Chances are that if you read any mainstream news site, you’ve came across a journalist’s interpretation of this study from The Lancet.
When i first saw this headline, i was pleased to see that a mainstream scientific publication had managed to publicise the concept that bad diet is the biggest threat to human health today.
Here at regenerative times, we are well aware of how much diet can influence, positively or negatively, a variety of common and deadly conditions; and believe that dietary interventions are hugely underappreciated in medicine.
This lead me to read the study itself. And I found that, as usual with studies like these, this one drew conclusions from the poorest quality data available, and didn’t adequately explain why it came to those conclusions – essentially, this is more of an opinion piece than anything resembling science.
In other words, it’s a typical diet study.
But as usual, this didn’t stop the media from putting it on full blast. The top killers in the study are not eating enough grains, eating too much salt, not eating enough fruit, eating too much red meat, etc. None of this comes as a surprise, as it is an exact match for the dietary dogma that governments and industry groups have been pushing for many decades now.
An also as usual, there are dozens of holes in this paper, once you get to reading it. Here are a few key quotes from the ‘discussion’ section..
“The effect sizes of the dietary risk factors on disease endpoints were mostly obtained from meta-analyses of prospective observational studies. Although many of these dietary relative risks have been adjusted for the major confounders (eg, age, sex, smoking, and physical activity), the possibility of residual confounding cannot be excluded.”
Right – so the conclusions this paper makes are essentially guesses based on other groups’ analyses of multiple observational studies, which are typically the least reliable source of data because they rely on the subjects to self-report all the data. The authors of this paper understand that this is not reliable nor up to any standard of scientific rigor, but make the connections anyway.
“Additionally, given the intake of healthy dietary factors are generally positively correlated with each other and inversely correlated with harmful dietary factors, the effect size of the individual dietary factors might be overestimated. Many of the observational studies used for estimation of the relative risks have not corrected risk estimates for dietary measurement error, and some have adjusted for factors along the causal pathways.”
Again, the authors admit that it would be unreasonable to draw such conclusions from the data they used, but they drew the conclusions anyway.
“We did not evaluate the effect of other forms of malnutrition (ie, undernutrition and obesity). The epidemiological evidence supporting a causal relationship between dietary risks and disease endpoints were mostly from observational studies, and the strength of evidence was generally weaker than the strength of evidence supporting a causal relationship between other established risks factors (eg, tobacco use and high systolic blood pressure) and chronic diseases. Additionally, the strength of evidence varied across foods and nutrients.”
Here is another admission that the methodology is poor and the source of data is poor. Not accounting for obesity as being a factor in some of these negative health outcomes is laughable at best. It is well established that obesity is well linked to a host of diseases.
The paper gets more interesting when you look at the funding sources. A majority of the sources are pharmaceutical companies. There are also a few government bodies, a seller of grain storage equipment, and a few supplement companies as well. One has to wonder – what the financial interest is in publishing such poor quality research here, which only serves to reinforce dietary ideas that have not worked for decades?
I think the worst aspect of this article is how it is presented to the public. I have not found a single media report that pointed out the poor methodology, or the funding source. The USA today article ( which is syndicated and thus ends up copied word for word in tens of thousands of smaller newspapers ) even goes so far as to claim that the sole source of funding was the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.
Always read the source!