OPINION: It’s Time For Taxpayers To Stop Funding Fake Nutrition Research

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Most nutrition research is nonsense. Does anyone really believe that eggs cause heart disease? Or that coffee causes cancer? Probably not. But if you pay taxes, your hard-earned dollars are squandered by the elite academics who publish these false facts about food.

The reason taxpayer-funded scientists publish ridiculous research is simple. They know the easiest way to keep people paying for their research is to manufacture anxiety producing controversies while limiting the “marketplace of ideas” so that an intense but irrelevant debate is fought within that limit.

This technique, known as “fear-mongering,” was perfected in 1977 when Harvard professor D. Mark Hegsted and Sen. George McGovern published a government report telling Americans that sugar, salt, fat, meat, milk and eggs were greater threats to their health than smoking.

By declaring “war on food,” they created the perfect counterfeit controversy. The allegedly “unhealthy” foods, beverages, and nutrients were essential to healthy diets and consumed by humans for eons with no ill effects. Hegsted and McGovern knew that by exploiting innate fears about death and ancient beliefs about the sinfulness of gluttony, people would instigate impassioned but ill-informed disputes about whether sugar, salt, or fat caused disease while remaining oblivious to the fact that these diet-centric debates were irrelevant to their health.

McGovern facilitated Hegsted’s appointment as the USDA’s first administrator of Human Nutrition. Hegsted directed taxpayer funding to elite academics who, as editors of nutrition journals, could control the “marketplace of ideas,” quash criticisms, and support the “war on food” through their publications and media outreach.

Not surprisingly, the allegedly “scientific” debate over whether sugar, salt and fat cause obesity, heart disease, and other chronic conditions raged for the next 50 years while costing taxpayers over $50 billion.

Nevertheless, in 2007, President Bush appointed Brian Wansink, an Ivy-League professor with no formal training in nutrition, public health or medicine as executive director of the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. As executive director, Wansink acquired millions of dollars in research funding from the USDA and National Institutes of Health.

A political appointee obtaining millions of taxpayer dollars isn’t anything new, but it contributed to a more significant problem: Wansink’s incompetent studies. As of September of 2018, many of his “scientific” papers had been retracted or were under investigation. These scientifically illiterate studies were central to the Obama administration’s nutrition and obesity policies such as the “Let’s Move!” campaign, the USDA’s National School Lunch Program, and the costly nutrition counseling and menu labeling mandates in the Affordable Care Act.

Wansink resigned in disgrace from Cornell University after its second investigation showed that “Professor Wansink committed academic misconduct in his research and scholarship, including misreporting of research data, problematic statistical techniques, failure to properly document and preserve research results, and inappropriate authorship.”

It is important to note that university-based investigations usually protect high-profile grant recipients. Cornell’s first investigation cleared Wansink of all wrongdoing. Nevertheless, as criticisms mounted, in November of 2018 Cornell began a third investigation into the federal funding of Wansink’s “unethical” research.  

Thus, the most influential tax-payer-funded nutrition “scientist” and high-level USDA appointee in recent memory was an inept or unscrupulous propagandist.

Nevertheless, the debate over whether sugar, salt, and fat are unhealthy is no closer to a conclusion, because if you live in the U.S., your diet has little lasting impact on your weight and health. In fact, my research demonstrated that your metabolism is much more important than your diet. For example, some people can eat everything and never gain a pound, while others gain weight just looking at a menu.

This means that sugar, salt, and fat are merely necessary for health and well-being but have no major impact on your weight or health. The never-ending debate about which foods are “healthy” and which are not is simply a counterfeit controversy designed to keep intelligent but scientifically naive people distracted while elite academics and politicians enrich themselves and push pseudo-progressive policies such as taxes on soda and candy.

If the purpose of science is to make life safer, simpler, and easier, then nutrition science has failed miserably. Since the USDA’s first administrator of Human Nutrition was appointed in 1977, nutrition ‘“science” has existed only to transfer wealth from hard-working Americans to affluent academics at elite universities such as Harvard, Tufts and Cornell.

It is time to end the $50 billion “war on food” and counterfeit diet-centric controversies by increasing accountability at the USDA, Center for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health, and by refusing to elect politicians that give our hard-earned dollars to incompetent and unscrupulous “scientists.”

Edward Archer, Ph.D. is an obesity theorist and former National Institutes of Health (NIH) postdoctoral research fellow. He has nearly 100 peer-reviewed publications, popular media articles, and book chapters that span the field of bioenergetics from nutrition and exercise science to chronic disease epidemiology.

Correction: An earlier version of this column stated Dr. Wansink was appointed by President Obama. It has been updated to reflect that he was appointed by President Bush.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.