Hormone Hysteria or Hype?

By Steven Milloy
August 2, 2002, FoxNews.com

Women have been scared during the last several weeks with new studies about alleged health risks from hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This scare contrasts starkly with the preceding decades of HRT being touted as the fountain of youth.

What should women and their physicians believe? Past hype? Recent hysteria?

Neither.

HRT, originally estrogen alone and later estrogen in combination with progestin, was approved in 1942 by the Food and Drug Administration to relieve the short-term symptoms of menopause such as night sweats and hot flashes.

Two decades later, though, HRT began being touted as a wonder drug for many long-term health concerns of women, not just menopausal symptoms. HRT mania was kicked off by Dr. Robert Wilson’s 1966 book Feminine Forever. Unknown at the time, the book was financed by Wyeth-Ayerst, the leading manufacturer of HRT.

Studies appeared in the scientific literature touting HRT as reducing bone loss, the risk of heart disease and the risk of some cancers.

But anyone who paid attention to the data rather than the hype would have known that these studies didn’t at all demonstrate HRT to be a panacea.

The studies invariably reported weak statistical correlations between HRT use and long-term health benefits — and that’s with the study populations biased in favor of the reported results.

The study populations taking HRT tended to be comprised of thinner, wealthier and better-educated women under physician care. It is not surprising that these women were healthier than the women in the “control” groups.

Myths about the long-term benefits of HRT nevertheless took hold. Premarin, the most popular HRT made by Wyeth-Ayerst, was recently used by about 12 million women in the U.S. at a cost of about $180 per year.

Or it used to be so widely used.

Early July saw a rash of epidemiologic (human population) studies allegedly linking HRT with a variety of health risks. “NIH says type of hormone therapy hurts instead of helping women’s hearts and causes breast cancer,” headlined The Associated Press.

The New York Times quoted a female physician stating, “I may have taken my last pill this morning.”

But the most notable of the recent studies reported that, among 8,506 estrogen-plus-progestin HRT users, there was only a 29 percent increase in heart disease occurrence. The result was barely statistically significant, meaning there’s a worrisome possibility it was a fluke.

The study reported only a 26 percent increase in breast cancer occurrence. That result wasn’t statistically significant.

The study’s reported results for other health concerns were of similar magnitude and statistical significance — that is to say, weak.

But you don’t have to accept my characterization of such results.

As the National Cancer Institute points out: “In epidemiologic research, [risks of less than 100 percent] are considered small and usually difficult to interpret. Such increases may be due to chance, statistical bias or effects of confounding factors that are sometimes not evident.”

In other words, these results should be treated as preliminary — particularly until they are replicated many times by independent researchers. That’s just Scientific Method 101.

Moreover, these women were only studied for five years and previous studies report contradictory results. It seems the panic is premature.

David Sturdee, former chairman of the British Menopause Society, once said: “A lot of nonsense is talked by those who say HRT is the best thing since sliced bread. Equally, I am incensed by the idea that all HRT is unsafe. Some women feel undue pressure either to take HRT or not to.”

What kind of pressure? Wyeth-Ayerst pressed women to take HRT. Now others are trying to scare women about HRT.

Pharmaceutical manufacturer Eli Lilly promoted HRT fears in the fall of 1997 as it awaited approval of it rival drug, raloxifene (Evista).

Lilly placed full-page advertisements in women’s magazines that ominously read, “Many women have serious worries about a possible link between estrogen replacements and cancer.” The implication was that Evista didn’t increase cancer risk.

Lilly even touted preliminary studies reporting a slight decrease in cancer risk among Evista users.

This marketing-by-scaremongering was eventually brought to a halt by a federal judge who issued an injunction against Lilly touting research that did not prove Evista prevented breast cancer.

No one disputes the short-term benefits of HRT for menopausal symptoms. Moreover, there is no substitute for it. But HRT’s supposed long-term benefits and risks so far seem to have more to do with unscrupulous marketing than science.

The Feds: Terrorizing With Fat

By Steven Milloy
December 14, 2001, FoxNews.com

The federal health nannies worry we’re too fat. So the surgeon general this week issued a “call to action” against overweight and obesity. “Thin is in” no longer is the slogan of a hip lifestyle — it’s government policy. Continue reading The Feds: Terrorizing With Fat

It Might Not Have Been a Clone

By Steven Milloy
November 30, 2001, FoxNews.com

News of a cloned human embryo re-ignited a smoldering debate. That wasn’t the researchers’ intention. They wanted to focus on the prospects of medical therapies involving stem cells derived from cloned human embryos. Continue reading It Might Not Have Been a Clone

The CDC's Public Health Turkeys

by Steven Milloy
November 21, 2001, FoxNews.com

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention performed admirably in managing the recent anthrax attacks. But that performance is a lone highlight for an agency in desperate need of something useful to do.

The CDC’s public health crisis of the moment is traveling by car during the Thanksgiving holiday. The CDC issued an advisory reminding motorists to wear seat belts, restrain children appropriately and to not drink and drive.

While this is sensible advice, the CDC offers it because “in 2000 during the Thanksgiving holiday, motor-vehicle crashes killed approximately 500 persons and resulted in more than 43,000 hospital emergency department visits.” CDC portrays Thanksgiving as a particularly risky time for motorists.

In fact, though, the Thanksgiving holiday is no more dangerous to motorists than any other five-day period.

About 40,000 persons are killed and 3.2 million are injured in automobile accidents every year. This averages out to about 110 killed and about 8,800 injured every day. So for any five-day period, we might expect 550 deaths and 44,000 injuries resulting from automobile accidents. There doesn’t seem to be extra motorist carnage during the Thanksgiving holiday.

The CDC pulls a similar stunt every Halloween, alarming parents about increased child pedestrian deaths. During 1975 to 1996, from 4 p.m. through 10 p.m. on October 31, a total of 89 deaths occurred among pedestrians aged 5 to 14 years, compared with 8,846 on all other evenings.

This works out to about 4 deaths each Halloween, compared to 1 death on all other evenings. It apparently never occurred to the CDC that there is a many-fold increase in child pedestrians on Halloween night.

If the CDC more appropriately compared death rates, instead of just numbers of deaths, it most likely would have found the child pedestrian death rate actually decreases on Halloween. But what kind of scare would that make?

Holidays aren’t our only public health “problem,” according to CDC researchers. Suburban living is another.

Early November saw the release of “Creating a Healthy Environment: The Impact of the Built Environment on Public Health” — a report authored by two senior CDC researchers.

The reasons why suburban living is a public health problem, according to the report, include:

  • Increased commuting means more air pollution and respiratory disease (Never mind that the air is cleaner today than 30 years ago, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, even though there are many more vehicles on the road.)
  • Because suburbanites drive more, they engage in less physical activity, which makes them obese and unhealthier. (This point was not supported by any data comparing urbanites and suburbanites. Also, whether you walk or drive to the neighborhood convenience store isn’t a reliable indicator of physical activity, body weight and overall health.)
  • Residential development next to farmland creates a “zone of conflict” from the “spillover effects of agriculture, such as excess noise, blowing dust and pesticide overspray.” (The citation for this claim is a “report” by the anti-growth activists at the American Farmland Trust.)

The CDC’s sprawl alert is only the latest of the agency’s efforts to medicalize behavior into a public health problem. Past efforts have targeted such familiar politically incorrect activities as firearms ownership, smoking and alcohol consumption.

The CDC also has extended its alarmism to pets (4.7 million dog bites per year), youth sports (“injuries are common and can be severe”), swimming pools (“try your best to avoid even having water in your mouth”) and dating (“courtship violence ranges up to 65%”).

Virtually every human activity may have personal health and injury consequences. That, however, should not make every human activity a public health problem subject to CDC nanny-ing.

The CDC was originally called the “Communicable Disease Center” when formed in 1946. Its mission was to control infectious disease. In 1970 when that mission was largely accomplished, the CDC’s name was changed to the “Centers for Disease Control” to reflect a broader mission in preventative health — i.e., bureaucratic sprawl.

The only successful effort beating back the CDC’s interference in every aspect of our lives was achieved in 1996 when Congress banned the CDC from engaging in gun control advocacy.

In the wake of the recent anthrax attacks, the Bush Administration wants to increase CDC’s funding. The CDC, however, could probably accomplish its new bio-terrorism mission within current budget limits if its activities were restricted to actual public health problems.

Steven Milloy is the publisher of JunkScience.com , an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of Junk Science Judo: Self-defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001).

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's … Soda?

By Steve Milloy
November 16, 2001, FoxNews.com

The much-anticipated movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone opens nationwide this weekend. So does another extreme and, frankly, silly crusade against soft drinks by the “food police” at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Exploiting the release of the new Harry Potter movie, CSPI is escalating its anti-soft drink offensive by attacking Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the movie and promotion of the “Reading Is Fundamental” program for children.

At a time when parents and children could use a good distraction, CSPI’s unfortunate message seems to be “have a Coke and a frown.”

CSPI protested at the Washington, D.C., premier of the new movie, and launched a Web site goading visitors to send complaint letters to Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.

CSPI wants Rowling to cease the Coca-Cola sponsorship deal or donate the royalties from the deal to fund “nutrition campaigns” — code words for nutty causes like CSPI’s.

The anti-Coca-Cola CSPI apparently would be more than happy to accept Coke’s money. No hypocrisy there.

The basis for the campaign is CSPI’s characterization of soft drinks as “liquid candy” that contain “a mildly addictive stimulant drug” — i.e., caffeine. CSPI alleges that “sugar promotes obesity, a worldwide problem” and that soft drinks displace “more healthful” drinks in the diet.

“The bottom line,” says CSPI, is that “liquid candy is bad for health.” The more accurate bottom line, though, is that CSPI is cavalierly ignoring scientific data and common sense in favor of its self-beneficial activism.

Until earlier this year, only two studies with conflicting results explored the potential relationship between soft drink consumption and childhood obesity. That’s now changed.

In April 2001, researchers from the Georgetown University-affiliated Georgetown Center for Food and Nutrition Policy presented four new studies at the Experimental Biology 2001 annual meeting.

The studies were based on analyses of data from two national surveys: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Continuing Survey of Food Intake.

The researchers reported:

  • No relationship between consumption of carbonated soft drinks and obesity among 12- to 16-year-olds;
  • Soft drinks did not reduce calcium consumption among 2- to 20-year-olds;
  • Teens who consumed more soft drinks were as physically active as those who consumed fewer soft drinks; and
  • Soft drink consumption did not harm diet quality among children and teens as measured by the USDA’s Healthy Eating Index.

The researchers added, “We need to stress the vital role of physical activity for all students, not just the best athletes chosen for varsity sports teams.”
Other recent research also takes the fizz out of CSPI’s attack.

Michigan State University researchers reported in May 2000 at the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrition Summit that soft drinks have not replaced milk in the diets of children aged 1-19. Over the last 10 years, according to the report:

  • Among children ages 1-5, milk consumption significantly increased and soft drink consumption significantly decreased;
  • Among children ages 6-9, milk and soft drink consumption remained steady; and
  • Among children ages 10-19, milk consumption remained steady while soft drink consumption increased.

While these data are undoubtedly not the last word on the subject of kids and soft drinks, they certainly seem to fly in the face of CSPI’s claims. Worse, CSPI brazenly ignores these data in hopes that the public will rely on a naïve and misplaced intuition that soft drinks are bad simply because they contain sugar and caffeine.

No one advocates that kids drink only, or too many, soft drinks. They have no nutritional value. But based on recent scientific data and generations of soft drink consumption, there is no question that soft drinks can be a safe treat in an otherwise balanced diet.

Through an $18 million grant associated with its sponsorship of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Coca-Cola will place 10,000 sets of 120 to 150 new, high-quality hardcover children’s books in kindergarten through third grade classrooms and community centers throughout the country.

Maybe CSPI senses such generosity is a threat to its viability. The better kids learn to read, the less likely they will be to fall for junk science foolishness.

The public is already starting to wise up to CSPI’s gimmick-laden attacks. Reportedly, only about 10 people showed for the protest of the Harry Potter premiere in Washington, D.C.
Flat soda might have more zip than CSPI’s tired activism.

Steven Milloy is the publisher of JunkScience.com , an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of Junk Science Judo: Self-defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001).

Flu Shot Frenzy Not Anthrax Answer

by Steve Milloy
November 2, 2001, FoxNews.com

I suggested in last week’s column that public health officials be excused for “honest” mistakes inadvertently leading to two postal worker deaths from inhalation anthrax. But their bad advice about the flu shot as an aid to the diagnosis of anthrax is another matter. Continue reading Flu Shot Frenzy Not Anthrax Answer

Misinformation Is Real Anthrax Danger

by Steven Milloy
October 19, 2001, FoxNews.com

Alarmists in the federal government and media were wrong about the “potency” of the anthrax found in Sen. Tom Daschle’s office. This error hasn’t dissuaded those who are exploiting the alleged “potency” to blame the recent anthrax letters on state-sponsored terrorism. Continue reading Misinformation Is Real Anthrax Danger