Posted on 06/27/2012 at 07:29:33 AM by Student BloggerBy Sarah Gold
The sign of a good nutrition conference is a debate over new research. If there aren't two or even three or four sides to a new area of study, the research probably isn't that groundbreaking. There was certainly no lack of controversy last weekend at the Advances and Controversies in Clinical Nutrition conference. From sodium reduction recommendations to glycemic index and weight management plans, there were plenty of lively discussions.
While there was rarely one conclusive recommendation that came out of any of the sessions, a trend of the weekend pointed to the benefits of individualized nutrition. Christopher Gardner's study of popular weight loss plans exemplifies this perfectly. When comparing the success of four weight loss plans (Zone, Atkins, Ornish, and LEARN), the researchers found little difference in average weight loss by participants across the four diets. In fact, the only significant difference seen was between the Atkins diet (largest average weight loss) and the Zone (lowest weight loss), with a difference of 3 lbs lost, on average. A closer look at the data shows that subjects' weight change ranged from about around a 25 lb loss to a 5 lb gain across all four prescribed diet plans. These results suggest that no one diet plan is superior and success depends on the individual. As Dr. Gardner proposed, having a toolkit of diet plans and nutrition recommendations to source from when counseling clients is likely more beneficial than suggesting the same plan for all.
This weekend was a reminder that the science of nutrition is young and constantly evolving. There are many possible solutions and courses of action when it comes to addressing nutrition related health concerns such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. While sodium reduction may be beneficial to one group of people, it may not have any effect on another. Similarly, using energy density of food as a tool to manage calorie intake may work for some, but not others. There is often research to back up both sides of a story and there is rarely one right answer. Thus, keeping a large toolbox of solutions to address an individual client's needs seems to be a good course of action.
The question that remains, though, is how does this translate to those working in the field of public health? Sure, eating less and exercising more is the basic concept of weight management. But, if there are so many different ways to achieve this, all of which may be equally effective or ineffective depending on the situation, developing a public health message accurate for all (or most) is a challenge.