Thursday, September 13, 2012

Can The New "Nutrition Science Initiative" Remain Unbiased?

@Pronutritionist passed on info about a new project called the Nutrition Science Initiative or NuSI, which seeks to "reduce the economic and social burden of obesity and obesity-related chronic disease by improving the quality of science in nutrition and obesity research."

Here's a slide show describing the project, which I found on the blog of Tim Ferriss. Ferriss is the author of "The 4-Hour Workweek" and a member of NuSI's Board of Advisors:

The project founders are Peter Attia and Gary Taubes, who are President and Director, respectively, of the new NuSI.

It sounds appealing, no?
"Biases are discarded in favor of solid, experimental data. ... No hidden agenda, no corporate interests, nothing to do with food subsidies or ulterior motives. Just good science. It’s about time, right?" - Ferriss
Research is always biased, more or less. This will be a tall order for them.

The slide show above says, "the time has come to test [the alternative hypothesis] rigorously," and "to set aside conventional wisdom," which they define in part as "eating too many calories relative to how many calories are expended."

So, it appears, at least from this material, that the project will be setting aside investigation as to whether eating less has an impact on obesity. This is a concept I first read about in Gary Taubes' book, "Good Calories, Bad Calories," where he said,
"Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating, and not sedentary behavior."

"Consuming excess calories does not cause [Taubes' emphasis] us to grow fatter, any more than it causes a child to grow taller. Expending more energy than we consume does not lead to long-term weight loss; it leads to hunger."
Choosing not to study the science behind conventional wisdom sounds biased to me, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

I am also curious if NuSI's science will address food access. Economics, politics, culture, class, geography, logistics ... these all play a role in food choice. The poor experience higher rates of obesity in this country and access to healthful food is one reason why.


Anonymous said...

How can they call a project unbiased if it throws out, from the get-go, a basic tenet of nutrition - that eating less leads to weight loss. Crazy stuff. Sounds more like a front for the meat industry, isn't that what Taubes and the alternative hypothesis people say to eat? Meat? Check who their sponsors are.

Bix said...

There are so many schools of thought on what constitutes a good diet. For instance, I know that various types of fasting, Alternate Day Fasting and Religious Fasting to name a few, can reduce weight. However, these fall under the category of eating less, which it seems they won't be studying? As you say, it's an unusual way to proceed.

Bix said...

After rereading their mission statement, it appears they are taking a public health perspective of nutrition ("to reduce the economic and social burden of obesity and obesity-related chronic disease"). It would be wonderful to see a well-funded project tackling public health problems.

I was reading this morning that the most important determinant of health in this country is a high school education. Only 75% of US public school students get one!