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Sugarcoated Deception

September 06, 2004

The evidence is increasingly clear that a good diet can at least delay some indignities of aging. A UCLA study published last week, for instance, demonstrated that mice ingesting DHT, an Omega-3 fatty acid found most abundantly in soybeans and fish, had a dramatically lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Several other recently released studies have shown that antioxidants in fruits such as blueberries and in vegetables such as broccoli can help slow the onset of memory loss. Good news, except for the fact that blueberries, broccoli and fish guts can't begin to match the influence that dietary supplements, frosted flakes and Ronald McDonald have in Congress and on TV.

The nutritional guidelines proposed last week by a committee of advisors appointed by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson point up the problem.

They won't do much to advance good science. Yielding to pressure from the sugar lobby, the committee proposed shelving past exhortations for people to "avoid too much sugar." Instead, the committee suggested that people "choose carbohydrates wisely for good health." Huh?

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday September 09, 2004 Home Edition California Part B Page 10 Editorial Pages Desk 0 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Nutrition -- An editorial Monday mistakenly gave the abbreviated name of a beneficial Omega-3 fatty acid found in fish and soybeans as DHT. It is DHA.

Further, the health data in scientific research such as the UCLA study -- published in the journal Neuron, whose circulation doesn't exactly rival that of a supermarket tabloid -- are likely to get lost amid the bogus nutritional claims made in commercials every day. Ever since July 2003, when the Food and Drug Administration announced it would let food companies make health claims even in the absence of "significant scientific agreement," junk science has abounded on the airwaves.

Makers of diet pills, for example, can claim their products boost energy and promote weight loss even if the pills are little more than a few obscure herbs and caffeine.

Even Ronald McDonald is in on the act, with ads showing him cheering healthy kids as they play soccer. Although it's nice that McDonald's is promoting the value of nutrition and exercise, there's something more than a little deceptive about trying to make it seem as if McDonald's food is part of a healthful lifestyle.

Since government was part of the problem, it also should be part of the solution. Thompson, who will be accepting public comments on the new nutritional guidelines until Sept. 27, should be pressed to revise them, rejecting the panel's suggestion that federal health officials stop warning consumers about the dangers of eating too much sugar.

Until Washington begins touting good research clearly and forcefully, children may continue to get most of their nutritional information from commercials.

To Take Action: Contact Thompson by phone, (202) 619-0257, or e-mail, hhsmail @os.dhhs.gov.

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