The Sat Fat Rat Pack and The Media: Why True Health Messages You Should Read Get Buried
It is important for all us to follow advances in medical research and the pace of progress is breathtaking in some fields. My practice of cardiology focuses on reversing the aging process and longevity and the field is exploding. Some of the most basic decisions we make at least several times a day that impact our potential for a long and healthy life are the sources of fuel we feed our body. It would seem safe to place our trust in leaders in medicine and media to promote and disseminate information that favors our health and is up to date and balance. Alas, this is not the status of our current world. The last month has highlighted how biased camps in the medical world and the news world can be to lead us down paths that do not favor our health. Beware and read on.
If I were a member of the public without medical training, as you probably are, the headlines on April 25, 2017 would have left me hungry for a breakfast of eggs, cheese, bacon and a steak for good measure. Dozens and dozens of media outlets headlined an article written by 3 prominent cardiologists whom I call the Sat Fat Rat Pack, Drs. Aseem Malhotra, Pascal Meier and Rita Redberg, had published an editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, a rather obscure publication not at all focused on the number 1 killer in the Western world, with the title “Saturated Fat Does Not Clog the Arteries”. I will not debate the merits of the editorial as it has been analyzed and shredded to pieces by one of the most prominent of academic nutrition experts in the world, Dr. David Katz. Dr. Katz was not alone in his opinion that editorial was both biased and highly selective in its references. At least one media outlet interviewed researchers and practitioners who recognized the faults in the editorial. The irony that a statement by the European Society of Atherosclerosis (EAS) was published the same week and was buried by the Rat Pack. The lead author of that carefully researched and referenced position paper quite opposite of the editorial in question state that the references selected were “neither systematic nor quantitatively literate, but instead was based on a highly selected group of studies with no quantitative synthesis of the presented evidence”.
I fear that on April 25, 2017 as you scanned the Internet you did not see Dr. Katz’s article or the statement by the EAS. You saw headlines worldwide announcing that saturated fat (and the foods that are high in that large family of nutrients like meats, egg, cheese and dairy) do not cause heart disease. Whether it was CNN, the Huffington Post, Men’s Health, the BBC or dozens if not hundreds of other outlets, the headlines were there. One can only imagine what impact this has on the public, already confused about one of the most basic of human functions, what to feed homo sapiens for optimal health. I have no doubt that sales of these foods ratchets up for at least a while. In a movie featuring Dr. Malhotra, he cites the playbook of the tobacco industry in confusing the public over the risks of smoking for as long as possible and criticizes this tactic. Ironically, the Sat Fat Rat Pack, carrying the shine of their academic titles, are doing the same and the world applauds.
Today, new science appeared about the relationship between a major food group high in saturated fat, red meat, and mortality. I know this because a single media outlet featured it online this morning. I have searched and do not see it on dozens or hundreds of outlets. The study, with the drab title “Mortality from different causes associated with meat, heme iron, nitrates, and nitrites in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study: population based cohort study”, was published in the peer-reviewed and highly respected British Medical Journal (of which ironically Dr. Meier serves as associate editor). It reports on 536, 939 members or AARP followed for 16 years. No opinions but data. The researchers, from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, identified that there was an increased risk of all-cause mortality and death due to nine different causes associated with red meat intake. Yes, more red meat, more death. Do you not think that this data would be of value to readers of CNN, the CBC, Men’s Health and other outlets? The scientist found that both processed and unprocessed red meat intakes were associated with all cause and cause specific mortality. The authors even offered a solution: the increased risk of all-cause mortality and death with red meats could be offset by substituting white meat, particularly unprocessed white meats.
Why is the media bias so strong to feature minor articles that challenge convention and bury huge original scientific studies that confirm statements by medical societies? Is it because telling people what they want to hear about comfort foods that may harm our health attracts eyeballs and customers? Is it a hidden agenda revolving around advertising dollars from producers of meat, dairy, eggs and cheese? Is it because the public enjoys the David vs Goliath feeling of the Rat Pack challenging convention? In fact, we are the David’s, up against complex of misleading statements and conclusions, up against the Goliath of industry and media. My advice to you is to smell the rat for what it is, a group dedicated to confusing your mind and your purchases to favor lifestyle decisions that may harm you and your family. This week, 536, 939 lives studied should be drowning out the small voice of 3 rogue physicians and the media that supports them.