Media Personal

ABC Misrepresents Swedish Study; AFP Gets It Right

My cousin and I talked a long time Sunday afternoon about diet and metabolism and exercise — and the effects of (practically) zero estrogen on the female body. One of those effects is how hard it is to keep weight off the waist/hips.

Later, I was poking around the Four Hour Work Week blog and then found myself offsite at Protein Power, a site supporting books by Dr. Michael R. Eades. One thing lead to another, and I found this post: How the media disses low-carb diets II.

Because of my complete hysterectomy in 2001, I learned a lot about hormones and how superficially (and, too often, incorrectly) the media report hormone replacement therapy (HRT) research. So I wasn’t surprised to see Dr. Eades complaining about how media like ABC “misrepresents the true outcome of studies.”

But I was surprised to see just how egregious this case was: the reporting was 180-degrees off from what the study concluded. Complete opposite!

The peer-reviewed Swedish study, published in a British Medical Association journal, examined short term impacts of a typical American fast food diet on the liver, measured by fat accumulation and enzyme levels. The 18 subjects (healthy, average age 26) increased their total body weight by an average of 9.5 percent over a four week period by eating two large fast-food meals every day. As expected, the two measures (liver enzymes and fat), went up, too. But what caused the potential liver damage evidenced by elevated enzyme levels was carbohydrates (pdf, emphasis added):

[W]hen examining the relationship of the increase in ALT [alanine aminotransferase, a liver enzyme] to intake of different nutrients, fat intake was unrelated to increase in ALT while sugar and carbohydrate intake at week 3 clearly related to the ALT increase. This is in accordance with earlier findings by Solga et al who demonstrated that higher carbohydrate intake was significantly associated with an increased risk of biopsy-proven hepatic [liver] inflammation in morbidly obese patients undergoing bariatric surgery.

OK, a finding that goes against the mainstream narrative about diet in the US: the culprit that raised liver enzyme levels was not fat but sugar (probably cola drinks) and carbohydrate (bread, potatoes) — two staples of fast food meals. And a reminder, the USDA “food pyramid” put carbohydrates at the base, meaning you should eat more of these each day than any other food group.

How did ABC report the story? Dr. Eades tells us: Radha Chitale, the ABC reporter, interviewed Dr. Kieth-Thomas Ayoob, an associate professor of pediatrics (pediatrics? were there no experts on adult diets available?) at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He recapped the study thusly (emphasis added):

The extra fat is the big enchilada here, the equivalent of about three sticks of butter daily. The liver is basically using its compensatory mechanism to accommodate all this extra stuff.

Why no, Dr. Ayoob, that’s not what the study authors reported.

The reporter’s lead in and exit both emphasized fat as the culprit as well, although her indictment was much more wishy-washy than the so-called expert’s.

Folks, it’s not a long research paper – only six pages. How much does ABC pay its experts? Since they paid the ex-generals to talk about Iraq, one assumes that they compensate regular experts like Dr. Ayoob enough to have them spend the 15 minutes it took me to look at the study and read its conclusions.

Those of you who know me know that I can’t pass up this opportunity to contrast the TV news report with that of a wordsmith, writing for AFP (the French equivalent to AP). The reporter interviewed the lead researcher, Frederik Nystrom, a doctor at the University Hospital of Linkoping, who said:

It was not the fat in the hamburgers, it was rather the sugar in the coke.

Dr. Nystrom said that the project was inspired by the 2004 Oscar-nominated documentary “Supersize Me.”

Ironically, perhaps, our ABC “expert” “co-authored the ADA’s position paper on food and nutrition misinformation that recently appeared in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.”

PS: WebMD leaves out the “it’s the sugar not the fat” part of the study, too.

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

3 replies on “ABC Misrepresents Swedish Study; AFP Gets It Right”

Hi, Tom … just when I think I can’t be surprised by the press… I’m surprised. This isn’t in the same league as today’s FOX news “joke” about Osama/Obama … but still.

Thanks, Kevin! Just wait until I get the old “HotFlashEd” (hotflash education) posts back online!

It’s good to know someone local that’s in medicine. I have a friend in Vancouver who lost about 50 pounds using strict Atkins — over the course of a year or two. He’s gained a little back, but not much, and he’s no longer “religious” about cauliflower mashed potatoes… well, that’s not a good example, cause on that one I think he is!

Tell us how you really feel about it. . . interesting 411 here, though not surprising re the media operates.

Someone you might like to connect with and who understands some of the essentials here himself having done Atkins. He’s local and I can vouch for him. His blog has received some note in the NYT among medical blogs. Obviously, you’ll find a LOT of unrelated material, BUT he’s a good resource or sounding board.

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