Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Letter to President Obama

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Twice that I know of over the past year you have commented on food and health care costs. The first mention was during an October 2008 interview with Joe Klein. You said, "I was just reading an article in The New York Times by Michael Pollan about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it's creating mono cultures that are...partly responsible for the explosion in our health care costs because they're contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in health care costs."

The second mention was in a speech to the American Medical Association delivered earlier this year. You said, "The second step that we can all agree on is to invest more in preventive care so that we can avoid illness and disease in the first place. That starts with each of us taking more responsibility for our health and the health of our children...It also means cutting down on all the junk food that is fueling an epidemic of obesity, putting far too many Americans, young and old, at greater risk of costly, chronic conditions. That's a lesson Michelle and I have tried to instill in our daughters with the White House vegetable garden that Michelle planted. And that's a lesson that we should work with local school districts to incorporate into their school lunch programs."

I congratulate you on paying attention to the quality of the food supply. It is a problem that began in the nineteenth century with the development of technology that made it possible to cheaply and efficiently produce enormous quantities of sugar, refined wheat flour, and omega-6 seed oils. As the science of chemistry advanced, chemical technology spawned the food manufacturing industry that supplies most of the calories Americans currently consume.

These developments have had disastrous consequences for human health. Periodically, various scientists, both here and abroad, have attempted to call attention to the problem. But sadly, academia and government have ignored them. For example, in the Preface to Food for Nought (1973), biochemist, author, and teacher Ross Hume Hall, PhD observed, "Nourishment of the American populace has undergone a startling transformation since World War II. A highly individual system of growing and marketing food has been transformed into a gigantic, highly integrated service system in which the object is not to nourish or even to feed, but to force an ever-increasing consumption of fabricated products. This phenomenon is not peculiar to the American scene and occurs in every industrialized country. The United States, however, has progressed furthest in the transformation. Man can never be more than what he eats, and one would expect that a phenomenon with such profound effects on health and well-being as a radically changed system of supplying nourishment would be thoroughly documented and assessed by the scientific community. Such is not the case. The transformation has gone unmarked by government agencies and learned bodies. Government agencies, recipients of the public trust charged with protecting and improving the public's food, operate as if the technology of food fabrication rested in pre-World War II days. Scientific bodies, supported by public funds and charged with assessing and improving the public's health, ignore completely the results of contemporary methods of producing and marketing food."

I began taking responsibility for my own health back in October of 1977 after sustaining a back injury. A week of hospitalization afforded time to think about my future. I decided to read some nutrition books and use what I learned to improve my body's ability to heal itself.
I did not read one or two books; I read dozens, then hundreds. I did so because nutrition experts disagree and one cannot afford to be following the advice of experts who base their opinions on personal experience or consensus of opinion.

Eventually, I figured out that sugar interests, edible oils producers, and food manufacturers exert a powerful influence on both government and academia. I realized early on that sugar (Google "Sugar:The Bitter Truth"), not saturated fat, was the major factor in heart disease. But it was not until 1994, after suffering a leg ulcer, that I learned how dangerous excessive consumption of the supposedly "heart healthy" omega-6 vegetable oils can be (Google "Omega-6 Research News").

Which brings up another issue, the quality of nutrition instruction in this country. The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) is the arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for educating Americans about nutrition. It is also the highest nutrition authority in the land.

Every five years, by law, the CNPP must appoint 13 distinguished scientists to review the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and recommend changes based on the latest scientific research. That process is currently underway and three meetings have already taken place.

Hopefully, four mistakes, that have persisted in the government's dietary advice for more than three decades, will be corrected this time around. They are as follows: 1) the universal recommendation to restrict fat intake to lose weight, 2) the doctrine that high saturated fat consumption leads to clogged arteries, 3) failure to warn consumers about the hazards of excessive fructose consumption, and 4) failure to warn consumers about hazards associated with excessive omega-6 polyunsaturated vegetable oil consumption.

I am not the only one disturbed by the government's dietary guidelines. Many Americans are voicing their concerns to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. In January, these poignant remarks, submitted by someone named Ethyl, were published in the federal register.

"Here's how I'd like to answer the members of the USDA if I could speak to them personally about what nutritional guidelines to provide for Americans:
1. You need to decide what is more important to you: support for the wheat, soy, corn, and sugar industries or the health of Americans.
2. You need to wrap your minds around the fact that the nutritional advice you have dispensed for the past forty years is dead wrong. A diet with carbohydrates as the largest daily food group makes people fat and/or sick.
3.You have been embarrassingly wrong for the past forty years about the dangers of fat in the diet. The extreme fat reduction you have recommended makes people fat and/or sick.
4. Your dietary recommendations for the past forty years are largely responsible for the amount of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disorders, depression, and more that Americans experience in ever-increasing numbers.
5. I visited the Web site and found your pyramid to be what one would expect government bureaucrats to create: unnecessarily complicated, confusing, filled with misinformation, and condescending. It claims to be "science-based" but does not admit - or understand? - that it is based on junk science that has been poorly conducted.
6. If you want to give the public at large advice about what to eat to be healthy or correct many health problems, it should go something like this:
a. Eat mostly real food, not food products processed in food labs.
b. Make the time to prepare almost all of your meals at home from scratch. Know what's in the food you eat.
c. Retrain your body to derive its energy from fat ... by fueling it with quality fats such as lard, coconut oil, butter, nut oils, and olive oil. Eliminate all trans fat from the diet, and drastically reduce the amount of fat from vegetable oils. Saturated fat is good for you, enjoy it..."

Mr. President, clearly our industrialized food supply is making us fat and sick. And the cost of dealing with health issues is destroying our economy. But your mention of the monoculture/junk food connection to chronic disease and obesity in relation to "our huge explosion in health care costs" raised hopes that you will study the matter further. Below is a short list of individuals who can help you visualize what needs to be done to improve the food environment by, first and foremost, correcting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Fred and Alice Ottoboni: retired public health scientists and authors of The Modern Nutritional Diseases.

Gary Taubes
: award winning journalist and author of a 2002 New York Times Magazine
article entitled "What if it's all Been a Big Fat Lie?" and the book Good Calories, Bad Calories.

Michael Pollan: author of The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Sally Fallon: founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation and author of Nourishing Traditions.

Joel Salatin: grass farmer and author of Everything I Want to Do is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front.

Mark McAffee: California raw milk dairy farmer and owner of Organic Pastures Fresh Raw Dairy.

Nina Planck: created the first farmers' markets in London. Author of Real Food: What to Eat and Why.

Before closing, I have a few comments about health care reform. First, I am in favor of incentives that encourage people to make healthier lifestyle choices. In a recent New York Times Op-Ed article entitled "Big Food vs. Big Insurance" Michael Pollan suggests changes in insurance rules that could help accomplish this goal.

Second, I would like to have the option of a health savings account. Rather than being forced to purchase health insurance, I would like to be able to put tax-deferred money into savings that could be used for health emergencies. If spent on health care, the money would not be subject to taxation.

Third, my family has never purchased health insurance. We simply pay for medical services as needed. We would far rather spend our hard-earned money on high quality food than on medical screening. At our income level, being forced to purchase health insurance would pose a hardship making it more difficult for us to obtain high quality food. Seems like there ought to be a better reward for taking care of ones health than being forced to pay for something which one cannot afford and may never use.

In your inaugural address you said, "...our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

You speak words of hope. But unless you and your policy advisers reeducate yourselves as to what constitutes healthy eating, eventually there will be no funds to "remake" anything.

Toward the end of your speech you said, "Those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government."

Have governments ever been trustworthy? It is a nice thought.

In most respects I think elected officials are trustworthy. I believe they are doing their best to protect us and improve our circumstances. However, those narrow interests you mentioned are NOT trustworthy. And their influence, where food issues and nutritional controversies are concerned, is pervasive in business, academia, media, and government. And because governance involves a broad spectrum of political issues, it is understandable that the vast majority of politicians are not programmed, by either their education or their experience, to be interested in food issues, much less understand them. While this may continue to be the case, it would be incredibly helpful if grass roots efforts to improve the quality of the food supply and correct the government's horribly flawed dietary advice had the support of the President of the United States.

In closing, I note that you were elected to office on the strength of a promise; a promise that you would do things differently. My prayer is that you will study the connection between food choices and chronic disease until you fully understand the issues and that God will give you the ability to discern and the courage to do what needs to be done to reduce demand for medical services. Recall Dr. Hall's observation: "Man can never be more than what he eats..."

David Brown
1925 Belmar Dr
Kalispell, MT 59901

Nutrition Education Project


Matt Stone said...

You never disappoint David. Your determination to be heard despite a decade and a half of being ignored is truly admirable. You at least must sleep well at night.

It is a strange world that we live in. Just today, Obama, a man who has sent more troops into battle this year than any living human - after promising to end war expediently during his campaign - was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. If that don't say it all, I don't know what duz.

Your message is very clear and very accurate based on my own independent research. How these conclusions can escape the minds of the supposedly intellectual elite is beyond comprehension. Either you and I are more intelligent than everyone else (unlikely, but I keep tellin' myself that!), or something really fishy is going on.

So I guess from here we just continue to follow our passionate desire for learning and communicating our findings on health - and eat well. That suits me just fine.

David Brown said...

Thanks for your comment, Matt. You said, "Either you and I are more intelligent than everyone else (unlikely, but I keep tellin' myself that!), or something really fishy is going on."

I suspect the reason why wrong-headed ideas get propagated among the intellectual elite so readily is because of distractions and time constraints. For most people, consensus of opinion generated by top nutritional authorities is a powerful reason to accept nutritional dogma.

The USA has a large army of highly trained, dedicated public health professionals who dutifully embrace whatever doctrines the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion formulates. Every five years, by law, that agency has an opportunity to correct errors in the Dietary Guidelines. Lets hope this is the year they accomplish that goal.