What is Scientific Facts in Health Data?

In the Sept./Oct. 2013 issue of CARRFS eNews we explored one of the biggest challenges public health in Canada is facing today: the Obesity Epidemic. We described it as a very complex phenomenon which poses an incredible challenge for health care authorities.  

Part of the challenge is to generate scientific knowledge in form of how to reduce the prevalence of obesity in the population as well as for individuals. An article in the New York Times “Why Nutrition Is So Confusing” by Gary Taubues, a health and science journalist and co-founder of the Nutrition Science Initiative, might gives some answers as to why this is such a challenge. Taubes points out that nutrition science has, since the 1960s, been dominated by two contradictory observations. On the one hand we know what is healthy food and how to maintain a healthy weight. On the other hand the increasing rates of obesity and diabetes indicate that conventional thinking is flawed. How is this possible?

To develop scientific knowledge based on hypothesis testing and randomized controlled trials over extended periods is prohibitively expensive and extremely difficult. Taubes concludes that much nutritional scientific research is unreliable, and that the research community has failed to establish “unambiguous knowledge about the environmental triggers of obesity and diabetes” primarily because it has lowered the standard of scientific research. This is unfortunate because the economic costs to the health care system from obesity and related diseases are astronomical. The CARRFS community should explore this challenge and establish a forum to discuss the quality of health data.