Use of causal language in observational studies of obesity and nutrition

Obes Facts. 2010 Dec;3(6):353-6. doi: 10.1159/000322940. Epub 2010 Dec 10.


Objective: To assess the inappropriate use of causal language in studies on obesity and nutrition.

Methods: Titles and abstracts of 525 peer-reviewed papers in the 4 leading journals in the fields of obesity and nutrition were scrutinized for language implying causality in observational studies published in 2006.

Results: Such misleading language appeared in 161 papers (31%) independent of funding source. Remarkably 49% of studies lacking statistically significant primary outcomes used misleading language compared to 29% of those with p values ≤0.05 (chi square p < 0.001). Exculpatory language was present in the body of the text in 19%; of the 161 studies.

Conclusion: We suggest that editors and reviewers evaluate submissions for misleading reporting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Bibliometrics
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Epidemiologic Studies*
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Nutritional Sciences* / statistics & numerical data
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Periodicals as Topic* / statistics & numerical data
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Support as Topic
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Terminology as Topic*