The most maddening example of this is, of course, the case of thin people, or folks who could really stand to lose ten pounds, lecturing the obese on how stupid they are for letting themselves get fat. […]
As a friend who really struggles with his weight points out, the author seems not to understand that for people with a weight problem, weight loss often involves both: you’re tired and miserable and overweight, and also, you’re spending a huge amount of mental energy counting calories and making time for exercise.
Moreover, this really underplays the amount of mental energy we’re talking about. When you talk to people who have successfully lost really large amounts of weight as adults — amounts that bring them from the really risky “super-obese” category into something more normal — you find two things. First, that most of them don’t keep it off, unless they have bariatric surgery, in which case, 50 percent of them keep it off. And second, that the people who are keeping the weight off without surgery are going to extreme lengths to maintain their weight loss, lengths that most of us would probably find difficult to fit into our lives: weighing every ounce of food they consume, counting calories obsessively, exercising for long periods every day, and constantly battling “intrusive thoughts of food.”
It’s not quite fair to say that most of the public health experts I’ve seen talking about obesity are thin people brightly telling fat people that “Everything would be fine if you’d just be more like me!” But it’s not really that far off the mark, either. In the words of another friend who struggled with his weight, and got quite testy when I suggested weight loss was easy, “You’ve hit the pick six in the genetic lottery, and you think you earned it.”
Megan McArdle, “Dinner, With a Side of Self-Righteousness”, Bloomberg View, 2015-03-27.
June 22, 2015
June 18, 2015
At Real Clear Science, Ross Pomeroy explains how historical “expert knowledge” and government cheerleading pointed in exactly the opposite direction of today’s experts and government regulators:
For decades, the federal government has been advising Americans on what to eat. Those recommendations have been subject to the shifting sands of dietary science. And have those sands ever been shifting. At first, fat and cholesterol were vilified, while sugar was mostly let off the hook. Now, fat is fine (saturated fat is still evil, though), cholesterol is back, and sugar is the new bogeyman.
Why the sizable shift? The answer may be “bad science.”
Every five years, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, composed of nutrition and health experts from around the country, convenes to review the latest scientific and medical literature. From their learned dissection, they form the dietary guidelines.
But according to a new editorial published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, much of the science they review is fundamentally flawed. Unlike experiments in the hard sciences of chemistry, physics, and biology, which rely on direct observational evidence, most diet studies are based on self-reported data. Study subjects are examined for height, weight, and health, then are questioned about what they eat. Their dietary choices are subsequently linked to health outcomes — cancer, mortality, heart disease, etc.
That’s a poor way of doing science, says Edward Archer, a research fellow with the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama, and lead author of the report.
“The assumption that human memory can provide accurate or precise reproductions of past ingestive behavior is indisputably false,” he and his co-authors write.
Two of the largest studies on nutritional intake in the United States, the CDC’s NHANES and “What We Eat,” are based on asking subjects to recall precisely what and how much they usually eat.
But despite all of the steps that NHANES examiners take to aid recall, such as limiting the recall period to the previous 24 hours and even offering subjects measuring guides to help them report accurate data, the information received is wildly inaccurate. An analysis conducted by Archer in 2013 found that most of the 60,000+ NHANES subjects report eating a lower amount of calories than they would physiologically need to survive, let alone to put on all the weight that Americans have in the past few decades.
May 18, 2015
In the Washington Post, Roberto A. Ferdman dishes the dirt on every diet guru’s most brilliant brain-fart … they don’t actually work.
For centuries, men and women have worked tirelessly to fit the physical molds of their time. Diets, which have ranged from the straightforward to the colorful and kind of silly, have produced a wide range of results — and all sorts of followings.
Not long ago, the Atkins diet villainized carbohydrates and convinced millions to avoid starches of any kind. Today, the Paleo diet, which purports to emulate the eating habits and digestive systems of ancient humans who lived for many fewer years than people on average do today, is perhaps the most popular — or at least talked about — dietary fad. Soon there will be another fad that sweeps the dieting conversation. And another one.
The question that seems to hover over all this diet talk is whether any of the myriad weight loss schemes have worked. If one had, shouldn’t it have survived the test of time? And if we’ve gone this long without a diet that has been shown to work — according to science, not simply the sellers of the fad — will one ever emerge that actually does?
The short answer is no, according to Traci Mann, who teaches psychology at the University of Minnesota and has been studying eating habits, self-control and dieting for more than 20 years. Over the course of her research, largely conducted at the University of Minnesota’s Health and Eating Lab, Mann has repeatedly asked these sorts of questions, and always found the same disappointing answers.
March 5, 2015
At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum talks about all the things we’ve been told about healthy eating … that just ain’t so:
For several years now I’ve been following the controversy over whether the dietary guidelines that have developed over the the past 70 years might be all wrong. And I’ve become tentatively convinced that, in fact, they are wrong. For most people — not all! — salt isn’t a big killer; cholesterol isn’t harmful; and red meat and saturated fat are perfectly OK. Healthy, even. Sugar, on the other hand, really needs to be watched.
Before I go on, a great big caveat: I’m not even an educated amateur on this subject. I’ve read a fair amount about it, but I’ve never dived into it systematically. And the plain truth is that firm proof is hard to come by when it comes to diet. It’s really, really hard to conduct the kinds of experiments that would give us concrete proof that one diet is better than another, and the studies that have been done almost all have defects of some kind.
Randomized trials are the gold standard of dietary studies, but as I said above, they’re really, really hard to conduct properly. You have to find a stable population of people. You have to pick half of them randomly and get them to change their diets. You have to trust them to actually do it. You have to follow them for years, not months. Virtually no trial can ever truly meet this standard.
Nonetheless, as Carroll says, the randomized trials we do have suggest that red meat and saturated fat have little effect on cardiovascular health — and might actually have a positive effect on cancer outcomes.
At the same time, increased consumption of sugars and carbohydrates might be actively bad for us. At the very least they contribute to obesity and diabetes, and there’s some evidence that they aren’t so great for your heart either.
So where does this leave us? As Carroll says, the literature as a whole suggests that we simply don’t know. We’ve been convinced of a lot of things for a long time, and it’s turned out that a lot of what we believed was never really backed by solid evidence in the first place. So now the dietary ship is turning. Slowly, but it’s turning.
His primary take-away from all this: moderation is probably your safest bet, unless you have a condition that requires you to avoid certain foods or types of foods. Oh, and avoid over-indulging in packaged food that uses lots of preservatives. This is certainly one area where the science sure didn’t turn out to be settled, after all.
February 11, 2015
Well, maybe not everything, but a lot of government advice — which may well have been a major factor in the rise of obesity — was based on very little empirical evidence:
Whenever standard nutritional advice is overturned — as it has been this week by a study which effectively rubbished government guidelines limiting the intake of dietary fat — I am instantly reminded of a scene in the Woody Allen film Sleeper, first released when I was 10. I expect a lot of people my age are.
In the film Allen plays Miles, a cryogenically frozen health food store owner who is revived 200 years later. Two scientists are puzzling over his old-fashioned dietary requirements, unable to comprehend what passed for health food back in 1973. “You mean there was no deep fat?” says one. “No steak or cream pies, or hot fudge?”
“Those were thought to be unhealthy,” says the other scientist. “Precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.”
This was meant to be a joke rather than a prediction, but it’s beginning to look as if we may not have to wait until 2173 to see it validated.
Of course the new study isn’t comprehensively refuting the association between high saturated fat intake and heart disease; it’s just pointing out that dietary guidelines first adopted in the mid-1970s were not, on reflection, based on any real evidence. In terms of what one should and shouldn’t be eating, I sometimes feel as if I’ve spent the past 30 years in a freezer.
January 9, 2015
No, he really can:
I can accurately predict whether you will meet your weight loss goals by the way you talk about it.
I mean that literally. I think I could devise a controlled experiment in which I pick weight-loss winners and losers in advance based on nothing but a transcript of folks talking about their fitness goals.
I’ll give you some examples. What follows is a list of things you will hear from people that have no legitimate chance of losing weight and keeping it off. Yes, your thing is probably on this list and it pisses you off to see it. But stay with me and I’ll change your life by the end of this post.
Here’s what people say when they are preparing to fail at a weight-loss strategy.
“I need to exercise more.”
“I’m counting calories.”
“I have a cheat day coming.”
“I’m watching my portions.”
“I’m doing a cleanse.”
“I’m trying the (whatever) diet plan.”
Ten years ago I would have said everything on the list is a common-sense way to lose weight. But science has since shown otherwise. I’ll go through them one at a time.
December 1, 2014
In Reason, Baylen Linnekin looks at the FDA’s soon-to-be-implemented rules on menu labelling:
Earlier this week, the FDA released rules that will force food sellers around the country to provide point-of-sale calorie information to consumers. The rules cover chain restaurants, vending machines, “movie theaters, sports stadiums, amusement parks, bowling alleys and miniature golf courses that serve prepared foods.” The rules apply to foods and beverages — including beer, wine, and spirits — sold at these places.
Farley’s enthusiasm might have been tempered by research showing mandatory menu-labeling doesn’t work — and may even be counterproductive.
Because the new rules will cost more than a billion dollars not to stop the obesity epidemic and maybe make it better, some who have to spend that money aren’t pleased.
For example, that potato salad you buy at your grocery deli counter will fall under the new rules. That doesn’t sit well with grocery store owners.
“Grocery stores are not chain restaurants, which is why Congress did not initially include them in the law,” said National Grocers Association president and CEO, Peter J. Larkin in a statement. “We are disappointed that the FDA’s final rules will capture grocery stores, and impose such a large and costly regulatory burden on our members.”
As I wrote last year, the NRA, which represents restaurant chains across the country, supported the national menu-labeling rule as a shield against a growing, costly, and unworkable patchwork of different state and local menu-labeling laws.
It’s the same reason that food manufacturers, facing mandatory GMO-labeling pressure in dozens of states, counties, and cities around the country, are pushing for Congress to pass a uniform national GMO-labeling law.
Do I understand why the restaurant industry and food manufacturers are pushing for one bad federal law instead of hundreds or thousands of worse laws at the state and local level? Absolutely. Do I support such laws? Not at all.
September 16, 2014
Rob Lyons charts the way our governments and healthcare experts got onboard the anti-fat dietary express, to our long-lasting dietary harm:
… in recent years, the advice to eat a low-fat diet has increasingly been called into question. Despite cutting down on fatty foods, the populations of many Western countries have become fatter. If heart-disease mortality has maintained a steady decline, cases of type-2 diabetes have shot up in recent years. Maybe these changes were in spite of the advice to avoid fat. Maybe they were caused by that advice.
The most notable figure in providing the intellectual ammunition to challenge existing health advice has been the US science writer, Gary Taubes. His 2007 book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, became a bestseller, despite containing long discussions on some fairly complex issues to do with biochemistry, nutrition and medicine. The book’s success triggered a heated debate about what really makes us fat and causes chronic disease.
The move to first discussing and then actively encouraging a low-fat diet was largely due to the work of Dr. Ancel Keys, who is to the low-fat diet movement what Karl Marx is to Communism. His energy, drive, and political savvy helped get the US government and the majority of health experts onboard and pushing his advice. A significant problem with this is that Keys’ advocacy was not statistically backed by even his own data. He drew strong conclusions from tiny, unrepresentative samples, yet managed to persuade most doubters that he was right. A more statistically rigorous analysis might well show that the obesity crisis has actually been driven by the crusading health advisors who have been pushing the low-fat diet all this time … or, as I termed it, “our Woody Allen moment“.
Rob Lyons discussed this with Nina Teicholz, author of the book The Big Fat Surprise:
Once the politically astute Keys had packed the nutrition committee of the AHA and got its backing for the advice to avoid saturated fat, the war on meat and dairy could begin. But a major turning point came in 1977 when the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition, led by Democratic senator George McGovern, held hearings on the issue. The result was a set of guidelines, Dietary Goals for the United States [PDF], which promoted the consumption of ‘complex’ carbohydrates, and reductions in the consumption of fat in general and saturated fat in particular.
By 1980, this report had been worked up into government-backed guidelines — around the same time that obesity appears to have taken off in the US. The McGovern Report inspired all the familiar diet advice around the world that we’ve had ever since, and led to major changes in what food manufacturers offered. Out went fat, though unsaturated fat and hydrogenated oils were deemed less bad than saturated fat, so vegetable oils and margarines became more popular. In came more carbohydrate and more sugar, to give those cardboard-like low-fat ‘treats’ some modicum of flavour.
Yet two recent reviews of the evidence around saturated fat — one led by Ronald Krauss, the other by Rajiv Chowdhury — suggest that saturated fat is not the villain it has been painted as. (The latter paper, in particular, sparked outrage.) As for fat in general, Teicholz tells me: ‘There was no effort until very late in the game to provide evidence for the low-fat diet. It was just assumed that that was reasonable because of the caloric benefit you would see from restricting fat.’
Teicholz also debunks the wonderful reputation of the Mediterranean Diet (“a rose-tinted version of reality tailored to the anti-meat prejudices of American researchers”), points out the role of the olive oil industry in pushing the diet (“Swooning researchers were literally wined and dined into going along with promoting the benefits of olive oil”), and points out that we can’t even blame most of the obesity problem on “Big Food”:
Which leads us to an important third point made by Teicholz: that the blame for our current dietary problems cannot solely, or even mainly, be placed at the door of big food corporations. Teicholz writes about how she discovered that ‘the mistakes of nutrition science could not be primarily pinned on the nefarious interests of Big Food. The source of our misguided dietary advice was in some ways more disturbing, since it seems to have been driven by experts at some of our most trusted institutions working towards what they believed to be the public good.’ Once public-health bureaucracies enshrined the dogma that fat is bad for us, ‘the normally self-correcting mechanism of science, which involves constantly challenging one’s own beliefs, was disabled’.
The war on dietary fat is a terrifying example of what happens when politics and bureaucracy mixes with science: provisional conclusions become laws of nature; resources are piled into the official position, creating material as well as intellectual reasons to continue to support it; and any criticism is suppressed or dismissed. As the war on sugar gets into full swing, a reading of The Big Fat Surprise might provide some much-needed humility.
September 2, 2014
After all the salt uproar over the last year or so, perhaps it was inevitable that other public health consensus items would also come under scrutiny. Here’s Ace having a bit of fun with the latest New York Times report on fat and carbohydrates in the modern diet:
One day there will be a book written about this all — how a “Consensus of Experts” decided, against all previous wisdom and with virtually no evidence whatsoever, that Fat Makes You Fat and you can Eat All the Carbohydrates You Like Because Carbohydrates Are Healthy.
This never made a lick of sense to me, even before I heard of the Atkins diet.
Sugar is a carbohydrate. Indeed, it’s the carbohydrate, the one that makes up the others (such as starches, which are just long lines of sugar molecules arranged into sheets and folded over each other).
How the hell could it possibly be that Fat was Forbidden but SUGAR was Sacred?
It made no sense. A long time ago I tried to get a nutritionist to explain this to me. “Eat more fruit,” the nutritionist said.
“Fruit,” I answered, “is sugar in a ball.”
But the nutritionist had an answer. “That is fruit sugar,” the she told me.
“Fruit sugar,” I responded, “is yet sugar.”
“But it’s not cane sugar.”
“I don’t think the body really cares much about which particular plant the sugar comes from.”
“Sugar from a fruit,” the nutritionist now gambited, “is more natural than processed sugar.”
“They’re both natural, you know. We don’t synthesize sucrose in a lab. There are no beakers involved.”
“Well, you burn fruit sugar up quicker, so it actually gives you energy, instead of turning into fat!”
“Both sugars are converted into glycogen in the body. There can be no difference in how they produce ‘energy’ in the body because both wind up as glycogen. I have no idea where you’re getting any of this. It sounds like you’re making it all up as you go.”
“This is Science,” the nutritionist closed the argument.
Eh. It’s all nonsense. Even cane sugar contains, yes, fructose, or fruit sugar, and fruits contain sucrose, or cane sugar.
July 23, 2014
In the ongoing investigation into why Westerners — especially North Americans — became obese, some of the early studies are being reconsidered. For example, I’ve mentioned the name of Dr. Ancel Keys a couple of times recently: he was the champion of the low-fat diet and his work was highly influential in persuading government health authorities to demonize fat in pursuit of better health outcomes. He was so successful as an advocate for this idea that his study became one of the most frequently cited in medical science. A brilliant success … that unfortunately flew far ahead of its statistical evidence:
So Keys had food records, although that coding and summarizing part sounds a little fishy. Then he followed the health of 13,000 men so he could find associations between diet and heart disease. So we can assume he had dietary records for all 13,000 of them, right?
Uh … no. That wouldn’t be the case.
The poster-boys for his hypothesis about dietary fat and heart disease were the men from the Greek island of Crete. They supposedly ate the diet Keys recommended: low-fat, olive oil instead of saturated animal fats and all that, you see. Keys tracked more than 300 middle-aged men from Crete as part of his study population, and lo and behold, few of them suffered heart attacks. Hypothesis supported, case closed.
So guess how many of those 300-plus men were actually surveyed about their eating habits? Go on, guess. I’ll wait …
And the answer is: 31.
Yup, 31. And that’s about the size of the dataset from each of the seven countries: somewhere between 25 and 50 men. It’s right there in the paper’s data tables. That’s a ridiculously small number of men to survey if the goal is to accurately compare diets and heart disease in seven countries.
Getting the picture? Keys followed the health of more than 300 men from Crete. But he only surveyed 31 of them, with one of those surveys taken during the meat-abstinence month of Lent. Oh, and the original seven-day food-recall records weren’t available later, so he swapped in data from an earlier paper. Then to determine fruit and vegetable intake, he used data sheets about food availability in Greece during a four-year period.
And from this mess, he concluded that high-fat diets cause heart attacks and low-fat diets prevent them.
Keep in mind, this is one of the most-cited studies in all of medical science. It’s one of the pillars of the Diet-Heart hypothesis. It helped to convince the USDA, the AHA, doctors, nutritionists, media health writers, your parents, etc., that saturated fat clogs our arteries and kills us, so we all need to be on low-fat diets – even kids.
Yup, Ancel Keys had a tiny one … but he sure managed to screw a lot of people with it.
H/T to Amy Alkon for the link.
June 18, 2014
One of the problems with scrupulously “sanitized” food is that it doesn’t taste of anything very much, which may be why people consume it in large quantities: With food, if the taste doesn’t satisfy you, you chow until the sheer quantity does. I’ve no research on the subject and my theory may be as full of holes as a Swiss cheese, but the fact is that the federalization of food has coincided with the massive expansion of obesity in America, and I’m inclined to think these two things are not unrelated.
Mark Steyn, “Cheeseboarder Patrol”, SteynOnline.com, 2014-06-12.
June 1, 2014
And in The Economist this week:
Ms Teicholz describes the early academics who demonised fat and those who have kept up the crusade. Top among them was Ancel Keys, a professor at the University of Minnesota, whose work landed him on the cover of Time magazine in 1961. He provided an answer to why middle-aged men were dropping dead from heart attacks, as well as a solution: eat less fat. Work by Keys and others propelled the American government’s first set of dietary guidelines, in 1980. Cut back on red meat, whole milk and other sources of saturated fat. The few sceptics of this theory were, for decades, marginalised.
But the vilification of fat, argues Ms Teicholz, does not stand up to closer examination. She pokes holes in famous pieces of research — the Framingham heart study, the Seven Countries study, the Los Angeles Veterans Trial, to name a few — describing methodological problems or overlooked results, until the foundations of this nutritional advice look increasingly shaky.
The opinions of academics and governments, as presented, led to real change. Food companies were happy to replace animal fats with less expensive vegetable oils. They have now begun abolishing trans fats from their food products and replacing them with polyunsaturated vegetable oils that, when heated, may be as harmful. Advice for keeping to a low-fat diet also played directly into food companies’ sweet spot of biscuits, cereals and confectionery; when people eat less fat, they are hungry for something else. Indeed, as recently as 1995 the AHA itself recommended snacks of “low-fat cookies, low-fat crackers…hard candy, gum drops, sugar, syrup, honey” and other carbohydrate-laden foods. Americans consumed nearly 25% more carbohydrates in 2000 than they had in 1971.
It would be ironic indeed if the modern obesity crisis was actually caused by government dietary recommendations intended to improve public health (and fatten the bottom lines of big agribusiness campaign donors).
October 12, 2013
Any study that depends on self-reporting, especially self-reporting on things like how much food they eat, can’t be assumed to be accurate:
Four decades of nutrition research funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be invalid because the method used to collect the data was seriously flawed, according to a new study by the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina.
The study, led by Arnold School exercise scientist and epidemiologist Edward Archer, has demonstrated significant limitations in the measurement protocols used in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The findings, published in PLOS ONE (The Public Library of Science), reveal that a majority of the nutrition data collected by the NHANES are not “physiologically credible,” Archer said.
The study examined data from 28,993 men and 34,369 women, 20 to 74 years old, from NHANES I (1971 — 1974) through NHANES (2009 — 2010), and looked at the caloric intake of the participants and their energy expenditure, predicted by height, weight, age and sex. The results show that — based on the self-reported recall of food and beverages — the vast majority of the NHANES data “are physiologically implausible, and therefore invalid,” Archer said.
In other words, the “calories in” reported by participants and the “calories out,” don’t add up and it would be impossible to survive on most of the reported energy intakes. This misreporting of energy intake varied among participants, and was greatest in obese men and women who underreported their intake by an average 25 percent and 41 percent (i.e., 716 and 856 Calories per-day respectively).
August 21, 2013
We’re constantly being barraged with public service announcements from public figures that we all eat too much, exercise too little, and as a result society has a (sorry) growing obesity problem. However, as David Berreby points out, it’s not as simple as that:
Consider, for example, this troublesome fact, reported in 2010 by the biostatistician David B Allison and his co-authors at the University of Alabama in Birmingham: over the past 20 years or more, as the American people were getting fatter, so were America’s marmosets. As were laboratory macaques, chimpanzees, vervet monkeys and mice, as well as domestic dogs, domestic cats, and domestic and feral rats from both rural and urban areas. In fact, the researchers examined records on those eight species and found that average weight for every one had increased. The marmosets gained an average of nine per cent per decade. Lab mice gained about 11 per cent per decade. Chimps, for some reason, are doing especially badly: their average body weight had risen 35 per cent per decade. Allison, who had been hearing about an unexplained rise in the average weight of lab animals, was nonetheless surprised by the consistency across so many species. ‘Virtually in every population of animals we looked at, that met our criteria, there was the same upward trend,’ he told me.
It isn’t hard to imagine that people who are eating more themselves are giving more to their spoiled pets, or leaving sweeter, fattier garbage for street cats and rodents. But such results don’t explain why the weight gain is also occurring in species that human beings don’t pamper, such as animals in labs, whose diets are strictly controlled. In fact, lab animals’ lives are so precisely watched and measured that the researchers can rule out accidental human influence: records show those creatures gained weight over decades without any significant change in their diet or activities. Obviously, if animals are getting heavier along with us, it can’t just be that they’re eating more Snickers bars and driving to work most days. On the contrary, the trend suggests some widely shared cause, beyond the control of individuals, which is contributing to obesity across many species.
Such a global hidden factor (or factors) might help to explain why most people gain weight gradually, over decades, in seeming contradiction of Bloomberg’s thermodynamics. This slow increase in fat stores would suggest that they are eating only a tiny bit more each month than they use in fuel. But if that were so, as Jonathan C K Wells, professor of child nutrition at University College London, has pointed out, it would be easy to lose weight. One recent model estimated that eating a mere 30 calories a day more than you use is enough to lead to serious weight gain. Given what each person consumes in a day (1,500 to 2,000 calories in poorer nations; 2,500 to 4,000 in wealthy ones), 30 calories is a trivial amount: by my calculations, that’s just two or three peanut M&Ms. If eliminating that little from the daily diet were enough to prevent weight gain, then people should have no trouble losing a few pounds. Instead, as we know, they find it extremely hard.
Many other aspects of the worldwide weight gain are also difficult to square with the ‘it’s-just-thermodynamics’ model. In rich nations, obesity is more prevalent in people with less money, education and status. Even in some poor countries, according to a survey published last year in the International Journal of Obesity, increases in weight over time have been concentrated among the least well-off. And the extra weight is unevenly distributed among the sexes, too. In a study published in the Social Science and Medicine journal last year, Wells and his co-authors found that, in a sample that spanned 68 nations, for every two obese men there were three obese women. Moreover, the researchers found that higher levels of female obesity correlated with higher levels of gender inequality in each nation. Why, if body weight is a matter of individual decisions about what to eat, should it be affected by differences in wealth or by relations between the sexes?
July 29, 2013
“Junk food costs as little as $1.76 per 1,000 calories, whereas fresh veggies … cost more than 10 times as much”
Making a case for the McDonald’s McDouble as the greatest food in human history:
What is “the cheapest, most nutritious and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history” Hint: It has 390 calories. It contains 23g, or half a daily serving, of protein, plus 7% of daily fiber, 20% of daily calcium and so on.
Also, you can get it in 14,000 locations in the US and it usually costs $1. Presenting one of the unsung wonders of modern life, the McDonald’s McDouble cheeseburger.
The argument above was made by a commenter on the Freakonomics blog run by economics writer Stephen Dubner and professor Steven Leavitt, who co-wrote the million-selling books on the hidden side of everything.
Dubner mischievously built an episode of his highly amusing weekly podcast around the debate. Many huffy back-to-the-earth types wrote in to suggest the alternative meal of boiled lentils. Great idea. Now go open a restaurant called McBoiled Lentils and see how many customers line up.
But we all know fast food makes us fat, right? Not necessarily. People who eat out tend to eat less at home that day in partial compensation; the net gain, according to a 2008 study out of Berkeley and Northwestern, is only about 24 calories a day.
The outraged replies to the notion of McDouble supremacy — if it’s not the cheapest, most nutritious and most bountiful food in human history, it has to be pretty close — comes from the usual coalition of class snobs, locavore foodies and militant anti-corporate types. I say usual because these people are forever proclaiming their support for the poor and for higher minimum wages that would supposedly benefit McDonald’s workers. But they’re completely heartless when it comes to the other side of the equation: cost.
Update, 30 July: Stephen Dubner notes that the Kyle Smith story has triggered “about one zillion” media requests for more comment on the original post, but that he’s too busy writing to take time out to respond.