Science – Really?

May 17, 2016 in Foodland, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

As so often happens two items cross my pathway in a close proximity and cause some neurons to say; “Look, these two answer one another.” That very thing happened last week. A study in a Pediatrics journal that didn’t make sense seemed to be answered by John Oliver, a comedian.

The first was a puzzling study published in the prestigious JAMA Pediatrics. I admit, at first I did not even read the study, because it seemed so nonsensical; but eventually I broke down and read it. It is a study providing statistical evidence that if pregnant mothers drink diet drinks with artificial sweeteners, their boy babies will more frequently be overweight or obese at age one. Looking at the data tables, it was clear that a handful of variables were confounded with the amount of diet soda consumed. That is, other variables may have predicted the obesity, even more strongly. Even if the study controlled for all the possible confounders (higher body-mass index (BMIs); more smokers; more with diabetes, less breast feeding; more introduction of solid foods before 4 months; and so on) of those with male infants that gained more weight, there still remain questions in my mind.

Statistically, DrGrandpa, who is into experiments and statistics, thinks that while they have established a suspicion about diet drinks, he would also reanalyze the data. What variables are the most powerful in producing overweight babies at one year? If they had taken the bad eating practices of the mothers as a combined variable (body-mass index, poor diet score, diabetes) and controlled statistically for the effect of the amount of diet soda consumed during pregnancy, the connection to obesity in babies likely would have been much stronger. The advice from such a reanalysis of the same data would have been that you can get a whole lot larger effect on your baby’s overweight status (male or female) at one year by working to establish better eating habits for the family unit than by stopping the practice of drinking diet soda, although that might help a little bit too. The study was well done for teasing out that diet soda seemed to have an effect independent of the confounding variables.

All I’m saying is that how do the researchers, who did not collect much data during the year after birth, know that the overweight moms were not feeding the newborns more than the normal weight moms were feeding? Did you notice that the higher the BMI was, the more diet soda was consumed by the moms? The point that I’m trying to make here is that women drinking diet soda may be more likely to be struggling with weight problems. Maybe they are also struggling with how much and what to feed a newborn. The 1-year-old infant girls were not significantly more overweight. Why? It might have shown up by analyzing the data differently. Yes, as is always said; we should do repeat studies to validate what is found in any one study.

You probably don’t want to watch 20 minutes of John Oliver (He’s very funny.); but seriously, he explains why this type of research bubbles to the top and make a big splash all over the news. In a humorous way Oliver explains part of what we learn in public health statistics classes.

The conclusion of the study is that mothers should consider drinking water instead of diet soda. That is a very logical conclusion because we truly don’t know for sure if there are any negative effects of the ingredients in the artificial sweeteners. But I don’t really believe that drinking diet soda is the most important cause of obesity in the 1-year-old babies, whether girls or boys.

So put John Oliver with JAMA Pediatrics and try to make the best decision you can.