Monday, August 24, 2009

Food Cop Logic is Toxic Waste

A few weeks ago, we commented on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s obesity conference in Washington, DC, reminding readers that government regulation will be a part of the obesity-fighting problem. Coinciding with the conference, the Urban Institute released a study that wiggled into a few news stories by claiming that a “junk food” tax could be an effective tool for combating obesity. But reporters failed to note something far more insidious in the study: The researchers also write that your cookie (or parts of it) may well wind up as a “toxic” chemical. We’re not making this up.

As they explain:
Furnishing an instructive model is the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, which authorizes strict regulatory action (including prohibitions on manufacture and distribution) for products where “there is a reasonable basis to conclude” that they “will present an unreasonable risk of injury or health to the environment.”

…a substance is considered toxic if its unregulated use would cause harm to health that outweighs the substance’s anticipated benefits to society. Applying this balancing test to nutrition, a food substance might be considered toxic or “junk” if its nutritional benefits are outweighed by its contribution to obesity.

This would be a gross manipulation of federal law. The Toxic Substances Control Act regulates the use of chemicals in lead-based paint, indoor radon levels, and asbestos. In other words, actual health threats.

The study authors’ real goal is to draw analogies to the war on smoking, writing that “The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has noted that ... tobacco would fit this definition of a toxic substance … and the same may be true for nutritionally worthless, obesity-inducing foods.”

But there’s one key flaw: Food isn’t tobacco (or radon, for that matter). There’s no such thing as second-hand soda (or potato chips, or cookies, or pizza). Taxing certain foods is simply punishing people for their personal food choices. Or as Cass Sunstein, President Obama’s nominee to head the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, might say, “nudging” us toward a government-approved lifestyle.

Trying to demonize fat, sugar, salt, or other culinary items as toxic substances will only serve to fuel even more scaremongering headlines. Of course, maybe that’s just what the food police have in mind.


Female orgasms and a 'rule of thumb'

'C-V distance' may be a factor in how easily a woman has an orgasm

During intercourse, the female orgasm can be elusive. What frustrated woman hasn't wondered: Am I simply, um, put together differently than other women?

Kim Wallen, professor of psychology and behavioral neuroendocrinology at Emory University, is busy doing the math to find out. And, yes, he says, simple physiology may have a lot to do with orgasm ease -- specifically, how far a woman's clitoris lies from her vagina. That number might predict how easily a woman can experience orgasms from penile stimulation alone -- without help from fingers, toys or tongue -- during sexual intercourse.

In fact, there's even an easy "rule of thumb," Wallen says: Clitoris-vagina distances less than 2.5 cm -- that's roughly from the tip of your thumb to your first knuckle -- tend to yield reliable orgasms during sex. More than a thumb's length? Regular intercourse alone typically might not do the trick.

Wallen is not the first to check into this "C-V distance." In the 1920s, Princess Marie Bonaparte, a French psychoanalyst and close friend of Sigmund Freud, grew fed up with her own lack of orgasmic response. In her professional practice, she saw plenty of patients with the same complaint ("frigidity," in the parlance of the day).

She blamed physiology, not psyche. Bonaparte collected C-V and orgasm data from her patients and in 1924 delicately published her observations under a pseudonym. (She also persuaded an Austrian surgeon to experiment on her, by cutting around her clitoris and stretching it closer to her vagina -- with disappointing results.)

Recently, Wallen dug up Bonaparte's measurements and analyzed them with modern statistical techniques. Sure enough, he found a striking correlation. Now he is hoping to do his own measurement study.

Preliminary work has revealed that only about 7% of women always have orgasms with sex alone, he says, while 27% say they never do. The current research hold-up: developing a reliable, at-home technique for measuring C-V distance, especially one that can deal with stretchy skin.

Women with a large C-V distance should not be discouraged, Wallen says. "Personally, I don't think the inability to experience no-hands, penis-only intercourse with orgasm says anything about a happy sex life," he says. "Maybe it could allow couples to be a bit more inventive in how they have sex."

He acknowledges that the measure might become one more standard women feel they need to live up to, like breast size. "People would ask, 'Is your distance really small?' "


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