Although most of our elders have preached at us from a chapel of common sense, dietary nonsense seems to rain on our heads faster than the autumn leaves. It ought to go without saying that dark chocolate really isn’t a health food. And, to repeat again something that many pregnant women ought to know already: Getting your placenta commercially prepared after your baby’s born, and eating it isn’t a great idea.
Vox, the online news site, deserves credit for debunking a long campaign by candy makers and Big Sugar to persuade consumers that dark cocoa products somehow are “superfoods” like red wine, blueberries, and avocados.
Special interests, Vox reports, have poured tens of millions of dollars into “nutrition research” that purports to show chocolate’s health benefits. The problem is the science here is less than objective and sound: “Here at Vox, we examined 100 Mars-funded health studies, and found they overwhelmingly drew glowing conclusions about cocoa and chocolate — promoting everything from chocolate’s heart health benefits to cocoa’s ability to fight disease.” The Vox story later points out:
Despite the industry effort to date, cocoa still has never been proven to carry any long-term health benefits. And when it’s delivered with a big dose of fat and sugar, any potential health perks are very quickly outweighed by chocolate’s potential harm to the waistline.
Still, the cocoa rapture has accrued to manufacturers’ bottom lines, with Vox noting:
Amid a historic obesity epidemic, [a] new niche of nutrition science has helped build a solid aura of health around chocolate — and grow consumer demand. Chocolate retail sales in the U.S. have risen from $14.2 billion in 2007 to $18.9 billion in 2017 … at a time when candy sales overall have been waning.
Hype can be a market mover not only for a commodity as yummy to eat as chocolate but also as sketchy to the consumer as the human placenta, the organ in the womb that supplies oxygen and nutrition to the unborn child as well as removes its waste products.
A fringe element long has argued—without scientific evidence—this tissue has beneficial properties, such that eating it “reduces pain, improves mood and energy level, increases milk production, and may even have anti-aging properties — a wonder drug produced by a pregnant woman’s own body.”
Along with the rise of natural childbirth, a whack-job celebrity contingent —yes, there are Kardashians involved — has taken to the airwaves and celebrity publications of the kind sold to women and at grocery check-out areas to push moms to get their placentas commercially prepared, then to eat them.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already has warned that this practice can be unhealthful not only for women but also their babies, too, as those “preparing” these bodily materials may not do so under rigorous, hygienic conditions. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, in a tough to read guidance to specialists, also just has warned that “because [placenta eating] is potentially harmful with no documented benefit, counseling women should be directive: physicians should discourage this practice.”
In my practice, I see not only the significant harms that patients suffer while seeking medical care but also how serious their struggles can be with weight-related diseases and conditions. Obesity has become an American epidemic, with researchers at the nonpartisan, independent RAND Corporation finding that its severe form is increasing the fastest. “Between 1987 and 2005, the prevalence of a BMI greater than 40 (about 100 pounds overweight) increased by 500 percent; the prevalence of a BMI greater than 50 increased by almost 1,000 percent,” a RAND study found, adding, that:
Many physicians believe that clinically severe obesity is a rare pathological condition affecting only a fixed percentage of the population. But RAND’s findings are consistent with the view of most epidemiologists that severe obesity is an integral part of the U.S. population’s weight distribution — and as everybody gets heavier, the extreme group has the fastest growth rate.
But even as Americans grapple with this health bane—which contributes to diabetes, stroke, cardiopulmonary disease and some cancers as well as lessening people’s mobility and quality of life—they’re barraged with misinformation, myths, and hype that may confuse them and keep them from appropriate dietary, exercise, and other measures that would reduce overweight and obesity.
As Western diets and sedentary habits spread through the industrial and developing world, weight woes have followed, with severe health problems also afflicting the 10 percent of the global population that now is considered obese.
In Britain, the National Health Service— saddled with budget deficits and resource shortages (including available doctors and medical specialists)—has struggled for several years now with providing medical services, particularly for the overweight and those who also smoke cigarettes.
The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) researched in 2016 and found that a third of Britain’s regional bodies that oversee the practices and activities of the National Health Service had put in place policies that restricted operations for patients deemed obese or who smoked. They, instead, were referred to groups to help them lose weight or stop smoking until they could meet local guidelines and qualify to undergo procedures, including knee and hip replacements. Britons have expressed outrage at this “rationing” of medical services, particularly since the RCS has blasted it as leaving some patients in pain and putting them at risk—all conditions that the respected medical group says defy evidence-based guidelines on appropriate medical care.
As various regions of Britain struggle with medical services’ budgets for their branches of the NHS, the issue flares anew, as it just has in southern England.
To be fair, the regional overseers of the NHS point out that there’s also medical research that indicates that patients who are obese or who smoke don’t fare as well with anesthesia and in many surgeries.
And while critics assail the health system’s “fat shaming” as discomfiting or even endangering of patients, the NHS’ chief has fired back. He has argued “40 percent of the workload” in Britain’s socialized health system “is related to “modifiable health risk factors,” such as excessive alcohol consumption, smoking and lack of exercise. NHS England has estimate that £16 billion a year (about $21 billion U.S.) is spent in Britain on the direct medical costs of diabetes and conditions related to being overweight or obese. That, by the way, is more than our key American ally spends on its police and fire services.
Still, surgical bans like these sound Draconian to me. As I keep saying: Moderation matters and it works. It should be applied to how we eat, exercise, maintain healthful weight—and put healthy policies in place.