Tuesday, April 08, 2008

DOH's Research Firm: Dewey, Cheatum and Howe

As the NY Sun is reporting, the city's attempt to overcome a legal challenge to its calorie posting rule may be running afoul of the total lack of scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of the rule in reducing obesity. The problem lies with the fact that the health department is trying to use its own study, one that we excoriated ourselves last year, to establish that calorie posting will help people make better eating choices.

Here's what we said about the DOH survey last spring: "First of all, the department didn't do any research-certainly none that would survive peer review. It did some self-serving questionnaires that failed to demonstrate much last summer, and the commissioners prescience about how the industry will respond to his cockamamie rules beggars credulity. If left to their own devices the team of Frieden and Bloomberg would be dictating everything that New Yorkers put into their mouths."

Now it turns out that we weren't alone in our skepticism. As the Sun tells us: "City health officials ran into difficulties at the end of last year when they tried to get the report published. The editor at the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, published by the CDC, wrote in an e-mail message to Dr. Frieden that the “conclusions being drawn by the study, are of course, problematic.”

Now why was that? Well. because, "One problem identified by the editor, Frederic Shaw, was the focus on Subway, which uses an ad campaign about weight loss and may attract a more calorie-conscious clientele, according to an e-mail sent by Dr. Shaw to Dr. Frieden. More broadly, Dr. Shaw suggested that there was “a lurking probability that people who look at caloric information are much different from everybody else.” In other words, many people may not change their eating habits despite being confronted with data."

As we pointed out last year, "The answer is in a survey that, as far as we know, no one has seen and almost certainly was not scientifically designed and peer-reviewed. According to this survey, the customers at Subways are being informed about calorie counts and because they are, better nutritional choices are being made." Subway? The typical fast food joint? Once again, the department is trying to mark its own test.

Not only was all of this scientifically shabby-shouldn't we go back and review the telephony survey that DOH did for its green cart initiative?-but the lead department author of the study tried to rig the review process: "The lawyer, Kent Yalowitz of the firm Arnold & Porter, also suggested that Dr. Bassett, the deputy commissioner, should have disclosed “her personal involvement in recruiting peer reviewers to review the study of which she was the lead author.”
Mr. Yalowitz never explicitly accuses Dr. Bassett of a conflict of interest, but does suggest that the city was in a rush to get the study published so that it could cite it in the current litigation."

The whole thing is a charade-one that the NY Times bought hook, line and sinker: "The big chains fighting the city might take a cue from Subway. The sandwich maker is using calorie counts as a marketing tool and a way to build on its reputation as a more healthful fast-food alternative. It has voluntarily posted calories where customers can easily see them, usually on the menu board." So, the Times' answer is for all fast food outlets become health food restaurants.

All of this will hopefully lead to the court's rejection of this stupidity-and the scientific sleight-of-hand by folks who don't mind fudging things in the name of self-righteousness. All eyes are on Judge Holwell.