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The Medical Science and Food Addiction Barrier

October 26, 2010

Sweetener ad

Today, the focus is on a piece written by forensic psychologist Karen Franklin, Ph.D. What, you may ask, does forensic psychology have to do with the childhood obesity epidemic? Well, it turns out that the upper levels of all the professions have certain characteristics in common, and this applies to the medical establishment and everybody else in the health care field.

Today’s picture comes from a magazine, and the product is an artificial sweetener. The letters are composed of powdery white grains, scraped together so they appear very much like a drug that people traditionally snort. It’s a substance that the manufacturer wants us to ingest, and it’s dressed up and posed like lines of coke on a mirror. Halloween is right around the corner, but still… With a production like this staring us in the face, how can we doubt for a minute that there is such thing as food addiction? Not every person who eats is a food addict. Not every food or pseudo-food is an addictive substance. But it is certainly worth considering that such a condition as food addiction exists.

Karen Franklin’s essay is called “Science often disbelieved, study finds.” She talks about cognitive dissonance, the widespread human ability to believe two mutually exclusive propositions. It’s a survival mechanism, really. A person couldn’t get through the day without believing at least a few pairs of opposite things that can’t both be true.

Franklin talks about why sometimes it’s hard for expert witnesses to convince a jury that they should believe the “scientific consensus.” Juries tend to stick with what they grew up believing, or have learned in college. An expert gets more credit for being an expert if what he or she says is what we already think.

Franklin says,

Study participants were much more likely to see a scientist with elite credentials as an ‘expert’ on such culturally contested issues as global warming, gun control, and the risks of nuclear waste disposal if the expert’s position matched the participant’s own political leanings.

Franklin quotes professor of law Donald Braman whose own studies brought him to the conclusion that mere education does not make people more willing to accept the accuracy of a “scientific consensus.” Braman says,

To make sure people form unbiased perceptions of what scientists are discovering, it is necessary to use communication strategies that reduce the likelihood that citizens of diverse values will find scientific findings threatening to their cultural commitments.

In other words, addiction is forbidden terminology in some circles, where childhood obesity is not looked at through the “psychological food dependence-addiction lens.” Recently, during preparations for the Obesity Society scientific meeting, between the first and the second drafts of the program’s schedule, the A-word somehow disappeared from the titles of two presentations. The notion that we’re looking at a chiefly psychological problem rather than a chiefly nutritional problem is strongly resisted.

Franklin recommends a book by Scott Lilienfeld and his three co-authors, 50 great Myths of Popular Psychology. It’s always good to be reminded how slippery “reality” can be. Sometimes experts can’t even agree on whether they disagree or not. Even with such a solid “fact” as the speed of light, there have been about eight official speeds of light. When Niels Bohr tried to explain what atoms are all about, his fellow physicists laughed, sneered, scoffed, or thought he was nuts.

Here is another new idea we will need to get used to. The new wave in childhood obesity research started with the Early Bird Study, from which came the revolutionary finding that physical activity doesn’t really help to reduce or prevent childhood obesity, although it is very beneficial to cardio-respiratory fitness. But as Dr. Wilkin, one of the researchers, said, they were “unable to find evidence that physical activity reduces body weight, or even that it is possible to raise the physical activity of children.” It’s one of those concepts where you stop and say, “Huh?” It seems like the idea that exercise doesn’t do any good, is bound to get as much resistance as the idea that foods can be addictive.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Science often disbelieved, study finds,” Forensic Psychologist, 09/19/10
Image of sweetener ad used under Fair Use/Reporting.

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