Can you lessen your risk of getting some types of cancer? Absolutely. But American Cancer Society claiming their guidelines can prevent it is just the first problem with their latest "cancer prevention" document. If Google says an Incognito tab in its browser makes you incognito, but it doesn't, they will get sued for $5 billion. If American Cancer Society, with $1.2 billion in assets and $800,000,000 a year in revenue, produces a "diet and physical activity guideline for cancer prevention" and you get cancer anyway, what is your recourse? Nothing. Their highly-paid attorneys would note it is not really a science claim, the press release was just pillow talk for journalists who don't know any better.
They're right, it is not science. Their guidelines instead read like lifestyle recommendations from a Wellness Coach.
So you don't have a biological mechanism even for obesity and cancer, just a statistical link, but any meat or a soda will cause cancer? Gee, thanks. Did you need two dozen co-authors for this?
Yet while their attorneys would claim in court they never really claimed to be able to prevent cancer, in press releases and documents they say The Science is on their side when it comes to cancer risk. In reality, there is almost no science, it is instead just epidemiology hand-picked by insiders at the American Cancer Society. After decades of being whip-sawed by claims that acai berries and resveratrol will prevent cancer while weedkillers and bacon cause it, the public has zero trust in statistical correlation from the field that told us low-fat diets would prevent cancer while hereditary risk had nothing to do with it.
If we want to know why Americans haven't trusted epidemiology when it comes to coronavirus, the answer is clear. Epidemiologists have done a poor job of calling out statistical skullduggery in their ranks, the stuff produced by IARC, Ramazzinni Institute, and even the U.S. NIEHS, and now people don't trust good papers either.
People are right to be jaded in this case as well. There is science to some things in their latest wellness document, but American Cancer Society had nothing to do with creating those findings. Smoking and alcohol are dangerous, but where is their equivalent evidence on steak? There is none, so American Cancer Society is creating false equivalence - and perhaps even undermines the harms of smoking - by throwing steak and soda in there and suggesting they have the same consensus. Worse, they make an actual consensus muddy. Alcohol is a class 1 carcinogen, deemed such when International Agency for Research on Cancer was a legitimate epidemiology group and not lawyer-driven activism. Yet ACS say two shots of whisky a day is safe while you shouldn't drink soda or eat a hot dog.
It makes no sense. By putting in a cap on alcohol they accept that dose exists but then deny it when it comes to other foods. A limitation of epidemiology, and why their claims are exploratory, is that it can't tell us anything about individual harms or benefits. No one call an individual what their "safe" level is when it comes to salt, sugar, meat or hot tea so doctors ending up putting individuals in population boxes. It's why we had laughable instances where bodybuilders with negligible body fat were told their BMI was dangerous. Population-level metrics are not clinically relevant, yet this is in their in-house journal geared toward clinicians.
All statistics can do is find, or sometimes create, a pattern in a population; they look at what diseases or benefits a group of people got, and draw a line between that and a food or chemical. So why does American Cancer Society claim getting rid of red meat prevents cancer? It isn't because Big Chicken is among their two largest donors (but they are.)
I am not saying that donations impact their results, that is the kind of conspiracy rubbish Naomi Oreskes and the New York University Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute manufacture. 'Follow the money' rationalization is almost always juvenile and false, just like simplistic correlation between a chemical and "changes" in the microbiome are. But it works to raise money. The groups opposed to science get 2000X the revenue of the pro-science nonprofit community, and they use it to give their allies speaking fees, so if anti-science "journalists" really believed in following the money, they'd start in their own tribe.
Red meat is not on the bad list because of science, it is solely on the list because groups like International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) were convinced by an epidemiologist, perhaps one consulting for an anti-meat NGO, to create a monograph on red meat but not chicken. And then American Cancer Society followed because anything linked to cancer can be used to raise money by them.(1)
They need to do better, especially if they are going to wrap themselves in the flag of science. They have a billion dollars in the bank, they can do important things with that money, actual cancer research like finding biological science to bolster epidemiology links, not write documents whose source material often looks like data dredging and HARKing.
Instead of providing evidence-based guidelines, they give us the nutritional equivalent of coming out in favor of clean water. We don't need a billion-dollar organization for that, we just need Timothy Chalamet or some other celebrity to say 'clean water is important.' And we don't need an American Cancer Society to get paid a billion dollars a year to tell us to exercise more and eat in moderation. What we need them for is to be trusted guides and discuss real risk when it comes to cancer; not repeat whatever spurious correlation was in Environmental Health Perspectives last week.
(1) Creating an IARC monograph in 2020 is as easy as gathering a panel of hand-picked believers, excluding anyone who has ever consulted for "industry" (but not environmental NGOs!), let them include their own papers, and being unsurprised when they agree with themselves, the same way a group of UFO believers would peer-review their own papers on UFOs and declare alien civilizations created the pyramids.
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