Friday, February 12, 2010

Email to First Lady Michelle Obama

February 4, 2010

Michelle Obama

Dear Mrs. Obama,

By way of introduction, I am a carpenter residing in Kalispell, Montana. I study and write about nutritional issues and controversies.

I've been meaning to write you ever since your husband mentioned your Anti-Obesity Campaign during his State of Union Address. I understand you met recently with Secretary Vilsack, Secretary Sebelius Secretary Duncan, Senator Blanche Lincoln, Congressman George Miller, Senator Tom Harken, Congressman Collin Peterson, Senator Saxby Chambliss, and Senator Mike Enzi to discuss possible changes in child nutrition programs. If you think this message has merit, please forward it to the above cabinet members, senators, and congressmen.

Regarding the obesity problem, I have some good news and some sad news. The good news is that at least a few scientists have identified the dietary factors responsible for the current epidemic of obesity and chronic disease. The sad news is that their voices are not being heard. In fact, the scientific evidence that supports their views has been ignored for at least four decades. What evidence? It's the data that demonstrates that excessive omega-6 fat consumption is responsible for the sort of metabolic impairment that promotes fat storage [1] and that excessive sugar consumption is responsible for the sort of appetite derangement that leads to overeating [2]. In other words, it's a big mistake to replace saturated fats with polyunsaturates and added sugars which is generally what happens when people try to eat according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The added sugars problem has been in the limelight of late so there's no point discussing it here [3]. In contrast, the omega-6 problem continues to be ignored. So allow me to introduce you to Dr. Bill Lands, a respected biochemist who must be terribly frustrated by the continued lack of interest in omega-6 research. Here are a few paragraphs from a 37 minute presentation he gave on day two of a recent Defense Department workshop on omega-3 fats [4,5].

In his opening remarks he said, Pragmatically, I really want primary prevention. I mean, treatment is all well and good. But if you never had to treat something, wouldn't that be a wonderful world? So, how would a pragmatist create a wonderful world? Well, if you know biochemistry, you can trace the molecular events that caused the disease or the undesired consequence and prevent the underlying cause of the problem. That means you have to trace back - and we can do that - the context of this molecular event. And the context is competition between omega-3 and omega-6 for storage and for action...

I heard several times yesterday about these chronic diseases that are preventable. If that's true, how come nobody's preventing them, for crying out loud?... These data have been out for a long time. Everyone knows that. Ancel Keys sort of knew this but he never really talked about omega-3 and omega-6. And it was a tragedy because we have had 40 some years when we could have really been preventing something and we didn't. We got off and we got on to distractions that were not mediators. But these are mediators of disease. People who have more than half of their HUFA (highly unsaturated fatty acids) as omega-6 HUFA, they really have a high incidence of cardiovascular death.

For half a century Americans have been relentlessly bombarded with messages about how bad saturated fats are for heart health. Of course, the purpose of this campaign has been to persuade everyone to consume supposedly heart healthy omega-6 seed oil products in place of artery clogging animal fats. It worked. When I began reading nutrition literature more than three decades ago we were consuming margarine and low-fat dairy products. After a few years of casual investigation we switched to butter and full fat dairy [6]. I'll have a student guest blogger featured on the American Society for Nutrition web site explain why [7].

Over the past decade the use of low fat milk has become more prominent than the use of whole milk...According to a cohort study of 12,829 US children aged 9 to 14 years, weight gain is associated with excess calorie intake and consumption of low fat or skim milk, but is not associated with drinking whole milk products. This finding although surprising is consistent with some animal findings. Pigs fed reduced-fat milk gain weight easily while pigs fed whole milk stay lean. Male rats fed whole milk had significantly lower concentrations of plasma triglycerides...than rats fed low fat milk. The effects of whole milk on lipid profile and body composition are not well understood, but the process of removing fat from milk may in part be responsible for some of the observed effects. Milk is an emulsion of butterfat globules and water-based fluid. Butterfat contains unique nutrients that support thyroid function and help the body develop muscle rather than fat…

So public health messages to consume low fat dairy do not produce the desired effect. What else is wrong with the government's dietary advice? I'll tell you. There's no warning to reduce omega-6 fat intake. None. Rather, we're told to restrict saturated fat consumption. This is a huge mistake because there is no scientific evidence that high saturated fat consumption poses a health hazard [8,9].

A few days from now, on February 9-10, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will convene for the fifth time to review the current Guidelines. Judging from past deliberations, it seems unlikely the Committee will alter its stance on omega-6 fats, saturated fats, or total fat intake. Consequently, if you intend to propose a truly effective strategy for juvenile weight control, you will need to issue advice substantially not in agreement with current nutritional wisdom. While this may embarrass the 13 distinguished scientists serving on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, it would surely be an encouragement to those of us who want to see significant progress in the war on obesity and chronic disease.

David Brown
1925 Belmar Dr
Kalispell, MT 59901
Nutrition Education Project



Laurie Cags said...

Wonderful - I will tweet this & pass along to my contacts. I ask that everyone do the same.
Laurie Cagnassola
Nutrition & Metabolism Society

David Brown said...

Thanks Laurie,

Anonymous said...

I hope this important message is heard. Right there with you on the problem with the added sugars, prevalence of polyunsaturated oils in processed foods and the misguided and harmful conventional wisdom about fat free and low-fat vs. whole dairy.

You're much better about citing sources than I am.

Keep up the good work.

William Schenken said...

Thanks for this article... not sure how I ended up reading it, but following your references has been very enlightening. I really like this presentation:

Unknown said...

Do you teach nutrition education programs at school or more like seminars? I would love to find out more about nutrition but I think children should know more also.

David Brown said...

Hi Aaron,

I do not teach in schools. Most of my educational efforts are aimed at scientists, lawmakers, and health care professionals. If you Google "David Brown omega-6" or "David Brown saturated fat" you can access comments of mine published on various web sites.

Anonymous said...

Appreciation is probably incalculable. Thanks for sharing. I’ll come back to read more of your works.

David Brown said...

Thanks Cleo,

I recommend you read The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz.