Sunday, January 29, 2017

Never Mind the Muslim Ban; Trump should Focus on Obesity

This week President Trump has been making headlines with his rapid-fire series of executive orders, particularly with his efforts to start building a wall on the Mexican border and institute a ban on Muslim immigration to the United States.

Whatever you think of these controversial policies, there are other issues President Trump should focus on that have yet to receive any attention from the new administration--particularly obesity.

The exact number of Americans who are or will become obese can be manipulated depending on what political agenda is in question. But what's clear is that Americans are getting fatter than we used to be and our diets are becoming increasingly unhealthy.

Am J Clin Nutr
vol. 86 no. 4 899-906

So what should be done about this situation? The public health mullahs will urge Trump to shake his fists at the food industry for poisoning children with breakfast cereals and soda, then push for a federal tax on sugar. We're better than that sort of unhelpful nonsense by this point, hopefully.

Nonetheless, Trump has an opportunity to do something about obesity, and that something is very simple: he could cancel the USDA's policy of scolding fat people while subsidizing their bad habits. With good nutrition advice in hand, Americans may start making choices that ultimately eliminate obesity as a public health issue.

We Finally Know What Makes Us Fat

For decades, the federal government has promoted a low-fat diet, arguing that it helps us both shrink our waistlines and prevent heart disease. This message was dutifully picked up by the media, food industry and medical establishment in the 1970s, even though the relationship between high-fat diets and poor health was always tenuous. In recent years, though, an overwhelming amount of evidence has been collected that conclusively shatters whatever link there was between poor heart health, obesity and a high-fat diet.

Study after study confirms this assertion: not only will saturated fat keep you slim and your heart healthy, it's probably your body's preferred source of fuel, as opposed to the "heart healthy" whole grains we've been told to consume all our lives by clueless nutritionists and smug public health bureaucrats.

These are the kinds of claims that were made almost exclusively by isolated, rebellious voices in medicine just 15 years ago, figures like Robert Atkins and other such diet doctors. They were largely correct in their recommendation that people ought to avoid carbs and load up on fat and protein, though they were easily dismissed with the overwhelming majority of researchers denouncing their work.

What Can Trump Do About It?

 With prominent Harvard scientists now vocally defending saturated fat and bestselling books warning us about the dangers of consuming sugar, Trump has an opportunity to put his agenda to work promoting good nutrition advice that was previously suppressed by mainstream medicine. The president recently told every federal agency to halt the release of new regulations so his administration has a chance to review them, and I can think of no better setup for Trump to eliminate the USDA's "My Plate" dietary recommendations.

Released every five years since 1980, the USDA's dietary guidelines have hardly changed. They exclude any research that doesn't fit the agency's predetermined agenda and contradict research published by other federal agencies. More importantly, these haphazardly assembled guidelines are the foundation for every other iteration of the "eat less, move more" low-fat diet advice you're likely to see.

Instead of letting the USDA regularly issue outdated, scientifically dubious guidelines, Trump could make sure the agency is giving Americans accurate information about which foods constitute a good diet. He could also push to end federal agricultural subsidies for corn and soybeans, which artificially depress the price of junk foods everyone agrees are unhealthy. Some of the president's earlier comments about letting the free market work in agriculture give me hope on this second point, but we'll have to wait and see.


In the past, the government did an excellent job of promoting an unhealthy diet based on junk science. With a newly-elected populist president now directing the show, Washington could help reverse America's upward obesity trend by just leaving us alone. Following the decades-long debate over saturated fat, consumers are responding to the new science with changing preferences and food companies are happily catering to their customers' new demands.

If Trump keeps his agencies out of the way, we may have found our solution.

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