Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Margarine consumption is linked to lower IQs in children

Most amusing: A "healthy" choice turns out to be anything but. I wonder how the "health" establishment will handle that? Sadly, however, this is not as good an example of the limits of official wisdom as it looks.

The article is a much better example of how medical researchers tend to work in a sort of vacuum and ignore the big picture. It in fact reveals an extraordinary lack of insight into their own society by these eight New Zealand researchers. It was once illegal to buy margarine without a doctor's prescription in N.Z. They have a big dairy industry that they like to prop up. So, given the peculiarly strong emphasis on margarine as a therapeutic agent in New Zealand, it would seem highly likely that people who felt less healthy to start with tended most to buy it. And people with poor health have less healthy children -- and lower IQ is one correlate of poor health. The findings then tell us about who buys margarine rather than any effect that margarine has.

Trans fats indeed! What we see in the report is not the influence of trans fats but the influence of unwarranted assumptions and conventional thinking. It never ceases to amaze me that people who claim to be scientists seem to think they can just intuit the causal relationships in a dataset. They are witchdoctors, not scientists. Not one out of the eight of them said: "Hey! Wait a minute!"

The journal abstract is here. The title of the article is "Dietary patterns and intelligence in early and middle childhood" and the leading author is Reremoana F. Theodore. No corresponding author or email address is given, which is rather strange

It became popular as a healthier alternative to butter. But children who ate margarine every day had lower IQs than those who did not, a study has found. At the age of three-and-a-half, they scored three points lower on intelligence tests than other youngsters. Importantly, the link held even when parental occupation and other factors affecting wealth and class were taken into account, the study of children born in the mid-1990s showed.

By the age of seven, scores were six points lower – but only in children that had been underweight when born, suggesting that diet is particularly important for brain development in the more vulnerable. Writing in the journal Intelligence, the researchers from New Zealand’s Auckland University said it is unclear what lies behind the link.

However, trans fats may be to blame. The fats have been linked to memory problems in animal tests and may make it harder for the body to process healthier fats. In the mid-1990s, trans fats formed up to 17 per cent of the mix of some margarines. Today, however, levels are around 1 per cent – significantly lower than some butters. The discovery in recent years that the fats clog up the arteries, raising the risk of heart disease, has led to concerted efforts to cut levels in food. However, the high amounts in the past may have hampered the development of today’s adults.

The researchers, whose study showed that eating fish and cereal boosted intelligence, said: ‘We found a number of dietary factors to be significantly associated with intelligence measures. The association between margarine consumption and IQ scores was the most consistent and novel finding.’

The researchers said that more work was needed to confirm if trans fats, which are formed when vegetable oil is solidified, were at fault, or if something else was to blame. They said: ‘Children who ate margarine daily had IQ scores that were up to six points lower compared to children who did not. ‘The impact of regular margarine consumption on intelligence now warrants further investigation in order to replicate these findings and to identify possible mechanisms that may underlie this association.’

Sian Porter, of the British Dietetic Association, said that margarine is generally healthier than butter but the high fat content means that both should be used sparingly. A spokesman for the Food Standards Agency said that trans fat consumption in the UK is now below the recommended levels.


Fatties really are happier

I am a bit bemused by this study being done in Japan, though. I didn't think there were ANY fat Japanese outside the Sumo ring. Maybe that shows how much I know but I still suspect that "fat" in Japan would not be fat in (say) America. If the study is replicable in Western countries, however (and it probably is), this does suggest that the obesity "war" is in at least some cases an attack on happiness -- and that seems morally obnoxious. Once again we see public policy sold as being "for your own good" when it is not for your own good at all. Why are people not entitled to be fat and happy?

People who are "happy and fat" tend to respond less well to slimming programmes, said psychologists. The findings indicate that a little negativity might benefit slimmers by leading them to worry more about their health and appearance.

Researchers in Japan conducted psychological profiles of 101 obese men and women undergoing a programme of counselling, nutrition and exercise therapy. Patients were asked to fill in personality questionnaires before and after the six-month course.

The study found that optimism and self-orientation characteristics improved for most patients during the programme. Those who became more self aware through counselling were more likely to lose weight than those who did not. But the research also found that people with a happy-go-lucky bright outlook at the start of the therapy were less likely to succeed. These patients were described as having ''free child'' (FC) ego states marked by assertiveness and optimism. Successful weight loss was associated with a more responsible and cautious ''adult'' or ''A'' ego state.

The scientists wrote in the journal BioPsychoSocial Medicine: ''The positive aspects of the FC ego state involve controlling negative emotion and are related to the ability to look on the bright side and do things in one's own style, while the negative aspects are not caring about disease and giving in to temptation because of optimism, as well as instinctive and impulsive behaviours.

"Weight loss was observed for patients who had less of an FC ego state at the start of the programme and an increased A ego state during the six-month programme." Overall, patients lost an average of a stone [14lb] and their Body Mass Index - a measurement relating weight and height - fell by more than two points.


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