When Nutrition Research Flops

When nutrition research flops

  • Nutrition research is not always easy and, unfortunately, not always reliable
  • Researchers have to jump through many hoops before their “experiments” actually take place
  • Many findings should be taken with a grain of salt

When striving for excellent nutrition knowledge, one must always refer to recent research for the latest trends, findings, and recommendations.

But, as we have come to learn in the nutrition world, research is not always easy and, unfortunately, not always reliable.

When a new finding or “quick fix” makes its way into the media, we all want to jump on board.

This is because making changes in our diet is hard, and we want to find a magic pill to fix all of our health concerns and send us on our merry way.

Back in 2012, there was research claiming that children will make healthier choices when their food was associated with fun or familiar shapes, such as characters from popular children’s shows or movies.

Between cookies and apples, children chose the apples when they had the face of a familiar cartoon character.

A Simple Alternative Perhaps?

The public jumped on the bandwagon, and we saw an influx of fruit snacks, baby carrot bags, and apple slices with colorful characters on them.

However, it is important to note that nutrition research is rarely as simple as placing a familiar character on packaging and fixing the problem of childhood obesity; it goes much deeper and has many more complexities than what it seems.

Researchers have to jump through many hoops before their “experiments” actually take place.

Ventures have to be approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) which protects subjects from potential harm.

Add children to the mix and the IRB is even more careful to review every part of a research study to make sure the children will not be harmed in any way.

There are also many external factors that could play into research.

For example, in the Cornell study, it is important to take into account what these children already ate on a daily basis.

Are they more exposed to apples or cookies?

Do they even know the character that was placed on these foods?

What was the setting that this food was handed out in; a school, a home, or a park?

Or were they expected to self-select?

All of these factors are important to consider.

Even our food choices are impacted by our environment, whether we are at a work meeting with donuts or at home preparing a salad.

To make matters even more complicated, problems were found in the Cornell study. It was found that these experiments were done on 3-5 year olds, not on 8-11 year olds, which is what the study originally published.

Findings cannot be generalized to these two age groups as children are at completely different developmental stages. There were communication errors between the researchers that were not caught, which shows how much can actually go wrong during research.

All this to say, nutrition research is rarely simple and never easy.

While we need to refer to research as a measuring stick when making recommendations, findings should be taken with a grain of salt, since some research studies have too many external factors to make them reliable.

This is why it is important to be attuned to how your body reacts to different foods, different plans, and different lifestyle factors.

Each person needs to evaluate their own health and work with a practitioner, preferably a registered dietitian, to see what changes they can make to ensure the best possible health for their own body.


About the author

Tveen Verano [MPH, RD] is a registered dietitian nutritionist from Southern California. She is currently working as a renal dietitian and has a private practice as a registered dietitian and online wellness coach. Her passion for nutrition and real food drives her to keep up with current research and provide relevant and applicable information to the public to help stop the trend of obesity and provide vitality and health to everyone.