What do Twinkies and Ag Innovation have in Common?

Q&A with Mark Haub

Photo courtesy of Kansas State University

Mark Haub is a professor at Kansas State University and head of the Department of Food, Nutrition, Dietetics and Health. He is known for the 2010 Twinkie Challenge – a project for the Energy Balance class he teaches where he went on a 10-week diet of Twinkies, powdered doughnuts, and other sugary American junk food and lost 27 lbs. Mark says the point of the diet was to test the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans and to question our assumption that weight-loss is the epitome of health.

We talked to him about figuring out the facts, the health food conversation, and our technology’s potential for global health.

It seems like there is conflicting information on health and diet almost everywhere you look. It changes every day. How can consumers sift the true from the false?

I tell my students to look beyond the headlines, we teach them where to go for sources of better information like scientific journals. We try and educate the on the reality of labels and that “natural” on the package doesn’t mean goof for you and “non-GMO” on the label doesn’t mean anything.

Do you think biotechnology and crop protection have a place in the nutrition and health conversation?

Absolutely – biotech is critical. I got into my line of work focused on macronutrients but some of the work being done with increased micronutrients is extremely important. We have to feed everyone in a healthy way. Too many people have a limited understanding of the science and the potential of GMOs.

In your opinion, where is the breakdown in scientific understanding of things like biotech, nutrition, and research?

It stems from moral breakdowns and individual bias. There’s no money in telling the truth so people get bombarded with all of this information that isn’t science-based… that hasn’t been researched. The studies are there, and the research has been done. We all need to step up our integrity and take responsibility for making science-based decisions and educating ourselves before we share something.