Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Dr. Frieden, Call Your Office

New York City may have already sicced its food cops on anyone using trans-fats, but according to a new report, that may have been premature. John Tierney reports in yesterday's New York Times:

In 1988, the surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, proclaimed ice cream to a be public-health menace right up there with cigarettes. Alluding to his office’s famous 1964 report on the perils of smoking, Dr. Koop announced that the American diet was a problem of “comparable” magnitude, chiefly because of the high-fat foods that were causing coronary heart disease and other deadly ailments.

He introduced his report with these words: “The depth of the science base underlying its findings is even more impressive than that for tobacco and health in 1964.”

That was a ludicrous statement, as Gary Taubes demonstrates in his new book meticulously debunking diet myths, “Good Calories, Bad Calories” (Knopf, 2007). The notion that fatty foods shorten your life began as a hypothesis based on dubious assumptions and data; when scientists tried to confirm it they failed repeatedly. The evidence against Häagen-Dazs was nothing like the evidence against Marlboros.

Read the whole thing. It's a fascinating take on how one myth can cascade into conventional wisdom. This seems to be exactly what's happened with fears of secondhand smoke.

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