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September 11, 2018

The Challenge of Reforming Nutritional Epidemiologic Research

Author Affiliations
  • 1Stanford Prevention Research Center and Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford (METRICS), Stanford University, Stanford, California
JAMA. 2018;320(10):969-970. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.11025

Some nutrition scientists and much of the public often consider epidemiologic associations of nutritional factors to represent causal effects that can inform public health policy and guidelines. However, the emerging picture of nutritional epidemiology is difficult to reconcile with good scientific principles. The field needs radical reform.

In recent updated meta-analyses of prospective cohort studies, almost all foods revealed statistically significant associations with mortality risk.1 Substantial deficiencies of key nutrients (eg, vitamins), extreme overconsumption of food, and obesity from excessive calories may indeed increase mortality risk. However, can small intake differences of specific nutrients, foods, or diet patterns with similar calories causally, markedly, and almost ubiquitously affect survival?

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