An anonymous reader writes: Anyone who thinks it's enough to rest an argument on "settled science" or a "scientific consensus" ought to read about John Yudkin.
Yudkin was a British professor of nutrition who, in 1972, sounded the alarm about sugar in diets, saying that if sugar were treated like any other food additive "that material would be promptly banned." He said sugar, not fat, was the more likely cause of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
For his efforts, Yudkin was branded a shill for the meat and dairy industries. His work was dismissed as "emotional assertions," "science fiction" and "a mountain of nonsense." Journals refused to publish his papers. He was uninvited from nutrition conferences and was ridiculed by the scientific community.
"Prominent nutritionists combined with the food industry to destroy his reputation, and his career never recovered," writes Ian Leslie in a lengthy piece titled "The Sugar Conspiracy" that was published recently in The Guardian.
Nutritionists, Leslie explains, had decided that dietary fat was the enemy of good health, based in large part on a huge Seven Countries Study, published in 1970, which looked at 12,770 middle-aged men in countries ranging from the U.S. to Yugoslavia.
"The Seven Countries study had become canonical, and the fat hypothesis was enshrined in official advice," Leslie writes. By 1980, the U.S. government issued its first Dietary Guidelines telling the country to cut back on saturated fats and cholesterol, and Americans dutifully complied.
That's precisely when the nation's obesity rate started to skyrocket. While the obesity rate barely changed from 1960 to 1980 — going from 13% to 15% — over the following two decades – 1980-2000 – the rate jumped to 35%.
"At best, we can conclude that the official guidelines did not achieve their objective; at worse, they led to a decades-long health catastrophe," Leslie writes.