Jonah Goldberg on Government Imposing Food Superstitions as Science

National Review has published an editorial that needed to be written: “The Growing Food Fight over the Government’s Nutrition Guidelines.” Writers for Political Outcast have touched on the subject several times, most recently in my post on the stacked committee that has produced the guidelines.

In the National Review article, Jonah Goldberg writes,

In Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes chronicled how the federal government went all-in for a low-fat, high-carbohydrate food pyramid. The man most responsible, nutritionist and epidemiologist Ancel Keys, was convinced that America’s fat-rich diet explained the rise in heart disease in the U.S.

It was a plausible theory, but there was scarce evidence it was true. In 1957, the American Heart Association concluded that the correlation between fat and heart disease “does not stand up to critical examination.”

Three years later, the AHA reversed course, without any new evidence. Keys had simply taken over the relevant committee and asserted that “the best scientific evidence” was on his side.

Armed with a government grant, Keys went off to prove what he already believed. He launched the Seven Countries Study, comparing the diets of populations he cherry-picked. The study — surprise! — confirmed Keys’s thesis. Left unmentioned: Keys had data from 22 countries, and his correlations vanished in that sample.

Notice that the government claims to act as a watchdog to make sure we are getting “good science” (in this case, nutrition) but it actually provides leverage for bad science. It gives crusaders and scammers a target to capture. If they gain control of it, they will gain influence and power for their theory.

In 1988, the surgeon general issued a report declaring ice cream to be a “comparable” public health threat to cigarettes. The science was settled.

Except it wasn’t. If you’ve been paying any attention, you’ve seen the stories about how fat isn’t necessarily bad for you, while carbs are the real enemy. Studies have found that more milk fat in your diet correlates with less heart disease. Who’s right? I lost nearly 50 pounds in part by cutting out carbs. That’s clear enough for me, but it’s also clear there’s a lot we don’t yet understand.

Many have caught on. That is why the price of butter is going up. People are buying more of it because they realize that they can’t trust the government to tell them how to eat.

As much as possible, we need to get the government out of science, whether nutrition of any other area.