Asking Tough Questions about Research Studies

I am not the only one who is trying to make it easier for people to make sense of research results. For those who are interested in health and nutrition, the number of studies can feel overwhelming, not to mention conflicting.  Here is a webpost from Chris Kresser about how to read and understand scientific research. Interesting comments as well. Asking tough questions are essential.
  Check it out here: Kresser: How to read and understand scientific research

Kresser provides this link to more information about research put together by the Cancer Information and Support Network. It provides excellent information.
Check it out here: How Cancer is Studied

What Are the Impacts of Soda? Results of Meta-Analysis

Meta-Analysis is a useful analytical technique to make sense of many small studies. Experimental designs are often small. Science is built on a series of hypothesis testing, and conducting small, but controlled experiments, can provide useful insights. Large studies, however, are expensive and few researchers have the resources to conduct them using an experimental design. Even quasi-experimental designs are costly.

Over time, however, researchers can pull together the data from many small studies that are trying to answer the same research question. Meta-Analysis has the potential to see the larger patterns and determine whether there are statistically significant results. That said, it is not an easy analytic technique

In the soft drink/obesity research, one frequently cited study is “Effects of Soft Drink Consumption on Nutrition and health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” by Lenny R. Vartanian, Marlene B. Schwartz, and Kelly D. Brownell (2007), American Journal of Public Health, April 2007, vol 97, No. 4: 667-675. Continue reading »

Alternative Views About Obesity

Abigail Saguy, a UCLA professor, just published a book, “What’s Wrong with Fat? In a UCLA story, Meg Sullivan states viagra sales online that the author “argues that ‘obesity’ is far from a neutral scientific fact. Rather, it is a discrete perspective-what sociologists call a ‘frame’–that draws attention to certain aspects of a situation while obscuring others. ‘The very term ‘obesity’ suggests that weight over a certain amount is pathological,’ say Saguy….’This perspective shuts out other interpretations of fat as, say, potentially healthy, an aspect of beauty, or even as a basis for civil rights claims resulting from discrimination, which has been well documented.” The author also notes that debates about body size “do not take place on an even playing viagra generic name field. Saguy contends that powerful interests

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benefit from drawing attention to the ‘crisis,’ including the International Obesity Task force (a lobbying group funded by pharmaceutical companies), obesity researchers and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” Continue reading »

The Obesity Picture: Part 2

The Gallup Poll has been asking people about their weight from 1991 to 2011. In a report on their website in November 2011, Elizabeth Mendes stated: “American men, on average, say they weigh 196 pounds and women say they weigh 160 pounds. Both figures are nearly 20 pounds higher than the average that men and women reported in 1990. As Americans’ actual weight has increased, so has their ideal weight.”

She presented two charts summarizing the trends they found.











See Report:Click Here
Continue reading »

The Obesity Picture

In a nutshell, according to the Center for Disease Control: 35.7% of U.S. adults were obese in their most recent survey: 2009–2010. The U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey See report:

The report notes: “There was no significant difference in prevalence between men and women at any age. Overall, adults aged 60 and over were more likely to be obese than younger adults. Among men there was no significant difference in obesity prevalence by age. Among women, however, 42.3% of those aged 60 and over were obese compared with 31.9% of women aged 20–39.”

Find chart at:

In a different report using the same survey data:

  • 31.2 percent of adults (over age 20) had BMIs under 24.9 and so were considered normal weight or underweight.
  • Another 33.1 percent had BMIs from 25 to 29.9, and so they were considered overweight.
  • The group with BMIs of 30 or higher—people considered to have obesity—amounted to 35.7 percent.                       Within that 35.7 percent were 6.3 percent who were defined as morbidly obese, with BMIs of 40 or higher.

What I learned about measuring obesity

The starting point is defining obesity. What is normal weight, overweight and obese and how are they defined and measured?

Obesity is measured by Body Mass Index (BMI), which attempts to make an estimate about body fat based on a person’s weight and height.
The Formula: BMI = Weight (lb) / (Height (in) x Height (in)) x 703

This means: Weight is divided by Height squared; that result is then multiplied by 703.

For example: someone 6 feet tall (72 inches) and weighing 200 pounds will have a BMI of 27.1 based on the formula:

  1. First square height.  72*72 = 5,184
  2.  Divide by weight by height squared: 200/5,184 = .0385
  3. Then multiple by 703. = 27.
  4. Continue reading »

Soda, Obesity, Food Stamps, Oh My!

A friend sent me an opinion piece by New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman on Christmas Day: “Stop Subsidizing Obesity.” (Find at:

He asserts: obesity is a crisis, soda causes obesity, obesity is associated with serious diseases, and the government subsidizes the makers of sugared drinks through the food stamp program (now called SNAP). His policy solution is to prohibit the use of food stamps to buy soda. He offers some facts and writes persuasively, but I am tough to convince.

Sometimes it pays to wait before forming an opinion. A week later a study hit the media with new findings that suggests a few extra pounds won’t kill you. Now I had paradox.

For whatever reason, this issue captured my attention. My intention here is walk through the process of trying to make sense of a policy proposal dealing with an issue that is somewhat familiar. I am finding it to be complicated and am glad that no pollster called asking for my opinion! Continue reading »

State of America’s Children–July 2012

For those seeking data about children in America, the Children’s Defense Fund recently released its annual report. The report, which can be downloaded, is at:
State of America’s Children
It includes this critique of the Gross National Product by Robert F. Kennedy that I like. He raises questions about what we measure and the validity of those measures, and is far more eloquent than I am, who as a researcher would talk about operationalization of terms and content validity.

“Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy
of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of
our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither
our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything,
in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are
proud that we are Americans.”
– Robert F. Kennedy

Research Urges Going Easy on Yourself

NY Times Health Reporter Tara Parker-Pope asks:
“Do you treat yourself as well as you treat your friends and family?
That simple question is the basis for a burgeoning new area of psychological research called self-compassion — how kindly people view themselves. People who find it easy to be supportive and understanding to others, it turns out, often score surprisingly low on self-compassion tests, berating themselves for perceived failures like being overweight or not exercising.” see article
For many of us who have once again made a new year resolution to lose weight, this self-compassion might make a difference. She states, “Preliminary data suggest that self-compassion can even influence how much we eat and may help some people lose weight.”
Continue reading »