For over a half-century, the government and those in the medical and science community who fed at its richly nutritious teats of grants and subsidies had declared that it was a scientific fact that dietary fats were a primary cause of heart disease, obesity and related diseases. They were as sure of this as the government and the science community are today about the causes and consequences of global warming.
But they were dead wrong about fats, and millions of people have died prematurely because of their faulty science. But now we are expected to believe their hypotheses about global warming, although it is exponentially more difficult to isolate and prove causal links between human activity and climate change than it is between nutrition and disease.
After all, in studies of global warming, unlike studies of human disease, it’s impossible to establish a control group or conduct experiments on rats and monkeys or undertake epidemiological studies of humans. One would have to go to another planet that has life on it to conduct similar research to prove or disprove hypotheses about man-caused global warming.
The story of how Americans were led astray about dietary fat is told in The Case Against Sugar, by Gary Taubes, an award-winning medical and science journalist. He says that the government, the medical community, and nutrition scientists missed the real culprit: refined sugar, as well as carbohydrates in general. Then he provides the science behind this hypothesis, summarizes the related experiments and epidemiological studies, and describes how the sugar industry spent huge sums of money on lobbying, research grants, and marketing to keep sugar and sugar-laden food products from getting the blame.
Correlation is not causation, as Taubes makes clear, but the growth in sugar usage closely parallels the growing incidence of various diseases. Modern advances in endocrinology (the study of hormones and hormone related diseases) have shown that there is more than correlation between increased sugar consumption and the rise in certain diseases.
“We now eat in two weeks the amount of sugar that our ancestors of 200 years ago ate in a whole year,” wrote nutritionist John Yudkin in 1963. Since he wrote those words, sugar consumption has skyrocketed even more, not only sucrose from sugarcane and beets but also from the newer invention of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). At the same time, there has been an 800 percent increase in diabetes in the United States.
An aside: Millions of acres of rich farmland are now dedicated to the growing of corn, not only for HFCS but also for ethanol for cars and as a feedstock for cattle—which is not their natural diet and causes a host of problems with respect to animal health and the environment. How crazy is that?
And a confession: I have anti- and pro-sugar biases. On the pro-side, I used to work for the candy conglomerate, Mars, Inc. On the anti-side, because I’ve cut out most sugars and other carbohydrates from my diet, I’m at the weight and waistline of my college days, although those days were many decades ago.
Fifty years ago, one in eight Americans was obese. Today, more than one in three is obese. Diabetes has followed: About 13 percent of Americans have diabetes, with about 95 percent of those having type 2 diabetes. Another 30 percent are predicted to get the disease during their lives. By contrast, in the 1930s, only two to three Americans in every thousand had diabetes.
Sixty percent of lower-limb amputations in adults are due to diabetes, totaling over 70 thousand amputations a year in the U.S. alone. Americans spend over $30 billion per year on diabetic drugs and medical devices. And as I’ve detailed in previous commentaries, the annual cost of medical care in the U.S. stemming from obesity and overeating in general is between $700 billion and $1 trillion.
This sure seems like an epidemic to this layman. Yet the epidemic is seldom mentioned in the media coverage of rising medical costs and the political debate over a replacement for ObamaCare. This is particularly curious given that it is within the control of individuals to cut their medical expenses. They don’t need some sort of central plan hatched in Congress to do this. All they have to do is stop eating the foods that make them fat and cause heart disease, diabetes, and other medical problems. Chief among these is sugar.
Equally curious, there seems to be more media coverage about global warming than the epidemic. As a result, millennials in particular believe that climate change is the biggest threat to human health—as they chug Gatorade. Likewise, many Americans have developed a fetish for organic, non-GMO foods while continuing their high consumption of sugar. True, the consumption of soda has declined, but people are lined up in the morning at the drive-up window of Starbucks and other coffee purveyors to buy a sugar-laden milkshake masquerading as coffee, along with a sugar-laden pastry.
In the 1920s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture actually promoted sugar as an effective energy source and efficient way of acquiring calories. Then in the 1980s, the National Institutes of Health spent a quarter of a billion dollars on two trials to test the hypothesis that dietary fat causes heart disease and thus the shortening of lives. There were not similar studies about the ill-effects of sugar.
The trials were inconclusive, but that didn’t stop the government from instituting a massive propaganda campaign to encourage Americans to eat a low-fat diet. Then in the 1990s, after succumbing to pressure from women’s groups, the NIH spent a half-million to a billion dollars, depending on the estimate, on another trial to determine if there was a causal link between dietary fat and chronic disease in women. Known as the Women’s Health Initiative, the inconclusive results were released in 2006.
Today, those who raise legitimate questions about the causes and consequences of global warming are ridiculed as “climate deniers.” But what if there had been “fat deniers” fifty years ago—that is, those who questioned the government’s conclusions about dietary fat being the cause of chronic diseases instead of sugar? Perhaps there would have been a lot fewer premature deaths and a lot less spent on medical care.
As The Case Against Sugar shows, the public interest is not served by shutting down disagreements with the conventional scientific wisdom. But that’s exactly what is happening with respect to global warming, whatever the facts may prove to be about climate change.