I promise that this is the last post on the Western diet and colon cancer recurrence study (that I’ve posted on twice already), but I want to use this travesty to make just a couple of more points. And I’m using this joke of study to to tee up another post I’m writing that I should have up tomorrow if more total idiocy requiring my immediate attention doesn’t break out in the interim.
First, I want to show you the articles in full that appeared in both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times with commentary on each.
Here is the venerable Wall Street Journal reporting on this study a few day ago:
DIET TIED TO COLON CANCER’S RETURN
Colon-cancer survivors with diets heavy in red meat and fatty foods are more than three times as likely to suffer a recurrence of their disease or die from it than those who avoid such foods, a study found.
Previous studies had shown that a high-fat diet, especially one with lots of red meat, may increase a person’s risk of developing colon cancer, a leading cancer killer.
This study, published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was the first to show how diet affects whether colon cancer returns in people previously treated for it, the researchers said.
The study tracked 1,009 people treated with both surgery and chemotherapy for stage III colon cancer — cancer that had spread from the large bowel area to the lymph nodes but not other organs. They were followed on average for five years.
Combined with rectal cancer, colon cancer accounts for about 50,000 deaths annually in the U.S. alone.
After questioning them about what they ate, the researchers detected two distinct dietary patterns.
One was a “Western” pattern with lots of red and processed meats, sweets, desserts, French fries and refined grains. The other was a “prudent” pattern avoiding those foods and including lots of fruit and vegetables, poultry and fish.
Those who most closely followed the “Western” pattern experienced a risk about 3.3 times higher for colon cancer recurrence or death than those following the “prudent” one.
“We know that a variety of dietary factors affect people’s risk of developing colon cancer, including high red-meat intake and certain sugary foods,” Jeffrey Meyerhardt of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and Harvard Medical School, who led the study, said in a phone interview.
“But what there really wasn’t any data on until now is how these factors may affect people who already have colon cancer. And it’s a question a lot of people with colon cancer ask all the time: ‘What dietary things should I do, in addition to standard treatment, to help my outcome?’ ” Dr. Meyerhardt said.
Mary Young, a vice president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in Colorado, noted that the study didn’t implicate any one food as raising health risks. “However, as a dietitian, I would not recommend the (Western) dietary pattern identified in this study because it does not include the variety and moderation important to a healthy diet,” Ms. Young said in a statement. “Instead, I recommend people choose a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean meats, such as lean beef.”
Katherine Tucker, a professor of nutritional epidemiology at Tufts University in Boston who wasn’t part of the study, called the research well done.
“Colon cancer is one of the problems that’s been associated with greater red-meat consumption. I think that what some people haven’t been able to sort out is whether lean meat in moderation has an effect,” Ms. Tucker said in an interview arranged by the beef association.
There are a couple of things of interest about this article. First, it came directly from Reuters and was copied word for word. This isn’t all that unusual with smaller papers that don’t have the staff to cover everything and so must rely on services such as Reuters to provide their content. But this is the Wall Street Journal, for God’s sake. The paper with the largest circulation in America. And it’s reporting on a subject that’s pretty important, yet it simply copies word for word the Reuters press release.
Second, (and all further criticisms apply to Reuters since it is a Reuters piece after all) the first two sentences of the article blame red meat and fatty foods for the problem. It isn’t until the seventh paragraph that sugar is mentioned. It is mentioned there and a couple of times later in the article, but unquestionably the main thrust was that red meat causes a recurrence of colon cancer. Red meat was specifically mentioned five times; sugary and sweets were each mentioned once. It’s pretty clear what the authors of the study and the authors of the Reuters piece believe is the cause.
Third, buried within this article is the reason that red meat, i.e., beef, doesn’t get a more fair shake in these kinds of articles. Have you ever wondered why the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) doesn’t lobby against this kind of nonsense more aggressively? You wouldn’t be alone. All the cattlemen who raise beef cattle wonder the same thing. I’ve given numerous speeches presenting the virtues of a low-carb, higher-meat diet to different state cattlemen’s associations over the years, and after each talk the cattlemen and women rush to the podium to ask how this information could be more widely disseminated. And they all want to get me to speak at the national meeting. But there is a problem.
The Executive Director of Nutrition of the NCBA is Mary K. Young, who is a dietitian. Ms. Young apparently is in charge of virtually everything that involves the promotion of beef as a part of the American diet. And unfortunately she is heir to all the idiotic biases so common to dietitians. She has refused the request – so I’ve been told – of many state cattlemen who have requested that I speak at the national meeting. She seems to think beef is okay, but only in small doses. And only if it’s very lean beef. She has all the registered dietitian unwarranted fears about saturated fat and cholesterol.
She is trying to sell more beef by getting it accepted as a low-fat food. Here is a typical example of her work.
With more than two-thirds of Americans classified as overweight or obese, consumers are looking for new ways to lead a healthy lifestyle, while still eating the foods they love.The latest United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutrient Database shows that 19 cuts of beef meet government guidelines for lean, or extra lean, including some many of America’s favorites like tenderloin, T-bone steak and 95 percent lean ground beef. And, 12 of these beef cuts have, on average, only one more gram or less of saturated fat than a skinless chicken breast, per 3-ounce serving.
“This new data illustrates how beef is changing – it’s simply not your father’s steak anymore,” said Mary K. Young, M.S., R.D., executive director, nutrition, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). “In fact, many people are surprised to learn that some of their favorite beef cuts are lean.”
Instead of getting out in front of the parade and using the scientific data readily available to refute the lipid hypothesis and the idea that saturated fat is bad, all of which could be funded nicely with the beef check off program, she opts instead to mealy mouth around about how beef in small amounts can be part of a low-fat diet. Just look at here wishy washy statement in the Reuters piece above. She could have done with this study what I’ve done, but she opted to tread the safe and nonconfrontation’s path. I fear that until she is gone, beef sales are going to suffer.
Now comes the New York Times article, which wasn’t merely a copy of the Reuters piece:
HIGH-FAT DIET RAISES RISK OF COLON CANCER RETURN
Colon cancer survivors with diets high in meat and refined grains triple their risk of recurrence or death compared with those who eat fruits, vegetables and fish, a new study reports.
Researchers studied 1,009 patients who had surgery for stage 3 colon cancer — their tumors had metastasized to regional lymph nodes. All the patients completed detailed food questionnaires.
In a follow-up of slightly more than five years, 324 patients had a recurrence of cancer, 223 died with a recurrence, and 28 died without documented recurrences.
The more closely patients followed the high-fat Western diet, the more likely they were to have a recurrence. Compared with the one-fifth whose dietary pattern s least resembled the high-fat diet, the one-fifth whose patterns most resembled it were 3.25 times as likely to have a recurrence of cancer or die. Western dietary patterns, the scientists write, are associated with higher blood levels of insulin, and insulin is associated with enhanced tumor growth.
Dr. Charles S. Fuchs, the senior author and an associate professor at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said he did not advise a radical diet for patients. ”I don’t tell them they can’t ever eat meat,” he said. ”Once or twice a month is not a bad thing. It’s the people who are at the extremes that are in trouble.”
The researchers, whose study appears in the Aug. 15 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, acknowledge that this was an observational study that did not prove causality.
Once again we have in the headline that a high-fat diet causes the problem. And the lede paragraph follows with the statement that diets high in meat (first) and refined grains increase the risk of recurrence. Then we’ve got a mention in the high-fat diet again in the fourth paragraph and meat in the fifth paragraph. No mention anywhere in the article of sugar.
At least the Times came through in the very last line with the statement that these kind of studies can’t prove causality, but it was in the very last line, which proves of how little importance the writer deemed this statement.
Journalists writing for the mass consumption of newspaper readers write in an upside down pyramid fashion. They put the most important item first in the lede. In fact, most journalists spend as much time on the lede as they do on the rest of the column. They summarize the entire article in the lede, then write the second most important thing in the second paragraph, the third most important in the third and so on. This is done for matters of expediency. When the article is submitted to the editor who has to position it on the page, it has to be in such a form that if it needs cutting, the entire article doesn’t have to be reworked. The editiorial staff merely start cutting from the bottom, removing the least important parts of the piece until it fits the space allocated for it.
As you can see in the above piece, if the last line were cut, you would never miss it. But it’s there, so they had plenty of room. You can see by its placement, however, how little the writer thought of its importance.
In a coming post I’m going to show you how a major study, much much more important than this one has been entirely ignored.