The language below is from p. 1096 of the Statement of Managers for the 2014 Farm Bill:
“The Managers expect the Secretary to enforce the regulations contained in 7 CFR 46.44, Good Delivery Standards for Lettuce. The Managers are particularly concerned about contracts and invoices that use disclaimers to exempt product from the condition standards for damages due to bruising and discoloration following bruising.
The Managers expect the Secretary to investigate any contracts or invoices that violate standards and leave perishable product receivers no recourse for damages beyond the Good Delivery Standard for Lettuce.”
Over the past year you have written several pointed columns about the negative impact current good delivery standards have on smaller wholesalers/receivers who don’t have the market power to protect themselves from the practices of some large grower-shippers. In general, you take USDA to task for not updating its good delivery standards so they reflect current market practices in a rapidly changing marketplace. The members of NAPAR agree with you wholeheartedly.
In one of your columns, you question whether the receiver community has any real representation on issues like this. You rightly point out that United, which has the Washington muscle needed to accomplish something, is conflicted, because it has a heavy concentration of grower-shippers in its membership.
You also correctly point out that NAPAR, which was founded specifically to represent receivers against the market power of retailers and grower-shippers, is perceived to be too small and underfunded to successfully wage these battles.
Generally, I would agree that NAPAR against the Western Growers or any significant retailer wouldn’t be a fair fight, but it is possible to pick and choose one’s fights wisely and score some points for wholesaler/receivers around the country. Let me share an example with you.
For years, NAPAR’s efforts have been focused on one very important good delivery standard, the only good delivery standard for produce that is actually in statute, the good delivery standard for lettuce – 7 CFR 46.44.
Delivering this highly perishable commodity, especially from growers in the West to receivers in the East, has always been a problem and a matter of contention. The problem was so persistent and divisive that USDA promulgated 7 CFR 46.44 in 1961. Under the regulation, according to USDA, “lettuce sold without a specific grade, regardless of transit time, is permitted to have the following tolerances upon arrival and still make good delivery:
— 15 percent condition defects — 9 percent serious damage — 5 percent may be decay affecting any portion of the head exclusive of wrapper leaves
Apparently, the statute only worked for just over a decade. Due to severe weather in the mid- 1970s, the recently formed Central California Lettuce Growers Cooperative voted to unilaterally exempt its companies from the good delivery standard and stamped their invoices with the disclaimer “Good delivery standards apply excluding bruising and/or discoloration following bruising.” Of course, the most common “condition defect” for lettuce, and one that would throw many loads out of good delivery, is “bruising and discoloration following bruising.”
The Central California Lettuce Cooperative soon became defunct, but it left the produce industry with one lasting gift, the disclaimer. Soon every lettuce grower in the West was stamping the disclaimer on its invoices and they continue to do so to the present day.
If a wholesaler received a load of lettuce that had more than 15% condition defects, throwing the shipment out of good delivery, and tried to use the statute for redress, it was told it had agreed to the disclaimer and that was that. If it objected too strongly, it was told to find somewhere else to buy lettuce. Of course, there was no one else to do business with because every grower-shipper used the same disclaimer.
As you point out, most retailers don’t have this problem because they have market power. And some receivers, but just a few, are large enough to exercise market power also. Some don’t have the problem because they have over the years developed excellent business relationships with their lettuce growers, but, overall, typical NAPAR members are at a distinct disadvantage when they complain about condition defects caused by “bruising and discoloration following bruising.”
In the past, prominent NAPAR members have met with the growers of lettuce to complain and ask them to stop using the disclaimer — to no avail. NAPAR members have also met with USDA to ask it to protect smaller receivers by enforcing the statute — also to no avail. Shortly after I arrived at NAPAR, we met with USDA again to ask for help. They understood the market power argument and were sympathetic, but only offered to open a new regulatory proceeding, which could last for years.
NAPAR members became even more concerned when the lettuce disclaimer began to show up on invoices for other produce items like broccoli, romaine and Brussels sprouts.
After repeated attempts to resolve the issue with the grower-shipper community, NAPAR decided to pursue a two-pronged strategy.
— First, we would use the Farm Bill process to educate members and staff of the Agriculture Committees about the problem and urge them to instruct USDA to enforce the good delivery standard for lettuce as written.
— Second, we would seek a legal opinion to see if the grower-shippers who were using the disclaimer were legally vulnerable.
NAPAR retained one of the best antitrust law firms in the country to conduct the legal analysis. Its conclusion was that the grower-shippers who were using the disclaimer, which meant all of them, were potentially vulnerable under several antitrust and anti-competitive laws.
Shortly after receiving this opinion, the Farm Bill delivered the above cited clear message to USDA to enforce the current good delivery standard as written. NAPAR members intend to meet with both USDA and the grower-shipper community to see how quickly we can put an end to the use of the unilateral disclaimer.
While NAPAR may not have the political or financial strength of United Fresh, the Western Growers or other produce associations, it is dedicated to solely representing the interests of the wholesaler/receiver community. As it has in the past with its efforts to insure accurate delivery inspections at reasonable costs, to prevent an increase in the shatter allowance for US No 1 table grapes and to block attempts to lower USDA produce grades, NAPAR will continue to address issues that are important to its members.
Perhaps, if we are finally able to do away with the unilateral disclaimer from the good delivery standard for lettuce, we can turn our attention to pursuing your suggestion that USDA pursue updating its good delivery standards to bring them into line with commercial expectations and protect those in the produce industry who do not have the market power to protect themselves.
—John J. Motley President NAPAR
It seems appropriate to ask for USDA intervention to create appropriate good delivery standards that correspond to trade expectations.
These delivery standards, however, are a default in the absence of other terms negotiated and agreed between the parties. Individual firms have the right to define their own individual terms of sale, and if the buyer is aware and agrees to these terms, as appears to be the case here, then those terms would prevail.
However, legally, sellers have to act like the competing businesses that they are and cannot act collectively and conspire to impose identical terms. Even just two competing businesses agreeing upon these terms among themselves could meet the definition of price fixing and would be a violation of antitrust laws. Under the law, terms of sale, warranties, etc., have the same protections as prices; fixing delivery terms among competitors is equally illegal as fixing dollar prices:
A trade association may or may not be able to share appropriate terms of sale; if at its core it is competitors sharing information or agreeing to terms that would otherwise be illegal, it is probably illegal when done by a trade association:
The other issue is the requirement under the law to offer identical treatment to similarly situated customers. The Robinson-Patman Act was born out of the food industry; it was passed in 1936 in response to suppliers selling to A&P for less than other stores with discounts that were unrelated to the difference in cost of dealing with A&P.
If suppliers ignore their special terms for some customers and end up adjusting invoices or accepting rejections from other customers, while enforcing the special terms against other customers, this may be a violation of Robinson-Patman or state statutes.
No major retailer or foodservice distributor is accepting lettuce with much “bruising or discoloration due to bruising” — wholesalers serve as the distribution centers for independent retailers and restaurants, so to keep these independents viable the wholesalers need to be able to purchase at comparable prices, and these terms are part of the price.
The question is really simple: What is the purpose of USDA good delivery standards? Surely it is not to protect Wal-Mart or Sysco; it is specifically to ensure that buyers without this market heft can be treated fairly. Individual shippers can negotiate their own contracts, but when every single shipper starts stamping identical terms on their invoices, it seems like a restraint of trade.
For decades now we have reviewed all kinds of dietary research. Some seemed interesting and some meaningless, but one point has often struck us: Researchers make very little effort to tie in consumer reports of purchase and consumption with actual evidence of purchase and consumption.
This always struck us as more than a little problematic. When we heard of a researcher questioning the use of uncorroborated self-reporting by consumers, we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more:
Edward Archer, Ph.D., MS
Obesity Theorist and Computational Physiologist
Nutrition and Obesity Research Center & Office of Energetics
University of Alabama at Birmingham
What was the impetus behind this study? Could you provide context by sharing some information on your background — what inspired your career path, and why you embarked on this research?
A: My coauthors and I wrote our paper because for over 50 years, government-funded researchers have been presenting uncorroborated anecdotal evidence as if it were scientific data. Given that this anecdotal evidence constitutes the empirical basis for federal nutrition guidelines, we think the greatest problem in nutrition and obesity research is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge created by pseudoscientific methods.
The data derived from these methods have been repeatedly demonstrated to be “physiologically implausible” and therefore incompatible with life.(2,4)[Editor’s note: Archer provides references to his research and related studies to support points he makes during this interview, which can be found at the end of this Q&A]. As such, we think this evidence (i.e., uncorroborated anecdotes) have no place in the scientific literature and should not be used to inform public policy. [See Archer et al., PLoS One. 2013;8(10):e76632 for empirical support and a brief review. (3)]
Importantly, nutrition epidemiologic researchers dismiss any concerns regarding the rigor of their methods, but the shifting sands of recommendations on salt, cholesterol, fat, saturated fat, etc., clearly demonstrate how flawed their memory-based methods (M-BM) are. Science is not akin to fashion and should not be reversing itself every few decades.
I think science can improve the human condition, but only if we are actually doing science; collecting anecdotes is not science.
When I first began my research career, I worked with HIV-positive, homeless, African American females. While that research was effective, and working with that population was immensely rewarding, HIV is now a manageable disease. Because I wanted to make an important contribution to human health, I shifted my research focus to nutrition and obesity.
Q: You say the reliance on memory-based dietary assessment methods to inform dietary policy continues despite decades of unequivocal evidence that M-BM data bear little relation to actual energy and nutrient consumption. What are the key reasons why M-BMs are “fundamentally and fatally flawed”? Are all M-BMs essentially the same, or are some methods more accurate than others?
A: The pseudoscientific nature of M-BMs is due to the fact that it is impossible to discern and quantify what percentage of the recalled foods and beverages are completely false reports, grossly inaccurate, or reports that are somewhat congruent with actual consumption. Therefore it is impossible to know the validity and the error associated with each dietary report. As such, all M-BMs (i.e., self-reported dietary data collection) are fatally flawed, pseudoscientific, and inadmissible in scientific research.
With respect to determining fact from fiction, a relevant example that I often use is that of drunk driving. It is extremely important to keep drunk drivers off our nation’s roads. To accomplish this task, do police officers merely ask the driver if s/he has been drinking and accept their word for it (i.e., their anecdotal evidence)? Or does the police officer use an objective biomarker of alcohol consumption (e.g., a breathalyzer)?
Are our nation’s dietary guidelines any less important? I do not think so and ask why nutrition researchers accept the anecdotes as evidence? It defies common and scientific sense to formulate our dietary guidelines on anecdotes.
Q: Why do you think M-BMs continue to be used to inform national dietary guidelines?
A: The confluence of self-interest, institutional inertia, and scientific incompetence has led to the continued use of M-BMs. If researchers are not trained in rigorous science, they will continue to use the methods with which they are familiar; whether or not those methods are valid. In many ways, we are experiencing a version of Lysenkoism: a policy tactic named after a politically successful pseudoscientist in the Soviet Union who manipulated evidence and controlled research output to reach pre-determined conclusions that were in line with Soviet ideology.
As a result, Soviet biology failed to progress while Lysenko and his students/acolytes were in power. The state of US nutrition research is very similar: no scientific progress over 50 years.
Currently, government-funded nutrition researchers control the field by funding only those researchers that use the same flawed methods; they stifle progress by rejecting contradictory evidence and immediately impugn the integrity and competence of researcher who disagree. Importantly, M-BMs are the textbook example of how to perpetuate a vicious cycle of equivocal and ambiguous findings leading to the ever-growing federal funding of nutrition and obesity research.
Q: Are these M-BMs also used as a core component in determining dietary policy outside of the U.S., in Europe, for instance? Are results noticeably different?
A: Unfortunately, most countries base their dietary policy either on US policy or use their own M-BMs. As we detail in our paper, M-MBs from across the world produce physiologically implausible data. In fact, both the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organization (WHO) use M-BM data to inform their policies, and some of the largest epidemiologic surveys in the world are based on M-BM. For example, The EPIC study has exhibited significant misreporting with 10-13% identified as “extreme underreporters.”(5)
Q: What other methods, scientific data, health information, politics, etc., are also used in coming up with guidelines and policy?
A: The answer to this question could fill a number of texts. My colleagues and I focus primarily on the data from M-MBs because they constitute the majority of the evidence the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) uses to inform their report. The NHANES data are speciously used to provide all population-level estimates of consumption.
Given the evidence of “Lysenkoism’ in nutrition research, it is not surprising that the majority of the evidence is from the least rigorous methods. This is true because ambiguous findings can be manipulated statistically to arrive at predetermined politically correct conclusions.
Q: You pull no punches. What are the biggest flaws in the national dietary recommendations? Do you have evidence that the dietary recommendations are actually harmful in any way? In terms of health and nutrition, and/or in terms of diverting resources that could be used in other ways…?
A: The greatest error is that the DGAC uses physiologically implausible anecdotal data to generate correlations that are then used to generate recommendations. The DGAC ignore the obvious fact that correlations provide no information as to causation (especially if the data are meaningless; e.g., physiologically implausible).
Stated simply, without causal evidence there should not be any recommendations.
Importantly, I argue that fears sell better than facts. The DGAC are selling fears that misdirect attention and resources away from the actual causes of disease. The DGAC states that Americans are under-consuming nutrients, yet this is directly contradicted by the objective evidence that 80% are not at risk for any dietary deficiencies, nor do Americans have the actual diseases or the deficiencies themselves.6The fears generated by the guidelines cause us to ignore the real causes of obesity and type II diabetes mellitus (i.e., nongenetic inheritance and evolution (7,8)).
Q: Could you provide a layman's definition of non-genetic inheritance, and elaborate a bit more on this point, for some of us less versed in scientific and medical terminology!
A: The real cause of obesity and type II diabetes mellitus is "maternal effects”, a form of non-genetic inheritance and evolution(7,8).
In evolutionary biology, the term "maternal effects" defines how a mother's characteristics such as her body size, adiposity (i.e., fatness), and behaviors (e.g., her exercise and TV viewing habits) are "passed on" (i.e., inherited) by her children and grandchildren, independent of her genes. For example, when a pregnant woman is physically active, the increased energy demands of physical activity redirect calories and nutrients to her muscles and away from her developing child. This competition between the mother's exercising muscles and the developing child's fat cells produces leaner, healthier children, who grow up to be leaner, healthier parents. In other words, how a pregnant woman spends her day affects not only her health and that of her children, but also the health of future generations (i.e., grandchildren and great-grandchildren)(7,8).
Q: Are you saying then that maternal effects, such as body composition and bad behavior during pregnancy, are “the” real cause of obesity and type II diabetes mellitus, or “a” real cause? Are there other real causes for obesity and type II diabetes mellitus due to non-genetic inheritance and evolution? And what role do genetics play in obesity?
A: Prenatal and postnatal maternal effects (i.e., non-genetic inheritance and evolution) are the cause for the twin epidemics of obesity and T2DM. There are other predisposing factors but they are relatively trivial.
There are rare genetic-based disorders that cause obesity (e.g., Prader-Willis, Leptin deficiency), but these account for <1%.
Q: You’ve stimulated a vibrant discussion. Could certain hormones be transferred from one generation to the other so perhaps the hormone regulating sense of hunger or desire for sweetness is transferred? Then again, are hormones emitted through glands that are genetically predisposed to excrete them?
A: With respect to hormones, maternal effects alter insulin production in the child [Editor’s note: See Archer’s papers here and here, and his article in The Washington Post: The Real Reason People are Obese]. So the hormones per se are not 'transferred' but the mother's prenatal metabolism permanently alters the fetus' insulin function and therefore metabolism.
Q: In speaking about behavioral inheritance of obesity, how important are environmental effects, such as poverty or external stress levels?
A: Another of my articles answers your questions about poverty and stress: The Family Trends Behind the Rise of Childhood Obesity. My theory suggests that the proximate cause of the increasing disparity in childhood obesity and metabolic diseases is the increased frequency of negative maternal health behaviors, which result not just from environmental changes but also from the time demands imposed by absentee fathers.
These negative health behaviors and the consequent obesity are passed down from mothers to children to grandchildren. If we as a nation are to break this cycle of inactivity, obesity, and metabolic disease, we first need to address the cultural and societal influences that drive women to become single, overburdened mothers and cause men to be absent from the lives of their children.
Q: What are the key challenges in conducting scientific studies and implementing objective, fact-based measurements to accurately inform policies to eradicate obesity?
A: The greatest impediment to progress is the current scientific and research paradigms. The idea that “we are what we eat” is an anachronism and unproductive. It is akin to geo-centrism (i.e., thinking the sun revolves around the Earth); while it may appear ‘obvious,’ when viewed from a scientific perspective, it is naïve and wholly incorrect.
The current food-centric paradigm keeps people focused on eating and on food while ignoring the actual causes of chronic non-communicable diseases. As I stated in the previous question, nongenetic evolutionary forces are driving most of our nation’s morbidity and mortality, not gluttony or genes. (7,8)
There are two fatally flawed assumptions (i.e., unsupported by evidence) that drive the politics behind the dietary guidelines. The first is that the American diet is a major risk factor for chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the second is that a “one-size-fits-all” recommendation will be accurate and not have unintended consequences.
Our current diet is not a major risk factor for disease and “one-size-fits-all” recommendations on specific nutrients are hopelessly unscientific.
Q: Those are powerful points. What are the best methods to use, and why? Do you have any examples you could share of effective strategies? What are the main obstacles to more widespread implementation of such strategies? Is it a matter of cost and resources, training, having the right expertise, etc.?
A: We need to be careful not to fall into the “we are what we eat” trap. Ceteris paribus (all else being equal), active people will burn more calories and therefore eat more food, be better nourished and maintain their weight much more easily than inactive people. This has been known for more than 50 years. Therefore, knowing how much someone eats is tangential to examinations of health and disease.
Importantly, inactive people risk nutrient deficiencies because they may eat less to avoid weight gain, and most importantly, inactivity dramatically increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes mellitus (T2DM), and cancer.(9-12) If the inactive person is a pregnant woman, she significantly increases the risk of these diseases and obesity in future generations.(7,8)
That said, the best technique for energy expenditure (and energy consumption if the participant is in energy balance) is the doubly-labelled water technique (DLW; i.e., non-radioactive isotopes to measure CO2 production). Cost of the isotopes is the greatest obstacle to its widespread use, but the economies of scale would significantly lower the cost if the resources that are currently wasted on subjective protocols (i.e., anecdotal data, asking people what they eat) were redirected.
The expertise needed also is extensive but it is relatively inexpensive to contract a lab to perform analyses compared to the cost of the isotopes.
Accelerometry-based physical activity monitors are acceptable for estimating physical activity, but these devices are a poor measure of energy expenditure.
Q: Aren’t there advances in technology and scientific methods that can be used to more accurately inform national dietary guidelines? What innovative methods are being employed, or in the pipeline?
A: The major issue with M-BMs is that it relies on people being honest and reliable with respect to the estimation of consumption. History clearly demonstrates that people are neither honest nor reliable with respect to their food and beverage consumption. In the context of a study, it is the researcher's responsibility to select a method that minimizes the error associated with human nature and not the responsibility of the participant to generate an accurate representation of reality. Nevertheless, nutrition researchers have put the cart-before-the-horse and have abandoned their scientific responsibility to ensure accurate measurements.
Unfortunately, none of the recent developments in methodology, such as photography-based reporting and “bite-counters,” overcome this limitation. People will simply not take pictures of their food or take off the “bite-counter” when they eat foods deemed undesirable.
Again, the assumption that “food” in its broadest sense is the problem is mistaken. It is not our food, but rather how our bodies metabolize our food. Given this rather obvious fact, accurate measurement of food intake will be irrelevant to preventing and treating NCDs.
Q: In conducting your research, were you surprised by any of your findings? Did any results counter your expectations or go against your hypothesis?
A: The greatest surprise in my career has been the resistance to well-established facts. The data from M-MBs have been falsified on the population-level for 30 years and yet the nutrition community still defends these data as valid. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee has actually asked the federal government to increase the funding of M-BMs.
I was a born skeptic and was completely agnostic when I began my research. I had no idea of what to expect but knew from my personal experience that eating more food did not lead to obesity. If it did, all my triathlete and bodybuilding friends would be massively obese.
In my experience, the most inactive people were the most obese. This is an example of reciprocal-causality because inactive people will gain more fat mass, and people suffering from obesity will be more inactive.
Q: Isn’t it challenging to change minds and reverse such an engrained, systemic paradigm, not to mention behaviors? After all, this is quite a complex topic.
A: Yes, I have read the NYT articles and am happy to share my thoughts on them. In regards to the piece, Health Law a Boon for Diet Clinics: The diet-industry is based on the unscientific and simplistic idea that if a person just eats less, he or she will overcome obesity. This mindset is unproductive for two reasons; first, the ‘move more and eat less’ mentality suggests that people suffering from obesity are lazy and make poor food choices; this is simply not true. Second, given my work on the inheritance of obesity, (7)people born predisposed to obesity will "move less and eat more" simply because their bodies were designed that way 'in utero. (7,8)Expecting them to "eat less" is both stigmatizing and naive because willpower cannot compete with evolution.
Importantly, obesity is highly refractory to treatment precisely because the metabolic dysfunction that leads to obesity is established before birth. As such, it is no surprise that more than 95% of the people who attempt to lose weight will gain it back with additional fat mass in <5-10 years. (13-15) And many of these individuals will end up with impoverished body composition and health (e.g., diminished bone, organ, and skeletal muscle mass (16,18)), and predisposed to substantial gains in weight and fat mass. (19-21)This includes commercial and medically supervised dietary plans.(22)Even in the best weight-loss studies, the majority of participants suffering from obesity will still be classified as obese at two years. (23)
Given this reality, physician-sponsored diet-clinics are little more than insurance-sponsored quackery.
Q: I imagine you question the whole premise and reasoning of the second NYT article, “Why is the Government so Afraid of Fat?”
A: The authors of this article are a large part of the problem. They acknowledge that previous recommendations were flawed, but refuse to acknowledge that their data collection methods (i.e., M-BMs) were responsible for the error. As such, these authors continue to use the same fatally flawed method used over the past 50 years, yet expect different results.
As many have stated, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The question that remains to be answered is why do these researchers continue to use a pseudoscientific method that generated obviously flawed recommendations in the past?
Q: What advice do you have for executives in the produce industry looking to build a case for increasing produce consumption?
A: You are asking me to step outside my field of expertise, but as an educated consumer I can offer a few non-science-based suggestions! First, I eat a large amount of produce but avoid many types because there is a substantial lack of consistency in taste and value. For example, I can look at a banana and have a pretty good idea if it is ripe and worth eating, but it is much more difficult to ascertain the value of a peach. As such, I buy and eat more bananas than peaches despite the fact that I enjoy both when they are at the peak of ripeness and taste.
The question executives must answer is why would I risk buying something that is of indeterminate value? The answer is to find a simple method to inform consumers if the fruit is ripe and ready-to-eat. Why does the industry rely on the visual and/or olfactory skills of the customer? To me, this is archaic. Few successful industries conduct business in this manner.
If the scientific community can send a man to the moon and ascertain the presence of the Higgs-Boson particle, I think food scientists can devise a simple manner in which to inform their consumers of the value of their product.
With respect to health, people love fruits and vegetables as well as the juices associated with them. It is extremely unproductive for researchers and policy-makers to create a fear of juices (e.g., apple, etc.) because they contain carbohydrates and/or sugar (i.e., dietary components that have been part of a healthy diet since the dawn of time).
As I stated earlier, fears sell better than facts, and to generate a fear of foods that have been part of a healthy diet since the dawn of human history is not only inane, it is damaging to both the economic and personal health of our citizens.
Q: What are the biggest revelations from your work, and the most important lessons? What new questions have been raised by your research that you’d like to explore?
A: The “most important lesson” is that when someone says the “science is settled,” there is usually a political agenda. No one needs to assert that the law of gravity is “settled science.” The only context in which that phrase will be uttered is when the science is equivocal and there is a need to ‘sell’ that which is not empirically supported.
50 years ago, the “science” on the relationship between fat consumption and heart disease was “settled science.” But obviously, the actual science never supported a causal relationship. What was “settled” was the political debate for government control over the food industry.
Q: Will you be building on this research in the future? What projects do you have in the pipeline?
A: The most interesting question is how the nongenetic evolution of human energy metabolism has altered nutrient partitioning (i.e., the metabolic fate of the foods we consume) and led to obesity and risk of T2DM. (7,8) As a computational physiologist, I am now building virtual humans via computer code to examine the effects of body composition and physical activity and diet on nutrient partitioning and the intergenerational transmission of obesity.
Q: That’s fascinating. Please stay in touch with the latest developments. In exposing the flaws in the current methods for determining dietary guidelines, what recommendations do you have for policy-makers going forward to alleviate the problems?
A: The first rule for all policy-makers should be “Primum non nocere” (i.e., First, do no harm.) The second rule should be “fund both sides of the debate.” When the federal government began funding nutrition research 60 years ago, it established a perverse set of incentives that led to where we are today: a field awash in pseudoscience and confusion as to what constitutes a healthy diet.
Q: Thank you for this no-holds-barred, thought-provoking interview. It certainly will stimulate important discussion among our diverse and global readership.
[Editor’s Note: Below please find Archer’s references to points in this Q&A. You can also read an earlier critique of US national nutrition surveillance Archer cites in his answers.
1. Archer E, Pavela G, Lavie CJ. The Inadmissibility of ‘What We Eat In America’ (WWEIA) and NHANES Dietary Data in Nutrition & Obesity Research and the Scientific Formulation of National Dietary Guidelines. Mayo Clin Proc. Jun 5 2015.
3. Archer E, Hand GA, Blair SN. Validity of U.S. nutritional surveillance:National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey caloric energy intake data, 1971-2010. PLoS One. 2013;8(10):e76632.
4. Ioannidis JPA. Implausible results in human nutrition research. BMJ. 2013-11-14 10:11:10 2013;347.
5. Ferrari P, Slimani N, Ciampi A, et al. Evaluation of under- and overreporting of energy intake in the 24-hour diet recalls in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). Public Health Nutr. Dec 2002;5(6B):1329-1345.
6. Pfeiffer CM, Sternberg MR, Schleicher RL, Haynes BM, Rybak ME, Pirkle JL. The CDC's Second National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition in the U.S. Population is a valuable tool for researchers and policy makers. J Nutr. Jun 2013;143(6):938S-947S.
7. Archer E. The Childhood Obesity Epidemic as a Result of Nongenetic Evolution: The Maternal Resources Hypothesis. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 1// 2015;90(1):77-92.
8. Archer E. The Mother of All Problems. New Scientist. Vol 225. London,2015:32-33.
9. Blair SN, Kohl HW, 3rd, Barlow CE, Paffenbarger RS, Jr., Gibbons LW, Macera CA. Changes in physical fitness and all-cause mortality. A prospective study of healthy and unhealthy men. JAMA. 1995;273(14):1093-1098.
10. Blair SN, Kohl HW, III, Paffenbarger RS, Jr., Clark DG, Cooper KH, Gibbons LW. Physical Fitness and All-Cause Mortality: A Prospective Study of Healthy Men and Women. JAMA. November 3, 1989 1989;262(17):2395-2401.
11. Sui X, LaMonte MJ, Laditka JN, et al. Cardiorespiratory fitness and adiposity as mortality predictors in older adults. JAMA. Dec 5 2007;298(21):2507-2516.
12. LaMonte MJ, Blair SN, Church TS. Physical activity and diabetes prevention. J Appl Physiol. Sep 2005;99(3):1205-1213.
13. Mann T, Tomiyama AJ, Westling E, Lew AM, Samuels B, Chatman J. Medicare's search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer. Am Psychol. Apr 2007;62(3):220-233.
14. Franz MJ, VanWormer JJ, Crain AL, et al. Weight-loss outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of weight-loss clinical trials with a minimum 1-year follow-up. J Am Diet Assoc. Oct 2007;107(10):1755-1767.
15. Kassirer JP, Angell M. Losing weight--an ill-fated New Year's resolution. N Engl J Med. Jan 1 1998;338(1):52-54.
16. Weinheimer EM, Sands LP, Campbell WW. A systematic review of the separate and combined effects of energy restriction and exercise on fat-free mass in middle-aged and older adults: implications for sarcopenic obesity. Nutr Rev. Jul 2010;68(7):375-388.
17. Hinton PS, Rector RS, Linden MA, et al. Weight-loss-associated changes in bone mineral density and bone turnover after partial weight regain with or without aerobic exercise in obese women. Eur J Clin Nutr. May 2012;66(5):606-612.
18. Jensen LB, Kollerup G, Quaade F, Sorensen OH. Bone minerals changes in obese women during a moderate weight loss with and without calcium supplementation. J Bone Miner Res. Jan 2001;16(1):141-147.
19. Beavers KM, Lyles MF, Davis CC, Wang X, Beavers DP, Nicklas BJ. Is lost lean mass from intentional weight loss recovered during weight regain in postmenopausal women? Am J Clin Nutr. Sep 2011;94(3):767-774.
20. Lee JS, Visser M, Tylavsky FA, et al. Weight loss and regain and effects on body composition: the Health, Aging, and Body Composition Study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. Jan 2010;65(1):78-83.
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We’re fortunate to have among our closest friends some pretty hard-hitting scientists in rigorous fields, and whenever we share the latest nutrition research we find our friends pointing out how weak the research is and how little we actually know about these subjects.
So we worry about politically correct ideas guiding research funding and the need to win grants dissuading researchers from stepping outside the conventional lines.
Dr. Archer’s views are far from mainstream but the core point: That people’s reports of diet are flawed is undoubtedly true, yet we constantly get research reports based on nothing more than consumer self-reporting. This seems likely to produce bad information and thus bad policy.
The story of the killing of Cecil the lion tells us a lot about our country and the West, but not necessarily what we would like to know.
If you’ve been living under a rock the past month, Cecil was a majestic lion that was killed in Zimbabwe under disputed circumstances by an American dentist from Minnesota. Cecil lived in an animal preserve but was allegedly wooed off the preserve and then killed.
It is said that Cecil was well known and deeply beloved. He apparently had a tracking device from Oxford University and that made him a tourist attraction for some. Though these claims should be viewed with some skepticism as, for the most part, people in Africa find the prospect of lions entering their villages highly disruptive and very dangerous. They are lions, not kittens.
Today he is certainly beloved in memory. Jimmy Kimmel tears up when talking about him. He has millions of followers and friends on social media. Mia Farrow thought it a good idea to tweet out the address of the Minnesota hunter’s dental practice — the better to dispense with the legal niceties and just send the vigilantes to get him.
It is possible the dentist broke a law in Zimbabwe. He claims he paid over $50,000 to bag a lion and relied on the local guides to set it up as a legal hunt. It is also true that laws are broken all the time in Zimbabwe — not least by Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, whose most recent birthday party included him eating the meat of a baby elephant.
There are several laws that may have been broken related both to enticing an animal to leave a preserve and permit allocations to shoot lions on private land — beyond this, it is unclear what a foreign tourist is expected to know about Zimbabwe law.
The whole outcry reminds one of nothing as much as the emotional outpouring in England over the death of Princess Diana and, especially, the contrast between the public reaction around her funeral and that of a world historical figure such as Winston Churchill. The contrast did not persuade us that society had advanced during the 32 years between the two events.
There is a kind of silly sentimentality that overcomes our civilization in which the public discourse gets diverted from substantive matters to the passion of the moment.
First, the enormous attention paid to the death of Cecil tells us that our citizenry is now focused on what can only be seen as aesthetic revulsion. There are loads of lions being killed every year in places such as the Sudan, but barely a word is heard because we would actually have to do something to solve that problem — such as invade the Sudan. With Cecil, people can just be passionate and emotional, but not have to do anything or sacrifice anything. As long as the problem is not thrown in their face, people turn the other way.
Second, many are not inclined to actually solve any problems but just want to feel morally superior. So they enjoy noting that the dentist/hunter is a horrible person and should be severely punished, even killed, but few are inclined to actually propose policies that would deal with the issue at hand. In fact, it is impossible to find a coherent point in all the lamentations. Are they urging that the killing of animals be banned — so no more meat or leather? Or is it just killing for sport that is the problem, so killing lions is OK if one butchers them into steaks and makes sure those are eaten. Or is it that uniquely, lions or, possibly, just male lions, are especially majestic and they cannot be hunted. Or is it just particular lions that are especially good looking or that have attracted attention that should be protected?
Every year we have to stop printing our magazines because hunting season opens and all the guys on the press take off for a week. There is just zero indication that the media types who feed this moral outrage know or care that lots of people go hunting right here in America.
Third, it is well known in the conservation community that encouraging activities such as hunting by rich westerners actually encourages conservation. Setting aside land for conservation, having rangers patrolling the land, etc., etc., all costs a lot of money both in direct outlays and in opportunity costs. The only way poor communities support such efforts is if they can profit from doing all this. Eco-tourism, photo-safaris and, yes, wild game hunting are the mechanisms that make local communities willing and able to sustain conservation efforts.
The dentist/hunter has been chastised for spending over $50,000 on this hunt; the implication is that he was doing something seedy, yet, in fact, it is the willingness of people to spend money like this that sustains conservation efforts. The indication on social media and in the press that these are complicated issues and that legal changes may have unintended consequences has been almost non-resistant. If the prosecution of this dentist scares away 1,000 other hunts, that is fifty million dollars to very poor countries. That is a life-changing amount of money.
Fourth, it is quite interesting that all this is transpiring at a time when Donald Trump has been leading the polls for the Republican Presidential nomination. Mr. Trump’s sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., are famously hunters of wild game and, even more interesting, famously non-apologetic for doing so. Mark Cuban has said that Donald Trump’s appeal has little to do with his policy positions but, rather, with a sense that he speaks his mind and is not desperately calculating his responses to avoid giving insult or to coordinate with received opinion of the day. This seems to imply there is some portion of the population that has come to feel that this propensity for political correctness, this enormous hesitation to offend, is no longer serving the country by promoting community but is, instead, making it difficult for the country to address real problems.
Fifth, most of the outrage seems to focus on supposed ethical lapses by the dentist. Others have mentioned the weak enforcement of laws in Zimbabwe. Completely ignored is the role that capitalism could play in protecting wildlife and in determining the appropriate amounts to spend on protecting wildlife. After all, there is an oddity at the heart of the story we have been told of Cecil the lion. On the one hand, we are told that this particular lion was uniquely valuable and beloved. On the other hand, we are told he lived in an unfenced game preserve. The dentist is blamed for wooing Cecil outside the preserve with meat, but Cecil could have just as well walked out of the preserve or been enticed by food that got there naturally whether it was game running by or humans having a barbeque.
In addition, as a lion in the preserve Cecil was not protected from other lions, crocodiles, injury, etc. Let us suppose that the story had the same ending — a dead Cecil — but he died because another lion challenged him for leadership of the pride and won. Injured in that fight, Cecil is banished from the pride as often happens. Then, as a lone, injured lion, he is killed by a pack of hyenas.
The logical ways to protect something of value is to make sure someone owns it. If ownership is clearly established, then those who own things generally protect them. This might be an individual lion or it might be the whole game preserve. It is when things are owned by everyone that nobody spends the money to protect them.
Yet, in the end we doubt that Cecil the lion was actually the point. If the issue is really that the death of Cecil is such a loss, then the loss would be just as great whether we lose Cecil due to hyenas or to a hunter. Yet it is almost certainly true that had Cecil died via hyena, very few people would have heard about it or cared about Cecil’s demise.
So in the end, this is not about Cecil the lion, but about people wanting to feel good about themselves, so they can experience this situation as an expression of their moral superiority over the Minneapolis dentist. This has become an all too common trend in society.
We wrote here about how retailers ran away from a blueberry operation in Michigan that was alleged to have used child labor. The retailers were reflecting their customer’s aesthetic revulsion to the plight of poor parents working in the field who might bring their children with them. Yet abandoning this grower didn’t help the poor parents or their children. The retailers didn’t offer to put the poor kids in summer camp. The retailers didn’t offer to pay the parents more so the pickers could hire babysitters.
They were not actually solving the problem; they were just catering to the aesthetic sense of consumers that they didn’t want to be associated with ugly things. We see the same going on regarding consumer attitudes toward migrant farm workers here or in Mexico. There is a lot of outrage but very little in the way of solutions. And even when companies announce they are part of the solution — as Ahold did recently with its announcement that it would join the CIW “Fair Food” program, there is little notion of addressing whether such efforts actually help at all, much less whether the intended population winds up a net beneficiary. After all, when the price of labor rises in one place, it disadvantages that production source thus leading business to migrate elsewhere.
But that is not the point. And that is the problem. Instead of addressing real problems in serious ways, we are neglecting real problems to be emotional extroverts about fallen princesses and dead lions. It may make us feel better, but we won’t be better. That is an immense problem.
"This all being said, it is worth noting that there is a large gap between what we wish were so and what we know is so. To mention a few points:
1) We have little evidence that getting more produce into schools actually makes children more likely to consume large amounts of fruits and vegetables when they are older.
2) We have little evidence that eating more fresh produce as children reduces obesity when these children become adults.
Well, the farm-to-school folks are firing back or at least showing some evidence backing their claims (which is actually great news for the produce industry!). This just in: Healthy kids are common sense not a trendin which the comments suggest some positive results:
Fruit and vegetable consumption is going up “We're having a fruit and vegetable shortage because we've increased consumption so much," says Donna Martin of her schools in rural Georgia that feature local produce on the lunch menu. Studies showthat farm to school activities improve early childhood and K-12 eating behaviors, including choosing healthier options in the cafeteria, consuming more fruits and vegetables at school and at home, consuming less unhealthy foods and sodas, and increasing physical activity. A study published just this month in the journal Childhood Obesityconfirmed again that students are eating more healthful foods such as fruits and vegetables, and that plate waste is not increasing.
Obesity rates are going down The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation highlights cities, counties and states that have started to see their childhood obesity rates go downin recent years. They’ve observed that communities that take a comprehensive approach are making progress. Farm to school is a comprehensive approach. Not only are students exposed to healthy eating in school, but food education also travels home. Doreen Simonds, Food Services Director for Waterford School District in Ortonville, Mich., explains, “We hear back from kids and parents that they are trying new foods at home, going to farmers markets now, and using the Double Food Bucks too.” Through farm to school practices, we are laying the groundwork for reversing years of unhealthy lifestyles.
Education is key to fostering healthy choices Farm to school programs provide experiential education opportunities for kids to taste, try, and eventually like new foods — to make choices for themselves. Farm to school is about creating positive food experiences for kids, with farm tours, cooking demos, school gardens, and farmers in the classroom. As quoted in the Huffington Post, Dora Rivas with the Dallas Independent School District — the second-largest system in Texas and 14th-largest in the country — has seen their farm to school program change everything from what kids are eating to the way they are learning. "We feel like children remember and are more excited about trying new foods when they actually experience it," Rivas said. "School gardens are a great way to introduce them to new foods."
Education is key to facilitating behavior change, and change requires time and patience.
When I (we) were kids, the American Lung Association was the leader with PR campaigns against smoking and its association with health problems. It took a long time to get smoking rates significantly lower. Need I say more?
P.P.S. I want to confess that I've been a little skeptical and maybe a little conflicted myself, but for full disclosure, I'm following this topic because that daughter of mine that you highlighted here(she won gold at those World Equestrian Games on 10/10/10, by the way) is now working for FoodCorps (for which Beth Feehen is co-sponsor here in New Jersey) as a Service Member setting up school gardens and teaching nutrition at schools in southwestern New Jersey. I've watched the school garden program growing over the past dozen years or so and am glad to be seeing some proof of positive results starting to emerge.
The issue on which we originally engaged was whether it was necessary to have a law that defined local, with retailers paying penalties for errors and whether, if so, it made sense to define local by a political entity, such as a state, when out-of-state produce is often, geographically speaking, more local that in-state produce.
The fact that there are differences of opinion on these issues does not mean those who oppose such penalties or politically based definitions are opposed to local, to school gardens or any number of interesting things.
The Jr. Pundits attend a school with an incredible garden, and if you watch this video about it, you will see lots of good reasons to encourage this trend, for example, planting and growing helps develop an appreciation for the work farmers do:
SAGE Dining Organic Garden - Students Growing Strong from Pine Crest School in Boca Raton, Florida.
So we can acknowledge that there are good reasons to encourage these trends without overstating the evidence.
First, the plural of anecdote is not data, and most of these reports are examples of someone doing something interesting. Unfortunately, you can’t extrapolate from these anecdotes.
Second, there are rarely any control groups. If you study children over, say, three years, and note an increase in produce consumption, one can’t just attribute that to one’s program. Perhaps it is this program or perhaps the children just got bigger! You really need a control group to be able to surmise anything with much authority.
Third, rarely are these studies double-blind. Often, the school children know they are being studied and that may influence their behavior, and often the ones reporting that the programs are brilliant successes are the exact people who promoted starting the programs.
Fourth, the studies rarely go out of school. It is nice to know that if you give items away in school or create social pressure to eat produce grown by one’s friends that children will eat more produce in school. But it is very possible that a child will compensate and eat less produce after school. A child who always had an apple when he got home may not want to eat an apple, if he was handed one in 6th period.
Fifth, the studies are very, very, very, short term. Note our statements:
1) We have little evidence that getting more produce into schools actually makes children more likely to consume large amounts of fruits and vegetables when they are older.
2) We have little evidence that eating more fresh produce as children reduces obesity when these children become adults.
Both have to do not with the immediate consequence but the long term consequences. Most studies are small and cheap — following children for a short time to determine if exposing them to gardens in lower school increases produce consumption in adulthood or even a few years after the efforts cease is basically never done.
Sixth, many of the pronouncements are just PR.They are not published in peer-reviewed journals. They are just some school announcing, based on at best an anecdote, that the program is a big success.
Right now, all this is hot and helping the produce industry, but if we don’t do good research with control groups over long periods of time, there will be a difficult job of getting resources to sustain and expand these programs. Forewarned is forearmed.