Monday, June 13, 2016

Carroll's "Sorry, There’s Nothing Magical About Breakfast"

I love research that is counterintuitive. It is interesting to me and makes a strong, memorable example for the classroom. That's why I'm recommending Carroll's piece from the NYT. It questions the conventional wisdom that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

As Carroll details, there is a long standing and strong belief in nutrition research claiming that breakfast reduces obesity and leads to numerous healthy outcomes. But most nutrition research is correlational, not causal. AND there seems to be an echo-chamber effect, such that folks are miss-citing previous nutrition research to bring it in line with the breakfast research.

Reasons to use this article as a discussion piece in your statistics or research methods course:

-Highlights the difference between correlation and causation
-Provides an easy to understand example of publication bias ("no breakfast = obesity" is considered a fact, studies that found the opposite were less likely to be published)
-This pop NYT article includes links to all of the referenced research.
-Describes different research methods used to explore the issue. Controlled research in which breakfast eaters were forced to skip breakfast. Meta analysis. Diary studies. Adult research versus kid research.
-Conflict of interest: Should we trust pro-breakfast research conducted by companies that sell cereal?
-Conflation: Research does support the notion that children who eat breakfast do better in school than those who do not. This has been used to support the bigger notion that breakfast = good. However, this research has used poor kids who get free breakfast at school as their participants. So, under-nourished, rapidly growing kids who live in a condition of food uncertainty and poverty do better when they have at least one guaranteed meal a day, a guaranteed meal that involves spending more time at the physical school. Can we generalize this to, say, middle class adults, with different nutritional needs than growing children, who have greater control over their lives, and are financially secure?