Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A little bit of a bad thing (is still a bad thing)

If you have ever wondered what sound a medical organization makes when it loses credibility, or what words best capture the moral failing of a physician selling-out, look no further than the statement by the American Academy of Family Physicians as they partnered with Coca-Cola to “educate” Americans about sugary beverages. AAFP President-elect Lori Heim, M.D., characterizes the partnership as “a way of working with interested companies to develop educational materials to help consumers make informed decisions so they can include the products they love in a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle."

I’m not a food puritan, and I’m not trying to beat up on Coca-Cola. They produce a popular product in high demand around the world. They provide profitable returns to their shareholders, and generally conduct themselves with the propriety expected of the corporate world. But their cola-beverages are not healthy. They never have been healthy. Drink 1 to 2 cans of soda a day and you increase your risk of becoming obese or developing diabetes by about 25%.

This partnership amounts to a shameful nadir in the trend of compromising health advice with the myth that in sufficiently small doses, a bad thing can become good. Or OK. Or at least less bad. Big tobacco tried this with the myth of “light” cigarettes and thankfully failed. It’s not necessary to have every choice you make be a healthy one, but giving the impression that something is healthy when it clearly is not amounts to deception. Being a doctor sponsored to do so by the sugar-beverage industry is conflict of interest.

The problem with this partnership is that it appears to put soda pop into its own nutritional category, with its own “recommended daily allowance” just like any other food. AAFP is essentially conceding that there is an amount that is “healthy” for consumption. But whether you drink one sip or a barrel, coca-cola will never be healthy. Drinking just a little bit doesn’t make it healthy. Just a little probably won’t cause harm, but neither will a sufficiently small amount of the neurotoxin mercury. Think about it. Everything could be considered “OK” in the right amount. Toxicologists say that “the dose makes the poison,” in other words, even a little bit of poison won’t kill you. Conversely too much of anything can be harmful: It’s possible to overdose on vitamin E, and people have died from drinking too much water.

We should all do ourselves the healthy favor of avoiding the “if I eat only a bit of a bad thing, it’ll be OK” mindset. Don’t fool yourself: If something is unhealthy, that’s what it is. Full stop. You can still choose to eat it in moderation, and probably won’t suffer any ill effects. But at least be honest to yourself and understand that some food choices are healthy, others are not. You don’t need a doctor or Coca-Cola to educate you about that.

That’s my rant on the subject. Am I over reacting?

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1 comment:

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