Tim Noakes’ weight-loss paper sparks row

2013-10-27 14:00

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Carbohydrates are at the heart of a scientific row that erupted on social media this week.

Sports scientist Professor Tim Noakes this week published a paper in the SA Medical Journal (SAMJ) titled “Low-carbohydrate and high-fat intake can manage obesity and associated conditions: Occasional survey” – and the sparks flew as others in his field debated whether the article was scientific enough to be featured in such a prestigious medical journal.

“I just love this. If I was totally wrong, nobody would have made much of a fuss. The fact that people are getting angry is a good thing,” Noakes told City Press.

About three years ago, Noakes renounced carbohydrates. This gained him a major following, but also attracted harsh criticism.

He said: “Nothing I’ve done is more important than this study. I’m challenging original beliefs so, of course, I’m going to get flak.”

His paper was inspired by the letters and anecdotes from happy no-carbers who shared their success stories. Among them were three diabetics who claimed that Noakes’ high-fat, low-carb diet cured them.

In his paper, Noakes wrote: “The study has several potential limitations.

“First, all data are self-reported and were not verified, but it is unlikely that all participants would fabricate this information.

“Second, there is no record of exactly what each person ate. Third, all reports describe only short-term outcomes.

“Let’s get the debate going. The next step is to fund a clinical trial that will prove this. It costs R3?million to do that, which I didn’t have. But it needs to be done.”

Former Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes tweeted: “How the hell did that thing get through peer review? Should be a scandal at the SAMJ.”

Martinique Stilwell – a medical doctor, writer and freelance journalist who wrote a feature on Noakes last year for the Mail & Guardian?–?said on Twitter: “Some people tell a guy they lost weight and it’s published in a medical journal. #BadScience.”

Dr Bridget Farham, deputy editor of the SAMJ, said the article was published in the Forum section of the journal, which is an area for discussion because it does not meet the criteria required for original research.

“However, as a case series (a recognised approach to looking at particular clinical problems in medicine), it met the criteria to be included in Forum, specifically to generate discussion around a topic that is generating a lot of discussion globally at present,” she said in an email.

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