Editorials for Monday — October 13, 2003

• Pyramid Pete

• Busting a gut


Pyramid Pete

The people of Illinois can be proud of the job that Sen. Peter Fitzgerald is doing to uncover the cozy relationship between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the cracker lobby. The result could be changes in the nation’s official “Food Pyramid,” the little-understood and widely-ignored guide to healthy eating.

Mr. Fitzgerald, the suburban Chicago Republican, told Eric Morath of the Post-Dispatch’s Washington Bureau that he’d been reading the ingredients list on a box of crackers when he made a stunning discovery: A mere five of the crackers contained more carbohydrates than two Krispy Kreme doughnuts, though probably they didn’t taste as good.

The senator’s in-depth research revealed that the cracker box featured the USDA’s Food Pyramid, and touted the crackers as contributing to the six to 11 servings of “bread, cereal, rice and pasta” that Americans are urged to eat every day. He blamed the “cozy relationships” between USDA and grain and sugar producers for the imbalance in the pyramid.

Mr. Fitzgerald said he would introduce legislation turning sole responsibility for nutrition guidelines over to the Department Health and Human Services, which now shares it with USDA. Since Mr. Fitzgerald has announced he won’t run for re-election next year, he’d better hurry.

The government spends millions of dollars developing nutrition guidelines, which are revised every five years. The latest update has been subject to furious lobbying by food industry representatives, nutrition experts and even the Atkins Diet (carbohydrates bad, protein good) people. The assumption is that billions of dollars are at stake, because Americans will check the Food Pyramid before eating lunch.


Busting a gut

Just in time for the playoffs and the rest of the NFL season comes exciting news from the frontiers of science: Beer doesn’t make you fat!

Yes, thanks to the crusading work of Martin Bobak, a scholar at the University College of London, and two Czech collaborators, as published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, we learn “It is unlikely that beer intake is associated with a largely increased WHR (waist-hip ratio) or BMI (body mass index).” Translation: “Beer guts” are a myth.

The research was done in the Czech Republic, the world’s No. 1 beer-consuming nation, where the average adult drinks 326 pints (the equivalent of 434 12-ounce bottles or cans) of beer each year. The average U.S. consumption is slightly less than half of that. The future Nobel laureates tested a random sample of 1,141 men and 1,212 women. The mean beer consumption for men was 3.1 liters per week (17 12-ounce cans or bottles); for women, it was 10.4 ounces per week.

The scholars found waist-hip ratio changes among men (basically a measure of beer-gut tendencies) were insignificant. Among women, there was actually a “weak inverse association” with body-mass index. That means beer might actually make women thinner!

One cautionary note: The scientists were careful to control for other factors (such as food intake), meaning that if you use beer to wash down a bag of Doritos or a pizza, it’s theoretically possible you might find yourself putting on weight. These findings await further scientific study.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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