Culture Affects Science Reporting

The bare facts in this piece on breakfast size are simple:

German researchers studied the food intake of 280 obese adults and 100 of normal weight. The subjects kept records of everything they ate over two weeks, and were carefully instructed about the importance of writing down what they ate as soon as they ate it.

For both groups, a large breakfast simply added to the number of daily calories they consumed. Whether they ate a large breakfast, a small one or none at all, their nonbreakfast calorie intake remained the same.

What struck me as interesting was that the same results were seen in both groups.  Both the fat and thin groups contained people that ate breakfasts of varying sizes, or not at all.  Both found their nonbreakfast calorie intake remained the same.   (It’s almost like fats are people!)  But the idea that breakfast is “added calories” is seen as the primary news, because it contradicts the “eat like a king at breakfast and a pauper at dinner” advice.

Personally?  Maybe it’s strange, but I try to match my breakfast to how hungry I am.  I also decide whether my breakfast was good or not based on things like mood and energy levels.  I know, it’s crazy.

7 thoughts on “Culture Affects Science Reporting

  1. When I have the misfortune of having to do morning clinicals (I am NOT a morning person!) I eat a huge breakfast so I’m not ravenously hungry by 10 AM. It’s hard to concentrate when you’re starving! I try not to eat a big breakfast if I’ve worked an overnight but if I’m feeling particularly hungry I don’t starve myself. Sometimes just an Ensure will do, other times I want some warm comfort food. I try to listen to my body.

  2. Yes, that’s totally insane.

    Just like it’s mad of me to try to eat a small, high-protein breakfast every day, because that helps my blood sugar, mood, and appetite (as in, it helps me avoid hypoglycemic unawareness).

  3. I saw that article too and thought the reporting very sloppy. There were lots of questions not answered. Did anyone lose weight? Did anyone gain weight? How old were the participants? Men or women or both? It only focused on calorie intake as if humans were Bunsen burners and not individual people with individual metabolisms.

    Also, I think I have seen studies where people cut down on their food intake if they start writing it down and that self reporting of food intake is not reliable.

    • The impression is that it was pure observation, no intentional changes – probably no weight lost or gained.

      I think I have seen studies where people cut down on their food intake if they start writing it down and that self reporting of food intake is not reliable.

      I have too. Heck, I’ve experienced it — the “Eh, that would be a bother to write down, so I’ll skip it” diet.

  4. I find this study difficult to interpret. Did they ask the participants to eat a different breakfast than normal?

    The reason I ask, is that breakfast isn’t normally a big meal in Germany. It’s usually bread with some sliced meat and cheese and bears no resemblance to what we think of as a ‘big breakfast’ in the Anglophone world. So I wondered if they asked participants to do something they don’t normally do e.g. were people adding extra calories to their day, because they were eating a larger meal than they normally would for the sake of the experiment, and then carrying on as normal for the rest of the day? Or were they looking at what these people actually do as part of their normal day?

    You can’t study a single meal in isolation, because many people aren’t in control over their daily food intake. Home cooking is still the norm in Germany. So a participant who might be eating a big breakfast for the sake of the experiment, still has to sit down and eat meals with everyone else, as per usual. I can imagine the reaction of my partner if I came home and said I didn’t want to eat his dinner because I’d already had plenty at the lab, thanks all the same.

    On top of that, asking people to record their food is a notoriously unreliable way to get data.

    Which I realise isn’t the point of your blog post, but it does make me wonder – and it certainly demonstrates that cultural questions impact scientific method. Here’s the study, if anybody can work out the methodology:

    http://www.nutritionj.com/content/10/1/5

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