Have you ever wondered about why there are so many conflicting research results out there about the foods we eat? How can two studies come up with completely opposite conclusions about the same food? This has often boggled my mind and made me wonder if I could trust any of them! It can be so frustrating when you are trying to make healthy decisions about what you put in your and your family’s mouths! You are not alone, I think most people have felt this way, but I have good news! There IS a reason for all of this confusion…
Study Design & Methodology
If you think about it, ultimately, the conclusions we hear about come from the study design and methodology used in the research and interpretation of the research which in turn affects our knowledge of the world. Unfortunately, most people either don’t look at or don’t know HOW to look at the study and methodology of the research conclusions they hear or read about. Most simply let others interpret the information for them and accept the conclusions and the media authors’ interpretations of those conclusions as they stand. I have totally been guilty of this myself! So, why do we do this? Partly because it’s easy to let someone else do the hard work, partly because we think the authors of such media are authoritative figures on the topics (which is not always true, unfortunately), and partly because we simply have NOT been taught to do this let alone how to do this!
This poses a large problem as we are not thinking for ourselves and simply see the confounding research conclusions out there, causing many to throw their hands up, unsure of what to believe as true and then just go about eating or doing whatever we want because of the confusion. This confusion is caused mainly by the design and methodology of the studies that are out there.
Our current scientific paradigm, especially in regards to nutrition, takes a reductionist approach, that is, it tends to look at only one nutrient at a time regardless of other wholistic factors that could play a significant role. Because of this, and the fact that most studies on nutrition in the last 20-30 years have been comparing those on a Western diet with those on a Western diet, even though some nutrient variable is present, has really been the main underlying cause in the study design and methodology which has caused so much public confusion.
There are of course other factors within the study design and methodology which could also be at play here. These include:
- whether or not the research was solely animal based and if the conclusions or media’s interpretation were taken out of context pointing to a direct human relationship.
- who is behind the claim, what evidence are they pointing to, if any and what is their credibility.
- are there any industry connections that could cause an author or researcher to have a “slant” in their conclusions.
- are the conclusions or article based on scientific fact, judgements (if this, then which kind: theory, hypothesis, or speculation), or opinions.
All of these factors can play a significant role in the conclusions that researchers and authors come to and ultimately share with the public. If NOT considered when reading these ourselves, much confusion can arise and ultimately affect our knowledge of the world, for better or for worse.
This raises concerns for me as to people’s health and well-being, among other things! My biggest concern here is that the majority of people don’t know how to interpret these media claims and then find themselves greatly confused or simply picking and choosing which ones they want to believe, usually, and unfortunately, in cases where people like to hear good news about their bad habits (come on, fess up, we all do it at some point or another and the confounding research makes it easy to do 😉 ).
It’s also concerning that so much money is going into research that is not necessarily getting us anywhere, like the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, where they were, in essence, comparing those eating the Western diet to those eating a Western diet with ultimately little difference in things that will affect the outcomes. The fact that the majority of nutrition research for the last 20-30 years has been done this way is even more disconcerting, although eye opening as to why there’s all the confounding research out there. It seems that if a scientific paradigm shift does not occur where research is concerned, these conflicting results will continue to confuse us, the public, on what real health could look like.
What conflicting research has had you confused or frustrated the most?
What kind of changes would you like to see where research and their confounding results are concerned?