While reading some articles on food and nutrition this week, I stumbled across the website of the Nutrition Science Initiative, a nonprofit devoted to reestablishing the scientific method into nutrition research. Its goal is to help develop better-designed studies that rely on the same scientific rigor as pharmaceutical studies. While I’ve always known that scientists are not exactly all-knowing when it comes to what makes us obese, I had never considered that they might not be doing everything they could to remedy that fact, either. NuSI’s website says that the overwhelming majority of nutritional studies use participants that rely on the “honor code” of sticking to the diet being studied. That means being away from the watching eye of scientists in the comfort of their own homes. Who is to say that many of these participants don’t cheat on these diets and then lie to save face?
“In short, the state of the scholarly literature is such that we need well-designed, well-controlled, large n, lengthy studies directly addressing the question of whether the carbohydrate content of the diet influences fat mass independent of total caloric intake and whether total caloric intake has an influence independent of carbohydrate content. Such studies would also ultimately address the effect of nutrient composition on biomarkers of disease and other relevant outcomes.”
You would think that with the enormous obsession Americans have on obesity, we would be putting more effort (and funding) into these studies being more scientific. Current studies definitely approach nutrition from a holistic standpoint; since many vitamins and nutrients affect multiple bodily functions it can be hard to isolate distinct factors that lead to malnutrition and/or obesity. But even if scientists maintain that they cannot be any more “scientific,” how can anyone be okay with how little research we are actually conducting?
The above photo shows the spending of the USDA, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and the National Institutes of Health on obesity and nutrition research. Yes, school lunches, behavioral & hypertensions research, and HIV treatment are all extremely important and should not lose funding. But it would be difficult to find someone who disagrees with the fact that proper nutrition can help prevent and/or mitigate the symtoms of many diseases. Personally, I think funding more nutritional research would not only be beneficial in understanding what goes into our bodies more, but also that it could open doors in terms of drug research.
On a related note: scientists have discovered that a drug commonly used to treat canker sores might be the key to weight loss but have yet to test it on humans. While great, weight loss is quite different than nutrition. Whether or not we are thin is not an indicator of health. Moreover, the article notes that if this drug did work on humans, it would have to be used every day to maintain low body weight. This is, of course, problematic, given how much American already depend on pharmaceuticals. Hopefully, new research like that supported by NuSI will reveal a healthier way to reach our goal weights that does not involve pills.