Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The anti-salt craze is dying

I have been banging on for some years about the idiocy concerning table salt that pervades public health warnings.  Governments are always leaning on food processors to reduce the salt in their products.  That less salty foods are not as safe from bacterial contamination seems to be ignored.

The genesis of the warnings is partly theoretical and only weakly empirical.  The factual part is that high salt intake is correlated with both increased blood pressure and more frequent cardiovascular disease.  But correlation is not causation so the proof is weak.

The first big crack in the dam was a 2011 report in JAMA of a high quality study of the matter.  Its conclusion: "In this population-based cohort, systolic blood pressure, but not diastolic pressure, changes over time aligned with change in sodium excretion, but this association did not translate into a higher risk of hypertension or CVD complications. Lower sodium excretion was associated with higher CVD mortality."

So it was LOW salt levels that killed you!

That study was greeted with a fair amount of outrage and accusations that it was just an unrepeatable "one off" result.

The dominoes are now falling, however.  Just this year another good study exonerating salt has come out.  Abstract below:

Relationship Between Nutrition and Blood Pressure: A Cross-Sectional Analysis from the NutriNet-Santé Study, a French Web-based Cohort Study

Helene Lelong et al


BACKGROUND Hypertension is the most prevalent chronic disease worldwide. Lifestyle behaviors for its prevention and control are recommended within worldwide guidelines. Nevertheless, their combined relationship with blood pressure (BP) level, particularly in the general population, would need more investigations. Our aim in this study was to evaluate the relative impact of lifestyle and nutritional factors on BP level.

METHODS Cross-sectional analyses were performed using data from 8,670 volunteers from the NutriNet-Santé Study, an ongoing French web-based cohort study. Dietary intakes were assessed using three 24-hour records. Information on lifestyle factors was collected using questionnaires and 3 BP measurements following a standardized protocol. Age-adjusted associations and then multivariate associations between systolic BP (SBP) and lifestyle behaviors were estimated using multiple linear regressions.

RESULTS SBP was higher in participants with elevated body mass indices (BMIs). Salt intake was positively associated with SBP in men but not in women. The negative relationship between consumption of fruits and vegetables and SBP was significant in both sexes. Alcohol intake was positively associated with SBP in both sexes; physical activity was not. The 5 parameters representing the well-accepted modifiable factors for hypertension reduction plus age and education level, accounted for 19.7% of the SBP variance in women and 12.8% in men. Considering their squared partial correlation coefficient, age and BMI were the most important parameters relating to SBP level. Salt intake was not associated with SBP in either sex after multiple adjustments.

CONCLUSIONS BMI was the main contributory modifiable factor of BP level after multiple adjustments.

Am J Hypertens (2014)

So it was being overweight that killed you, not salt.

So how come people have been getting it wrong?  A theoretical article recently tidies up the loose ends.  There is no abstract associated with it so I reprint the first part of it -- showing that  it was a case of the causal arrow pointing the wrong way:

An Unsavory Truth: Sugar, More than Salt, Predisposes to Hypertension and Chronic Disease

James J. DiNicolantonio et al.

He et al state that the association between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and blood pressure may be mediated, at least in part, by salt intake. We take the issue with several points made by the authors and make a case for quite different conclusions. The authors state that "salt is a major drive to thirst": "an increase in salt intake will increase the amount of fluid consumed, and if part of this fluid is in the form of soft drinks, sugar will be increased proportionately." In other words, salt consumption drives fluid intake, and sugar may just, coincidentally, come along for the ride. We would argue something more akin to the opposite. Sugar consumption leads to insulin spikes, low blood sugar, and hunger. Sugar is a major drive to hunger: an increase in sugar will increase the amount of food consumed, and if part of this food is in the form of processed foods, sodium will be increased proportionately. In other words, sugar consumption drives food intake, and sodium may just. coincidentally, come along for the ride. Processed foods are the principal source of dietary sodium. They also happen to be predominant sources of added sugars.

American Journal of Cardiology, Vol. 114, Issue 7, p1126–1128

For other findings that alerted me to the salt nonsense, see the sidebar of my  FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC blog


The Great Wall of Credit: Lessons From Chinese Housing

Despite centuries of study, most mainstream economists are still baffled by the phenomenon of market bubbles and periodic corrections. Most, following in the footsteps of John Maynard Keynes, seem content to throw up their hands and ascribe these fluctuations to unpredictable "animal spirits," the irrational behavior of consumers that leads to insufficient demand. Others make the even greater mistake of blaming recessions on too much freedom, too much deregulation of markets, insisting that all we need is more government spending to bring stability to the markets, despite all the historical evidence to the contrary.

None of these talking heads seems to realize that there exists an economic theory that perfectly explains these market phenomena, an explanation that has been around for well over a century yet which, despite its predictive and explanatory success, and despite the fact that F. A. Hayek was awarded a Nobel Prize for its development, remains neglected by all but a few "fringe" academics.

This is the Austrian theory of business cycles, which, in brief, holds that the expansion of credit by government sends false market signals to investors. The overestimation of consumer demand then results in investments that don't pay off, and economic pain as the market corrects itself.

No better example of this misguided policy can be found than that of China's housing market. The residential real estate market in China is the most critical sector of the world economy. The extraordinary growth of economy, driven chiefly by exports to the West, resulted in China becoming the world's workshop. Starting in the late 1970s, as the country moved from an agrarian economy into an industrial, and eventually a service-based, one, the population was drawn out of the countryside and into urban centers in the largest mass-migration the world has ever seen.

Not surprisingly, the chief demand of Chinese workers upon arriving in cities was for decent, affordable housing. The increased wage growth driven by China's booming economy, combined with the surge in demand, caused home prices to skyrocket. In the aftermath of 1976's Great Leap Forward, the existing housing stock was in deplorable condition, and massive construction projects were implemented in an effort to keep up with demand, which further contributed to higher prices. As affordability became an issue, the Chinese government saw no need to pay attention to the fundamentals of supply and demand. "If you build it," they reasoned, "they will come." They had no reason to think otherwise, as continuing migration painted a picture of an inexhaustible demand.

Of course, demand is never inexhaustible. As migration began to slow, housing developments began to lie vacant. Entire "ghost cities" now litter the Chinese countryside, where homes were built without regard to whether consumers wanted or could afford them.

Rather than allowing prices to fall, the proper reaction to an excess of supply, the government kept subsidizing developers, propping up friends of the Party and expanding credit to encourage further home buying by the newly developing middle class. The incentives were overwhelmingly for overinvestment in a market that has no fundamental ability to sustain itself.

The easy credit policies adopted by China have left investors with few options. Inflation is too high to hold on to currency, and the government's willingness to continue to inflate the housing bubble and bail out failing enterprises makes housing the most sensible choice for most investors, even if it means long-term economic pain when the bubble finally bursts.

There is precedent for what is going on in China. When Japan tried to stubbornly keep reinflating its housing bubble in the early 1990s, the economy stalled for more than a decade. Here in America, we have seen firsthand what happens when the government practices interventionism in the real estate business. Still reeling from the pain of the housing crisis in 2007, one would hope that the rest of the world could learn a lesson from our failed policies. As things stand now, it doesn't look good.

The Chinese government is now faced with a choice: It can liberalize markets and let the market readjust to the proper equilibrium, or it can continue to kick the can down the road. Both options will come with economic pain, but the latter's will be far more severe and persistent in the long run. As Murray Rothbard, one of the chief exponents of Austrian business cycle theory, wrote, "As soon as credit expansion stops, then the piper must be paid, and the inevitable readjustments liquidate the unsound over-investment of the boom."

The question for China, then, is not if the crisis will come, but when. And with the size and influence of China's economy, the answer will have implications for every nation in the world.



A Society Sickened by Welfare

America can no longer afford the current level of government largesse

Congress has returned to Washington, but not for long. The looming midterm elections mean that lawmakers are here only for what USA Today calls “a three-week sprint” before they’re back out to campaign. That, in an age of growing dependency on government, means voters can expect to hear more pandering.

‘Tis the season for promises of government largesse. The critical variable is how much the politicians will offer — or rather, how much taxpayers will ultimately be on the hook for.

The problem, to put the matter very plainly, is that there’s no such thing as something for nothing. All money, goods and services — every last dollar of it — must be created through someone’s hard work.

Remember, government has no money on its own. It produces nothing, so it earns nothing. Government has only the money it takes from taxpayers or borrows against the payments of future taxpayers.

Everything government “gives” to one person or organization must be taken from another person or organization. Every dollar that government redistributes to someone, it must first take from someone else, and then deduct carrying costs before passing it on.

We can see some of the results of this in the 2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity, published recently by the Heritage Foundation. The index reports how food-stamp participation has soared over the past decade. From 2003 to 2013, it grew by more than 26 million people.

To show how much of a jump this is, consider that in 1970 the number of individuals receiving food stamps was well below 10 million. By 2003, it was just above 20 million. By 2013, it was fast approaching 50 million.

Meanwhile, the index also charts how total welfare spending has climbed, rising by $246 billion between 2003 and 2013. Today the federal government operates more than 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing and medical care to poor and low-income Americans.

According to Heritage poverty expert Robert Rector, government spent $916 billion on these programs in 2012, and roughly 100 million Americans received aid from at least one of them, at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient.

That’s a lot of dependency. And it can’t be consequence-free.

“If we keep on this way, we’ll reach a tipping point where there are too many people receiving government benefits and not enough people to pay for those benefits,” writes Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, in The Wall Street Journal. “That’s an untenable problem. The receivers cannot receive more than the givers can give.”

Besides, charity through government redistribution is not real charity. Thomas Jefferson once said, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.” That is what we see taking place through the government’s embrace of moral hazard.

It’s clear that the politics of government largesse and good policy (holding individuals and institutions responsible for their actions) don’t always coincide. The question is, how far down the dependency road will we go before we discover that we can’t turn back?


There is a  new  lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for when blogspot is "down" or failing to  update.  Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


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