June 22, 2009

More Studies I Plan To Ignore

Sometimes I come across health studies that are perfectly legitimate... but they don't persuade me to do anything differently.

For example, there was that study that says raw broccoli is much better for you than cooked broccoli. Or another one that said room-temperature watermelon has more antioxidants in it than if it's refrigerated.

Well, I say the heck with those studies! I hate raw broccoli and like my watermelon cold and so I'm going to barely glance at the details.

However, if you are someone who likes warm watermelon or raw broccoli, these studies are not lame and ignorable, they are great discoveries! So I realize that one persons "health news" can be another person's "health snooze." (Sorry... that was really awful, wasn't it?)

So in the spirit of "I can't think of anything the least bit interesting to blog about today" "we're all different and isn't that wonderful," here are some recent studies that for various reasons, I didn't want to know much about but you very well might!

As it turns out, there are many different reasons to blow off health studies. So I've grouped these in Crabby-centric terms: why I didn't want to look much beyond the headline.

1. Because I know I'm Not Gonna Bother:

Cooking carrots before you cut them preserves about 25% more falcarinol, an anti-cancer compound, than if you cut the carrots first and then cook them.

Well, when I cook carrots it's mostly in soups or stews. And I do not want to start cooking the damn things whole and then fishing them out all hot and drippy and messy and then cutting them up. I'll just assume that that the sneaky little falcarinol stuff is now hiding in the soup. And if you scientists happen to know that it doesn't work that way? Don't tell me, ok?

2. Because I've heard the opposite thing too many times:

The New York Times Health Page has been torturing me lately with their "guess what, everything you ever heard is wrong" reports. Remember when they said exercise isn't all that good for you? Well, this one is equally annoying but more specific, and has to do with strengthening your core.

So you know how all the exercise experts always tells you the same thing: be sure to pull in your stomach as you work your abs. This is so that you can strengthen the "transversus abdominis" muscle which will help prevent back injuries.

In fact, exercise expert Rupal over at 101 Exercises just recently explained the importance of activating the deep abdominal muscles. And she's very convincing!

So now there's a smarty-pants New York Times article calling this into question. According to them: "There’s growing dissent among sports scientists about whether all of this attention to the deep abdominal muscles actually gives you a more powerful core and a stronger back and whether it’s even safe."

Well dagnabbit. I hate when exercise advice changes!

But to be fair, there are some good alternative core exercises they suggest, like side planks, bird dogs, very-very-modified crunches, and something called "stirring the pot." The video is pretty darn helpful as this stuff is hard to describe. (And thanks to reader Lulu for drawing this article to my attention!)

But I think my favorite source for Core Workouts? Still gotta be Bossy:

3. Because some new statistic pisses me off and/or depresses me.

A new study about teens and contraceptive use says that: "After major improvements in teen contraceptive use in the 1990s and early 2000s, which led to significant declines in teen pregnancy," contraceptive use declined between 2003 and 2007. And it's not because there's been any decrease in teen sexual activity.

"Teens are still having sex," one of the study's authors said, "but it appears many are not taking the necessary steps to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections."

The report suspects the reason might be faltering HIV prevention efforts and "more than a decade of abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education that does not mention contraception unless it is to disparage its use and effectiveness."

Which of course is what most of the health educators and experts predicted would happen. But we got federally funded "abstinence only" sex ed anyway.

I do not have a teen, so that's another reason for me not to spend too much time pondering the why's and wherefores. (And if I did, rather than take the high road and try to educate them myself, I suspect I'd send them over to the Midwest Teen Sex Show and let the fabulous Nikol school them on condoms and other sex ed topics. (Caution, graphic language and very NSFW).

4. Because it's a silly study.

Did you know that if you participate in a research study you think is about choosing colors, and the researchers offer you some soup for lunch, but don't tell you that they've rigged up your soup bowl to re-fill automatically...

...that you'll end up eating more soup than someone with a regular bowl?

Er... duh?

It's true that the people who didn't have sneaky self-refilling bowls had servers visibly refilling them, so the study does say something about how lame we are at telling just from our stomachs how "full" we are. But is this really a surprise???

And this study just seemed doofy on all kind of levels. Doesn't the whole "let's stop and have soup for lunch during our research study on colors" cover story sound kinda unconvincing? As a suspicious crab, I'd just assume they might be watching what I was eating and I'd try to control myself--though I suppose it would be the same weird artificial experience no matter which kind of bowl you had.

Anyway, I thought it was dumb use of research money. We haven't yet found cures for cancer and MS and all the other awful diseases out there. But we have money to rig re-fillable soup bowls to confirm the obvious fact that people use visual cues to tell them how much to eat?

Note: to add an additional embarrassing level of irrelevancy, this study was posted on the well-respected blog Cognitive Daily less than a week ago. But it turns out it's a rerun from 2007! Science blogs are allowed to have reruns? Crap! Why do I always notice the dates on studies after I write them up? Anyway, sorry, next time I'll check more carefully, and try to bring you recent silly studies, not old ones.

So, any studies or advice you've seen lately that you've chosen to ignore?


  1. I laughed when I read your great list. I tend to take any study with a grain of salt, because sooner or later someone else will have their own study to "debunk" the first one. Weight loss studies are notoriously bad, I think in part because they are sponsored by people who have a vested interest in the outcome. Thanks for a great start to my morning.

  2. I think the soup study is part of research done by Wansink, author of the book Mindless Eating (which is quite interesting and has some good tips). It sounds goofy because it's a bit without context. He's also got a site that's interesting - smallplatemovement dot org

    I love the "because I'm not going to bother" - and I agree on the NYT lately! Just when I'm getting into ab work, now I'm doing it wrong? (well, I'm doing a pilates abs tape, so maybe it's ok)

    Happy Monday!

  3. Well, I'm quite relieved, actually, that now I don't have to do all that pesky core work.... since it isn't going to help anyway....

  4. LOL! Actually, a friend just sent me the NYT ab article & was gonna post about it & ask everyone's opinion plus repost that one I did about all the different core muscles! I don't know, I have been doing what they now say not to do for years & has not hurt me! I do like the pic of your core exercise though! :-)

    The carrot thing! I am lazy enough about cooking already!

    I have actually seen that refill the soup type study on TV....

    I am with you, way too many & they keep changing what it all means every 5-10 years!

    Loved this post today!

  5. I figure that if I focus on the "vegetabes and exercise good, twinkies not good", it takes a lot of the frustration out of scientific studies and all that jazz.

    Besides, isn't the point that you're eating carrots?

  6. I'm still going to chop my carrots raw. They deserve it.

  7. Sometimes we just have to use a little bit of common sense. I got rid of chronic lower back pain when I started strengthening my core, so I don't care if the Exercise God climbs down from his golden treadmill and writes in stone with his glow-in-the-dark finger that core work doesn't work, because it's worked for me!

    There are a few problems with the credibility of most research these days. By far the majority of research is paid for by industries who have a vested interest in the outcome of the research. And they will design their studies in such a way that the desired outcome is achieved. Therefore it is very important to always check the funding of a study, which is a matter of public record, the affiliations of the researchers and ask yourself "What is this person selling?"

    Then, it is also advisable to read the actual study (usually not really a fun way to spend an afternoon) by going online and paying $5-10 rather than rely on the media-spin. For instance, Newsweek is heavily funded by the pharmaceutical industry, so its articles will always be biased in their favor.

    The media can really misreport things, like a recent study where four kinds of diets were compared. The aim and the gist of the study was that no gimmicky diets, be they low-carb, high protein, calorie restricted, low fat, etc. are not effective for permanent weight loss, as everybody had regained their lost weight, and often more after a year. The researchers hadn't included a plant-based whole foods diet because they knew that it's not a gimmicky diet, but a change in lifestyle and that it DOES result in permanent weight loss. The media widely reported that this study proved that it doesn't matter what method you use to lose weight. It even made it onto countless blogs. Total misrepresentation.

    Another factor here is our assumption that policy, be it dietary or health, is made on the basis of scientific research. That could not be further from the truth. Policy is made to protect the economic interests of the people who spend the most money lobbying. The US government's food pyramid has no scientific merit at all, it's a simple reflection of whose interests are being protected.

    Anyway, this is a long comment, but it's a subject that I have a lot to say about. Unfortunately we have to find out the truth for ourselves, or pay with our health.

  8. I'm so this way this research. I read everything like it's gospel, get depressed when they contradict each other, end up chucking everything out the window and vowing to stay away from Science Daily for at least a week;) Although I have to admit I read the NY Times ab article with great interest. But that's because I can't really do ab work now so I think it was just living vicariously.

  9. Hi Crabby,

    I also read the Times article about ab workouts--read it several times, in fact.

    I decided they are just telling us to be really, really careful with form for ab work and not to overdo.


  10. For things that are current in my life "actually happening now", I don't need an expert to refute or confirm my feelings. When it's raining (and it does an awful lot of it this June in NY) I can look out the window to know. Heck, I can even smell, hear or feel the moisture without even turning on a TV or looking it up on a website.

    To believe that cut carrots lose their vital importance is nonsense. Anyone that is using a carrot for nutrition means that they usually aren't substituting that vegetable with cheeseburgers.
    Dissecting health benefits and writing them up for those seeking wellness is foolish. And you wonder why newspapers are having a hard time staying in business.

  11. I find that many people can look at the same set of data, and draw different conclusions, either based on previous beliefs and bias, or different interpretations, etc. Or because they're selling something. You may absorb a different nutrient profile from cooked vs non-cooked carrots, but both and either are good for you, sliced or not. I know people who believe all sorts of strange conspiracy theories, and I don't have the time or patience to argue with their logic or history, I just ignore them. Just like I do with most studies, especially ones that just seem silly.

  12. I believe studies that have a really really large number of research subjects.

    But I prefer studies that have the wisdom to agree with me. Saves me the trouble of trying to figure out if I believe them or not.

  13. I think I've said this before here but I get so tired of studies -- almost as much as I get tired of books/tapes/shows/whatever -- that delve into the minutiae of healthy living. Because I think so many of these studies/books/whatever -- or at least the way they're reported -- don't look at the big picture, and when it comes to living healthfully, it's the big picture that really counts.

    Of course, if someone is doing something wrong, such as exercising in a way that will ultimately cause injury, the minutiae might be important (if we can really call that minutiae).

    But I doubt it really makes any difference at all to someone who eats healthy overall whether they cut their carrots before or after they cook them, or whether their broccoli is raw or cooked. Actually, it might make a difference if they won't eat them one way and will the other. 'Cuz the bigger impact is going to come from eating it period.

  14. When it comes to soup, with the temperatures hitting the 100's this week, I'm only believing those studies that recommend Vichyssoise!

  15. I'm still stuck on how they managed to create a bowl that would subtly refill itself. I know this wasn't what I was supposed to take from this study, but where can I get one of those? It would be totally handy for when I'm camped out in front of the tv and too lazy to get up and serve myself seconds.

  16. I don't like any vegetables cooked so no studies about cooking veggies is going to help me.

    Ummm I was under the impression most schools had sex ed, I did in my high school and I'm 36 years old. Not that these classes ever deterred girls from getting preggers.

  17. Hanlie is so right, whenever I see a study especially about specific drugs and they are "glowing" recommendations I look into who did the study, if its anyone related to that drug company, it's sketchy at best.

  18. So funny, Crabby!

    You know, the way you cut your carrots is probably not gonna give you cancer. In fact, just the fact that you are eating carrots will have great health benefits, I think they left that part out to the study. Don't sweat the small stuff!

  19. I love the soup bowl study. Now I dunno about you, but I am all about moving my bowl before/while I am eating, so when the bowl was glued to the table and I looked underneath and there was tubes of soup hanging underneath the table, I might have noticed...

    Now why couldn't someone make a self-refilling brownie pan? Mmm...

  20. We should make a big list of "what I would do with the millions of dollars that go into silly research studies". So many of them seem completely pointless.

  21. I hear ya on the 'changing their minds thing"! Red wine is good for you, now it's not. I choose to just ignore whatever I don't like to hear. Pour another glass of merlot! :)

  22. Two recent studies I (wish that I) have seen:

    A twelve week study at the University of Who Gives a S*** concluded that, in the absence of the compilation of useless data, researchers are prone to play Word Warp on their iPhones and watch re-runs of Saved by the Bell all day. After analyzing the variables, research showed conclusively that, given any (and I mean ANY) topic to study, researchers will abandon their own useless activity and attempt to waste YOUR time with ridiculous and inane conclusions.

    After 3 billion years of amassed research, studies show that we are all actually going to die some day. The question is whether we're going to waste our time beer-bonging other people's studies or actually go out there and live life.

    I'm a sucker for studies, too. But I'm frustrated by the contradictory results that are constantly manifesting. The bottom line is, you can prove a flat-earth theory if you have a strong enough profit motive and I think we'd all be well served to trust our guts and common sense and go through life living the best way we can.

    Thanks for the post. Love it, though it leaves me a bit frothy around the mouth.

  23. I'm with you and digging those carrots out of the soup. I read that ivy also has falcarinol in it so I'll chew on that. To prevent cancer, you probably have to eat an amount of carrots large enough per day to cause cancer.

    I hope reading studies does not cause cancer.

  24. I think the majority of studies are either biased or poorly executed or even created to intentionally misled.

    Did I just win the crankiest commenter of the day award? (or maybe just the dumbest!)

    but I do like warm watermelon, so that one is probably right.

  25. I hate the study that claims an amazing discovery, only to get to the end and find out it was done on 13 rats in a laboratory. I tend to ignore studies with a small sample and on rats. Come back to me when your 'amazing discovery' works on humans!

  26. I'll just concentrate on eating carrots- if I eat 25% more than "average" will that compensate for the fact that I either cut them up and then steam them; cut them up and add them to soups stews and other dishes (not leaving out carrot cake); and even cut them up and eat them raw?

  27. Just so you know, I was in this biosci lecture on cooking vegetables and they measured various vits in cooked, uncooked, and in the water, and yeah the vits don't get destroyed, they mostly just end up in the water. So the soup/stew thing works, I guess. Or you could drink your cooking water...

  28. dont hold your breath :) next week we'll have another theory to ratchet up the ol' crank meter

    keep on keepin' on

  29. Heh. I don't like raw broccoli, either. But cooked rocks. And I love watermelon in any form. And what a humorous look at studies -- seems like there's a study born every minute. Or something. ;)

  30. When it comes to fitness there are (in my experience as a trainer and a physical culturist) 2 rules.

    Rule #1 - There are no rules

    Rule #2 - There is always an exception to rule #1

    Studies are great and they have their place but you need to also hear the side of the person in the trenches that is doing it. Not just on himself herself but with clients. Of course it has to be someone who actually has an imagination, pays attention and is always learning. Never quite satisfied. Those are the mavericks in fitness. Not easy to find but they are out there.
    I heard a great coach once say: If we always followed science we would still be high jumping 7 feet. (the record is over 8 feet BTW)

  31. Scientific studies are lessons in contradictions. One will say that drinking coffee is the next best thing to being an Olympic athlete, another will tout that a drop of java gives you cancer.
    It all depends on who does the study, how long they do it for, and the conditions tested. None of these things are ever replicated exactly in the real world, so how does it apply?
    Honestly does it really matter when our carrots are sliced when the larger hurdle was to choose a healthy soup over convenient fast food?
    Nutritionists are the worst. Vitamins are great and all (the new 'in' vitamin is vitamin D) but it's how they react to each other and the foods that they're found in that make the difference. Getting all your vitamins from pills will give you expensive pee, since the pill doesn't have the fiber, phytonutrients, antioxidants and heaven only knows what else (the goodness of nature?) that makes fruit and vegetables healthy.

    ...Although I fully support all studies that tout the awesomeness of chocolate.


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