What is Informational cascade ?
Case study: Fat is Bad
Fat is bad :Science and politics
Fat is bad: Bandwagon (1970-2010)
Water melon: Hypothetical case study
Before taking up Water melon…….let us understand what is .
In 1988, surgeon general C. Everett Koop made a statement that changed the course of American’s diets for many years to come. He said that high-fat foods were causing coronary heart disease and other deadly problems in Americans, and these high-fat foods were just as dangerous to public health as cigarettes.
Koop said, “The depth of the science base underlying its findings is even more impressive than that for tobacco and health in 1964.”
As it turned out, Koop’s statement was wrong. What led a respected surgeon general to make such a mistake? According to an New York Times article, it was a case of an “informational cascade.” A cascade of information leading to a wrong conclusion.
It works like this: Someone has a bit of wrong information, but they are confident about it so they spout it out. A second person who is unsure decides that the first person must be right, and chooses to go along with their theory. A third person who may have had a right answer, then changes his mind because he believes the two others must know more than him. And it goes on as each person assumes the others can’t be wrong.
Who was the first person to start the cascade of misinformation about fatty foods?
But how did the war on fat start, in the first place?
It was Ancel Keys, a diet researcher. Keys, introduced the low-fat-is-good-health dogma in the 50's with his theory that dietary fat raises cholesterol levels and gives you heart disease. In his study called the Seven Countries study, Keys, a Minnesota epidemiologist used multivariate regression analysis to examine diet and disease. He compared the diets of seven countries, and his main conclusion was that saturated fats were responsible for cardiovascular disease. Keys' study laid the foundation for nutrition science, education, and public policy for the next three decades.
There was only one problem. His conclusions were dead wrong.
Keys' neglected to note that sucrose and saturated fat were co-mingled into his data. Additionally he never separated out the issue of how the fat was consumed. (Fat cooked at high temperatures, clearly produces known carcinogens.)
Nevertheless, lowering fat (without regard to sugar) became the nutritional model that persists to this day, despite copious evidence that it doesn't work. As your fats went from 40 percent to 30 percent, your carbohydrates went from 40 percent to 55 percent. And this carbohydrate increase was of the worst possible kind: SUGAR.
Soon got others to jump on the bandwagon.
Even the American Heart Association, which concluded in 1957 that “the evidence that dietary fat correlates with heart disease does not stand up to critical examination,” changed its position in 1960. Why? Because Keys was on the committee issuing a new report that a low-fat diet was advised for people at risk of heart disease.
Since then, the “fat is bad” theory continued to be accepted as nutritional wisdom, even though clinical trials found no connection. It is amazing, but not surprising, how quickly one person’s flawed opinion can turn into the nutritional mantra of an entire country.
Keys published his analysis that claimed to prove the link between dietary fats and coronary heart disease, where in he selectively analyzed information from only six countries to prove his correlation, rather than comparing all the data available at the time -- from 22 countries. As a result of this selected data, government health organizations began advising the public that has contributed to the diabetes and obesity epidemics going on today: Eat a low-fat diet. Now onwards ‘Food had to be Low-Fat or Fat- Free’. The era of SUGAR-FREE had not yet arrived.
Of course, as Americans cut out nutritious animal fats from their diets, they were left hungry. So they began eating more of processed grains, vegetable oils, and more high-fructose corn syrup, all of which are nutritional disasters.
The lone voice of dissent was of Atkins (''Diet Revolution'' ,1972),where he said “It was the carbohydrates, the pasta, rice, bagels and sugar, that caused obesity and even heart disease, and we could eat eggs and butter to our heart's desire. Fat, he said, was harmless. But Americans were just coming to terms with the fact that the saturated fat of meat and dairy products -- was the primary nutritional evil in the American diet.
The American Medical Association considered Atkin’s diet, a potential threat to the health. Atkins even had to defend his diet in Congressional hearings. Thirty years later, America got ‘convinced’ that obesity is caused by the excessive consumption of fat, and that if we eat less fat we will lose weight and live longer.
There were no takers for the alternative hypothesis: it's not the fat that makes us fat, but the carbohydrates, and if we eat less carbohydrates we will lose weight and live longer.
In 2002, The New York Times also ran Gary Taubes’ What If It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?, which cast further doubt on this’ flawed “truth” ‘, (like…beautiful bitch)
Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, may be the most visible proponent of testing this heretic hypothesis. Willett is the de facto spokesman of the longest-running, most comprehensive diet and health studies ever performed, which have already cost upward of $100 million and include data on nearly 300,000 individuals.
Those data, says Willett, clearly contradict the low-fat-is-good-health message ''and the idea that all fat is bad for you; the exclusive focus on adverse effects of fat may have contributed to the obesity epidemic.''
These researchers point out that there are plenty of reasons to suggest that the low-fat-is-good-health hypothesis has now effectively failed the test of time. In particular, that we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic that started around the early 1980's, and that this was coincident with the rise of the low-fat dogma. Willet’s in no longer a lone voice…..
Scientists are still arguing about fat, despite a century of research, because the regulation of appetite and weight in the human body happens to be almost inconceivably complex, and the experimental tools we have to study it are still remarkably inadequate. This combination leaves researchers in an awkward position. To study the entire physiological system involves feeding real food to real human subjects for months or years on end, which is prohibitively expensive, ethically questionable (if you're trying to measure the effects of foods that might cause heart disease) and virtually impossible to do in any kind of rigorously controlled scientific manner.
But if researchers seek to study something less costly and more controllable, they end up studying experimental situations so oversimplified that their results may have nothing to do with reality.
This then leads to a research literature so vast that it's possible to find at least some published research to support virtually any theory. There is an atmosphere where researchers seem easily convinced that their preconceived notions are correct and thoroughly uninterested in testing any other hypotheses but their own. ( 2+2=5 in all other sciences except Mathematics)
The percentage of obese Americans stayed relatively constant through the 1960's and 1970's at 13 % to 14 % and then shot up to 22 % in the 1980's. By the end of that decade, nearly one in four Americans was obese. Meanwhile, in !990s overweight children nearly tripled in number. And for the first time, physicians began diagnosing Type 2 diabetes in adolescents. …The tragedy is now unfolding in US…..
So How Did This Happen?
By one theory, we are at the mercy of the food industry, which spends nearly $10 billion a year advertising unwholesome junk food and fast food. Our modern society has successfully eliminated physical activity from our daily lives. We no longer exercise or walk up stairs, nor do our children bike to school or play outside, because they would prefer to play video games and watch television.
We also have a genetic component . It suggests that storing extra calories as fat was an evolutionary advantage to our Paleolithic ancestors, who had to survive frequent famine. We then inherited these ''thrifty'' genes, despite their liability in today's toxic environment where food is NOT a scarcity. It also gives us a peg to hang our ‘misfortune’.
''Grain products and concentrated sugars were essentially absent from human nutrition until the invention of agriculture, was only 10,000 years ago.'' This is discussed frequently in the anthropology texts but is mostly absent from the obesity literature, with the prominent exception of the low-carbohydrate-diet books.
What's forgotten in the current controversy is that the low-fat dogma itself is only about 25 years old. Until the late 70's, the accepted wisdom was that fat and protein protected against overeating by making you sated, and that carbohydrates made you fat.
In ''The Physiology of Taste,'' for instance, an 1825 discourse considered among the most famous books ever written about food, the French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin says that he could easily identify the causes of obesity after 30 years of listening to one ''stout party'' after another proclaiming the joys of bread, rice and (from a ''particularly stout party'') potatoes. That was food science in 1825.
The common thinking, wrote a former director of the Nutrition Division of the United Nations, in 1970s was that the ideal diet, one that prevented obesity, snacking and excessive sugar consumption, was a diet ''with plenty of eggs, beef, mutton, chicken, butter and well-cooked vegetables.'' This was the identical prescription Brillat-Savarin put forth in 1825. A science of 150 years was turned upside down during the next 30 years.
Science and Politics:
The case was eventually settled not by new science but by politics. It began in January 1977, when a Senate committee led by George McGovern published its ''Dietary Goals for the United States,'' advising that Americans significantly curb their fat intake to abate an epidemic of ''killer diseases'' supposedly sweeping the country.
It peaked in late 1984, when the National Institutes of Health officially recommended that all Americans over the age of 2 eat less fat. In the intervening years, the N.I.H. spent several hundred million dollars trying to demonstrate a connection between eating fat and getting heart disease and, despite what we might think, it failed. Five major studies revealed no such link. A sixth, however, costing well over $100 million alone, concluded that reducing cholesterol by drug therapy could prevent heart disease.
Basil Rifkind, who oversaw the relevant trials for the N.I.H., described their logic this way: they had failed to demonstrate at great expense that eating less fat had any health benefits. But if a cholesterol-lowering drug could prevent heart attacks, then a low-fat, cholesterol-lowering diet should do the same. i.e.if 5 is less than 10 and a number close to 5 is also less than10 then 5 and all the other numbers nearby are ‘almost’ same. We don’t have definitive proof, but this is a leap of faith….
Some of the best scientists disagreed with this low-fat logic, suggesting that good science was incompatible with such leaps of faith, but they were effectively ignored.
''What right,'' Handler asked, ''has the federal government to propose that the American people conduct a vast nutritional experiment, with themselves as subjects, on the strength of so very little evidence that it will do them any good?''
The food industry takes over:
Nonetheless, once the N.I.H. signed off on the low-fat doctrine, societal forces took over. The food industry quickly began producing thousands of reduced-fat food products to meet the new recommendations. Fat was removed from foods like cookies, chips and yogurt. The problem was, it had to be replaced with something as tasty and pleasurable to the palate, which meant some form of sugar, often high-fructose corn syrup.
Meanwhile, an entire industry emerged to create fat substitutes, of which Procter & Gamble's olestra was first. And because these reduced-fat meats, cheeses, snacks and cookies had to compete with a few hundred thousand other food products marketed in America, the industry dedicated considerable advertising effort to reinforcing the less-fat-is-good-health message.
Helping the cause was what Walter Willett calls the ''huge forces'' of dietitians, health organizations, consumer groups, health reporters and even cookbook writers, all well-intended missionaries of healthful eating.
There is still a lot of education to be done, but the key is that YOU have to listen to your body, not the flawed theory of a 1950s nutritional researcher.
Let us come back to Water melon:
Let me confess; It was a ruse to draw attention to this article on mass mobilisation of opinion which starts at some place and gets accepted by many as ‘authentic’.
First person: He has a bit of information, and he is confident about it, so he spouts it out.
Second person: He is unsure but decides that the first person must be right.
Third person: He had a right answer, but changes his mind since he believes the other two.
Water melon for diabetic people :
First person: Watermelon is a low carb fruit,(10gms), a high source of vitamin A(15% DV),and high Potassium 135mg (4%DV),and vitamin C (12%). Diabetes people can consume large quantity. (All values are for 100gms)
Second person: He could not decide earlier on the basis of GI and shooting BS levels when water melon is eaten. He decides that the first person must be right.
Third person: He knew that 100gms of WM will give1000 kcal, and the fructose content is very high. However ‘he feels‘ the first two persons must be right. Informational Cascade At Work.
THE ACTUAL FACT: May be you can eat about 10 gms……….
DO NOT BE A GUINEA PIG… IT IS YOUR HEALTH……
LISTEN TO YOUR BODY… TAKE INFORMED DECISIONS….
Next Blog: On Fenugreek for Diabetes… (So many questions..even after so many blogs….)