Nutrition confusion

COMMENT: Why nutrition is so confusing

NEARLY six weeks into the 2014 diet season, it’s a good bet that many of us who made New Year’s resolutions to lose weight have already peaked. If clinical trials are any indication, we’ve lost much of the weight we can expect to lose. In a year or two we’ll be back within half a dozen pounds of where we are today.

The question is why. Is this a failure of willpower or of technique? Was our chosen dietary intervention — whether from the latest best-selling diet book or merely a concerted attempt to eat less and exercise more — doomed to failure? Considering that obesity and its related diseases — most notably, Type 2 diabetes — now cost the health care system more than $1 billion per day, it’s not hyperbolic to suggest that the health of the nation may depend on which is the correct answer.

Since the 1960s, nutrition science has been dominated by two conflicting observations. One is that we know how to eat healthy and maintain a healthy weight. The other is that the rapidly increasing rates of obesity and diabetes suggest that something about the conventional thinking is simply wrong.

In 1960, fewer than 13 percent of Americans were obese, and diabetes had been diagnosed in one percent. Today, the percentage of obese Americans has almost tripled; the percentage of Americans with diabetes has increased sevenfold.

Meanwhile, the research literature on obesity has also ballooned. In 1960, fewer than 1,100 articles were published on obesity or diabetes in the indexed medical literature. Last year it was more than 44,000. In total, over 600,000 articles have been published purporting to convey some meaningful information on these conditions.

It would be nice to think that this deluge of research has brought clarity to the issue. The trend data argue otherwise. If we understand these disorders so well, why have we failed so miserably to prevent them?

The conventional explanation is that this is the manifestation of an unfortunate reality: Type 2 diabetes is caused or exacerbated by obesity, and obesity is a complex, intractable disorder. The more we learn, the more we need to know.

Here’s another possibility: The 600,000 articles — along with several tens of thousands of diet books — are the noise generated by a dysfunctional research establishment. Because the nutrition research community has failed to establish reliable, unambiguous knowledge about the environmental triggers of obesity and diabetes, it has opened the door to a diversity of opinions on the subject, of hypotheses about cause, cure and prevention, many of which cannot be refuted by the existing evidence. Everyone has a theory. The evidence doesn’t exist to say unequivocally who’s wrong…..

The New York Times: Read the full article

Gary TaubesAbout Gary Taubes:

An American science writer, he is the author of Nobel Dreams (1987), Bad Science: The Short Life and Weird Times of Cold Fusion (1993), and Good Calories, Bad Calories (2007), titled The Diet Delusion (2008) in the UK and Australia. His book Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It was released in December 2010. In December 2010 Taubes launched a blog at GaryTaubes.com to promote the book’s release and to respond to critics. His main hypothesis is based on: Carbohydrates generate insulin, which causes the body to store fat.