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Research Project: Childhood Obesity Prevention

Location: Children's Nutrition Research Center

Title: The need for greater rigor in childhood nutrition and obesity research

item WOOD, ALEXIS - Children'S Nutrition Research Center (CNRC)
item WREN, JONATHAN - Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation
item ALLISON, DAVID - Indiana University

Submitted to: JAMA Pediatrics
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/11/2018
Publication Date: 2/25/2019
Citation: Wood, A.C., Wren, J.D., Allison, D.B. 2019. The need for greater rigor in childhood nutrition and obesity research. JAMA Pediatrics.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: The stakes are high with pediatric obesity research, which guides policy, individual choices, and clinical care. Only the most rigorous science achievable and accurate reporting of the results will enable the soundest decisions. Therefore, under the caveat that all empirical knowledge is provisional, methods must be used that increase the probability of generating accurate knowledge about obesity in childhood and offer successively ever-better approximations to the truth. We are not aware of any formal evaluation of rigor across fields. Mindful that our opinions reflect our own experiences and expertise, we have observed at least 3 challenges to rigor particularly relevant to the study of childhood obesity. First, there are inherent methodological difficulties that challenge rigor. Second, we speculate that the emotional climate surrounding childhood obesity can compromise rigor. Gallup polls, the World Health Organization, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention each cited obesity as a top health concern in the past decade. Third, the pediatric obesity literature contains multiple examples of reduced rigor, including from top-ranking research institutions. The national conversation on improving scientific rigor makes it clear that there is no single solution. We do not profess to have all the answers, and we recognize the need to constantly examine our own research practices for rigor. However, our first suggestion is to emphasize separating the issue of transparency and rigor in research reporting from the extent of rigor in other elements of the research. Second, we must apply sound inductive reasoning and not overreach our data when drawing conclusions and communicating results. Third, while calls for more rigorous reporting have been around for some time, approximately 10% to 15% of articles in Medline have incorrect assessments of statistical significance, and we have begun to consider the appropriate level of statistical expertise needed for rigor. Finally, we call for a cultural change at all levels in the scientific community. Prevent, detect, admit, and correct is a focusing slogan among our group. In the pursuit of truth, investigators must take personal responsibility for the accurate collection, interpretation, and reporting of results, even when this requires actions, such as correcting their own scientific error. We have shared some of our opinions on approaches that may increase rigor in pediatric obesity research. The health of children and the public's trust in the scientific community is on the line; this is something in which we all have a stake.