Commentary: The shock doc

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Dr. Michael Mosley has been described as a “medical guinea pig.” The star of numerous BBC documentaries has taken his mission to explain how science works by dosing himself with various combinations of mood-altering drugs and wiring himself up to various pieces of hospital machinery so he can deliver a “live” report to viewers exactly how it feels.

It’s reality TV at its finest, if that superlative can be applied to the genre.

As one British TV reviewer suggested, “It can’t be long before he does the world’s first live kidney donation on TV.”

Mosley is also a self-proclaimed expert on nutrition and dietary trends, and it’s in that realm that his most recent stunt is of interest. On British television’s BBC2 channel, Mosley has filmed an episode on the highly rated Horizon series titled, “Should I Eat Meat?—The Big Health Dilemma.” The show purports to answer that question in a predictable way: Mosley decided to double down on his meat intake, upping it to 130 grams a day—and then see what effect it would have on his health and well-being.

For 30 days in a row.

Right out of the gate, though, another question arises: If the amount of meat the intrepid doctor is going to consume is only 130 grams a day, is there really any serious risk involved? C’mon. The 130 grams a day target represents only 4½ ounces! That’s not exactly a Lumberjack Breakfast-style portion of bacon or sausage, and as a burger, it’s one lousy patty—prior to cooking.

Hardly a SuperSize Me level of “danger” on which to base the show.

But according to BBC online summaries, Mosley claimed that he was using his 30-day meatfest to find out if he had given himself cancer, or if he had increased his risk of a heart attack.

Please. As a doctor and so-called nutritional authority, he of all people should know that nothing you eat for 30 days—short of lacing your meals with cyanide or sprinkling your oatmeal with radioactive uranium—is going to give you a fatal disease. Nor would a temporary fluctuation in serum cholesterol or other cardiac measures be at all credible as a risk factor for eventual heart disease.

In fact, the results of after his 30-day experiment did show that his cholesterol, body fat and blood pressure did become slightly elevated Indeed, but Mosley himself admitted on air that the medical impact of his meat-eating was—wait for it—“inconclusive.”

Selective statistics

That’s not the only reason to criticize this shlockumentary. As part of the show, he flew to Southern California and chatted up a group of vegetarian Seventh-Day Adventists to find out the “secret” of their longevity—adherents of that religion average five years longer lifespans than similar non-Adventist control groups. But of course, devoted Adventists neither smoke tobacco nor drink alcohol, and those behaviors, most researchers agree, tend to lengthen most people’s lives.

But you didn’t hear those stats from Mosley.

Other program segments included an encounter with a researcher studying low-fat diets, who discovered that saturated fats aren't nearly as bad as many members of the media and the public presume, and a review of major European dietary study, which concluded that moderate amounts of red meat consumption have no discernible effects on health whatsoever—in fact, people eating in excess of 80 grams of meat a day live the longest.

These kind of reality shows represent cheap entertainment, and as such there’s no harm in watching CEOs try to mop floors or unload trucks, or enjoying the spectacle of fashion designers cat-fighting each other over where they get to line up on the runway.

But when it comes to dietary advice from someone willing to swallow a bunch of pills just to jack up ratings, the notion that eating normal quantities of meat should somehow be considered dangerous is ludicrous.

The danger isn’t in the bacon and burgers that Dr. Mosley “forced” himself to eat for a month.

The real danger is that a respected television network has the chutzpah to give credence to such a ridiculous premise in the first place.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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