Once upon a time, there was a medical “consensus” that fats and cholesterol in the blood were major causes of heart disease. Armed with this “settled science,” the public health establishment moved in the 1970s to expunge the offending substances, beyond a basic minimum deemed to be necessary, from Americans’ diets. Food bureaucrats established dietary guidelines. Physicians ordered billions of dollars of blood tests. Pharmaceutical companies made tens of billions of dollars on drugs that suppressed cholesterol levels. Food companies, castigated in some quarters as soulless merchants of dietary corruption, were compelled to report the nutritional breakdown of their packaged products. Badgered by public officialdom and the media over the decades, Americans slowly, grudgingly changed their eating habits.
What good did it do them? Americans are more overweight, more prone to diabetes and more at risk of heart disease than ever before. Now, it transpires, the public health consensus and settled science might not have gotten it right. A new wave of scientific research finds that the worst culprit of all is sugar. CBS’ “60 Minutes” hit the highlights of that research in a show broadcast April 1, “Is Sugar Toxic?”
In that segment, Dr. Sanjay Gupta interviewed Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist who was the proverbial voice in the wilderness for years.
Gupta: “What are all these diseases that you say are linked to sugar?”
Lustig: “Obesity, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease itself.”
Gupta: “So, with the best of intentions, they said, it’s time to reduce fat in the American diet.”
Lustig: “And we did. And guess what? Heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and death are skyrocketing.”
Gupta: “Dr. Lustig believes that’s primarily because we replaced a lot of that fat with added sugars.”
Lustig: “When you take the fat out of the food, it tastes like cardboard. The food industry knew that. So they replaced it with sugar.”
Prediction 1: Often wrong but never in doubt, the progressives and do-gooders will develop amnesia about the past 40 years of regulatory activism. The old “settled science” will go down the memory hole, to be replaced with a new “settled science.” With new demons to castigate and a new cause to justify meddling in peoples’ lives on the grounds that they are too ignorant, slothful or obstinate to do what’s good for them, progressives will embark joyfully upon a new crusade. Soon we’ll be hearing how sugar is as addictive as cocaine. (Oh, wait, Dr. Gupta quoted a different scientist saying exactly that.) Sugar companies will replace the fat peddlers at McDonald’s as the new villains du jour. (Dr. Gupta also interviewed a sugar-industry lobbyist.)
Prediction 2: Progressives will not engage in the slightest bit of introspection. It will never occur to them to think, “Gee, if the science wasn’t really settled about heart disease, could the science really be settled about, say, global warming?”
Prediction 3: The American public will grow ever more distrustful of the way science is presented to them by the do-gooders and media, which in turn will lead do-gooders and the media to demean the intelligence of the American public.
Glenn Reynolds recently pointed out in the New York Post that conservatives are no more distrustful of science than liberals and progressives, despite the conceit of liberals and progressives that they represent the “evidence-based” school of thought in contrast to creationists, global-warming deniers and other assorted Neanderthals. Conservative distrust, Mr. Reynolds suggests, stems from “the increasing use of science as ammunition for big-government schemes.”
I concur. In my experience, conservatives do not quibble with the scientific method as a way to advance knowledge. But they distrust the intermediaries between the scientists and the public - the journalists and good-government activists who purport to interpret the findings of the “scientific community” - who frequently minimize the uncertainties in the science and extrapolate to policy conclusions not supported by science.
Prediction 4: It’s just a matter of time before we start hearing, “Hey, we knew a sugar tax was a good idea!
As for me, I’m stockpiling KitKats, Oreos and Eskimo bars. If the goo-goos want to take my confections away from me, they’ll have to pry them from my warm, sticky fingers.
James A. Bacon is the author of “Boomergeddon” and publisher of the Bacon’s Rebellion blog.