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Killing us softly

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You know the old adage that things have to get really bad before they get better? For some time, I’ve been wondering where the bottom of the dip is when it comes to the spiral we are seeing in preventable diseases like type 2 diabetes and obesity—along with most instances of heart disease and many cases of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Take a look at graphs that map the progression of these conditions over past decades and project their incidence up to 2050. You’ll see we’re all being prepped for more of the same—a continued, steady increase.

The headlines we see about breakthrough drugs, or even prescribing physical activity or social interaction, apparently won’t make any difference, because nothing ‘the establishment’ has done to date has made a bit of difference.    

Although governments and big business appear to be devoted to science-based decision-making, when you look more closely, this science-speak is little more than a tool to disempower people.

If you have a different view from a government health authority, you’re considered ignorant. Government policy is science-based so must be right.

The problem is that the supposedly objective science that guides health policy has become tainted. And cracks are beginning to appear in the governmental rubber-stamp for such ‘establishment’ research.

One such example is the latest endeavor of Professor Walter Willett from Harvard, who has been among the US government’s leading nutritional advisers for decades.

Willett headed up the nutrition research efforts for the recent EAT-Lancet Commission, a consortium of scientists tasked with finding a ‘planetary health diet’ that could resolve not only the preventable disease crisis but also unfolding environmental crises including land and soil degradation, habitat destruction, desertification, water salination, excessive waste, air and water pollution, plastic and microplastic pollution and endocrine-disrupting chemicals.1

Central to the EAT-Lancet recommendations is a heavily plant-based diet. Protein levels are kept low and should mostly come from plants.

The report advocates a 50 percent per capita reduction in red meat intake, on average, while consumption of nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes should double.

These recommendations uphold the widely held view that animal foods are harmful to the environment and also make us less healthy.

But who’s responsible for creating those views? Anyone who thinks that scientific research delivers unbiased information about health and environmental management better think again.

Research is done when money is made available to do it, and is likely to be biased in ways that support the interests of the funder. Over the last 20 or so years, ‘blue sky’ research—done for the greater good rather than for a specific commercial interest—has become almost as rare as ground-nesting birds in a wheat monoculture.

Since commercial interests fund most research, either directly or indirectly through foundations, there are gaping holes in our knowledge base where quality studies are lacking due to the absence of a profit motive. So, while there is general scientific agreement that obesity, type 2 diabetes, most cases of heart disease and a good proportion of all cancers are preventable, there’s no consensus on what causes these diseases.

Most research isn’t focused on trying to elucidate mechanisms, unless those mechanisms are likely to reveal a new drug target. But these conditions can be treated successfully, reversed or prevented by personalized lifestyle-based medicine that involves no drugs whatsoever.

We know this because thousands of clinicians around the world who practice this kind of medicine are showing what’s possible. Millions of people have experienced it. But we’re not being heard, because selective hearing by governments and big corporations is the best way of ignoring the science that doesn’t mesh with the status quo.

But despite the high profile of the EAT-Lancet  Commission’s ‘planetary health diet’ proposed by Willett and colleagues, the World Health Organization eventually withdrew its support for the scheme. That change of heart was inspired by a single person—the Italian ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Gian Lorenzo Cornado.

Cornado suggested that a global shift to the diet could lead to the loss of millions of jobs linked to animal husbandry and the production of “unhealthy” foods, and destroy traditional diets that are part of cultural heritage. The initiative “urging for a centralised control of our dietary choices” risked “the total elimination of consumers’ freedom of choice.”2

The reality is that most people aren’t thinking as coherently as Cornado. Too many of us believe we as individuals can’t make a difference. But let’s get to grips with what could happen if many thousands of us adopt Cornado’s mindset and support similar positions that push us out of the very comfort zones that are killing us softly.




Lancet, 2019; 393: 447–92


BMJ, 2019; 365: l1700

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