It’s official, a recent study shows that adding a bar of chocolate to your weight loss programme helps you lose more weight than just dieting alone.
It’s a fact. The results of the study were revealed last month by Dr Johannes Bohannon, PhD, the research director at the Institute of Diet and Health and over the last few weeks it’s been picked up by major newspapers and magazines across the UK, Europe, the USA and across the world.
It’s all to do with the bioactive compounds and flavonoids, but there’s something else going on here beneath the surface…
People aged 19 to 67 were split into three groups:
- Group 1: low-carb diet and an additional daily serving of 42 grams of chocolate (chocolate group)
- Group 2: same low-carb diet as the chocolate group, but no chocolate intervention (low-carb group)
- Group 3: Eat at their own discretion, with unrestricted choice of food.
The study revealed that subjects of the chocolate intervention group experienced the easiest and most successful weight loss, with the weight reduction of this group exceeding the results of the low-carb group by 10% after only three weeks.
The study was 100 percent authentic. Actual human subjects were recruited, they ran a full clinical trial with people randomly assigned to different diet regimes and the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that were reported were based on the actual data.
Terrible Science, Meaningless Results
Here’s the rub: it was a typical study for the field of diet research, with many like it carried out and reported on every day. The fact is, it is terrible science with meaningless results, and the media has blasted the health claims far and wide to millions of people who now believe chocolate can help weight loss. It happens all the time.
This study was actually carried out to prove that bad science can easily get through the net and into the public eye. These researchers carried out this research to reveal how studies can show whatever you want them to show, leaving the consumer reeling from an onslaught of mixed messages, pseudo-science and hokum. These researchers intentionally set out to prove chocolate is good for you, in order to try to demonstrate how many bad studies are out there doing the rounds. And the results they got did show positive results for eating chocolate just like studies can show anything that you want them to if you use a low enough sample group and measure enough variables.
But The Study Did Show That Chocolate Helps Weight Loss, Why?
Now this study did actually show accelerated weight loss in the chocolate group, so doesn’t that mean we should trust the results? Isn’t that how science works?
Well, there’s a dirty little secret to science research, which is used over and over again. If you measure a large number of things about a small number of people, you are almost guaranteed to get a statistically significant result.
This study used just 15 people across all three of the groups – an average of just five people in each group. Then it measured them for 18 different factors: weight, cholesterol, sodium, blood protein levels, sleep quality, well-being and other aspects. As a result, you’re going to hit the gold somewhere and force what is called a ‘false positive’ or two it’s guaranteed. Each of those 18 factors across just 15 people is going to have a good chance to be skewed. If and when just one of those throws out an anomaly then you’ve got your story.
What was missing from the press release was the number of subjects and the minuscule weight differences between the groups. Journalists should ask these questions, but it’s a lot easier not to bother and just cut and paste.
The headline could have been that chocolate improves sleep or lowers blood pressure, depending on what spun out of the tests.
And that’s the point, if you set out in the first place wanting to prove that wine is good for you, that exercise doesn’t help you lose weight, that standing on your head before going to bed improves sleep or that a four minute ab routine every day will get you into shape, then you can choose to ignore the data that doesn’t corroborate your story and just focus in on the data that shows a result. If a few people in the study don’t match up to what you need, just drop their data from the study.
Lazy Reporting Strikes Again
It’s up to the press to probe the results and report on the truth, to give people the news and ensure they are correctly informed. Unfortunately, as ever, the journalists who picked up this story didn’t bother to ask how many people were in the study, how many factors were being measured, whether the findings were robust and if there had been and additional trials carried out.
It’s widely known and widely used. Fiddling with experimental design to get the results that you want. And the loser is the general public, bombarded with senseless messages that are dressed up in scientific fact.
If our news sources won’t tell us the truth, then we need to be more educated and questioning ourselves.
The news was reported far and wide, including:
- The Huffington Post
- Irish Examiner
- Das Bild
- Shape Magazine
- Modern Healthcare
- Daily Express
It seems that Men’s Health could have got lucky, with an interviewer carrying out a non-probing interview by email, not asking about sample sizes or p-hacking, but the story was set for a September publication date, after the date of the hoax reveal.
Only after the papers published the results, without asking any probing questions, did the scientists come forward and reveal the truth.
It was all a con, but the newspapers fell for it. The worst thing is that, it was exactly the same as many more studies that are poorly carried out and peddled as valid scientific fact, but just scratch the surface and you’ll find there is no substance.
The Public Will Not Be Fooled
One of the high points of all this is that some readers were more skeptical than the journalists who simply regurgitated the ‘findings’, asking the questions that the reporters should have asked in the first place.
“Why are calories not counted on any of the individuals?” asked a reader on a bodybuilding forum. “The domain for the Institute of Diet and Health website was registered at the beginning of March, and dozens of blogs and news magazines spread this study without knowing what or who stands behind it,” said a reader beneath the story in Focus, one of Germany’s leading online magazines. Or as a reader of the story in the Daily Express put it, “Every day is April Fool’s day in nutrition.”
But there will be many millions of people out there who just read the article and believe it, not through any fault of their own, they just haven’t been given the full facts.
So watch out for the cut and paste reporting that makes for a quick news story. When it comes to food and diet, it’s easy to do, but there’s still no better way to a better body than eating clean and exercising regularly and exercising right.
What’s your take on all this bad science noise that we’re getting hit with and what’s the worst health advice that you’ve seen in print?