An American Carol: review

Go and see it. It's far from perfect, not always hilarious, cringe-making in parts, but worth two hours of time. Many of the jokes are groaners, but these are usually…

Let them fail

The same experts, in Congress and out, who did not foresee and who promulgated the current banking/credit crisis are the same ones assuring us their plan for salvation is just…

Next prohibition: salt

Here is a question I added to my chapter on logic today.

New York City “Health Czar” Thomas Frieden (D), who successfully banned smoking and trans fat in restaurants and who now wants to add salt to the list, said in an issue of Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes that “cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.” Describe why no government or no person, no matter the purity of their hearts, can ever eliminate the leading cause of death.

I’ll answer that in a moment. First, Frieden is engaged in yet another attempt by the government to increase control over your life. Their reasoning goes “You are not smart enough to avoid foods which we claim—without error—are bad for you. Therefore, we shall regulate or ban such foods and save you from making decisions for yourself. There are some choices you should not be allowed to make.”

The New York Sun reports on this in today’s paper (better click on that link fast, because today could be the last day of that paper).

“We’ve done some health education on salt, but the fact is that it’s in food and it’s almost impossible for someone to get it out,” Dr. Frieden said. “Really, this is something that requires an industry-wide response and preferably a national response.”…”Processed and restaurant foods account for 77% of salt consumption, so it is nearly impossible for consumers to greatly reduce their own salt intake,” they wrote. Similarly, regarding sugar, they wrote: “Reversing the increasing intake of sugar is central to limiting calories, but governments have not done enough to address this threat.”

Get that? It’s nearly impossible for “consumers” (they mean people) to regulate their own salt intake. “Consumers” are being duped and controlled by powers greater than themselves, they are being forced to eat more salt than they want. But, lo! There is salvation in building a larger government! If that isn’t a fair interpretation of the authors’ views, then I’ll (again) eat my hat.

The impetus for Frieden’s latest passion is noticing that salt (sodium) is correlated—but not perfectly predictive of, it should be emphasized—with cardiovascular disease, namely high blood pressure (HBP). This correlation makes physical sense, at least. However, because sodium is only correlated with HBP, it means that for some people average salt intake is harmless or even helpful (Samuel Mann, a physician at Cornell, even states this).

What is strange is that, even by Frieden’s own estimate (from the Circulation paper), the rate of hypertension in NYC is four percentage points lower than the rest of the nation! NYC is about 26%, the rest of you are at about 30% If these estimates are accurate, it means New York City residents are doing better than non residents. This would argue that we should mandate non-city companies should emulate the practices of restaurants and food processors that serve the city. It in no way follows that we should burden city businesses with more regulation.

Sanity check:

[E]xecutive vice president of the New York State Restaurant Association, Charles Hunt…said any efforts to limit salt consumption should take place at home, as only about 25% of meals are consumed outside the home.

“I’m concerned in that they have a tendency to try to blame all these health problems on restaurants…This nanny state that has been hinted about, or even partially created, where the government agencies start telling people what they should and shouldn’t eat, when they start telling restaurants they need to take on that role, we think its beyond the purview of government,” Mr. Hunt said.

Amen, Mr Hunt. It just goes to show you why creators and users of statistics have such a bad reputation. Even when the results are dead against you, it is still possible to claim what you want to claim. It’s even worse here, because it isn’t even clear what the results are. By that I mean, the statements made by Frieden and other physicians are much more certain than they should be given the results of his paper. Readers of this blog will not find that unusual.

What follows is a brief but technical description of the Circulation paper (and homework answer). Interested readers can click on.