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Feb 8
Tired Of Health Studies That Sow Mass Confusion? Me Too.
Many of you may have heard about the results of three studies (study 1, study 2, study 3) published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).  The basic gist of the studies is this:  A low-fat diet does not appear to reduce the risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart attacks and strokes.  People who ate whatever they pleased developed heart disease and cancer at the same rate as those who followed the low-fat diet. 

After hearing about these studies, my first thought was:  So, people can eat whatever they want because eating healthy doesn’t help right?  Now, after reading a little bit more about the study, I learned that it’s a little bit more complicated.  However, I can guarantee that the majority of Americans will not investigate further. 

For anyone involved in the battle to get Americans to reduce their girth and eat better, these studies just made things a lot more difficult.  They are the latest in a long line of trials that are adding to the confusion many are having about what to eat and how much to exercise.  I’m sure that some confused people have just given up.  I think that the media should take more responsibility for placing these studies in context.  It would be great if each media outlet decided to preface each new study about diet or exercise with this simple message:  “Eating healthy and getting exercise is important.  It will make you feel better and might extend your life.  That’s a fact.  With this in mind, here are the results of a new study that showed . . .”  Fortunately, news outlets like the ABC News and the New York Times are providing balanced, insightful commentary on this trial.  

Appropriately enough, experts are fuming about the new JAMA studies.  The bottom line is that they don’t think the trial they are based on is very good.  Check out some of their responses to the trial:

"Eight years for cancer prevention is not sufficient. It takes up to 30 years of smoking to cause cancer. How do you expect eight years of a little better food to prevent breast or other cancers?" — Dr. Stefan Glück, director, Breast Cancer Institute, University of Miami

"No surprises. Eight years of follow-up is too short a time to show an effect. Let's wait for 15-30 years of follow-up before we judge significance." — Dr. Michael Fine, physician in chief, department of family medicine, Rhode Island Hospital

Here’s another point about this trial that is worth considering.  According to Medpundit:

“[The study’s] chief limitation is that it was performed in women ages 50-79. Here's a news flash for everyone - the number one cause of heart disease is aging. Changing your diet after you've already completed most of the aging process is not going to improve your chances of avoiding heart disease.”

I am a strong believer in the power of health promotion and preventive medicine to stave off disability and disease.  I’ve spent years of my life communicating about the benefits of diet and exercise.  It frustrates me when those efforts are undermined by yet another study that will provide people with an excuse to lots of crappy food.  

There are better ways to spend $415 million.  I was just speaking with a friend of mine today who works for a major health-related government agency.  She was complaining that it doesn’t have enough money to hire staff or initiate much-needed health promotion projects.  Instead of doing this study, they could have directed .5 percent of the money spent on this trial to her agency to hire much-needed staff and implement important projects.

The trial’s scientific review board had it right when it refused to approve this expensive trial.  The only reason it saw the light of day was because members of Congress decided to fund it.  I hope this trial is quickly forgotten.  

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1 Comments/Trackbacks

I agree with you that a healthy diet and regular exercise is vital to living a healthy life. This is something that applies to every single person. It should be common sense, but unfortunately the media bombards people with the temptation of "juicy burgers". It's a hard habit to overcome.

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