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What Passes for Research and Journalism on Health

Perusing Alternet this morning led me to not one, but two articles (in under a minute) that make me wonder about what passes for research and journalism on health in America.

First, there's the "Sugar is the New Heroin," which talks about sugar addiction as if for the first time and is based on Bart Hoedel of Princeton University's infliction of suffering on the rodent community. Meanwhile, he could probably find the same results if he just looked around him at the various people in his life who are sugar-addicted. And yet . . .

" . . . consider that the rats suffering from sugar withdrawal exhibited some of the same behavior as junkies in need of a fix. These include chattering teeth and a tendency to stay in a small tunnel rather than explore their maze, which Hoedel considers a sign of anxiety.

As usual, the research comes with a caveat that it’s too early to fully understand its implications for humans. Our relationship to food – which is simultaneously physical and emotional – is highly complex. Nevertheless, Hoedel notes that “It seems possible that the brain adaptations and behavioral signs seen in rats may occur in some individuals with binge-eating disorder or bulimia.”

"Breaking the Food Seduction" and other books have been addressing the American addiction to sugar and ways to break free from it for years. Not to mention any parent of a toddler can attest to the effects of sugar on the human brain (and any grown up who's paying attention to the way food affects them). In 2008, forcing rodents to become addicted to anything that humans choose to expose them to is more absurd than ever.

Next, there's the embarrassing reality that the Journal of the American Medical Association recently had to print a correction for publishing a study that concluded that Americans aren't eating too many animal products. Why the correction? The study, and many others like it listed in "Health Experts Make a Perverse Push for Fat-Rich, Red Meat Diets" were authored by people formerly employed by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and funded by the National Dairy Council and the Egg Nutrition Center.

Net message? If you want to find someone's real intention, following the money isn't a bad place to start.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. You're absolutely right: "follow the money"… err, I mean "check-off dollars".

    December 15, 2008
  2. Morganna #

    I read about that rat study elsewhere, too. The real kicker? They were denying the rats food before giving them nothing but sugar — of course they were showing signs of addiction! And that makes the results even less applicable to humans (since we don't starve ourselves for 12 hours then eat nothing but sugar water before starving ourselves again). Not that I think this is a moral study even if the results did apply to humans.

    I also get truly frustrated with studies that claim that such and such thing is like cocaine or heroin. I read an article once claiming love/sex was like cocaine for humans because they use the same pathways in the brain. This seems like the same sort of claim. And of course, it's not that love, or sex, or sugar, use the cocaine pathway, making these normal things like illegal drugs. No, what it means is that cocaine and other illegal drugs hijack the pleasure pathways in the brain — which a responsible researcher will tell you, but sometimes the researchers seem to get a little overexcited and confused about which came first.

    December 16, 2008

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