Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Evidence and Obesity

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Oct 18, 2005

Re: No Fizzy Drinks, Please...

The author wants us to believe the counterintuitive conclusion that "children who eat larger amounts of so-called junk food actually had less chance of being overweight."

To support this contention, he cites three studies, providing references for none of them, but all of which, he asserts, find no correlation between poor eating habits and obesity.

I have tracked down all three studies, however, and have found that he blatantly misrepresents two of them and contradicts the recommendations of the third.

1. The author cites "a recent Canadian study." The study in question is Paul J. Veugelers, PhD and Angela L. Fitzgerald, MSc, Effectiveness of School Programs in Preventing Childhood Obesity: A Multilevel Comparison.

While the author would have us believe that the researchers found no correlation between poor eating habits and obesity, the study concludes explicitly, "Students from schools participating in a coordinated program that incorporated recommendations for school-based healthy eating programs exhibited significantly lower rates of overweight and obesity."

2. The second study, a World Health Organization study, is alleged to show that eating junk food actually results in weight loss.

This study is a report from the WHO MONICA project, and is specifically Silventoinen K, Sans S, Tolonen H, Monterde D, Kuulasmaa K, Kesteloot H, Tuomilehto J; Trends in obesity and energy supply in the WHO MONICA Project.

The WHO MONICA study concludes, "Increasing energy supply is closely associated with the increase of overweight and obesity in western countries. This emphasizes the importance of dietary issues when coping with the obesity epidemic."

3. The third study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, is cited as showing that there is no correlation between snacking and obesity.

This study, one of many reports from the Growing Up Today Study (GUTS), is specifically A E Field1, S B Austin1, M W Gillman, B Rosner, H R Rockett and G A Colditz, Snack food intake does not predict weight change among children and adolescents.

This study, as the title suggests, suggests that the eating of snacks does not predict obesity. However, 'snacks' are very different from 'junk food', and the researchers allowed all manner of snacks. Moreover, the participants, all children of nurses, self-reported their eating habits, a weakness not considered significant by the authors but questioned by other commentators.

Even so, the authors of this study write, "Most snack food items are of poor diet quality, thus regardless of the lack of association between intake of snack foods and subsequent weight gain, it would be prudent to recommend consuming snack foods only in moderation."

It is evident from the three sources cited by the author of this article that none of the researchers would approve of the conclusion being fostered here. They would not assert that their studies say that eating junk food is harmless, and all three studies explicitly recommended healthy eating programs in schools, exactly the opposite of what this article is asserting.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the author provides no citations or links, as the scale of his deception would be evident. Moreover, it should be noted that among the dozens and dozens of studies on this subject, these three studies are not merely typical, but indeed, the most moderate.

If you look at the ADA evidence summary, for example, you see the majority of studies showing a greater and more defined correlation between unhealthy eating and obesity.

I might add that nobody claims that eating habits constitute the sole cause of obesity. Exercise is obviously a major component, as is the form of consumption (liquid calories, for example, have a much greater impact than solid calories, since the body does not register their intake). Further, parental genetics also constitutes a major determinate.

That said, as mentioned, all of these studies recommend dietary programs along with exercise and healthy living habits. It is unclear why the author offers an argument here against school programs designed to implement the recommendations of these reports.

But it is very clear that the research data is blatantly misrepresented, in what can only be termed a sleazy and underhanded fashion. The editors of Tech Central should question their standards for publication, as honesty and integrity do not appear to be among the criteria considered.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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