This week, a team of researchers published their own set of dietary recommendations which were as follows: continue eating unlimited quantities of red-meat, both processed and unprocessed without concern.
The Annals on Internal Medicine published a meta-review this week, and an example of sensationalist poor-quality science that aims for publishability over public health, in a bad faith attempt to redefine nutrition. This was carried out by a team, the vast majority of which whose specialty was not nutrition, poring through third-party research that wasn’t theirs and then feigning authority on the subject.
The review has already been savaged by much of the medical community, with some calling for the journal to delay publication to prevent the damage to the credibility of nutrition science and public health.
The Harvard School of public health skewered the review saying of the recommendations, calling them “irresponsible and unethical,” and saying that, “they contradict the evidence generated from their own meta-analyses,” with their own data still finding risk.
One of the Harvard researchers said that, “this report has layers of flaws and is the most egregious abuse of evidence that I have ever seen.”
A representative of the American Cancer Society said, “they’re not saying meat is less risky; they’re saying the risk that everyone agrees on is acceptable for individuals,” suggesting that the reviewers made an irresponsible normative suggestion that is based on social preferences and not at all based on the depth of contradictory medical evidence.
There are several critical flaws in their report, the first of which is the lack of discrimination between methodology of the studies that they meta-analyze. The only metric reported is follow-up length, however, the length of treatment period and frequency of check-ins, and the frequency and scale of consumption i.e. dosage, should make a measurable difference. This review instead of discriminating by the length of time in which treatments or observations are carried out, or the quantity of meat consumed, simply lumped every single study into the same data pool. They then graded the strength of the findings, while not even beginning to analyze the differences in methodological rigor, time-span, or total meat consumed by the groups.
The second major flaw is their ridiculous recommendation structure. One on hand, they lambast the strength and assuredness of previous assertions made based on what they call flawed observational diet studies, and then they make their own unqualified and equally strong statements, based on a rough meta-analysis of several dozen studies without any care for quality contained. Their research contradicts decades of high-quality public medical research, yet in their own hubris and demand for attention, they never stop to question how they could have reached such different conclusions than thousands of other researchers in every major country around the world, contradicting the WHO itself. They then turn around and negligently suggest that there is minimal risk from all meat types, including heavily-processed meat products, suggesting that people continue their consumption without worry. They themselves make their own strong, overly assured recommendations based on their own single paper, most critically, valuing the social value of meat over clinical risk.
In time, this research will do great damage to the field of nutritive sciences, a field in which only 3 of the 14 authors are a member of and have any stake in. It will damage confidence in the validity of medicine to produce consistent recommendations for diet, and it will damage public health as physicians and patients alike, as patients, even if they do not follow the recommendations, will question the value of dietary recommendations. It ought to be retracted, not for the conclusions it draws in questioning previous studies, but for the way it presents itself: as authoritative refutation of decades of publicly accepted clinical dietary recommendations, a new paradigm of skepticism. In reality, it is a cheaply produced popular science puff piece making frighteningly dangerous claims and recommendations that unfortunately, some people will take very seriously.
Staff writer: Ari B