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POPULAR DIETS: UNTESTED.

Diet books come and go, but some stick around long enough to cause more than a little mischief. The latest crop of bestsellers--like Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution and Protein Power--are prime examples. Both urge dieters to eat beef, bacon, eggs, cheese, cream, butter, and other foods that are loaded with saturated fat. And after well over 100 weeks on the bestseller list (and more than six million copies sold), Atkins's book has convinced a growing number of Americans that a cheeseburger without the bun is the secret to weight loss.

High-fat-diet books should come as no surprise. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, low-fat-diet books were all the rage. (If you go back far enough, you can even find the same high-fat books, including Dr. Atkins's first Diet Revolution in the 1970s). The truth is that the diet-book industry can't survive without "new" material. No one's going to buy the 112th book about the same diet.

What is surprising is that the government has funded so few studies to test how well these diets work. You'd think that after a diet book had been on the New York Times or USA Today bestseller list for more a year, the nation's health authorities might fund a study evaluating its safety and effectiveness. Without studies, overweight people and health professionals have no basis on which to choose or recommend a diet.

Last April, a group of diet-book authors and obesity researchers publicized the lack of research and urged the National Institutes of Health to fund those studies. "Most plans provide limited scientific research on the safety and effectiveness of their diets," says George Blackburn of Harvard Medical School, one of the organizers of the coalition. "It's no wonder that people are confused ... and fat."

Among those signing on were some top diet-book authors, including Atkins; Sugar Busters/co-author Sam Andrews; Rachael and Richard Heller, authors of the Carbohydrate Addict's Diet; and Barry Sears, author of Entering the Zone. Among the obesity researchers were Kelly Brownell of Yale University, Devid Heber of UCLA, Steven Heymsfield of St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hosptial, Thomas Wadden of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health, and (researcher and diet-book author) Dean Ornish of the University of California.

"People who are trying to lose weight need and deserve scientifically supported guidance on how to lose weight safely and permanently," says Brownell. "What we have now is mostly advertising hyperbole and anecdote."

In a simultaneous action, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, publisher of Nutrition Action, called on Congress to ask the National Institutes of Health to sponsor research on obesity. For 30 years, Americans have been trying every sort of weight-loss diet imaginable, but few have been proven effective by any scientific research. Since NIH hasn't sponsored the research on its own, Congress should insist that it do so.

Michael F. Jacobson Executive Director Center for Science in the Public Interest
COPYRIGHT 2000 Center for Science in the Public Interest
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Title Annotation:diet book and weight loss industry
Author:Jacobson, Michael F.
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2000
Words:493
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