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Eat Chocolate. Lose Weight

chocolate-barsI’ve extolled the health benefits of dark chocolate as part of the counterclockwise lifestyle. In fact, I’ve written on the subject not once but twice passing along credible research that suggests dark chocolate (very dark, and just a little) significantly lowers LDL, reduces inflammation, is a powerful scavenger of free radicals, has beneficial effects on the lining of blood vessels and the lymphatic system, has beneficial effects on cognitive function, and may directly influence insulin resistance and, in turn, reduce the risk of diabetes.

Now I’m alerting you to another good news chocolate study. This one links eating dark chocolate with weight loss. The study found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. The research was conducted by a team of German scientists led by Johannes Bohannon, research director of the Institute of Diet and Health. It was published in The International Archives of Medicine.

And it was a fraud.

A scam created by Bohannon to show how bad science can fool journalists (and us).

Yes, he actually did conduct a study. One group followed a low-carb diet. One group followed the low-carb diet and ate a chocolate bar every day. The third continued to eat whatever they usually ate. At the end of  21 days, people in both of the two diet groups had lost an average of 5 pounds, but the people on the low-carb diet plus chocolate lost the weight 10 percent faster.

So where’s the bad science?

*The number of subjects studied was…15.
*The composition of each 5-person group was not controlled.
*The food intake and weight data were completely self-reported.
*Then, during one “beer-fueled weekend,” the research team (friends gathered by Bohannon) madly crunched every number they could think of until they came up with something statistically significant . The trick, as Bohannon explained it, is to measure a large number of things about a small number of people. With 18 separate measurements and 15 people, they had a 60 percent chance of hitting on something. Which they did. “The results,” said Bohannon, “are meaningless, and the health claims …are utterly unfounded.”

Now might be the time to tell you that Bohannan’s “Institute of Diet and Health” is actually just a website he created and that The International Archives of Medicine – which accepted the study within 24 hours of submission — is a non-peer reviewed journal that charges (in this case 600 euros) to publish manuscripts.

News about the study made international headlines, including a front-page story in Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, coverage in the Irish Examiner, Cosmopolitan’s German website, the Times of India, both the German and Indian sites of the Huffington Post, Shape magazine, and TV shows in the U.S. and Australia.

The take home message here is not that chocolate isn’t a weight-loss strategy. Duh. It’s that bad science happens to good people. Like us. And that in the world of health, nutrition and antiaging – where billions can be made by selling “scientifically proven” products — we cannot allow ourselves to be fooled. Also, dammit, journalists who cover science ought to know something about…scientific inquiry.


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