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 .

informational cascade

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.

ACK:Gary Taubes


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……….




Next Blog: On Fenugreek for Diabetes… (So many questions..even after so many blogs….)

32 Replies

  • Perhaps we are making a mistake by taking an American example.We differ from them in many ways.We do not feed the grains to cattle and then consume them like they do.We eat the grains directly.That is our economy and lifestyle.You will hardly find a vegetarian among Americans whereas most of us are vegetarians or occasional non vegetarians.Our portions are small and they consume big.A masala dosa may have 200 cals whereas a full blown burger exceeds 1000 cals.What I want to say is let us not be swayed by American influence.We have to find our own yard sticks for healthy living.This article is thought provoking and informative and many thanks to KKMMSS

  • Sir,

    With all respects to you,

    I have visited chicken farms where 'ZZZ' brand feeds (Starter, Middle and Finishers) are fed to the chicks continuously for 40 to 45 days. These foods are based on corn. ( GMO or otherwise)

    In cattle farms same is the case. Do not go by nearby cattle owners who with all difficulty manage their cattle with dried or fresh grass. By all means we should encourage taking raw milk, from such cows, eggs from such free feed chicken,


    The article was on Informational cascade ...and how it sways the public perception in the short run and long run.

    About Indian life style... Have you NOT seen so many of our own people buying, canned, processed, packaged, ready to eat 2- 4- minute preparations, sugar free, low fat, calorie free items .. in our supermarkets.

    I agree most of us vegetarians and there lies our strength. But how many of us desist from buying such junk foods.?


    I was just now reading an article which says how we are leaving behind a modified gene because of our faulty lifestyle to the future generation. Future generation? Is it an irrelevant word?

    I am talking abour our sons, daughters and grand children....


    Let us do course correction as we go along.. Nothing wrong...We are Human..

    Let us accept mistakes before they become Himalayan blunders...


  • even non vegetarians in india eat meat less than vegetarian diet..The method of preperation mostly resembles veg cooking style except that they add meat instead of vegetables

  • Dear KKMMSS! Please accept my thinks for the efforts you have taken for analyzing the merits and demerits of consuming water melon.

  • The blog was about Informational Cascade when one or two powerful or influential people can change the direction of the society .....

    FAT IS BAD was such an example.

    Watermelon case is my attempt to explain how the above theory can be made to work....

    If you are diabetic Please avoid or very much limit watermelon..

  • I welcome the quote," listen to your body, take informed decision."It means b a research lab for your ownself. Take 100 gms of WM with food & test & study the result. Avoid is better as indicated.

  • Sir,

    I wanted to know what was the diet change that lead to the so called 80+...

    Yes, You are so right, We have to listen to our body more so often when we introduce any change...

  • @Medfree: u seem to hv lot of info. Can u suggest a site which gives a simple list of fruits which can be eaten?? Glycemic load and GI can be confusing at times. Why can't we diabetics hv a simple clear list which tells, what fruits in what amount?? thx.

  • Ty Medfree! I totally agree 6-7 times eating is insane, even stomach needs rest!! LCHF diet def makes sense for a diabetic. as long as u cut down on carbs, u will obviously do very well with diab. I hv read lot of new research of what u were bringing in here. anything in excess is not good for the body in some aspect. atkins was abt proteins, lchf is abt fats. anyway, thx for the new research info, always helps. Ty.

  • I will very shortly answer this question about fruits for diabetes, It is an often asked question

    It is not just about GI and GL.

    Incidentally I like fruits.

  • @kkmss: I tried google, but cudn't really find a clear simple list which tells how to eat fruits as per the diabetic needs. Mango and banana were totally forbidden I remember couple of decades back. now, becoz their GI is less than 60, small pieces are fine. will hv neglible effect.

  • Yes exactly medfree, this is what diabetics can comfortably do. ty for this combo. Once the mango is mixed with a low gi, then we can hv it.

  • medfree: I've always liked the whole milk, very nutritious. If milk is fine for diabetics, then curd of 8-12 hrs cannot be fine??

  • If that is the logic, then go ahead and have Belgian chocolates. Mix them with curd of course as per the logic and you are home and dry.

    In fact, Indians love rice, don't they ??? Sooo, eat rice but sure to mix it with curd :-) No more diabetes as per this strange logic.

  • Thanks for the info.

    I am on similar diet and have significant benefits.I am looking for cold pressed coco oil. I will source it soon.

    The only change I made was that I stopped Metformin, after checking the meters. ( I will inform the doctors during the next check up)

    I listen to my body and see themeter......

  • Thanks, food for thought


    Is it Salt for thought...

    Let me go through the article...

  • fantastically marvellous inspirational brightfully wonderful knowledge-enhancing intelligent & intellectually stimulating, scintillating content million thanks, keep inspiring us all, blessings be with you and upon you, INFINITE!!!!!!!!!! BTW- which city you based?????just curiosity. any mailer id to facilitate if any: if any: queries outside public domain???? thanks in advance,

    my mailer id: lalit.jhaveri@gmail.com


  • I will reply to you though e mail. This is a public forum and has its own decorum....

  • I'm very much aware about decorum standards and thus provided you with my mailer id. many thanks, waiting for your reply, I never asked you to engage in any communique between just the two of us, apologies for any inconvenience caused

  • Sorry if have hurt you.

    I will definitely write to you...

  • As usual, a informative and well documented presentation. Thanks.

    Why the theories are varying from time to time, may be no-doubt, due to the ineffective methodologies adopted by the researchers or the short-span of experimental period adopted, etc. But, my view is that in addition, the rapid-vibrant changes in the lifestyle of the human-being (either he may be an American or Indian or otherwise), the quality of the food grains available may be cause for it.

  • A rapidly and exponentially growing medical research has felicitated to upgrade the knowledge at a furious pace.

    The half life of medical knowledge is four years as of now. : Meaning, A doctor out of institution with a degree now has 50 % more knowledge than a doctor who passed 4 years back... (This is true of many fields but the pace varies) Implications?

    Upgradation of knowledge by doctors is a MUST....

    A new scientific knowledge in DNA and the changes due to life style says that the genetics of our parents , because of their food andlife style faults has started effecting the genes. ( Genetic after some years may NOT include grandparents and parents before that.)

    This is due to the fact that the 'MODERN' life style of processed foods, canned foods, HFSCs,hidden sugars, and artificial sweeteners (though sugar per se existed before that) started only at the end of World war II.

    At this rate, our immediate progeny and there after will NOT have a choice...of foods because the genes ould have carried enough faulty info in the name of evolution.

    A one or two generational shift in Genetics?

    Some thing unheard in the time of Darwin..

    These are NOT my views. I am only quoting from a reknowned research report.

  • The debate in America on' fat is good or bad' is more in relation to obesity rather than on'diabeties' although there is a view that obesity leads to diabetes2 .What is debated in relation to American food habits cannot be generalised in regard to our food habits versus diabetes..Diabetes is a disorder of intolrence to sugar and cause is still not known.

    Insofar as water melon is concerned it is a seasonal fruit.There is a view eating fruits of seasonally grown is good and eating fruits preserved for eating out of season is bad.

  • My only request to readers is that do NOT compartmentalise the diseases.

    My body has diabetes, I have cancer, I have heart problems... So I will look for solutions for them and them only..This approach has to change

    All the diseases are a food metabolic disorder and consequences of a a faulty lifestyle ......

    To think that " Oh these are all American problems", we are only deliberately neglecting the real issues.

    Obesity is the first order consequence of a bad food habit and the resulting metabolic disorder coupled with faulty life style...

    Obesity leads to any one of the major diseases listed above.

    To say that they are all American food habits is taking one comforting route of argument. Do we not see the trends in out food purchase in our consumers?

    Yes, Americans have started to think to declare obesity as a disease. They have reached a point of NO return.

    That is why they are now concentarting on " child obesity"...and school nutrition plans..

    It is high time we came out of our comfort zones before the alarm bells ring. ...

  • There is no question of compartmentalisation.If diabeties is the primary cause for other diseases like heart,kidney,retinopathy,neuropathy and control of blood sugar is the prime remedy one should concern in attacking this prime cause and try our best to pursue the remedy.

  • It is difficult to agree to this serman.of kkmmss

    When our food habitss are dissimilar and life style cant be compared with americans who lead a highly mechanised lifestyle it is advisable to think on our problems to solve them keeping in view our food habits and life style..what debates are in america is in my feeling inappropriate.

  • Let me give some stats behind the ‘sermon’; Stat from internationally recognised bodies….


    SUGAR: Sugar consumption in India in 2010 was 20.6 kg against a world average of 24.8 kg.

    Sugar conference in Fiji in 2012 warn specifically that the sugar consumption rate in India is growing more rapidly than the global average.

    50 years back our sugar consumption was 5%; Now it is 13%.


    DIABETES: As per IDF stats, Diabetes in India is 7.76%, while the US figure is 10.27%.

    Increase in diabetes is 69% in developing countries compared to 20% in developed ones.


    TRANSFATS: TFA figures , as per 2008, for India is 0.32 g/day/person. ( Average for India)

    The corresponding figures for Australia and US are 1.2 to 1.6 and 2.6 respectively.

    Comforting? Read ON…

    Eight states already exceed 1.2 g/day/person. Four states { Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Chandigarh} exceed the value of US. Punjab is the highest at 6.34 g/day/person.


    OBESITY: As per OECD data, Obesity figures for India is 5% ; About six crores people.

    Obesity for US 33% and overweight 33%. ( The basis is on the out dated BMI). Based on the latest waist to hips ratio, it is expected to cross 90 to 95 % by 2040.)

    Comforting? Read ON..

    For India the figures are: Obesity in children ( 5-17 yrs) Boys: 20.6%, Girls : 18.3 % ( It is 14% in ladies ( age from 18 to 49 yrs.)

    This figure is increasing by 3.5 to 4% per year, a ‘GOOD’ growth rate !.


    If the alarm bells are not sounding even now, Read ON…

    A WHO report concludes: “As of now, even though the national average of obesity figures are low in India and China, these two countries account for a population of 2.5 billion. So, unlike West or Europe where the figures have started saturating, in India and China even a small percentage increase will add millions to the obesity which will lead to more cases of chronic diseases.”



  • The percentages of consumption of sugar projected has to be linked to population growth.The statistics projected shows indian consumption is far less than in america.. indian population is growing in numbers aswell as percentage as compared to western countries including America where there stagnancy .statistics do not speak of food habits ,tropical climate and rural people's lifestyle versus diabetes as compared to urban people and the life style..So comparison is misleading and not buyable at least by me.

  • Sorry, I missed out theword per capita. What is given is the per capita % of sugar consumption which naturally includes the population.

    When individual per capita food components are considered rural/urban factors , climate and life style discussions do not come in. When diseases are analysed, the food habits and lifestyles come in. But all these are normalised when you talk of statistics for the whole nation when the data is presented to world bodies.

    Distribution of food component consumption is altogether is another statistical exercisewhere in reasons are made out for rural urban prcentages, rural urban poverty distributions, rural urban per capita income and other gio-asymmetrical factors. There are so many soio-economic considerations which go in arriving at the distributions for individual States, While doing so for the country as a whole the total consumption, population makes the data normalised.

    Statistics for the the complete nation is average for the nation. If you see individual State figures, in some cases the values are much above the natural averages, as is evident in the TFA figures.

  • Dear KKMMSS do you mind if I copy this to my facegroup friends ?

  • What ever write here is always based on meterial available in public domain.

    Where ever it is NOT, I restrain my self while quoting it (.eg. MDRF atlas.)

    Hence Go ahead...

  • Thanks very much. I want to share this with my friends.

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