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Looking Beyond The Headlines To Make Informed Choices

Melissa Joy Dobbins

When I heard the recent news headline that diet soda leads to bigger waistlines, my first thought was, “Or do bigger waistlines lead to diet soda?” It seems to me that people who are watching their waistlines might be more likely to choose diet sodas than those who are not.

Well, the truth is, just because there is a correlation between two things that doesn’t mean that one necessarily causes the other. In scientific research, “correlation” is very different from “causation”. Certain types of nutrition research (randomized controlled human clinical trials) can determine cause and effect, however most of the data linking diet to chronic disease comes from observational human epidemiological studies. This type of research cannot determine cause and effect; it can only determine associations (correlations) to be studied in future research, which was the case in the most recent sensationalized media headline about diet soda and waistlines.

In my registered dietitian opinion, this is precisely why it’s so challenging for people to take nutrition headlines and figure out what the bottom line takeaways are. Sensational and misleading headlines get in the way of people making their own, well-informed choices about their diet and lifestyle. Weight control is hard enough without conflicting and confusing information getting in the way of your efforts. And it’s not a “one-size-fits-all” solution. In my 20+ year career as a dietitian I’ve counseled thousands of people on weight management and diabetes. Each and every client is unique. Each and every client needs an individualized assessment and goals that are tailored to their specific needs.

My advice: question the headlines, balance your diet and exercise, and make well-informed choices that fit your lifestyle and health goals. After all, it is up to you to make your own choices about your diet and exercise habits.


Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RDN, CDE is a nationally recognized registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator with more than 20 years’ experience helping people enjoy their food with health in mind. She is known as the Guilt-Free RD – “because food shouldn’t make you feel bad!” TM. Connect with her on Twitter @MelissaJoyRD, check out her blog and her new Sound Bites podcast.


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