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Meta-analyses have their place in scientific progress.

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One area in which we hear a lot about the importance of the macronutrients is weight management. There is a lot of information out there about what type of diet is best for weight loss and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Much of the debate is over the merits of a low-carbohydrate diet (like the Atkins diet or other ketogenic diets) compared to a more “traditional” low-fat diet.

There may be many reasons why an individual chooses one diet over the other, but what does the science say?

In this week’s assignment, I’m going to ask you to review and summarize a paper that attempts to address this debate through a meta-analysis of peer-reviewed research. In a meta-analysis, researchers do not generate their own original data. Instead, they summarize the collective findings of original, peer-reviewed papers that have been previously published. They look at all rigorous studies that address the issue at hand and determine, as a whole, what the peer-reviewed research concludes.

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Meta-analyses have their place in scientific progress. A scientific finding must be replicated several times by different researchers in order to be accepted as fact. Meta-analyses look at different replications, that may have different results, and try to determine what overall conclusions can be drawn.

The paper I want you to read is: “Preview the documentView in a new windowEffects of Low-Carbohydrate Diets Versus Low-Fat Diets on Metabolic Risk Factors: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Clinical TrialsPreview the documentView in a new window” by Tian Hu, et al. This meta-analysis was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2012.

If you have a very limited science background you may find it quite challenging to read this paper. Here are a few tips for reading a scientific paper that might keep you from getting lost in the details:

1. Begin by reading the Abstract and Introduction sections carefully.

2. Skim the Materials and Methods section very lightly.

3. Skim the Results section. Look for key differences between groups.

Don’t get bogged down in the statistical jargon. At this point, it’s okay if you don’t fully understand everything.

4. Read the Discussion section carefully.

When you’ve gone through the paper, answer the following questions in your own words. Answers copied directly from the paper will not receive any credit.

1. Briefly state the question the researchers are trying to answer.

2. Summarize the researchers’ results.

This should be no more than a few sentences. I want the overall picture, not the numerical details.

3. If you had a close friend or family member who wanted to lose weight, which type of diet would you recommend to them (low-fat or low-carbohydrate)? Use the results of this study to explain your choice.

4. What future research would you like to see on this topic?