Obesity Crankery Part II

Orac alerted me, based on my recent obesity writings, of a new crank obesity attack on science.

This latest is in the form of a rebuttal to Morgan Spurlock’s excellent film Supersize me. Comedian Tom Naughton, who has all the charisma of a wet sponge, is making his own documentary Fathead: You’ve been fed a load of bologna. Here’s the trailer:

Aside from the shoddy production, noncharismatic host, and general crankery, I guess it’s not so bad. But I am growing concerned about the continual assault on what little good nutritional data is out there, and the misleading tactics of those defending food that is responsible for obesity and poor cardiovascular health.

For instance, let’s talk about how dishonest this guy is. In this attack on Spurlock:

he criticizes Spurlock for exaggerating the amount of calories he got for meals, finding in reality he got 3600-4300 calories for most meals, and at most about 4900 rather than the 5000 that was reported.

Fine, Spurlock exaggerated, but aren’t we missing the point? A 3600-4300 calorie day is perfectly fine, if you’re a lumberjack or Olympic athlete in training. For most sedentary Americans, it’s roughly 100% more calories than you need to maintain your weight every single day. I’m willing to pass on Spurlock’s exaggeration of the ill health of this diet from 100 to 150% normal caloric intake on this instance. To compound the problem, Naughton shows in his 28 day fast food log how he actually lost weight on a fast food diet. A far more dishonest deception occurs here, because Naughton accomplishes this feat by not eating the food:

As you can see, I kept the carb count down by tossing the buns or muffins from about half of my meals, with an order of hash browns or fries here and there. I didn’t drink sugary soda at all – I don’t like the stuff, and haven’t since I was a teenager.

There you go, if you throw away half of a 4000 calorie diet, you get about 2000 calories, and you lose weight. Spurlock’s whole point was that if you actually ate the meals they provided, and the sodas and sides people actually drink with this stuff, you get way too many calories. Naughton only showed if you throw out all the bread, don’t order sides, and don’t order sugar water, you lose weight. No shit Sherlock. Who’s the bigger liar here?

Looking over these previews this is a nice mixture of the tactics, we have questionable experts, conspiracies alleged, cherry-picking meals (ha!), and the classic “no problem” attack of a libertarian crank arguing against any kind of public health intervention to prevent people from eating this shit food. It’s clear there is a problem, but the libertarian view seems to be as long as people are poisoning themselves in huge numbers we shouldn’t do anything about it. No one is talking about knocking the food out of people’s hand (although this is an exaggeration in Naughton’s movie), but rather trying to prevent people from making bad choices through education, information, and sensible regulation of marketing practices of fast food companies.

I won’t speak for the CSPI though, I find them to be over the top, but Spurlock was dead on in his documentary. The meals offered by fast food joints like McDonalds are too calorie dense, and there is inadequate information provided to consumers about the quality and quantity of what they are receiving. The serving size issue may be intractable, but at the very least we should be able to let people know they are often eating their entire caloric needs for a day in a single meal. Further, I think it would be perfectly reasonable to forbid fast food advertising directed towards children. It’s manipulative, and the data are frightening how effective they are at changing kids food choices, for the worse, before they’ve even fully developed language. All of these things should be compatible with the conservative mindset. Information is good, and children are non-consenting. By the time they have any say about the images they get bombarded with on every TV ad and billboard, (not to mention ball-pits in the restaurant), they’ve already been so molded by the branding they’re unlikely to even realize they’ve had their food choices permanently altered by age 5.