26 March 2010

Why Evidence-based Nutrition

As a result of my profession in science communications, it is a fact of life that I come in to work to find 1-2 papers to read every morning on my desk. I must read an average of between 10 new scientific papers weekly. They can range from culture studies, animal studies, human clinical trials, epidemiological studies, meta-analyses or simply review articles.

As a writer who specializes in topics of nutrition, I am continually faced with the labor of assessing just how “big” the news coming from the study really is, whether or not it merits more attention by our research and sciences team, and whether or not we should communicate it to the public.

If I had any special talent for pointing out flaws or problems in studies, I would be thrilled. I don’t. Not at all. Lucky for me, however, I work with a few knowledgeable scientists with a keen awareness for what’s hot and what’s definitely not.

I doubt that many of my own colleagues share the same luxury that I have for being able to pass a study by an experienced nutritionist to help me place it in proper perspective for our audiences. This is simply evident by an Internet search for nutrition articles and a judgment of how other health writers handle their material.

Relying on experts to sift through the journals has been a unique experience, one that has been inspiring—which is why I now have hopes of ultimately gaining expertise of evidence-based nutrition (EBN) myself. EBN is simply true science and research, after all, and it informs decisions and practice.

It is my view that nutrition is a young science that is maturing quickly. I share a similar positive optimism for the field as Walter Willet, who has written of a merge of nutritional sciences with epidemiology to provide greater knowledge more quickly (1).

I follow with Willet’s assertion that nutritional research approaches are improving (that it won’t take us 100 years to discover flaws in dietary recommendations such as partially hydrogenated oils, for example(1)), and my interest is piqued in learning, as I would expect, that the study of genomics will further influence the future of nutrition.

While evidence-based nutrition and medicine may appear controversial to a few, I cannot see any other way for me, as I long to live in a world where science and statistics (even if we don’t “get” them) govern our understanding, not our often-flawed personal judgments.

I welcome the new process of nutritional epidemiology referenced by Willet that he expects will provide “vast and unprecedented information” (1). For that matter, I expect to be intensely studying as continual information appears over the next decade or so.

To achieve what Trisha Greenhalgh advises in her wonderful primer on evidence-based medicine, How to Read a Paper, it is my expectation to come away with the ability “not only to read papers, but also to read the right papers at the right time” (2) to best guide my decision making.


1. Willet WC. Nutritional epidemiology issues in chronic disease at the turn of the century. Epidemiol Rev. 2000;22(1):85-86. Available at: http://epirev.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/22/1/82.pdf

2. Greenhalgh T. How To Read A Paper: The Basics of Evidence Based Medicine. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006, p. 2.

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