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Mark's Daily Apple

2 Mar

Surgeon General’s Warning

The Sisson Spoof

Here’s what I want to know: why is it that alcohol and cigarettes must carry surgeon general’s health warnings, but obscenely deleterious foods don’t have to?

We’ve looked at the Cheesecake Factory’s one-pound slices of cake and Chili’s 2,700+ calorie onion. And it’s not just restaurants. Consider Pop Tarts and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. What if, instead of being allowed to (respectively) slap “good source of calcium” and “No hormones” on these products, these sugar slingers had to tell the truth:

Pop Tarts

Warning: This product contains high levels of sugar, artificial ingredients and refined fat which are known contributors to obesity, diabetes and, oh yeah, death.

Ben & Jerry’s

Warning: The pint you are about to ingest contains two days’ worth of fat and your entire day’s caloric requirements, because, let’s face it, no one eats just one-fourth of this little carton. We might love our cows, but we don’t give a flying fig if you get diabetes, which you probably will if you eat enough of these bad boys.

BandJ

Of course, I’m sure the Surgeon G. can come up with the appropriately-uninspiring medical terminology.

But seriously, I want to know: why do known contributors to obesity, diabetes and heart disease get to make health claims on their packaging? A bottle of wine would never have “Loaded with antioxidants!” plastered on its label (let’s hope). Cigarettes packs aren’t about to feature “Enhances mood and relieves tension” seals. These products do have benefits (why else do people enjoy them and often get addicted). But they also carry major, life-threatening risks.

How is a pint of ice cream different? How is a rectangular donut different? Just because they’re “food” doesn’t make it any less disingenuous to trumpet meaningless health claims. Humans can become addicted to food just as easily as beer and smokes. If you think the cumulative effect of years of eating junk is any different from the effects of excess alcohol or cigarettes, think again. Far more people die from food addiction than drinking and smoking.

But don’t worry – Pop Tarts provide 9 essential vitamins and minerals.

poptarts
1 Mar

And This Makes 300

Worker Bees’ Daily Bites

The peanut butter scandal continues, ice cream supposedly boosts fertility, and a half glass of wine a day is the fountain of youth. Oh, and the FDA has created a hurricane-like warning system for flu epidemics. But 9 out of 10 dentists agree, today’s roundup still beats yet another day of Britney’s bald head and Anna Nicole’s burial. (Come on, journalists! There are things going on in the world!)

So We Asked These Dudes

Wine is better than beer and drinking it makes you live a lot longer – or so claims a new study done on a bunch of old guys. Though the report is already flying around the web and may hit the evening news, don’t reach for that trendy modernist cube of pinot just yet. The study is not really a “study” (and we love the news source for pointing out the study’s problems in a handy-dandy blue sidebar – you must click below).

This study is yet another review of a collection of questionnaires. This one involves men – born about 100 years ago – who filled out seven questionnaires over the course of 40 years. While evidence does point to the antioxidant value of vino, today’s report is just scraping the barrel. No more wining.

cubewine

Yep, It’s True

You can reduce your risk of heart disease by taking good care of your gums. Flossing is just as important as brushing – did you know that? Sure, it’s annoying and tedious and twanging your incisors like a harp gets old, but do it anyway.

floss 1

We Don’t Like These Numbers

3 out of 4 Americans are overweight. 1 out of 3 women die of heart disease. And 1 in 4 girls have HPV, the STD that causes cervical cancer. An ounce of prevention…

Yes, it’s true: HPV affects 1 in 4 teen girls.

Fish in a Barrel

We know we pick on the FDA a lot here at Mark’s Daily Apple. Mainly because it’s just too easy.

Today, the Feckless Death Administration has warned people not to consume raw milk. Why?

Well, in a seven-year span, exactly two people died from bad raw milk. Yes – two. No one should die from milk, but come on – more people die from drinking regular milk than that!

Raw milk has its dangers. It’s not pasteurized, so it has the potential to contain bacteria and viruses. But pasteurized milk is hardly nature’s perfect food. For one thing, calves die when fed pasteurized moo juice (all the precious enzymes and living bacteria are neutralized). For another, standard milk has other contaminants like pus, blood, chemicals, antibiotics and recombinant bovine hormone.

Mark gets concerned (make that livid) when the FDA scares people half out of their minds over relatively insignificant health threats. Which brings us to the next bone of contention.

The FDA has created a catastrophe warning system for epidemics similar to that oh-so-effective terror alert color system. It’s yet another beautiful, inspiring graphic from the folks who brought you Labelman.

fda
Arrow of death

What’s your pet nickname for the fabulous institution we call the FDA? Let us know, Apples.

Also, Sara will be bringing you a handy report on dairy, fat, fertility and cellulite – and how it all really does relate – in tomorrow’s edition of Smart Fuel. In the meantime, no, ice cream isn’t the new wonder fertility drug (bummer).

UPDATE: Oops – the arrow of death is from the CDC. But it’s still silly.

1 Mar

Is Research Meaningless?

Clickativity for health hacks.

1 Mar

It Takes a Village

Do you know about the number needed to treat?

The world of medical stats is just as confusing – and seductive – as political stats. The raw value of a stat is often left out of the equation.

For example, a study of 1,000 people finds that 6 people get a particular cancer and 4 of them die. Taking drug A as opposed to old drug B reduces that number from 4 to 3. 1/6 = roughly 16%. Since 15% is the benchmark of statistical significance in science (and many disciplines), the study can promote the finding that deaths are significantly reduced with new drug A. Never mind that the news is irrelevant for 994 study participants and in real numbers, we’re talking about one person.

I believe even one person is certainly worth saving, but I use this example to highlight a very real problem with statistics. It’s all in your perspective, and when you view new drugs from a less popular statistic – the number needed to treat, or NNT – the picture sometimes changes.

To use a real-world example I recently read in Time magazine, let’s look at statins. Statins have become a commonplace Rx for the post-40 crowd, and they’re especially popular for men. (By the way, this gender skewing is something I have a problem with, as just as many women have cardiovascular health issues and 1 in 3 women – period – die from heart disease.)

Statins are used to reduce bad cholesterol, in the hopes that heart disease and subsequent heart attacks will be prevented. We’ve all seen the “30% reduced risk” in statin ads. But this isn’t 30% across the board – although that’s the perception and that’s why everyone’s on statins. Enter NNT.

This 30% number is the number of people in one of the study’s control groups (there’s a statin-taking group and a placebo-taking group). Moreover, this is 30% in real numbers – meaning, of men who would have had the heart attacks anyway (a very small number), that number was reduced by 30%. It’s not a 30% reduction in total.

But millions of men are taking statins. To prevent one heart attack, thousands of men who likely wouldn’t have a heart attack are taking statins. This is the number needed to treat. According to Time, 50 people have to take this drug to stop one heart attack (which, as Time points out, is not likely to be fatal). That’s 50 people needlessly popping a daily pill with untold side effects. Now, of those 50 people taking a drug to stop one heart attack that probably won’t be fatal, I wonder how many face serious, expensive and possibly life-threatening health problems.

Of course, on the scale of the total population, 50:1 becomes many thousands of heart attacks prevented – but many hundreds of thousands facing unnecessary and dangerous side effects (and spending a lot of extra cash).

That’s NNT, and that’s the true measure of a drug’s effectiveness and value.

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