A Skeptical View Of 'Eat Chocolate, Be Thinner' Study

I'm starting a Yoni Freedhoff fan club. Who's with me?

Twice now in the last month, Dr. Freedhoff, a Canadian obesity specialist, has brought much-needed, data-driven skepticism to splashy food research that got wide and potentially misleading coverage. (He calls himself a "certifiably cynical realist" in his blog subtitle.)

First it was a daunting study about red meat and mortality, and now it's Monday's article linking more frequent chocolate consumption with lower weight.

Confession: I wrote up the chocolate study — sounding maximally dubious, but I wrote it up. So I feel duty-bound to call attention to Dr. Freedhoff's blistering post pointing out major flaws in the study's methodology, including the fact that the researchers left major holes in their data on subjects' diets beyond chocolate, fruits and vegetables, and saturated fat. He writes:

So to recount - basically here we have a study with no controls whatsoever rendering conclusions impossible, authors who rather than mention their study's pretty much insurmountable methodological limitations instead made up a "growing body of literature" on magic calorie neutral or negative foods, a press release that spins it all as fact and as a result, as of early this morning, less than 24 hours after publication, there were already 443 chocolate makes you thin stories on the newswire to further misinform an already nutritionally confused world.

Once again I'm left scratching my head trying to understand how this could possibly have made it to - let alone passed - peer review, and why it is that ethics and accuracy don't seem to matter to the folks who write press releases, or to the respected researchers who are drawing these unbelievably irresponsible and over-reaching conclusions despite undoubtedly knowing better. It also makes me wonder just how exactly they all manage to sleep at night.

Hat-tip to the Reporting on Health blog, which reprints Dr. Freedhoff here, and the post ran originally on his Weighty Matters blog.

This program aired on March 28, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Headshot of Carey Goldberg

Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



More from WBUR

Listen Live