Behind the Numbers of the Latest Weight Loss Study – and other stuff

by DavalosMcCormack on July 18, 2008

So, you probably saw the headlines in your newspaper or heard about it on TV; hot-off-the-press-breaking-news telling you that low-carb diets were better than low-fat ones for weight loss, and could even help improve your cholesterol level.

It was great for getting your attention, but if you look a little closer at the story, the news wasn’t so great. First of all the study was funded by a research center founded by Dr. Atkins, creator of the Atkins low-carb diet. Now this doesn’t mean the study was biased, in fact the researchers insist that the Atkins group had no control over any aspect of the study design, but it does at least raise questions about balance and impartiality.

Second, the difference in weight loss between two of the groups was relatively small. The average weight loss, over two years, in the group eating a Mediterranean diet was 10 lbs, the average weight loss in the low-carb group was 12 lbs. The low-fat group came in third at 7 lbs. So the difference between the low-carb diet and the Mediterranean one was just two pounds. Not bad, but not great either. And if you look at the study you find that in both cases most of that loss came in the first six months and after that they tended to remain pretty stable.

Third, the group on the low-fat diet only reduced their fat intake from 31.4 percent to 30.0 percent. That’s not enough to make much of a difference. Low-fat advocates, like Dr. Dean Ornish, say you need to cut fat by much larger amounts in order to really see big changes. This was clearly nowhere near enough to make a dramatic, long-term difference.

So, on first glimpse what appears to be a clear win for low-carb on closer examination shows that if you only have a few pounds to lose, both low-carb and Mediterranean diets seems to be pretty good. After all, the people who tried either one lost the weight and kept it off for two years. But if you have larger amounts to lose then they don’t seem to be enough.

And replicating the results in the real world may not be as easy. The researchers did this study in a nuclear facility in Israel. They chose that place because it’s relatively isolated so most people stayed there for lunch, allowing the researchers to control what people ate more closely; at least for one meal a day anyway. The others meals were still up to the individual.

The bottom line I guess remains what it has always been. Find a diet you can live with and stick with it. And if you can add in some regular exercise you may really see some results you’ll be delighted with.

Multi-tasking is bad for buying

Here’s an interesting study. Consumers who make purchases while talking on the cell phone or trying to calm a crying child may make more impulse buys than someone who is not distracted.

The study, in the Journal of Consumer Research, found that when people are distracted they are more likely to buy stuff they were not necessarily intending to. They may just snap up a well-known brand rather than the one they were looking for.

So, think about that the next time you go shopping with the baby and the Blackberry!

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