My blog reflects my own efforts to begin to translate what I learn about science into meaningful information, policy input, and dinner. This is science put into practice, in the kitchen and in my advocacy work.
Here’s the problem as I see it, plain and simple:
Really, though, there’s nothing simple about it. As a student of epidemiology I must claim that this only shows an association, not cause-effect. Whether the Guidelines “caused” the rapid rise in obesity has yet to be determined, but it’s clear that they certainly did not prevent it. To me, what is more interesting is why nutrition epidemiologists aren’t all over this particular—and remarkably obvious– association trying to figure it out. Instead, I read study after study on the arcuate nucleus and the “built” environment and circadian rhythms and the health belief model and how these things contribute to obesity—and virtually no one says “Um, excuse me, but what about the one public policy piece that since 1980 has influenced every single aspect of our food environment from our cultural norms to how nutrition research gets funded and everything in between? You know, the Dietary Guidelines?”
As Dr. Su from Carbohydrates Can Kill said, it is like there is an invisible electric fence when it comes to questioning our national dietary policy. Scientists just don’t go there.
So of course, I want to go there.
Although I love nothing more than a romantic evening for one at PubMed, don’t expect a lot of article-jousting here. Frequently those arguments (leptin insulin ghrelin, oh my!) boil down to a collection of snapshots from experimental data that may or may not create a physiologically significant or practically useful collage. I spent a few years at the Duke Lifestyle Medicine Clinic working with patients who were overweight/obese and frequently struggling with diabetes. This experience has focused my interests on the interactions between biology, culture, and the individual and how these influences become manifest in individual differences and population-wide similarities with regards to nutritional needs, food choices, and consumption patterns (a framework borrowed from anthropology and applied to eating, hence the name of the blog).
In addition, my experiences so far in graduate school—including an interning stint at the American Dietetic Association’s Washington, DC office—have made it very clear that when it comes to the science of nutrition, the playing field is far from level. In fact, I’m not sure our current crisis can be solved by science, or certainly not by science alone. Since the advent of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 1980, all aspects of nutrition research have become warped by industry and politics. And–as any grad student can tell you—the most political industry of all is the scientific/academic one.
At the same time, I’m not here to wring my hands in anguish. I’m actively trying to figure out what to do about this mess we’re in. I’d love all the feedback and help and ideas I can get from anyone with enough time on their hands to wade through my musings. Let’s save the world & have fun doing it.