Recently you may have noticed that a very popular documentary on Netflix entitled “What the Health” The star and director is Kip Andersen. Maybe this just appeared on my feed since I watch most every documentary and most anything associated with Health care. Many of you will know that this film has caused some controversy and for its message and its methods. This documentary is one of the prime examples of why most people struggle with health care and nutritional information. There are just so many mixed messages out there in the media its hard to know who to trust. That is why this is a fascinating topic. Here is what you might want to know if you watch this film.
First of all there are several key points that are made in the documentary that are well made about the general state of American health.
- 1 in 3 Medicare dollars are spent on Diabetes
- 1 in 10 health care dollars spent on Diabetes
- Diet is a huge factor in health and a poor diet with processed foods will certainly lead to poor health outcomes.
All of this is well settled but beyond that there is a clear agenda that come thru very clearly and repeatedly. The message is this: All meat is bad and the root of all evil.
Andersen edits the film in a way that makes it seem like no one in the American Cancer Society will address his clear conclusion that all meat is bad. He does this by calling up the ACS and asking complicated questions of the receptionist. When she can not answer his complicated questions he frames this a conspiracy in the food industry to hide theand not just him being a unreasonable pain in the neck to this poor phone operator.
Other examples of the kind of statements that are made in this film that are problematic:
At one point, Dr Neal Barnard states that sugar does not cause any ill effects and that only animal fats are a concern. This seems like a difficult statement to square in the face of recent research in low sugar diets. Additionally everywhere the sugar was introduced in human history diabetes has followed. Gary Taubes lays this out in his book, “The Case Against Sugar” very clearly. The filmmaker also states that eating meat is as bad as smoking. Following this up with“How are kids allowed to eat meat like this” and ‘by eating meat Is it’s like Ive been smoking my whole life.”
This is a clear overstatement of the data that is present on eating meat. Here is an example from the research.
They discuss that eating processed meat is placed in the same category as Smoking and Asbestos as it increased the relative risk of cancer. This is true but is just a general classification and does not capture the full picture. First of all, they conflate relative risk andabsolute risk. Meaning that I you ate processed meat daily then your risk of cancer would go up from about 4% to 5% This a 20% increase in the realize risk in cancer but the absolute risk of getting cancer in your lifetime goes up only about 1%. Now 1% is nothing to ignore. Over the course of our country this is thousands of people every year that would get cancer that otherwise would not. (See the link to Aaron Carroll below for his much more detailed explanation of this)
Now all of this is not to say that eating processed meat is good. It is clearly not ideal. However if you eat processed meat less than daily then the risk should be less. Eating this every day does have real health risks but if we don't eat like this daily then we have less than a 1% increase in risk. We do not have to misrepresent this egregiously to say that it is has risks. We can be honest with people about the risks. Lots of meat can be bad for you but in an attempt to push a whole food Vegan diet there are a lot of difficult claims are made.
- Meat causes cancer. (See above)
- Sugar can not cause diabetes
- Carcinogens are presenting every chicken that we eat.
- Eggs are dangerous and are as bad as cigarettes.
- Genes have limited impact on heath and Meat is a better indication of the risk of heart attack and other diseases.
- Cheese is linked to SIDS and autism because of how it is processed
- Chicken is worst because of the injected saline that causes many health problems
- The use of antibiotics in farming is “ like 7 9/11’s”
Now I think that over time food companies have not been honest and it is clear that processed foods are very problematic and Trans fats are basically the worst thing you can eat. There are very good arguments that eating less meat is good for the environment and many people have serious moral concerns about eating meat. Those are bigger questions than we can settle in this space but I respect those ideas. Eating a whole food plant based diet can clearly be a healthy diet for some people. But that is not the only option and we do not need to overstate the case or misrepresent data to make a more effective point.
For a couple of different opinions please take a look at this review on vox.com
Or this rebuttal that is well done form a Vegan that does a nice job of reviewing the research form a Vegan perspective.
Finally the always Excellent Aaron Carroll and his excellent series Healthcare triage who also writes in the NY Times in The Upshot.
Post submitted by Kurt Hutchinson, PT Clinical Lead of OrthoHealth - Illinois Bone and Joint Institute