More from ACSH
December 21, 2010
Unhappy Faces About Happy Meals,
More Drinking Water Nonsense,
NY Times Promotes Cancer Fears,
LA Times Talks Sense on “Holistic” Quackery,
By Jonathan Leaf and Susan Ingber
Is Ronald McDonald really Public Enemy No. 1?
The New York Times yesterday offered its readers an editorial composed of a remarkably non-nutritious meal of empty-headed platitudes about McDonald’s Happy Meals. The editorial expresses sympathy and support for wrong-headed litigation aimed at banning the practice of handing out children’s toys with Happy Meals. The Times lambastes the fast-food giant, presenting it as an evil fat-cat raking in riches by encouraging childhood obesity. To support its case, the so-called Newspaper of Record quotes a former company executive, Roy Bergold, who has not been employed by McDonald’s in nearly a decade. Bergold’s supposedly damning remarks held that the company once targeted children as consumers, which is perhaps not surprising given that it sells fast-food. The Times also says that “37 percent of kids rank McDonald’s as the top fast-food restaurant.” It further observes that “A Happy Meal of cheeseburger with fries and soda packs 640 calories, more than half the U.S.D.A. daily allowance for a sedentary child aged 4 to 8…” ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross asks if anyone “has ever seen a ‘sedentary’ four to eight year old?” He also wonders why figures showing 37 percent of tykes rank McDonald’s as the top fast-food restaurant should surprise anyone and asks whether there is any reason to believe that kids want to go to McDonald’s mostly for the toys offered rather than the food. ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan says that the newspaper’s attacks on the company “are part of something we see very often: a desire for a simple solution to the obesity problem. And, of course, for The Times some big bad food company is always the villain.” While The Times has nothing to say about the calorie-rich meals of, for instance, TV chef Paula Deen — or many of its own fatty recipes — it does blandly note that “Parents are responsible for their children’s diet.” Dr. Ross says that this news is as enlightening as word that the sky is blue.
Erin Brockovich’s ideas about ground water:
Toxic to common sense, nectar for EWG. Just days ago we reported on a study led by ACSH advisor Dr. John Morgan showing that cancer rates in the town of Hinkley, California were — rather than being elevated — actually a tad below the expected rate. This contradicts the claims of presshound Erin Brockovich. Ms. Brockovich gained wealth and fame from a lawsuit she initiated based on the idea that the town’s residents had been poisoned by trace levels of chromium (VI) (hexavalent chromium), a chemical that was leaked there by Pacific Gas & Electric. Dr. Morgan’s work follows on a wealth of research showing that hexavalent chromium isn’t dangerous when ingested in drinking water at the trace levels found in Hinkley. Yet the hysteria continues, and The Washington Post yesterday was among dozens of major media outlets to report on a series of “findings” presented in a document released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a radical advocacy organization. Their document notes that many cities have levels of hexavalent chromium in drinking water above .06 parts per billion. The EWG’s report describes hexavalent chromium as “a probable carcinogen” without noting that no study has ever shown dangers from the chemical at these trivial levels. Dr. Ross says that this proves again that, “The EWG knows what they’re doing. They know how to pick out topics that will induce panic and fear in the public — no matter how poor the science behind their ‘research’ is. Apparently, EWG has won the hexavalent chromium franchise, leaving the National Resources Defense Council to keep up the scares about atrazine in the water.”
Science Times implicitly endorses magical thinking
Just 24 hours after New York Times editors launched their attack on Happy Meals as irresponsible corporate activity, the paper’s Science section printed an article implicitly endorsing a range of ideas which can best be described as based on magical thinking. The article depicts the travails of radiologist and breast cancer specialist Dr. Marisa Weiss. Some years ago, Dr. Weiss was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer, from which she was cured. Times’ reporter Roni Caryn Rabin is rightly sympathetic to Dr. Weiss in her battle, and she properly notes that the physician’s life may have been saved by a routine screening mammogram, which Dr. Weiss believes supports her viewpoint that such annual screenings are of vital importance. Where the article goes wrong is in its uncritical — and seemingly laudatory — presentation of Dr. Weiss’s turn to unproven remedies as preventives and possibly cures. Dr. Weiss is quoted as promoting “filtering her tap water, no longer cooking in plastic, and buying hormone-free meat and organic fruit” in an attempt to ward off further flare-ups of her cancer. Although appreciative of the pain and difficulty of Dr. Weiss’s struggle, Dr. Whelan notes that these responses are like “an attempt to make a pact with God in which you agree to give up something in return for your life. They’re an emotional reaction and not based on science.” She also noted that even physicians and scientists well-versed in epidemiology and statistics sometimes turn towards magical thinking when personally confronted with a life-threatening disease.
Holistic nutrition weak on science, strong on selling supplements
ACSH would like to commend James S. Fell’s Los Angeles Times article yesterday revealing and debunking the pseudoscience of “holistic nutrition.” Fell points to the lack of valid credentials held by holistic nutritionists and their obvious goal to sell supplements. “Taking nutrition advice from the graduates of [holistic nutrition] schools,” Fell says, “makes as much sense as hiring Ozzy Osbourne to drive a school bus.” ACSH’s Dr. Josh Bloom agrees. “Getting treated by a naturopath with herbs is like getting your appendix removed at Jiffy Lube,” he says. “It’s not all it’s quacked up to be.”
New genetic test for Plavix efficacy in the works?
The blockbuster anti-clotting drug Plavix is prescribed to patients with coronary artery stents to prevent re-thrombosis. Now, months after the FDA called for warning labels indicating that the drug — marketed by Sanofi-Aventis and Bristol Myers Squibb — may not be effective due to genetic propensity towards drug resistance in some patients, German scientists announced in the journal Nature Medicine that they had stumbled upon a new genetic marker that distinguishes patients who will respond better to the drug. The German scientists reported that the enzyme paraoxonase-1 (PON1) is required to activate Plavix (known generically as clopidogrel) and prevent clotting. Using a metabolic assay, the researchers determined that coronary artery disease patients with a particular mutation in PON1 were able to activate the drug more effectively and thus inhibit clotting. An earlier study found that a mutation in another gene, cytochrome P450 2C19, is the primary predictor of Plavix efficacy. This study found no such association.
“This is a great example of the valuable application of pharmacogenetics to provide individualized medicine based on personal genotype,” says Dr. Ross. “Determining whether the drug is inhibiting clotting is not a lab test which is readily available, nor is it cheap. So, the availability of a genetic test to predict whether a patient will respond well to this drug will enable physicians to more easily determine the best treatment options. Not all patients respond well to a given drug and because Plavix is such a big seller, this affects a lot of people.”
Dr. Whelan adds that this development “goes against the argument that you don’t need more than one drug for a particular condition. It’s a good thing that there is an alternative to Plavix — Effient or prasugrel — for those patients who do not benefit from it.”
See? Science does work.
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