Friday, January 26, 2007

Experts divided over obesity issue

Australians aren't getting fatter at all, according to a group of academics who claim the obesity epidemic is a money-wasting illusion. National and international researchers will convene in NSW on Thursday to argue that statistics supporting obesity and its health consequences are much more uncertain than people realise.

However, the concept has been met with intense criticism from a leading diabetes expert who says it "comes from another planet". The conference organiser, Jan Wright, says the commonly reported belief that Australians are generally fat, and growing all the time, is a "beat-up" with its own agenda. "There's no epidemic," says Professor Wright, associate dean of education at the University of Wollongong, which will host the event. "There's not these radical increases in terms of overweight and obesity like everybody thinks, so the entire argument is wrong from the start."

Prof Wright says there is no longitudinal figures to support expanding waistlines and most calculations rely on the Body Mass Index (BMI), not an accurate marker of obesity. "Using that scale, the entire All Black team would register as obese, so that can't be right."

She said many industries - especially fitness, food and pharmaceuticals - have a vested interest in perpetuating the obesity "myth" because they can make money out of the solutions. Many scientists also support the concept because, says Prof Wright, there is a huge amount of funding thrown at the area by governments. "Money is a huge motivator for people to support the position that there is an obesity epidemic," she said, "but millions of dollars are being wasted".

During the three-day conference, called Bio-pedagogies, academics, including people from the UK, Canada and New Zealand, will develop a plan to stay the momentum of the obesity argument, she said. But Paul Zimmet, director of the International Diabetes Institute, immediately discounted the "myth" concept as "from another planet". "We conduct the national Australian diabetes and obesity study and there's no question from the data that obesity is on the increase," Professor Zimmet said. "There's no illusion here, no scare-mongering - this is really wrong."


Alzheimer's cure patchy

A new skin patch showing promise as an Alzheimer's vaccine has been greeted with caution by Australia's peak advocacy group for the disease. US researchers have developed a needle-free vaccination method found to be safe and effective in clearing brain-damaging "plaques" in mice with the neurological disorder. The scientists from the University of South Florida said their technique blocked the development of brain inflammation, a serious side-effect that caused patient deaths in an earlier study.

Alzheimer's Australia national executive director Glenn Rees said the research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was promising but must be approached with care. "It's in a very early stage," Mr Rees said. "This research is one of many exciting possibilities . . . but it remains exactly that, a possibility."

The organisation's research development manager, Susanna Park, said the failure of the earlier study had made those in the field very cautious. "Obviously, because of the problems with the trials last time nobody wants to get too excited," Ms Park said. She said the new approach had been successful in mice but there was no proof it would work in humans, and the time needed to develop it from a basic, one-study mouse model was considerable.

The vaccine works by triggering the immune system to recognise beta amyloid -- a protein that abnormally builds up in the brain of an Alzheimer's patient -- as a foreign invader, and attack it. Previous research on an injectable Alzheimer's vaccine proven safe and effective in an animal model was suspended indefinitely when the initial clinical trial caused brain inflammation and death in some patients. Those serious side-effects were triggered by an auto-immune reaction that occurred when immune cells aggressively attacked the body's proteins produced by the vaccine. But the researchers say their skin patch avoids that response.



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 and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

Trans fats:

For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The use of extreme quintiles (fifths) to examine effects is in fact so common as to be almost universal but suggests to the experienced observer that the differences between the mean scores of the experimental and control groups were not statistically significant -- thus making the article concerned little more than an exercise in deception


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