"Chocolate is the key to losing even more weight." Wouldn't that be grand? Alas, it was not to be. Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D, has revealed that he is the mind behind the chocolate diet research that has spread around the internet like Nutella on hot toast. Only problem is, it isn't really true. Dr. Bohannon, a journalist (his PhD is in molecular biology of bacteria), has broken his silence on how he "fooled millions" with his study. How He Did It Working with German television reporter Peter Onneken and his colleague Diana Löbl, Bohannon offered 150 Euros to anyone willing to go on a diet for 3 weeks. At the conclusion of the study that included 5 men and 11 women, aged 19 to 67, blood work was done on each participant and a questionnaire was answered. Bohannon hired a financial analyst to interpret the numbers. The people on the low-carb diet plus chocolate lost weight 10 percent faster. Bingo! The point of his deception was to demonstrate that nearly anything can be proven with the right manipulation of data. He sent his paper “Chocolate with high cocoa content as a weight-loss accelerator" to 20 journals, expecting to be rejected by all. Within 24 hours he had several acceptances, without any peer review at all of his flimsy findings. He went with The International Archives of Medicine and then hired a publicist to promote the study. Within days of the press release in Germany, the story was being picked up by newspapers and online news sources around the world without any follow-up by reporters into the validity of the claims made in the study. Why It Matters If you're reading this, you're interested in your health and/or the truth about nutrition. Life is busy and time is precious. Shortcuts and studies that bless our nutritional preferences are always welcome. As complicated as the body is, it's pretty simple too. Feed it whole foods in moderate amounts. Work it hard in the gym and give it good rest at night. Find reasons to relax and smile. Science can help us improve on that plan by telling us more about the body we live in, but the success of this study is a good reminder in the age of information saturation to approach the latest and greatest with healthy skepticism. The bright spot in this story? It was the readers, in the end, who asked the prescient questions about this study that reporters did not bother to ask.
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