1 September 2017


“We have a pretty good idea of how to curb childhood obesity.” Such convictions run deep. And because of those convictions, prevention is a frontline strategy for dealing with childhood obesity. So, it’s especially dispiriting when we see the scientific literature stained by a paper that fudges conclusions about childhood obesity prevention into “some evidence of effectiveness” reports ConscienHealth’s Ted Kyle.

children playing at school

In the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Mary Malakellis and colleagues published a report on a large obesity prevention program called “It’s Your Move”. Deep in the bowels of their paper, you will find that the sum of all their data showed no effect. But, the authors did not stop there. They picked apart the data to look for subgroups with an effect. They found it in two of the schools they studied. So, their abstract failed to mention finding no effectiveness in the overall results. And their conclusion claimed “some evidence of effectiveness.”

Ted Kyle asked biostatistics expert, Professor David Allison, about this study. Despite the claims of effectiveness in the paper’s abstract says Allison, the body of the paper clearly describes the findings as null. The authors state “Models to Compare the Intervention and Comparison Groups (i.e. All Three Intervention Schools Combined Compared to All Three Comparison Schools Combined) … showed No Statistically Significant Interaction Effect on Weight, Height, BMI, BMI-z and Proportion of Overweight/obesity.” The contrary statements in the abstract are an inappropriate use of spin as defined by Boutron et al. They lead to distortion of the scientific record and propagation of myths and presumptions which are all too common in the obesity domain. Authors and journals should hold themselves to higher standards of accurate reporting.

Null findings offer golden opportunities for learning. You do a study and the data tells you, you were wrong. That intervention – perhaps a wonderful prevention program – didn’t work the way you thought it would. Maybe the study was flawed. Or maybe the intervention just doesn’t work. Perhaps we need a new approach. But if you ignore that null finding, you’re kidding yourself. You might deceive others. And you get in the way of progress. 

FASTING BLOOD GLUCOSE AND INSULIN NEW BIOMARKERS FOR WEIGHT LOSS Fasting blood glucose and/or fasting insulin can be used to select the optimal diet and to predict weight loss, particularly for people with prediabetes or diabetes say researchers from the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports at the University of Copenhagen reporting the findings from a weight loss biomarker study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN). The findings suggest that for most people with prediabetes, a diet rich with vegetables fruits and wholegrains should be recommended for weight loss and could potentially improve diabetes markers. For people with type 2 diabetes, the analysis found that a diet rich in healthy fats from plant sources would be effective for achieving weight loss. These diets could also be effective independent of caloric restriction.

“Recognizing fasting plasma glucose as a key biomarker enables a new interpretation of the data from many previous studies, which could potentially lead to a breakthrough in personalized nutrition,” said Prof Arne Astrup. “The beauty of this concept is its simplicity. While we are looking into other biomarkers, it is quite amazing how much more we can do for our patients just by using those two simple biomarkers. We will continue to participate in and support research to explore additional biomarkers such as gut microbiota and genomics approaches, which may offer more insights and help to more effectively customize the right diet for specific individuals.”