Monday, December 11, 2006


Sufferers from some conditions (such as histadelia) are told to avoid folic acid. Looks like no convenient bread purchases for them in future!

Britain will take the first step towards mass medication of the population this week with the publication of proposals to add the vitamin folic acid to bread. A report commissioned by ministers will recommend the compulsory fortification of flour and bread with folic acid to help prevent babies being born with birth defects. It will say the benefits seen in the United States and Canada, where the strategy has helped reduce birth defects such as spina bifida by as much as 50%, justify such state intervention.

It will, however, be controversial: critics claim it takes away individual choice and could have other health risks, including contributing to neurological damage in the elderly. In Australia, where a similar proposal is being advocated, there has been vocal opposition from the food industry, which claims it is backed by up to 90% of the public in polls.

In Britain, the move is being proposed by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, which was commissioned by ministers to examine the case for adding folic acid to bread. Scientists believe compulsorily adding folic acid to flour could prevent more than 150 cases a year in which babies develop neural tube defects. Some of these are aborted. Babies can develop such defects - abnormalities of the brain and spine - if the mother is deficient in folic acid when she conceives. Women are encouraged to take folic acid supplements when they are planning to have a child but because almost half of all births in Britain are unplanned, many women are not taking the tablets when they become pregnant.

Andrew Russell, chief executive of the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, said: "Hundreds of abortions are carried out every year in the UK for spina bifida, and a lot of severely disabled babies are still being born. "It is the poorest and most educationally underprivileged who are most at risk of a spina bifida pregnancy. Unfortunately, relying on women to plan pregnancy and take a folic acid supplement in advance is unrealistic in many cases."

While most doctors agree that adding folic acid to bread could benefit pregnant women, some medical professionals say the proposal could be to the detriment of the elderly. Evidence has shown that folic acid can mask the deficiency of another vitamin, B12, a common medical complaint in the over-65s. This week the Food Standards Agency will launch a three-month-long public consultation on the proposal before ministers make a final decision on its introduction.

Meanwhile, parents are expected to be told by the government's health regulator this week to eat meals with their children, ration how much television they watch and replace the school run with a walk or cycle. In one of the biggest attempts to influence the way people live their daily lives, the watchdog responsible for the way the National Health Service spends its money will announce guidelines to help tackle the obesity epidemic. The advice from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) is expected to tell families to start their day by eating breakfast together, preferably including one of the five recommended daily portions of fruit and vegetables. The family should then embark on a more active journey to work or school, possibly cycling or walking part of the way. This could even involve some obese adults being given "personalised travel plans".

Despite growing concern over the sedentary and unhealthy lifestyles of many children, critics are likely to see the guidance as a further move towards an overbearing nanny state. For those who do need to slim down the guidance will set out the type of diets they should follow. Crash diets resulting in weight loss of more than 2lb a week will be ruled out, as will regimes based on restricted foods such as the so-called cabbage soup diet. As reported in The Sunday Times earlier this year, Nice will recommend stomach-stapling surgery for obese children on the NHS at an estimated cost of 10,000 pounds per operation. [So: Plenty of money for an essentially cosmetic procedure while everyone else waits!]


The Bloomberg Diet: The nanny state reaches into the kitchen

You might think that officials in New York City, which has more people than all but 11 states, had enough to do providing basic city services. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg believes that what New Yorkers really need is a better diet, and he's just the man to order it. A politician's work is never done. At the mayor's urging this week, New York's Board of Health voted to ban restaurant use of artificial trans fats, those liquid oils made solid through hydrogenation and found in all manner of fried, baked and processed foods. Many of these products aren't particularly healthy, but then neither are many products people enjoy that contain sugar and caffeine, substances that New York hasn't outlawed. At least not yet.

"We're just trying to make food safer," said Mayor Bloomberg, who nixed smoking in bars a few years back. The city's concern for the health of residents is understandable, but trans fats are not E. coli (or even secondhand smoke), and the federal Food and Drug Administration still considers these chemically modified food ingredients perfectly safe for consumption. Could it be that Mayor Mike has been taken in by activist Gotham health czars and national Naderite "watchdog" outfits like Michael Jacobson's Center for Science in the Public Interest, among others pushing a larger agenda?

You wouldn't know it from the media coverage, but the science on the dangers of trans fats is still being debated, which helps explain FDA approval of the ingredient. It also explains why the American Heart Association, while no fan of trans fats, was critical of the New York proposal and fears it may backfire if food outlets revert to even less healthy alternatives.

The food nannies insist that trans fats raise cholesterol and cause heart disease. The problem, says Steven Milloy of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, is that the studies purporting to show this link are inconclusive at best. "People cite lab studies that show transient changes in blood lipids when people consume trans fats, but that's a long way from heart attacks and heart disease," says Mr. Milloy.

Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health is one of the nation's leading trans fat alarmists. Earlier this year he co-authored an article in the New England Journal of Medicine that said trans fats "appear to increase the risk of coronary heart disease more than any other macroingredient." As evidence the article cited three studies. One showed a statistically insignificant correlation between trans fats and heart disease when other risk factors are considered. The other two studies found a link between very high consumption of trans fats and heart trouble, but statistically the association was weak.

Before other cities decide to regulate diets absent a safety issue, they might also consider that some of the same people now pushing for a trans fat ban once recommended the ingredient as a substitute for another health scare: saturated fats. Twenty years ago, Mr. Jacobson's CSPI launched a public relations blitz against fast food joints for using palm oil to cook fries. The group claimed victory when restaurants started using partially hydrogenated oil instead. In 1988, a CSPI newsletter declared that "the charges against trans fat just don't hold up. And by extension, hydrogenated oils seem relatively innocent." Today, Mr. Jacobson is claiming trans fats kill 30,000 people a year. We wonder if he feels guilty.

The ultimate goal of these so-called consumer advocates is to persuade the FDA to turn on trans fats, a move that would serve the food industry up as the next entree on the plaintiff bar's menu. Don't be surprised if the new Democrat Congress helps them pursue this goal, just like Mayor Bloomberg, on the dubious assumption that people can't decide for themselves what and what not to eat.



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.


No comments: