our ancestors ate (cow instead of mammoth for example).  Flesh out your meat based meal with some green leafy veg and occasional starchy tuber.  Go with some seasonal bias.

Another good idea is to shorten the food chain from 'hoof to tooth'. That way there is less chance of your food being adulterated.  Let food engineers prove to us that their produce is safe before we eat it.  An obvious shortcut here is to avoid the food that health conscious fat people eat.  Here is wisdom:
  • "Diet Coke is just for fat people" (Paris Hilton)
Above all, the heuristics above should see you 'steering clear of ANY food that changes its nutritional stripes to match the prevailing wisdom of the day'.  Food cannot suit fashions.  More importantly this advice should see you following a diet that is not swayed by the hysteria of ill-informed journalists nor the bias of people in the medical community who really should know better.
Don't take my word for it.  Think for yourself.

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