A study co-authored by Robert “No Soda Without I.D.” Lustig attracted some attention last week, as it boldly claimed to directly link Type II diabetes incidence with sugar consumption using population-wide data. Several things call this “link” into question. Most scientists believe that the strongest lifestyle-related risk factor for Type II diabetes risk is obesity generally, not particular dietary elements. Further, an American Diabetes Association spokesperson and dietary scold Marion Nestle both noted shortcomings based on the study design that (should have) limited the conclusions drawn from the study, with Nestle advising that the data sources Lustig’s team used are “notoriously unreliable.”
Needless to say, The New York Times’ resident food snob and wannabe epidemiologist Mark Bittman chose agenda-driven hyperbole rather than serious science. He latched onto the claim, declaring, “This is as good (or bad) as it gets, the closest thing to causation and a smoking gun that we will see. […] We finally have the proof we need for a verdict: sugar is toxic.” We’re not surprised Bittman was impressed, since his idea of epidemiology seems to be “Sh*t My Website Commenters Say,” at least as long as it agrees with his (anti-)food agenda.
However, Bittman’s excessive enthusiasm brought the opprobrium of one of Kelly Brownell’s Yale colleagues, David Katz (with whom we have sparred in the past). Katz noted, “The study falls far below the prevailing standard of causal proof.” And Katz was utterly unsparing in taking Bittman to task for going beyond the borders of his expertise:
[Bittman] lacks any relevant expertise in epidemiology, endocrinology, or the interpretation of biomedical research studies. That he chose to interpret for us a study he did not understand was a transgression on his part, and that of the New York Times for ceding its prime real estate to someone in this instance impersonating an expert.
Perhaps Bittman should stick to cheeseburger recipes. But given the obesity situation that he opines about, that might be counterproductive.