Confused by research findings? You’re not alone

WVU researcher to review 50 years of nutrition and exercise studies

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.  – If you open a magazine or check out a news website, sooner or later you’ll see the results of a yet another new study on exercise, diet or cholesterol.

“There have been hundreds of studies,” says George Kelley, a professor in the WVU School of Medicine. “A lot of different populations have been studied. There are a lot of results. But the main outcome has been confusion. People don’t know what to believe, and neither do their doctors.”

Several years ago, it was estimated that a primary care doctor would need to read 19 medical journal articles a day to stay up with research that could affect patient care, Kelley said. “That number would be even higher today. No one can do all that and take care of patients, too,” he said.

Kelley’s new project – funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under the Recovery Act –will look at more than 50 years’ worth of studies for evidence about the benefits on cholesterol levels of combining exercise and a prudent diet.

Cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease, so people and their doctors are always looking for effective, low cost ways to lower cholesterol. Combining aerobic exercise with a low saturated fat, high fiber diet is often recommended. But scientific studies of this practice have yielded mixed results.

Kelley’s group, which also includes researchers at Tufts and Stanford universities, will review about 1,000 medical research projects dating to 1955. From those, they’ll select 50 or so that are similar so can provide data for a meta-analysis – a computer-assisted method of compiling and reviewing information from dozens of unconnected sources.

“Meta-analysis is one of the highest forms of evidence for decision-making,” Kelley said. “The increased statistical power you gain by pooling the results from many studies helps resolve uncertainty where studies disagree, it improves the accuracy of estimates of treatment effect, and it even can answer questions that were not posed at the start of individual trials.”

The two-year project, Aerobic Exercise, Diet and Cholesterol: A Meta-Analysis, is hoped to result in evidence-based recommendations that health professionals can use every day in advising patients on ways to reduce cholesterol and cardiac risk. It is funded with two-year, $259,594 grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the NIH. 


For more information:
Amy Johns, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
bc: 9-9-09

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