Bart Kay is New Zealander with a background in Science. He has had an extensive academic career, including Senior Lecturer in Clinical Physiology at the De Montfort University, Leicester, UK.
He has also worked as consultant with New Zealand’s iconic rugby team, the All Blacks, as well as the New Zealand and Australian Armed Forces. He has now retired from academia to focus on his business Nutrition Science Watchdog, where he provides scientific critique on topics around nutrition. He is well worth listening to.
I was excited to talk to Bart about the scientific rigor of the recent studies that are circulating around the dangers of red meat and how it could potentially increase the risk of cancer. It turns out that the scientific rigor is missing from these studies. There is in fact no scientific evidence to support this however it doesn’t stop the media from suggesting this.
In this interview with Bart, he explains how science works and why we need to be more aware of the information we are being fed - much of it is misleading.
In summary Bart shares:
These are large population-based studies that examine disease in people or animals. They try to assess how, when and where disease occurs.
The recent research on red meat was based on the Framingham Study, a very famous epidemiological study, over many years with thousands of people.
These types of studies can only ever show an association, they cannot prove causation. All they can tell you is two events occur at the same time, but they cannot say whether one caused the other because there may be some other factor that affected outcomes. For example, when there is a house fire, you will also find firemen. That does not mean the firemen caused the fire. There may be another explanation. These are called confounding factors and need to be considered when drawing conclusions from research.
Another problem with these kinds of studies is how the data is recalled. In this case, dietary recall was used. It is well known this is very inaccurate, as people cannot remember what they eat and sometimes lie about it. Who would have thought!
Actual Risk versus Relative Risk
This common technique is used to exaggerate an effect. For example, consider a trial with 200 people. 100 take a medication to prevent dying from a heart attack while the other 100 get a sugar pill. At the end of the study, 1 person who took the medication and 2 people who took the sugar pill died. Looking at it another way, 99 people who took the medication and 98 people who took the sugar pill are still alive at the end. That is a 1% reduction in risk, and does not sound very impressive.
To make the medication look more favourable relative risk is calculated. This allows the researchers to say the medication doubled the chance of survival. It is called doctoring data.
The article in the Herald, claiming red meat caused cancer, used this technique. The actual risk was so low it wasn’t worth reporting. Instead the relative risk was published to make the result look better.
This type of misleading goes on all the time. It is so easy to be fooled when we are putting our trust and belief in so-called experts to report on research, however doctoring research data is very common, and it is important to be aware how these tactics are used.
Bart and I discuss other ways research is compromised, and I highly recommend you listen to this interview in its entirety.
You can find out more about Bart and his work at Nutrition Science Watchdog.
This is the link to the interview Bart did regarding Vitamin C with Paul Saladino that he mentions during our interview Will you get Scurvy on a Carnivore Diet? Bart Kay Returns!
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