GUEST OPINION: Magical thinking about fluoridation in Sonoma County
Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 4:39 p.m.
"For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple—and wrong." -- H.L. Mencken
In an Aug. 7 Press Democrat story about Sonoma County's new public health officer, Dr. Lynn Silver-Chalfin, we read that in her capacity as assistant health commissioner for New York City, she helped the city ban trans fats. This resulted in an 83 percent reduction in trans fat in restaurant food. Another innovation required fast food calorie labeling. Good for Silver-Chalfin.
In contrast to those forward-moving laws, however, Silver-Chalfin seems determined to bring fluoridation to Sonoma County, an idea that has fallen into such disrepute that most European cities which had it have given it up. She leads the public health department in waving that tired old banner that fluoride in the water will “decrease the rate of tooth decay, which is very high in our children, particularly low-income children.”
This is especially strange from a person who has worked for human rights since she was young. Internationally, access to clean water is now considered a human right. Clean water is what the American Dental Association and the CDC mean when they tell parents not to use fluoridated water for mixing dry formula, and what doctors advise diabetics to drink. The county's fluoridation proposal is basically Medication by Faucet, which takes away peoples right to clean water.
It used to be that only fringe groups opposed fluoridation. Finally, the tide is turning. Hundreds of studies show the downside. For instance, as a teacher I was shocked to read the Harvard analysis showing that fluoridated water lowers IQ. Recently, statistical analysis showed that decades of low school success and higher crime resulted from lead in gasoline. Can't we learn from that mistake and not add fluoride?
Often in life the right solution to a problem is more complicated, more time-consuming and initially more expensive than the wrong solution. Some of the magical quick fixes we tried in the past: DDT, MBTE, BPA. All ended up causing far more harm than good and cost a lot more to clean up.
Everyone agrees that the decay rate in Sonoma County children is too high. But the real cause is too much junk food and not enough real food. The real question should be, ‘How can families find good food for the same price as processed empty calories?'
The Board of Supervisors is about to spend three quarters of a million dollars (critics say it will cost a lot more) to add fluoride to our water supply when it would be far wiser to spend those tax dollars on nutrition education for families. Parents will listen because they know that ‘Knowledge is power.'
Our county has the laudable goal that our children will be the healthiest in California by 2020. Fluoridation won't get us there. But good nutrition can. Silver-Chalfin has a great track record of getting public support for dietary improvements. We need that here.
If county supervisors really want to drop dental decay, they should politely ask our 40 school districts to get all (or most) of the added sugar out of the breakfasts, snacks and lunches served in our cafeterias. While they're at it, how about removing the trans fat? (Half a gram per serving is still allowed.) If Berkeley and Novato school districts can make these changes, we can, too.
Most important for teeth, why not inform parents that even in sunny Sonoma County, 70 percent of our kids have sub-optimal levels of vitamin D?
The halls of our high schools were once full of soda vending machines. We changed that. The next step is to get rid of the “sports drinks” and flavored milk drinks, which have the same amount of sugar as a soda. Merchandisers know that sugar is addictive and therefore profitable. The Fortune 500 list contains a lot of huge food processing corporations because even in a bad economy they magically make a good return for investors.
Magic is the art of misdirection; the audience follows the wrong hand and misses what is happening elsewhere. Fluoridation is a magic trick. Even the smartest people fall for it, at first. But eventually the truth will out. Admitting mistakes isn't easy. But our supervisors need to re-open their minds and look at the big picture instead of that hand pointing to fluoride.
Sonoma County has innovative iGrow and iWalk programs that are models for other counties. Let's have an iEatRealFood program and we'll see the decay rate drop to pre-1900 rates.
One more thing--- the supervisors apparently intend to wave a magic wand so that the California Environmental Quality Act disappears. The California Environmental Quality Act requires an environmental impact study on water additives; 99 percent of the added fluoride passes through sewage treatment into the environment. I can get a reverse osmosis water filter (the only kind that removes fluoride), but the herons and frogs cannot.
Lauren Ayers, a retired teacher, is the Sonoma chapter Leader, for the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit, tax-exempt nutrition education foundation. She lives in Sonoma Valley.
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