It's so hard to know who to trust when it comes to the matters of diet and nutrition. There seems to be so much information out there that contradicts other information leaving us perplexed. It's only natural to assume that a well-known Ivy League researcher with over two decades of scientific success would be a great source for healthy living tips. But what if I told you that scientist ended up being a fraud? We'll explore the background behind this debacle then discuss some of the potential myths he peddled throughout his twenty-year career. Read on for the juicy details!
The researcher in question is social scientist Brian Wansink, who is a professor at Cornell University in upstate New York. Before his recent fall from grace, he was quite the media darling due to his many published studies detailing food behavior and nutritional tips. Wansink was widely considered to be a world-renowned expert on eating behaviors. His popularity and prestige are partly why this is such a big and shocking story with far-reaching implications.
Essentially, the professor published a blog post detailing how he encouraged research graduate students to look for trends in data sets even when they were hard to find; this appeared to some colleagues as manipulation of study data so, therefore, raised a number of red flags. Thus, Wansink's past studies published in reputable journals like the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) were all examined with that manipulation in mind. The end result is that 13 of his studies have been retracted and 15 more formally corrected. Additionally, Wansink is being forced to resign from his Ivy League post at the end of the academic year.
To fully grasp the far-reaching consequences of this scandal, let's see what one of the scientists' pouring over Wansink's studies has to say about it. Tim van der See stated on his website that, "To the best of my knowledge, there are currently 42 publications from Wansink which are alleged to contain minor to very serious issues, which have been cited over 3,700 times, are published in over 25 different journals, and in eight books, spanning over 20 years of research." So basically this is a huge deal and is causing an uproar in the field of social science. Even worse, the public may have been been duped and now considers some of these nutritional tips fact when they could be myths.
In this case, Wansink explored the possible consequences of a child being encouraged to clean their plate by a parental figure. He contended that they would be more likely to request more food in the future. Unfortunately, the statistics are not accurate since the study has since been retracted.
In this instance, Wansink contended that healthy school lunch options would be better received if kiddos associated that lunch with cartoon characters. In particular, this study explored how branded apples were connected. Since this exploration has been retracted, we do not know if this assertion holds water.
In perhaps the most ridiculous study we've seen, Wansink asserted that watching action-packed television shows would encourage the viewer to consume more food by volume. He used the phrase "mindless eating" to describe the snacking that occurs while relaxing and watching a program. This research has since been corrected then retracted completely, so it is yet another thing we considered a "fact" that can no longer be proven.
In our next example, Wansink suggested that children who pre-ordered their school lunches would be encouraged to make better food choices. He thought that was due to the fact that they wouldn't be able to smell the unhealthy food while ordering ahead of time. In his own words, "Preordering could preempt hunger-based, spontaneous selections and eliminate the sensory cues---evocative smells and sights---that lead to less healthy choices." This is yet another study that has been deemed unfit by JAMA and retracted from their publication.
Next, research by Wasink discusses the effects of fasting on how much shoppers buy at the grocery store. He thought that hungry people would be much more likely to buy foods with high caloric content not necessarily more volume of foods. Again, this has been corrected then retracted from a peer-reviewed medical journal so we don't know what the effects, if any, are.
In our final myth to be discussed, Wansink studied how the size of a bowl of food affected the amount that was eaten. He wanted to offer some tips to combat the rising obesity epidemic. He asserted that "Participants serving from large bowls took 53% (146 calories) more and consumed 56% (142 calories) more than those who served from small bowls". Not to be a party pooper, but this cannot be considered truth since it has since been retracted by the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Overall, we hope to have opened your eyes to the fallout of this particular research scandal. We encourage all Oola readers to carefully vet any sources from which they ascertain nutritional information in the future.