Sunday, October 17, 2010

Beating a Dead Horse, a Rant in the Key of E minor.

I just came across this wonderful piece of so-called research. It was mentioned in Scientific American (remember when Scientific American actually had articles written by scientists?). They didn't actually link to the study (why would anyone want to view the actual paper when a journalist can explain it to us lesser mortals?), but I managed to track it down in a few nanoseconds thanks the wonder that is Google. To quote Scientific American's summary:
Another study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, looked at human moods. Researchers followed 106 overweight people. Half followed a low-carb, very high-fat diet, and half ate a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet. After a year, both groups averaged about 30 pounds weight loss. And though both groups’ moods improved after two months, only the low-fat, high-carb group kept up the good feelings. So what we eat doesn’t just go to our waists—it also goes to our brains.
Ok, both groups lost the same amount of weight, both groups improved their moods, but the high-carb group kept their better mood? My bullshit detector immediately jumped to 11.

So what exactly did this so-called high-fat group eat?
Participants on the LC diet were prescribed a dietary plan aimed at providing 4% of total energy as carbohydrate, 35% as protein, and 61% as fat (20% saturated fat), with the objective to restrict carbohydrate to less than 20 g/d for the first 8 weeks and with an option to increase to less than 40 g/d for the remainder of the study.
41% of their diet was PUFA?!?! How did they even manage that? Were they guzzling corn oil? Yuck. No wonder they felt like crap.

Ok, this study has already been debunked in my mind. But wait, there's more:
The participants met individually with a qualified dietitian fortnightly during the first 8 weeks of the study and then monthly thereafter; the dietician provided detailed individualized dietary advice, meal plans, and recipe information pertaining to each diet. To facilitate dietary compliance, the participants were supplied with a selection of key foods (approximately 30% of total energy) that were representative of each diet's macronutrient profile fortnightly for the first 8 weeks, and then a A$40 food voucher was provided at each monthly diet visit during the remainder of the study. Both dietary patterns were also structured to include specific food quantities and weights to ensure that the correct macronutrient and energy requirements were achieved as previously described.
They met with a 'qualified' dietitian every two weeks and were given a food voucher once a month to 'facilitate compliance'? 40 Aussie bucks a month to facilitate compliance? So we don't actually know if these participants were really guzzling their corn oil (LC) or munching down their 'heart healthy' whole wheat bread with skim milk (LF) or if they were just going out for beer and pizza every night.

And don't even get me started and what makes a dietitian supposedly qualified.

Am I done? No!

Another thing that pisses me off is self-reported happiness.
Mood was assessed using 3 validated questionnaires: (1) the POMS, which measures 6 separate aspects of mood, including tension-anxiety, depression-dejection, anger-hostility, vigor-activity, fatigue-inertia, and confusion-bewilderment, and provides a global score of mood disturbance (total mood disturbance score [TMDS]) that is determined by subtracting the vigor-activity score from the sum of the 5 negative mood factors;
These self-reported measures of mood are total . . . oh wait they used three(!!!) validated questionnaires. We are supposed to believe that the only difference between a LC and LF diet (besides the fact that SFAs will kill you, of course) is that a low-carb diet makes you sad?

I'm so sick of hearing about which country is the self-reported happiest. I may not be the happiest person on Earth but at least I can think for myself. Steve Landsburgh has a great takedown of the idiocy of self-reported happiness and how these 'studies' are used as propaganda.

This is, of course, the perfect study to get picked up by the mainstream media. I don't know who else ran with it besides Scientific American but I wouldn't be surprised if it made the front page of the NY Times, the BBC, and was picked up by the AP and AFP. It's nothing short of propaganda as far as I'm concerned and people are dying or living degraded, unhealthy lives because of stuff like this. I'll close with a picture that sums up my opinion j-school graduates and their so-called reporting on science:


  1. That has gotta' be Johnny Cash, correct?
    So agree with your assessment of the "study" as well.

  2. Yeah, Johhny was a cool guy.

    Check out this documentary if you ever get a chance,
    quite good even if the title is condescending.