Journalists are famously unreliable when it comes to writing about health. (And, indeed, pretty much everything they cannot understand.) Aseem Malhotra, who writes for the Guardian, is a cardiologist so you would think that he would be more careful with his data. He is not. In an article last year he wrote…
It is estimated that diet-related diseases are responsible for 35 million deaths worldwide, dwarfing smoking-related ones of 5 to 8 million.
It is not. It is estimated that 35 million people die from heart disease, cancer and diabetes but these also include people who have fallen victim to genetics, alcohol, tobacco, nutritional deficiencies and stress. This was pointed out to Malhotra, who ignored the correction and repeated the statistic in a subsequent column.
In this latter piece Malhotra wrote, on the rise of obesity…
…what is the biggest culprit?
More and more evidence is emerging that it is sugars, more specifically High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), which is added to almost all processed food.
High Fructose Corn Syrup is used a great deal in America but its production is limited in the EU. It accounts for 1.6% of the sweeteners that are produced in Europe. So much for “almost all”.
I had a healthy scepticism for Malhotra’s claims, then, when I saw him post this on Twitter…
Americans eat too much sugar. This is not in doubt. Chocolate milk and ketchup and peaches in syrup and apple sauce, though? I really doubt this is representative. Besides, are there really twelve grams of sugar in a few nuggets? A portion from McDonalds contains one and careless though Americans can be about nutrition I doubt theirs are twelve times less healthy.
So, I asked him for a source and, well, he ignored me. He found time, however, to respond to a praiseful comment…
Open, honest and science-driven debate? I agreed!
He ignored me once again.
Malhotra found time, however, to compose another column for the Guardian in which he argued, citing no research, that sugar is to blame for obesity and heart disease. It finished by referencing the “growing army” of anti-sugar researchers “who[se] only incentive is to expose what’s right for public health”. Wrong Dr. Malhotra. We all have less than altruistic intentions. Some researchers, for example, want to speak at conferences and get book deals. Others want to gain respect by being seen to advocate the cause of righteousness. We all have reasons to be propagandistic and Malhotra, in promoting misinformation and ignoring his critics, is proving that.
I agree that sugar is, outside of whole fruits and milk, nutritionally worthless and to be limited. I agree that “low-fat” products tend to be a con and worth avoiding. I agree that teaching kids nutrition is important. I do not agree, however, with dishonest scaremongering, whether it’s in a cause I’m sympathetic to or not. You have to ask why Malhotra is given a platform on this issue. He must be a smart guy to be able to tinker with hearts but what qualifications does he have related to nutrition? What research has he performed that makes him an authority? Ah well. What does it matter what he knows or how he argues? It’s just our health. It is just the truth.