Friday, March 30, 2007


Journal abstract follows:

Effects of Soft Drink Consumption on Nutrition and Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

By Lenny R. Vartanian et al.

The authors are with the Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

In a meta-analysis of 88 studies, we examined the association between soft drink consumption and nutrition and health outcomes. We found clear associations of soft drink intake with increased energy intake and body weight. Soft drink intake also was associated with lower intakes of milk, calcium, and other nutrients and with an increased risk of several medical problems (e.g., diabetes).

Study design significantly influenced results: larger effect sizes were observed in studies with stronger methods (longitudinal and experimental vs cross-sectional studies). Several other factors also moderated effect sizes (e.g., gender, age, beverage type). Finally, studies funded by the food industry reported significantly smaller effects than did non-industry-funded studies. Recommendations to reduce population soft drink consumption are strongly supported by the available science.

The naivety of this paper is rather breathtaking. From their introductory courses onward, psychologists are told that correlation is not causation. So have they simply shown that fat kids drink more fizzy drinks? I would think so. In my observation they do, anyway. Fat kids eat and drink more in general. And if you drink more fizzy drinks, do you have as much room for milk etc? That gets close to being true by definition, I think. And if kids drank less softdrink, would that make them slimmer? Not if they drank more milk -- which is highly calorific. It is a disgrace that this bit of garbage "research" was ever published -- but intellectual standards in psychology have always been very low -- nearly as low as in sociology. See here. But it's good business-bashing so that ensured its publication

Brain mishaps produce "cold" morality

This finding does tend very strongly to reinforce the clinical impression that psychopaths have "a bit missing" -- a brain abnormality -- whether from genetics, trauma, intrauterine environment or other reasons

Imagine that someone you know has AIDS and plans to infect others, some of whom will die. Your only options are to let it happen or to kill the person. Do you pull the trigger?

Most people waver or say they couldn't, even if they agree that in theory they should. But a new study reports that people with damage to one part of the brain make a less personal calculation. The logical choice, they say, is to sacrifice one life to save many.

The research shows that emotion plays a key role in moral decisions, scientists claim: if certain emotions are blocked, we make decisions thatright or wrongseem unnaturally cold.

Past studies have linked damage to some brain areas with a lack of any discernible conscience, part of a syndrome commonly called psychopathy. The new study, by contrast, identified a region of brain damage tied to what the researchers portrayed as a narrower deficit: one that strips morality of an emotional component while leaving its logical part intact.

The scientists presented 30 males and females with scenarios pitting immediate harm to one person against future harm to many. Six participants had damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, a small region behind the forehead; 12 had brain damage elsewhere; another 12 had no damage.

The scenarios in the study were extreme, but the core dilemma isn't. Should one confront a coworker, challenge a neighbor, or scold a loved one to uphold the greater good? The subjects with ventromedial prefrontal damage stood out in their stated willingness to harm an individuala prospect that usually generates strong aversion, researchers said.

"They have abnormal social emotions in real life. They lack empathy and compassion," said Ralph Adolphs of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., one of the researchers.

"In those circumstances most people. will be torn. But these particular subjects seem to lack that conflict," said Antonio Damasio of the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, another of the scientists.

"Our work provides the first causal account of the role of emotions in moral judgments," added a third member of the research team, Marc Hauser of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. The study appears March 21 in the advance online edition of the research journal Nature.

What's "astonishing," Hauser added, is "how selective the deficit is... [it] leaves intact a suite of moral problem solving abilities, but damages judgments in which an aversive action is put into direct conflict with a strong utilitarian outcome." Utilitarianism is the belief that the top priority in ethics should be what's best for the greatest number of people.

Humans often deviate from this principle because they recoil from directly harming one another. This aversion is "a combination of rejection of the act [and] compassion for that particular person," Damasio said. The question, Adolphs asked, is whether "social emotions" such as compassion are "necessary to make these moral judgments."

The study's answer will inform a classic philosophical debate on whether humans make moral judgments based on norms and societal rules, or based on their emotions, the scientists predicted. It also holds another implication for philosophy, they said: it shows that humans are neurologically unfit for strict utilitarian thinking, and thus suggests neuroscience could test different philosophies for compatibility with human nature.



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.