Thursday, April 06, 2006

Anti-Obesity Group Claims that Eating French Fries Can Cause Heart Attacks

Can eating a serving of McDonalds french fries be fatal? According to a press release issued today by Americans for Nutrition Rights (ANR), it can. This Berkeley-based nutrition advocacy group has warned the public that a single serving of french fries causes heart damage and makes it more difficult for the heart to get the blood it needs to pump.

According to the ANR press release: "Even a single serving of french fries causes heart damage similar to that of habitual smokers. Nonsmokers'’ heart arteries showed a reduced ability to dilate, diminishing the ability of the heart to get life-giving blood."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has already warned that people with heart disease and those at risk for heart disease should avoid eating french fries because of an increased risk of suffering a heart attack.

In making its recommendation, the CDC cited a recent article by Plotnick and colleagues, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found that a single high-fat meal causes endothelial dysfunction, as measured by a reduced ability of arteries to dilate in response to hyperemia.

The same finding occurs in smokers, which prompted anti-obesity groups throughout the country to warn the public that eating french fries is as hazardous as smoking.

The Coalition for an Obesity-Free Hawaii warned on its website that: "Eating thirty french fries compromises an individual's coronary arteries to the same extent as in smokers. ... All of these effects not only increase the long term risks of developing heart disease, but also increase the immediate risk of heart attack."

It has long been known that a high-fat diet, over many years, can cause atheroscleroris and eventually lead to heart disease. But now, anti-obesity groups are claiming that a single high-fat meal can cause these same atherosclerotic changes, leading to narrowing of the coronary arteries, clogged arteries, and heart attacks.

The Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Fat-Free Kids wrote in a recent press release that: "as few as 30 french fries can trigger harmful cardiovascular changes, such as increased blood clotting, that increase the risk of a heart attack." Another D.C.-based group - Action on Skimping and Health (ASH) - wrote that "eating even small amounts of fat can be deadly. For example, consuming as few as 30 french fries can raise an individual's risk of suffering a fatal heart attack to that of a smoker."

ASH is calling for a ban on french fries in all public places, including restaurants, but recently expanded its efforts to include promoting a ban on eating french fries anywhere outdoors. It has also called for a ban on serving french fries to kids in the home, at least when the parents are foster parents. ASH has also been attempting to make serving french fries to kids an issue in custody disputes and is trying to deny custody to divorced or separated parents who treat their kids to french fries.

While it has generally been thought by physicians throughout the world that atherosclerosis is a process that takes many years, anti-obesity groups are suggesting that somehow, eating french fries leads to an accelerated process in which what normally takes years can occur in just minutes.

For example, the Fat Free Coalitions of Clark and Skamania Counties stated that: "Eating as few as 30 french fries can lead to hardening of the arteries." The website of FatScam proclaimed: "30 french fries = stiffened, clogged arteries." And Citizens Against Unhealthy Fat-Filled Environments stated that "Just 30 french fries can compromise the cardiovascular system by reducing blood flow to the heart."

A prominent anti-obesity researcher is giving talks throughout the country, cautioning the public that eating french fries has an immediate detrimental effect on the heart: "We used to think that heart disease came after years of exposure. Then studies in the 1990s began pointing to heart attacks that were happening very rapidly from short-term exposure to french fries. If you go into a restaurant for a sandwich, if you go into a bar for a beer and you order french fries with your meal or your drink, you're just as at risk for a heart attack as a smoker. French fries have an acute, rapid effect on the heart. Thirty french fries doubles your risk for the next 48 hours."

While representatives from the American Food Institute were outraged by the claims and told reporters that they were a "gross misrepresentation of the science," executives of Global Tobacco jumped on the opportunity to compare the harm caused by their products to that caused by french fries.

In a $100 million public relations campaign initiated today, Global Tobacco is putting out ads nationally which state that smoking is no more harmful than eating one serving of french fries. Rather than citing its own research, which has gotten Global Tobacco into trouble in the past, the ad cites public statements by 28 anti-obesity groups to document its bold assertion.

"We would never have put out such claims by ourselves," Global Tobacco's vice-president for marketing told Ad Age. "That would have been far too risky in this litigious environment. We're already facing a Department of Justice lawsuit and numerous private suits. We couldn't afford any more litigation."

But the statements by the anti-obesity groups opened the door to this campaign, the marketing vice president noted: "We are actually not making any independent claims in these ads. If you read the text carefully, all we are doing is repeating statements that have been made by a number of anti-obesity groups throughout the country. And I think they have spoken quite clearly. Smoking is no more dangerous than eating a serving of french fries, at least in terms of the risk for heart attacks and cardiovascular disease."

The Rest of the Story

The scientific support for the claims being made by anti-obesity groups in this ficticious (if you haven't figured it out by now) article is actually precisely the same as the support behind anti-smoking groups' claims that 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke increases heart attack risk and causes narrowing and clogging of the coronary arteries.

I hope this helps demonstrate just how absurd and fallacious the claims are that anti-smoking groups are making.

I am quite serious though - if I were "Global Tobacco" I would take advantage of this golden opportunity by putting out a public relations campaign citing the widespread opinion of anti-smoking groups that smoking is no more dangerous than a 30-minute exposure to secondhand smoke in terms of heart attack and cardiovascular disease risk. It's truly a golden opportunity, because they can do it without any liability on their part. All they need to do is report the claims being made by anti-smoking groups.

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