The Roundup - Edition 6

The Roundup


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Here is The Roundup, Edition 6, bringing you the best from around the web from the past two weeks!

Blast from the Past

Last week, described how the journal Nature admonished Walter Willett, a leading nutrition and epidemiology researcher at the Harvard school, for being biased against scientists who reach different conclusions than he does. Specifically, they focused on his criticism of the recent study by Katherine Flegal and colleagues demonstrating that being slightly overweight may actually be protective. While this study suggests that decades of advice to avoid even modest weight gain may be misguided, and that a little bit of extra weight is particularly beneficial for older adults, Willett called the study “rubbish” and not worth reading. Many obesity experts and health biostatisticians take issue with the harsh tone of Willett’s statements, and as one of the most frequently quoted academic sources on nutrition in the news media, Willett’s opinion holds significant weight with the public. Unfortunately, Willett tends to argue against any scientific research that contradicts the public health recommendations he, and the nutrition department at Harvard, have made.

In February, I wrote an article describing the various explanations that could account for the protective effect of overweight seen in various studies, including the meta-analysis that Willett took such issue with. While obesity is not a desirable state of health, it’s worth noting that if you’re living a health-promoting lifestyle but still carrying around a few extra pounds, you might be healthier than popular media would lead you to believe.

What’s ironic about Willett’s criticism of Flegal’s study is that a research team he led recently published a study that generated huge controversy when its conclusions were retracted at the last minute by the publicity team at Harvard’s teaching hospital. The data were so weak and unsupportive of Willet’s claims that the paper was rejected by six journals before it was finally accepted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, where Willett is a member of the editorial board (as pointed out in the article). Regardless of whether Willett is right or wrong in his criticism of Flegal’s study, publicly blasting another researcher for drawing unfounded conclusions from their data seems a little out of line given his own recent experience.

Research Report

  • A review in the British Medical Journal supports the theory that the flu vaccine might be less beneficial and less safe than has been claimed. I’ve spoken about the issues with the flu vaccine on one of my podcasts.
  • A peer-reviewed article makes recommendations for dietary fat based on evidence and not dietary dogma.
  • Clinical trials show that purposeful infection with hookworm (N. americanus) modified host response to gluten.
  • New research sheds light on brain-related side effects of statins.
  • A new study shows that the low FODMAP diet improves gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. For more information about FODMAPs, check out this article I wrote on the subject.

Worth a Look

  • Chris Masterjohn, PhD, needs support to help fund research on nutrient dense traditional diets at his lab at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • The New York Times explains how GMO technology has bred the nutrition out of plant foods.
  • Food Renegade reports on a raw milk farmer who recently won a major victory for private food rights.
  • Kaayla Daniel, PhD, explains how replacing meat and eggs with soy products can lead to bone loss.

For the Foodies

  1. I didn’t see anything in the NYT article “Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food” about “GMO technology” — only about breeding and hybridization. These are not the same as GM, which is much more recent. Before I followed your link I thought to myself that “how GMO technology has bred the nutrition out” was a peculiar phrasing, as GM and breeding are distinct.

  2. I am loving your roundups, Chris. If it’s not too burdensome when you are drafting them, can you have the hyperlinks to the articles you suggest pop up in a new window instead of opening up in the window where your post resides? I keep losing you when I go down the rabbit hole.


  3. Yeah,the media takes it to a whole different level.But being obese is nothing to be proud about.And shame on Willett,that’s was so immature!It’s nothing you would expect from a top researcher.

  4. Speaking as someone who went through the academic research rabbit hole, researchers bad-mouthing other researchers simply because their results conflict is not a new or uncommon thing. Spats between researchers frequently are based more on personalities and turf-wars than they are on the quality of the research being debated.