Sunday, February 22, 2009

SHS & fast food joints; health hazards?

Is scientific research losing all credibility? Are we really supposed to take seriously the proliferation of “scientific studies” that seem to crop up on a regular basis? Is the press to blame for a growing skepticism of “the science” behind the seemingly endless array of public health hazards?

A few weeks back, the buzz was about a “study” ostensibly showing that something dubbed third hand smoke was dangerous to kids. The authors of the study were trying to convince people that tobacco smoke residue settling on the floor and furniture was a serious health hazard. Some toddlers apparently lick the floors, eat the furniture and thus consume copious quantities of arsenic and cyanide.

Within days of publication of the study, one “Ask The Doctor” type on the internet was advising parents to have Granny and Grandpa shower and change their clothes after smoking, before allowing them to give their grandchildren a hug.

Newspapers across the country reported on the alleged hazards of the newly invented third hand smoke as if it were the biggest threat to mankind since the bubonic plague. It was one of the most egregious examples of irresponsible, fear-mongering journalism to come down the pike in many years.

Yet, incredibly, there isn’t a single shred of evidence showing that so-called “third hand smoke” is a significant health hazard to children of any age.

The third hand smoke scare generated by biased researchers and a complacent press didn’t last long. Mention the term “third hand smoke” today, less than a month after the public proclamation of its deadly affects, and all but the most zealous anti-smokers will break into a grin. Even the more ardent anti-smoker crusaders eschew the term, referring to it instead as “room aged smoke”.

But, if the third hand smoke study strained credibility, what are we to make of the newest “scientific study” which ABC greeted with the headline: “ Living near fast food ups stroke risk .” Uh-huh. A new study reports that people just living in neighbourhoods where fast food restaurants are plentiful may have a higher risk of stroke than those living in neighbourhoods with fewer fast food joints.

Apparently, the relative risk is 13% greater in areas with 33 fast food restaurants or more. And for each additional fast food joint in the neighborhood, the chance of stroke is increased by 1 percent. The research study was presented at the International Stroke Conference in San Diego.

But, what exactly does the study prove? Does it show that eating too many burgers increases the risk of stroke?

Well, no. Dr. Lewis Morgenstern, lead author of the study, explains: "I can't tell you that anybody who had a stroke in this study has ever had a burger in their lives. But I can tell you that these neighborhoods on the whole have factors that increase the risk of stroke."

Well, then, does the study show that living near a fast food restaurant is the cause of strokes?

Well, no. Not, exactly. The headline, “Living Near Fast Food Ups Stroke Risk”, turns out to be somewhat, er . . . misleading. (As Gomer Pyle might have said: “Surprise. Surprise. Surprise.”)

The “scientific study” is actually pure speculation by a group of researchers with too much time (and money) on their hands. Their logic runs like this.

E-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y knows that eating fast foods can lead to obesity. A profusion of fast food joints in any given neighbourhood might encourage people to make poor dietary choices and eat more fast foods with high-fat, high-salt content which may contribute to obesity. Obesity, in turn, may increase the risk of stroke.

Therefore, living close to a fast food restaurant may increase the risk of stroke. Quad erat demonstratum.

And, if you buy into this bullshit and bafflegab, please get in touch with me before you spend another dime. I still have several oceanfront properties available in the Alberta badlands.

Frankly, I think funding for scientific research could be better spent on solving the more important mysteries of the universe. So, here are some ideas for “scientific studies” by researchers with too much time and money on their hands.

How many square feet of third hand smoke contaminated floor would a toddler have to lick to ingest as much arsenic as can be found in a glass of plain, ordinary tap water?

Is there an association between hugs from a smoking Grandma or Grandpa and childhood deaths from hydrogen cyanide poisoning? Is there a definitive dose/response relationship? Will keeping grandkids at a distance and blowing kisses mitigate any hazards?

Is the relative risk of stroke greater for those living near McDonald’s, Wendy’s or Burger King?

Is Gomer Pyle a real person or is he, like the lung cancer/heart disease risk from secondhand smoke, a figment of someone’s over-active imagination.

Additional reading: Living near fast food joints can kill

1 comment:

Mrs. Pelican said...

If you want a wealth of facts and figures debunking common smoking myths, grab a copy of Michael McFadden's "Dissecting Antismoker's Brains". I've found it to be an extremely useful source of ammunition against the junk science claims thrown at me by antismokers.