A “groundbreaking” report yesterday from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR, known globally as the World Cancer Research Fund) revealed that diets including bacon, cheese, wine, ice cream, hot dogs, beer, and other food favorites increase the risk of cancer. (Bottom line: Anything that tastes good must be bad.) The researchers also noted, but downplayed, the fact that traditional “health” foods like fruits and veggies don’t necessarily prevent cancer as previously believed. This damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t announcement left people worldwide scratching their heads and asking, as The Daily Mail put it in London, “So what is safe to eat?
No one really knows. There’s no real scientific consensus on diet and cancer. At this morning’s AICR Launch Conference, “Animal foods” presenter Dr. Arthur Schatzkin qualified the whole deadly hypothesis by insisting that “meat is a valuable source of nutrients,” and that “milk probably decreases the risk for colorectal cancer.” A half-hour later, “Meat Intake And Cancer Risk” presenter Dr. Rashmi Sinha opened her remarks by noting: “I do eat meat, and I occasionally like prosciutto as well.” Top British cancer specialist Dr. Karol Sikora said today that “red meat and bacon in moderation will do us no harm and to suggest they will is wrong. I don’t intend to give up my Sunday roast and glass of wine.” He also cautioned that “cancer can’t be reduced to a simple formula.”
But some dissenting government “experts” insist on trying to oversimplify it. Alan Johnson, Britain’s Secretary of State for Health, announced a national “formula” to combat the obesity/cancer/global warming problem mere hours after the cancer report was released. Parliament’s chosen panacea appears to be a series of  ten  “fit towns,” designed to “tackle the two great challenges of climate change and childhood obesity in one fell swoop.”
Each of the proposed towns — engineered to house 20,000 people — would host weigh-ins to track local children’s growth and add “Fast Food Avoidance 101” to the school curriculum. (Perhaps these obesity ghettos would take advice from last month’s Foresight report that called for overweight kids to be shipped off to government-sponsored fat camps.) The Health Secretary justified the nanny strategy, claiming that “we need a large scale approach across the whole community to help tackle obesity.”
His over-the-top rhetoric sounds eerily similar to campaigns by menu-labeling advocates in the United States who silimarly spout questionable absolutes: “Salt is a silent killer,” “trans fat is rat poison,” “ham is the new tobacco” (after all, everyone’s smoking it). They are typicallly not as quick to offer concrete proof. Why? Because menu warning labels and other food cop regulations aren’t bolstered by actual empirical evidence, but by speculation and focus groups.
If focus groups are so desperate to be nannied, send them Mary Poppins. And leave the rest of us alone.