Friday, February 25, 2005

Following the Money

The cynical, unethical, and scientifically worthless dietary study I discussed below, in which a group of malnourished African children were given two spoonfuls of meat to "prove" that vegan diets are tantamount to child abuse, turns out to have been sponsored by such utterly disinterested groups as the National Cattleman's Beef Association, Heifer International, Land O' Lakes, and the Global Livestock Collaborative Research Support Program.

And now that I've read the actual study, I can alert you to these charming details:

The prevalence of malaria, infection, splenomegaly and intestinal parasites was high. C-reactive protein was elevated (>10 mg/L) in 17.8% of all study children. Malaria was found in 31.8% of all children using the faliciparum malaria antigen dip stick (27), and 45% of children had enlargement of the spleen, indicative of endemic malaria. As for intestinal parasites, Entamoeba histolytica (amebiasis) was found in the stools of 21.4%, giardia in 12.5% and hookworm and ascaris in 2 and 3%, respectively. Serum iron values are not interpretable in the presence of malaria (42), but nonetheless low values were seen in 52.4% of all children. Zinc deficiency was present in 66% of children and riboflavin deficiency in ~25%. Both copper and folate concentrations were normal except for 1% having mild folate deficiency. Ferritin concentrations, usually a reflection of iron stores, were seldom low and more often were elevated, probably due to the presence of acute infection and malaria.
I really admire the use of "nonetheless" above; that's a rhetorical luxury I intend to indulge in far more often.

All the diseases from which these children were suffering are preventable, which is another reason why this study teaches us more about the moral economy of first-world science - and its strange bedfellows - than it does about good dietary choices.


Cervantes said...

As I'm sure you know, the recent report of the UN Millenium Development Project estimates that 29,000 children 5 and under die every day from readily preventable causes -- malaria, measles, contaminated drinking water being high on the list but of course malnutrition -- protein/calorie deficiency -- make them weak and more susceptible. HIV is important in many places as well. They aren't suffering from vegan diets.

This study is comparable to the Tuskeegee "experiment." We already know the components of a nutritionally adequate diet. There is absolutely nothing to be learned by this study. Its purpose, obviously, is to generate advertising copy. And it's a crock. I haven't eaten meat for 30 years, and I'm pretty sure I'm not dead.

Phila said...

The Tuskeegee study did indeed go through my did that evocative book "Acres of Skin."

And you're quite right: disease-ridden starvation and the "vegan diet" are not quite comparable as "lifestyle choices."

You do indeed seem vibrantly alive to me, Cervantes, but maybe my own protein deficiences are causing me to hallucinate...