Monday, September 4, 2017

What the Health

At the suggestion of a friend, I watched "What the Health," a documentary about diet and health. Actually, it's more of a one-sided, biased look at diet and health.

The good points of the film, unfortunately, are buried under a lot of bullshit spouted by both the interviewer and the people being interviewed. It's strange that Kip Anderson, the director, producer, writer, and editor of "What the Health" makes quite the fuss about certain studies being funded by specific groups, while pretty much everybody involved in this film is a vegan and very vigorously promotes a vegan lifestyle. For example, Dr. Neal Barnard, one of the many vegans interviewed in the film, is the president of a vegan and animal rights group that has a budget of well over 7 million and was a regular contributing writer for PETA. He and others interviewed in the movie have written books promoting veganism and are activists for the cause. They're not merely suggesting that eating a vegan diet might be good for your health, which isn't actually confirmed by this film, they want you to buy their shit. Meat, after all, causes everything from endometriosis to cancer, and these guys have the books, programs and advice to help you give it up.

There are plenty of other blog posts or articles debunking the obscure and questionable studies Anderson focuses on in the film. I don't think I can do a better job than either of the two linked to below. At one point, Anderson calls a survey a study that supposedly confirms eating an egg a day is as bad as smoking. I addressed a similar survey situation here when a vegan activist woman implied that filling out a questionnaire is as valid as an actual study.

To give you an idea of some of the more ridiculous myths that are promoted in this film, there was a comment in "What the Health" about cheese being coagulated cow pus, which is as absurd as claiming chocolate is really dismembered spider parts because the FDA allows a certain amount of critter pieces per 100 grams in the chocolate making process. That's not even a good analogy because there really isn't any pus in milk, while, sorry to tell you, there might be some spider parts in your Hershey's bar. Nearly every study presented in the film was twisted or bent beyond recognition.

Debunking "What the Health" I

"In the first of several phone call vignettes, the filmmaker, Kip Andersen, calls the American Cancer Society to ask why they don’t warn about the dangers of meat on their home page. He is put on hold, but is eventually granted an interview. The interview is cancelled and the ACA stops responding when they realize he only wants to argue with them about diet and cancer. I’m not surprised. Their recommendations are based on expert evaluation of all the published evidence and they are not likely to change their minds because a single nonscientist with an agenda walks in off the street to argue with them. 

The phone call gimmick is repeated for the American Diabetes Association. He wants to know why they don’t clearly state on their home page that meat causes diabetes, and how dare they include a recipe for baconwrapped shrimp! He eventually is able to interview an ADA spokesman who very reasonably tells him there is insufficient evidence that diet can cure diabetes, and says “We recommend a healthy diet.” He acknowledges that there are studies, but points out that many of them have never been replicated or are wrong; that’s why we do peer review. Andersen keeps bringing up individual studies until the spokesman loses patience and stops the interview, saying he doesn’t want to get into an argument. Andersen interprets this to mean that the ADA is not interested in prevention or cure. 

Then he calls the American Heart Association to ask why they include beef and egg recipes. He gets a similar response. He interprets these failed phone call inquiries as stonewalling and an organized effort to conceal the truth. He discovers that the ACA, ADA, AHA and other mainstream organizations are funded in part by food manufacturers like Dannon, Kraft, Tyson, and fast food restaurant chains like KFC. He says we can’t trust them because they’re taking money from the companies that are causing the very diseases they are trying to prevent. 

As an analogy, I couldn’t help wondering how the American Academy of Pediatrics would respond to a random phone call demanding that their home page warn that vaccines may cause autism and complaining that doctors can’t be trusted because they are paid by the Big Pharma companies that sell vaccines. I wouldn’t blame them for hanging up."  -- Harriet Hall

Debunking "What the Health" II

"What’s more, the WHO did not say that eating meat was as deadly as smoking. Rather, it determined that the strength of the evidence linking processed meats to colorectal cancer is similar to the strength of the evidence linking tobacco and cancer, meaning there’s convincing data here. This certainly doesn't mean that eating processed meat is as bad for you as smoking. It means that according to the agency's assessment, the links between processed meat and certain types of cancer are well-established.

So when the filmmaker asks, “If processed meats are labeled the same as cigarettes, how is it even legal for kids to be eating this way?” he clearly didn’t understand the WHO’s read of the research. (To be fair, a lot of other media outlets got the WHO warning wrong too.)"  -- Julia Belluz

In general, "What the Health" is too filled with errors to be any good. One positive thing about the movie is that it calls attention to some of the unethical and inhumane factory farming practices in the United States and encourages people to eat more fruits and vegetables, something your mother probably told you to do, too. Oh, and Steve-O made an appearance because he's an expert on scientific research pertaining to health and diet, I guess. Lastly, the success stories of people who, after two weeks of eating a plant-based diet, were transformed from crippled and sick individuals on cabinets full of medications to happy shinny medication-free specimens of health were cool. In general, though, this flick is two thumbs down for me.

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