What is the Goal of Nutrition Evaluation? Are the Right Things being Measured?

Today, @TheLancet tweeted a link to an article “Reducing waste from incomplete or unusable reports of biomedical research” by Glasziou et al (2014). It is an interesting read with 3 main recommendations:

  1. Funders and research institutions must shift research regulations and rewards to align better and more complete reporting
  2. Research funders should take responsibility for reporting infrastructure that supports good reporting and archiving
  3. Funders, institutions, and publishers should improve the capability and capacity of authors and reviewers in high-quality and complete reporting.

These are commendable. I am going to address the latter, point 3. First, be reminded that I favor nutrition evaluations using biological data over diet records, food frequency questionnaires and self-reported surveys when assessing nutritional status of individuals or populations. The reality is that we underreport what we eat and the composition and availability of food products constantly changes. For a scientific discussion of methodological limitations, see Archer et al. (2013).

Coming back to the quality of peer review. How is it possible that the same journal can publish two papers of such diversity on the same day? The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a paper entitled  “Sources of vegetables, fruits and vitamins A, C and E among five ethnic groups: Results from a multiethnic cohort study” by Sharma et al. (2014). People were recruited to the study  between 1993 and 1996. The authors (was it really the same investigators?) report data obtained from a lot of people  (n = 186,916) living in Hawaii and Los Angeles county. But the dietary intake data appears to have been collected between 1993 and 1996. This is 2014. Basically, 20 years later.

According to their citations (Kolonel  et al, 2000), participants entered the cohort by completing a 26-page, self-administered mail questionnaire with a quantitative food frequency questionnaire. history, along with demographic and other information. Data on food composition were obtained using USDA Handbook 8 with supplemental special laboratory analyses.

Sharma and colleagues write and the journal publishes in the abstract:

Such data are valuable for developing and implementing public health strategies to meet the USDA dietary recommendations and for guiding ethnicity-specific nutrition education and intervention programs.

Really? Do you think that the food choices available to people are still the same in 2014? Really?

Personally, I wish the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition would publish more studies like “Serum docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acid and risk of cognitive decline over 10 years among elderly Japanese” by Otsuka et al (2014). I won’t repeat my blog on this paper today but suffice it to say,

More research is needed to guide public policy, and it should be based on relationships relating biological data with functional outcomes. 

About Michael McBurney

Personal Blog | Nutrition scientist with broad interests, including social media and the impact of open access journals on science publishing | Self-employed freelancer
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