Thursday, November 23, 2006


Until you look at the actual data. Popular summary below followed by the actual journal abstract

SWEETENED foods and drinks are already at the pointy end of the food pyramid, but now there's another reason to avoid them. According to new research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, consumption of soft drinks and added sugar increases the risk of developing pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly forms of this disease. Starting in 1997, scientists surveyed the diets of 77,797 healthy men and women aged 45 to 83.

Participants were monitored for the next eight years, during which time 131 were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Those who drank soft drinks twice a day or more had a 93 per cent greater risk of pancreatic cancer than those who never drank them. Adding sugar to food or drinks (such as coffee, tea and cereal) at least five times a day increased the risk of pancreatic cancer by 69 per cent. The authors suggest that the constant pressure on the pancreas to produce insulin in response to high sugar intake could lead to cancer.


Journal Abstract follows:

Consumption of sugar and sugar-sweetened foods and the risk of pancreatic cancer in a prospective study

By Susanna C Larsson, Leif Bergkvist and Alicja Wolk

Background: Emerging evidence indicates that hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia may be implicated in the development of pancreatic cancer. Frequent consumption of sugar and high-sugar foods may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer by inducing frequent postprandial hyperglycemia, increasing insulin demand, and decreasing insulin sensitivity.

Objective: The objective of the study was to examine prospectively the association of the consumption of added sugar (ie, sugar added to coffee, tea, cereals, etc) and of high-sugar foods with the risk of pancreatic cancer in a population-based cohort study of Swedish women and men.

Design: A food-frequency questionnaire was completed in 1997 by 77 797 women and men aged 45-83 y who had no previous diagnosis of cancer or history of diabetes. The participants were followed through June 2005.

Results: During a mean follow-up of 7.2 y, we identified 131 incident cases of pancreatic cancer. The consumption of added sugar, soft drinks, and sweetened fruit soups or stewed fruit was positively associated with the risk of pancreatic cancer. The multivariate hazard ratios for the highest compared with the lowest consumption categories were 1.69 (95% CI: 0.99, 2.89; P for trend = 0.06) for sugar, 1.93 (1.18, 3.14; P for trend = 0.02) for soft drinks, and 1.51 (0.97, 2.36; P for trend = 0.05) for sweetened fruit soups or stewed fruit.

Conclusion: High consumption of sugar and high-sugar foods may be associated with a greater risk of pancreatic cancer.


Note that despite the dubious expedient of taking extreme groups only, the trend for sugar overall was NOT STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT (p = .06 -- above the conventional .05 threshold). That certainly plays havoc with the interpretation! Clearly, all the effects were very weak -- the sort of effect that is often not replicable. Simple mean scores for cancer sufferers and non-sufferers would have been much more interesting -- and undoubtedly inconvenient

Britain: The ‘school meals revolution’: a dog’s dinner

Scare stories about kids eating 'shit' have created a crisis in school dinners. What a shock!

‘It is about one decent man’s heroic battle against an uncaring, bureaucratic system; about the exploitation of dinner ladies and everybody else who has to struggle away on the front line in a country which no longer values leadership, principles and standards; about the corruption of childhood; and the loss of virtue.’ So said a columnist in the Daily Telegraph after celebrity chef Jamie Oliver launched his Channel 4 TV campaign – nay, crusade – to rescue British school meals from multinationals, and children from their own bad eating habits and feckless parents. What has been the upshot of Oliver’s ‘heroic battle’? Increased bureaucratic monitoring of parents; fewer children eating school meals; even greater exploitation of dinner ladies; and local authorities struggling to pay for all this new found ‘virtue’.

New rules on meals, including restrictions on vending machines, came into force in September. This week, the BBC reported on the results of a survey conducted in 59 local authorities to find out how they had fared. In 35 of them, fewer children were eating school meals – that is, they are no longer having a hot dinner during the day. Of these, 71 per cent felt that Oliver’s campaign was one of the reasons. As it happens, Oliver is far from being solely responsible. But he has been the most high-profile promoter of an obsession with freshly prepared food, locally-sourced, at the expense of ‘junk’ containing salt, sugar and fat. If he’s happy to accept the plaudits, he should also take a few brickbats.

The fresh-food obsession has been cut-and-pasted into a school meals service that doesn’t do that kind of thing, and which has been in steady decline. With staff not accustomed to actually doing much cooking, instead just heating pre-packed food, the jump to food preparation has been mainly at their expense. Across the country, dinner ladies have been working late and starting early to get everything done – usually without extra pay. This is hardly a surprise. In the original series, Jamie’s School Dinners, his sidekick and long-suffering school cook Nora Sands seemed to have her life taken over by the demands of making and promoting Jamie’s food.

In May this year, spiked‘s Brendan O’Neill interviewed Cathy Stewart, a dinner lady in Hackney in London and a union rep, for the New Statesman. ‘Overnight, we were expected to start seasoning meat and peeling hundreds of carrots - but that takes time and we’re not being paid for it’, said Stewart. ‘They want dinner ladies to become professional chefs. But they won’t give us the resources we need. We have outdated equipment and we don’t have enough staff.’ (2) Stewart was balloting members about industrial action.

When the food is finally ready, many children are turning their noses up at it. It’s not just that the food is unfamiliar – it’s also not actually allowed to taste of anything. In post-Jamie’s School Dinners Britain, salt is treated like nerve poison rather than an essential element of flavour, and is banned from canteen tables. When given a choice, kids have tended to choose the ‘junk’ and vote with their feet against the new options. School caterers in Denbighshire in North Wales found that 40 per cent fewer children ate meals on ‘healthy’ food days (3).

If the kids don’t like the food, they will struggle to find alternative sustenance like crisps and chocolate bars in school. The ban on ‘tuck’, along with the extra costs of ingredients, has been a double whammy for school food budgets. As the follow-up Channel 4 programme, Jamie’s Return to School Dinners, showed at Kidbrooke School, this didn’t stop children from eating sweets and savoury snacks. It simply meant that they bought them on the way to school instead – enriching local shopkeepers and depriving the school of important revenue; a sum that ran well into five figures in Kidbrooke’s case.

In other schools, it is reported that children have set up their own ‘black markets’ in junk food, selling sweets to each other behind the bike sheds or in the toilets, as if they were dealing in deadly substances. This might show that children are as wily as ever when it comes to breaking the rules; it also suggests they are developing a pretty screwed-up attitude to the joys of food in general (see The junk food smugglers).

If the sums are getting uncomfortable at Kidbrooke, they’re downright serious in Denbighshire. A report has warned councillors in the county that the school meals service is ‘no longer financially viable’ after servings were down by 100,000. The service lost £81,000 in the last year – a major blow for a relatively small local authority. Part of the problem was the decision to go for locally-sourced meat – a nice subsidy to farmers which looks like a luxury now that sales are down.

What started out as a crusade has become mired not only in the hubris of Oliver’s fantasy of a ‘school meals revolution’ (replacing chips with ciabatta does not qualify as a revolution) but also in the dumping of every other modern food prejudice into the mix. For one thing, we’ve been forced to listen to Oliver’s tirades against parents and packed lunches (see Jamie Oliver: what a ‘tosser’ and Are packed lunches the ‘biggest evil’? by Rob Lyons). This tirade became a chorus of indignation from all right-thinking newspaper hacks when two mothers started supplying takeaway food to kids at a Rotherham school. The fact that the children were struggling to be fed in the ludicrously short lunchbreak, and didn’t much like the food when they did manage to get it, was simply ignored. Parents getting involved with schools is usually regarded as a wholesome example of community spirit - except when it’s off-message like this.

We also now have the prospect of ‘fat charts’ in schools, where children will be weighed by school staff to see if they are the ‘right weight’ for their age, height and gender (4). Such a measure will effectively institutionalise that age-old trend of bullying the fat kid of the class, where children who fall short of state-imposed waist measurements will be made to feel like outcasts not only by their peers but also by the school system itself. And these fat charts are also yet another example of the undermining of parents’ authority: the clear message is that mums and dads can’t be trusted to keep their children in shape, so the authorities will have to do it.

A significant chunk of the extra millions spent on school meals has actually gone to create the School Food Trust, a quango designed to promote healthy eating (5). Did we really need another body to tell us that kids are getting too fat, or remind us of the ‘Seven Deadly Sins: food facts that every parent should know’? And vilifying the catering giants like Sodexho might provide a thrill for those who hate big corporations, but having handed a swathe of school meals over to them, it might have been easier to take a more constructive approach to working with them.

Jamie Oliver, and the government ministers and journalists who fell at his feet, told us that schools are feeding our children ‘shit’, and today’s children will be the first generation to die before their parents. None of this was based in fact, but unsurprisingly such kneejerk scaremongering has had a negative rather than a positive impact. After Jamie has ridden off on his scooter into the sunset, the school meals service may actually settle down and recover - but only if staff and parents work very hard to fix it while quietly dropping or subverting many of his more nonsensical ideas, and while kicking against that new layer of school-meals bureaucracy that is at least as obsessed with lecturing mums, dads and their children as it is with replacing butter with olive oil.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter? It is just about pure fat. Surely it should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). For a summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and no lasting harm from them has ever been shown.


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