Saturday, July 23, 2005


Nonsense that systematically ignores the scientific findings

The food police filed a petition this week with the federal government to require that regular (non-diet) soft drinks carry health warning labels. But scientific data, including a new study published this week, expose such soda scaremongering for what it is - junk science-fueled nanny-ism. Anti-fun food activists at the self-proclaimed "Center for Science in the Public Interest" called on the Food and Drug Administration to require a series of rotating health notices on containers of most non-diet soft drinks. Warnings suggested by CSPI include: "The U.S. Government recommends that you drink less (non-diet) soda to help prevent weight gain, tooth decay and other health problems"; "To help protect your waistline and your teeth, consider drinking diet sodas or water"; "Drinking soft drinks instead of milk or calcium-fortified beverages may increase your risk of brittle bones (osteoporosis)"; and "This drink contains caffeine, which is a mildly addictive stimulant drug. Not appropriate for children."

Ironically, the day after the CSPI news conference calling for the warning labels, a study published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet undercut CSPI's claims concerning weight gain. Researchers studied the role of physical activity in relation to changes in bodyweight in about 2,300 adolescent girls for 10 years from ages 9-19 and reported that exercise, rather than eating, was key. "These results suggest that habitual activity plays an important role in weight gain, with no parallel evidence that energy intake had a similar role," concluded the researchers.

This new study is consistent with what scientists know about sugar intake and weight. "There is no clear and consistent association between increased intake of added sugars and [weight]," stated a 2002 report from the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine titled, "Dietary Reference Intakes on Macronutrients." And let's not forget about the more recent 15,000-child study spotlighted last fall in this column in which Harvard University researchers concluded that, "although snack foods may have low nutritional value, they were not an important independent determinant of weight gain among children and adolescents."

While consumption of dietary sugars has been linked with dental caries, it's not a simple relationship that merits a special warning label on soft drink. "Many factors in addition to sugars affect the caries process, including the form of food or fluid, the duration of the exposure, nutrient composition, sequence of eating, salivary flow, presence of buffers, and oral hygiene," wrote researchers in a 2003 article entitled "Sugars and Dental Caries" published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Emphasizing the complexity of the issue, the researchers noted, "Since the introduction of fluoride, the incidence of caries worldwide has decreased, despite increases in sugar consumption."

The researchers also noted a study linking white bread with caries. Will CSPI also demand that consumers be warned about the risk of tooth decay that might be posed by sandwich bread, French bread and pizza?

CSPI's suggested warning about soft drinks increasing the risk of osteoporosis is also without merit. As discussed in an earlier column, there simply is no evidence that soft drinks are replacing milk in the diet of children and adolescents. That same column spotlighted a CSPI-inspired researcher who previously attempted to link cola consumption with bone fractures in high school girls; but her statistics were weak and she had no credible explanation for how cola consumption could lead to bone fractures.

By the way, while CSPI ostensibly worries about soft drinks replacing milk, it actively campaigns against the consumption of whole milk and 2 percent milk, advocating consumption of only 1 percent milk and skim milk. CSPI accuses the dairy industry of "putting profits ahead of the hearts of American's school-aged children," even though the activist group can't point to a single child whose heart health has been compromised in the slightest by milk.

As to caffeine and children, a 2002 review of the science in Food and Chemical Toxicology concluded, "Overall, the effects of caffeine in children seem to be modest and typically innocuous." Of course children should avoid overconsumption of caffeine - that's just common sense - but they can safely consume the typical amounts found in soft drinks....

The bottom line on soft drinks is that, like virtually everything else in life, moderation is the key. Soft drinks can be part of a healthy lifestyle - along with a balanced diet, plenty of exercise, sufficient sleep, good oral hygiene and other common sense lifestyle habits. If consumers need to be waned about anything, it should be CSPI's alarmist antics.

More here


An excerpt from here

You don't have to be a right-wing fanatic like me to realize that religious freedom and freedom of speech are under fire in Western civilization (heretofore known as "the free world"). Recently I blogged about the anti-vilification laws in Victoria, Australia, which have been used to muzzle criticism of Islam by two Christian pastors. And "hate speech" laws in Canada already limit public criticism of homosexuality, whether in religious contexts or not.

Now comes the July 18 commentary at the top of the queue from the CBC, the Canadian government-run broadcasting system. The CBC has found a chap named Bob Ferguson, a retired professor from the Royal Military College, who has a bright idea--require licensing of all pastors and other "religious practitioners" and directly and drastically control the content of religious teaching by law. Think I'm joking? I couldn't make this stuff up.

Mr. Ferguson's commentary is set in the context of the debate over women's ordination, with special reference to the Roman Catholic Church. His idea is that the RC church should simply be forced by law to ordain women, at least in Canada.

Given the inertia of the Catholic Church, perhaps we could encourage reform by changing the environment in which all religions operate. Couldn't we insist that human rights, employment and consumer legislation apply to them as it does other organizations? Then it would be illegal to require a particular marital status as a condition of employment or to exclude women from the priesthood. Of course the Vatican wouldn't like the changes, but they would come to accept them in time as a fact of life in Canada.

This is bad enough. The subject of women's ordination is a controversial one, but that is no reason for the government to usurp the power to decide that religious bodies must follow secular society's ideas about non-discrimination. But it gets better. Ferguson suggests that all pastors, priests, etc. should have to be "registered religious practitioners" and should have to have a license to "practice religion" legally. And he has specific suggestions about the content of religious teaching that should be, by law, declared "unethical" for an RRP to promulgate:

We could also help the general cause of religious freedom by introducing a code of moral practice for religions. They will never achieve unity so why not try for compatibility? Can't religious leaders agree to adjust doctrine so all religions can operate within the code? ..... I won't try to propose what might be in the new code except for a few obvious things: A key item would have to be a ban on claims of exclusivity. It should be unethical for any RRP to claim that theirs was the one true religion and believers in anything else or nothing were doomed to fire and brimstone. One might also expect prohibition of ritual circumcisions, bans on preaching hate or violence, the regulation of faith healers, protocols for missionary work, etc.

So claiming "exclusivity" is just as bad as, if not worse than, advocacy of female genital mutilation or open incitement to violence? (I just love the bit about "adjusting doctrine" to make all religions compatible.) Let me get this straight: Under this proposal, if you get up before your congregation and say that Jesus is the only way to heaven, you will probably lose your "religious practitioner" license for "unethical practices" and be punished in some fashion by law if you continue to "practice religion without a license." Bob now waxes patronizing, while giving us the punch line. What is this all about?

Now what is the point of proposing this? I do it because I am worried that the separation between church and state is under threat. Religion is important in our lives, but it can become a danger to society when people claim that the unalterable will of God is the basis for their opinions and actions. Yes religion can be a comfort and a guide, but we cannot take rules from our holy books and apply them to the modern world without democratic debate and due regard for the law.

Do I really need to point out the silly illogic of this? The government needs to micromanage the content of religious teaching, require all pastors to register, outlaw bodies that don't ordain women, and ban "claims of exclusivity" by religious groups because otherwise the separation of church and state would be threatened?....

Of course, Bob is just some guy, right? The CBC can easily say that it is not endorsing his views, that he is not even an employee, that this was just a guest commentary. And this is all true, formally and as far as it goes. But let's not fool ourselves. The CBC wouldn't have given these views this degree of publicity, not to mention the respect shown in their introductory paragraph (see the link), if they didn't like them. A trial balloon it may be, but we should not be naive about the importance of trial balloons.

Anti-patriotism in Britain: "Councillors want to ban "Land Of Hope And Glory" from a Remembrance Day festival because it is “too political”. Labour members are pushing for the stirring patriotic anthem to be kicked out and replaced with Rod Stewart’s 1975 hit "Sailing". [Which celebrates homosexuality] Wolverhampton Councillor Peter O’Neill said: “It is my view that the song has political connotations. It should be replaced by Sailing because that will connect better with the younger generation.” But old soldiers who will proudly carry the Union Flag blasted the plan. The Royal British Legion’s John Mellor said: “It’s nonsense. To say it is political is barmy.” Lyndon Purnell, 70, who spent 23 years in the Paras, said: “The main reason you ban something is because it is going to offend people — but it WON’T offend anyone going to the festival.” Mr O’Neill will urge a ban on Edward Elgar’s classic when a committee meets today to discuss November’s festival."

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