“A problem with research” or “why to use your common sense”

In a recent article in the local paper entitled “Study seeks answer to why we are fat,” I was reminded of the reason I am a little bit cynical about research findings.  The article talks about a research question that is being proposed by a professor in an Exercise Science and Epidemiology/Biostatistics department at a university in South Carolina.  The question this scientist will study with a $2.5 million grant over the next year is whether the obesity epidemic is driven more by overeating or by inactivity.  According to the article, this particular scientist has a theory of his own.  Judging from what department he is from, I bet you can guess his theory.  He already believes (before conducting the research) that physical inactivity is the bigger culprit.  And, of course, he cites the changes in our culture that have supported a more physically inactive lifestyle based on the technological advances we have experienced in the recent past.   While this part is true, the scientist goes so far as to say there is “no convincing data” that diet is the main driver of the country’s obesity problem.   The punch line of this story is that the $2.5 million study is being funded by none other than a major soda and snack conglomerate–Coca-Cola.  While there will be no representatives from Coca-Cola on the research project, it has come to my attention that when there is a major corporation funding research, you hardly ever hear about the findings that don’t benefit them in some way.

I’m not saying we don’t need research and that it doesn’t serve a purpose, because it does.  I am saying that you need to be a knowledgeable consumer of research and not take everything you hear at face value just because a scientist said it.  In this case, for example, it seems pretty obvious that you need to pay attention to both your diet and to your physical activity if you want to manage your weight.