The Nutrition News that Moved Us in 2015
The end of the year is almost here, and I thought it would be interesting to look back at 2015 and see which nutrition research had the most impact over the past year. There is no definitive way to do this, so I will be experimenting a little with some tools to give the best overview of what has been going on.
The first tool that I am using is Google Trends, which shows some nice little graphs of what people have been searching for over the past decade. If I search for “nutrition”, I can see that an interesting pattern: people search most for nutrition at the start of the year, but interest seems to wane as the year progresses and drop off completely during the last quarter of the year. 2015 was not an exception to this pattern. Interest in “vitamin” and “multivitamin” has been increasing over the past 10 years, although it remained relatively flat in 2015. Growth in “vitamin D” searches has been strong in the period 2005-2010, and stable for the past 5 years.
According to Google, there were no news stories that made an impact on searches for nutrition. So I went to newspaper The Guardian, which appears to be the only one of the few that I sampled that allowed me to view the popularity of a post (I used the number of comments as a proxy for how popular a particular post was), and searched under their “nutrition” heading. The most-commented-on post with 988 reactions was one from February 10 on the lack of evidence behind guidelines on saturated fat consumption. Based on a research paper that is sure to add more fuel to the fire of confusion on whether it is healthy to eat butter, it seems that guidelines on saturated fat consumption issued thirty to fourty years ago were based on evidence that was not particularly strong. The paper fails to mention that techniques such as meta-analysis that combine the results from many trials were not commonly in use at the time, and since then, we have good evidence that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats reduces cardiovascular disease (see Cochrane review “Effect of cutting down on the saturated fat we eat on our risk of heart disease”). Then, in July, a post on processed food, which has a sentiment closely resembling my own on the subject, attracted 697 comments. And the third most popular article attracted 511 comments: it was on the possible health benefits of a low carbohydrate (ketogenic) diet. The article in the fourth place “Why your bathroom scales are lying to you and how to find your true weight” is an interesting read on how body weight changes from hour to hour.
Using bibliographic database Scopus, I could also search for research articles published in 2015 that had the most number of citations. This particular analysis is a little bit unfair to articles published later in the year, as it normally takes a few months from when a manuscript is first submitted until it is published, therefore anything published since September is unlikely to have been cited. For this reason, I have looked at articles published in both 2014 and 2015. I used the keyword “nutrition”.
The scientific article that has been cited the most was from CDC researchers in the JAMA on the prevalence of childhood obesity in the US, and it has been cited 997 times since February 26, 2014. Most publications in the field of obesity published since this date are likely to go to this paper for some basic statistics on the extent of the problem, and it is understandable why this paper has been so widely cited. The next most cited paper is on the current nutrition topic du jour: the gut microbiome. The authors report on how diet affects microbes in the gut and the potential effects on health. This publication in Nature received 429 citations since January 2014. Not far behind with 365 citations was another publication, this time in Circulation, on the latest heart disease and stroke statistics. This third paper is widely used to demonstrate the extent of heart disease in the US.
There you have it: the most important nutrition moments from 2015. Tomorrow, we will take it one step further by looking into detail at the vitamins.