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1,839 of 2,208 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars China Study Review, September 22, 2007
This review is from: The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health (Paperback)
When I began reading this book, I couldn't put it down. In the first section, when Dr. Campbell described his own experiments on the effect of milk protein on liver cancer in rats, I just poured through page after page, thinking, "What great science"!

At that point in the book he reported his experiments, their rather dramatic results, was careful to point out the limitations and did not extrapolate. So far, very good.

In the next section he describes the China Study itself. There is also an addendum at the back, which gives more detail about the structure of the study. The foundation for the study was a database collected by the Chinese government during the 1970's. It listed the age and causes of death in each of China's provinces over a certain time period. For the follow-up study ten years later, they chose 67 rural villages and gathered data on details about diet, several markers from blood samples and other factors, on approximately 6000 individuals. He claims to have data on about 350 variables. However, only 57 of the 417 pages in the book are devoted to discussion of The China Study.

The purpose of the study was to try to relate diet and other factors, with the diseases that caused death, especially cancers. His particular interest was about the effect of a purely vegetarian diet. It bothered me that he had undertaken leadership of that follow-up study, with a pre-conceived notion of what he wanted it to show.

At this point in the book, Dr. Campbell began to make very broad statements about the Chinese diet and the benefits of a diet that was devoid of animal protein. This is where I really began to have trouble, because I felt that either the study itself or his description of it fell short of supporting the broad claims he was making.

There's no discussion of things like smoking, environmental pollution and sanitation, all of which plague China.... Even rural China.

Another thing that bothered me was his description of the Chinese diet. It flies in the face of my own observations and experiences during many trips to China and other parts of Asia, over the course of about 35 years.

Meat and seafood are a major staple of the Asian diet. They eat quite a bit of pork, chicken, duck, pigeons, fish, eggs and even snakes, organs and sea creatures that Americans would not eat. They do eat much less animal protein than Americans and always accompany it with lots of rice and vegetables. In that sense, their diet is much better than ours. But it is not vegetarian. Although much of their food is stir-fried in a wok, it is done with vegetable oils. Until very recently, junk food has not been available and it is rare to find beef. So it is a much better-balanced diet than ours.

In years past, during trips to Taiwan, I've been to markets where live chickens & ducks were laid on the ground with their feet tied together. People would either buy them live, or have the merchant slaughter & clean them before their eyes. In one market I saw a vendor selling the blood from snakes he had killed & drained as the people watched. Next day, my hosts took me to a snake-meat restaurant for lunch! (Not much meat & lots of bones.) In back alleys of Taipei, I saw families raising pigeons for food.

Just last year at a Shanghai food market in a very old and traditional neighborhood, the emphasis was on meat and fish. There was a section that sold vegetables & rice, but around the fringes of the central meat market. The displays were open and there was no refrigeration!

As the book proceeded through other chapters, making incessant claims about the preventative and curative effects of an all-vegetable diet, he begins to sound like a 19th century "Snake oil" merchant.

He's a zealot on a soap box. Mind you, HE MAY BE RIGHT. Most of what he says about nutrition has been heard before and is considered by many, to be the Holy Grail of diet. There is certainly a lot of public opinion that red meat, animal fat and highly refined carbs are bad for you. But after the first section, I felt that his science became lost in his rhetoric.

Throughout the early parts of the book, I began to wonder what the meat and dairy industries had to say about all this. He certainly got into that in excruciating detail. Again, to the extreme where unfortunately, he sounded like all the folks at the fringes who claim that "Big business" and "Government" are trying to discredit them. I kept thinking of all the stories of big oil companies buying the patents for a "90 mile per gallon" carburetor, to keep it off the market. (On the other hand, there's Galileo.)

After finishing the book, I went to the Internet to look for critiques. There are plenty! Most are by vegetarians and vegetarian societies, all were having orgasms over the book. Finally I did find a site with some criticisms. Now I'd better mention that this site belongs to an organization that advocates increased consumption of fats and oils. However, the critique of the book was limited to a few specific items and did seem to be based on good science.

I do have some experience with statistical methods of extracting the effect of individual variables from data involving many variables and felt a bit uneasy about the analysis methods while reading Campbell's chapters about the study. This critique pointed out that with 350 variables and just 67 samples, there are not enough samples to establish high (95%) levels of statistical confidence. The best that data structure could accomplish is an "Indication," but not proof.

Actually, Campbell himself does discuss the limitations of statistical methods. His problem is that as the book progresses, he wanders away from "probability" and speaks with "certainty" about too many diverse subjects.

The critic, who had apparently examined the actual 900 page Study report, also claimed that Campbell had ignored data that was counter to his theories and in some cases showed negative results of a vegetarian diet. (That does happen when dealing with probabilities.) He then went on to question the reliability of some of the blood markers that were used. (That part was far beyond any of my knowledge.) Also, the fact that the blood samples of each village were pooled, did enable more markers to be measured, but all data about the variability among individuals was lost.

Another thing that bothered me was that Campbell completely ignored the fact that anthropologists tell us that hominids have been eating meat for about 2.5 million years, apparently with great success. Also, if meat is so harmful, why and how do carnivorous animals thrive?

He tells that cow's milk can cause type-1 diabetes in babies, but that mother's milk is ok. He leaves a gaping hole in his discussion because he doesn't explain the differences between those two types of milk.

So, what is my bottom line on this book?
It is widely accepted that vegetables, especially fresh vegetables, are good for you. No argument there. His early research clearly indicates that there is a threshold, above which animal protein can do some harm. That is intuitively appealing. We Americans do eat much too much meat. But, given the extremely long omnivorous history of mankind, it would seem that a moderate amount of animal protein is an important dietary nutrient.

I feel that Campbell has raised many good points, but his zealotry has taken him too far from sound science. That's too bad. He's hurt his credibility.
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Comments

Tracked by 19 customers

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Showing 91-100 of 338 posts in this discussion
Posted on May 28, 2010 7:36:40 PM PDT
I feel you negleted the fact that the study was based on rural chinese not typical of where tourist are exposed. Typically rural farmers who's primary diet did not include meat. You might want to re-read parts of the book and revise your evaluation.

Posted on Jun 15, 2010 10:08:43 PM PDT
"Also, if meat is so harmful, why and how do carnivorous animals thrive?"

Carnivorous animals thrive on animal protein because they are carnivorous. In fact, they need it to survive, not just thrive. Their DNA demands it. Whereas humans do not need to eat animal protein to survive, or even thrive.

Posted on Jun 15, 2010 10:09:03 PM PDT
"Also, if meat is so harmful, why and how do carnivorous animals thrive?"

Carnivorous animals thrive on animal protein because they are carnivorous. In fact, they need it to survive, not just thrive. Their DNA demands it. Whereas humans do not need to eat animal protein to survive, or even thrive.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 15, 2010 10:32:54 PM PDT
Kudos to vegans for having the fortitude to stand up to the part of the food industry based on animal products.

Ever notice that the animals horribly abused 24/7 on factory farms are mostly female animals? (chickens, cows, pigs)

Ever watch the YouTube videos about abuse of animals on the factory farms?

You seem to think that people who would like to see the suffering of these animals stop by trying to encourage others to avoid animal products are somehow evil or something. Very odd.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 17, 2010 11:12:44 AM PDT
I think your comments are the most helpful I've read. My first thought when reading the synopsis of the book was that the difference between our Western diet (U.S. and Canada) is processed foods. A study done on Native Americans along the border and their tribe who still residing on Mexican side showed a big difference in health and disease, those living in the U.S. had severe incidence of diabetes, lower immunity and heart disease than their Mexican "cousins", it was determined that processed foods was the primary culprit, while a sedentary lifestyle was the secondary reason. As processed foods have become a staple in other countries, diabetes has become a corresponding issue. I had been a vegetarian for a year and become very ill - my Indian born doctor commanded me to eat meat again or she would hospitalize me! Wisdom is lacking in many health books these days, many with a very specific do this and not this - as a doctor I met years ago said "if man made it don't eat it, if God made it, eat it." We need to support those farmers that don't use pesticides or hormones in their products and consume them. Your life depends on it!

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 28, 2010 7:35:34 PM PDT
Trin says:
Has anyone even mentioned what the herds of cows own diet may have been and return effect humans who consume them. Has anyone done any work on grass fed cows vs Genetically Modified grain fed cows.....how about beef that live a life on a pasture vs in a feed lot crammed together....doesn't stress have an impact? What about food that is contaminated with pesticides,GMO's, Herbicides, build up of chemicals in our soil, lack of minerals in our soil? These are issues that need to be looked at and not from some Mega Corporation that has paid for the study....I believe meat consumption if not overdone can be a healthy protein supplement in our diets but it has to be organically grass fed as they were created to feed on. Just my 2cents worth. I want truth, not propaganda, not siding with friends or belief systems. For certain the American Diet has been corrupted by the food industries and those companies that serve the food industry with fake food or additives which really aren't necessary. I wish that they would get back to basics and give us food that has not been perverted. Unfortuneately, the Corporate farmer and it's supporters have had too much influence with the USDA and FDA..... I guess until they outlaw home gardens I'll be planting a garden organically.....with heritage seed, that is.

Posted on Jul 9, 2010 8:49:29 AM PDT
Excellent review. Well balanced and informative. Thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 28, 2010 8:13:43 PM PDT
M. Lawler says:
Gee have you ever considered valium Orvan? You might be headed for a heart attack.

Posted on Aug 6, 2010 1:39:21 PM PDT
Lance Webb says:
Probability vs Certainty

Statistics are why YOU MUST read the 10+ pages of exceptions before using your Pharmaceutical Prescription!

Certainty is Dr. Campbell's microbiological verification of an Indian researcher's seemingly mislableled cancer experiment,
followed by demostrating reversibility, not statistics.
Lance

Posted on Aug 13, 2010 2:25:23 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 16, 2010 5:47:16 AM PDT
Richard Hein says:
I'm reading the China Study right now and have found it most compelling.
I'm looking at the strongest negative review in order to see what I'm missing while reading the book, but I'm sticking with the book so far.
If any of the science that Campbell is presenting is good, e.g., not compete lies, then the fact that some areas of the world have incidences of a certain disease over 100 times as often as another's, is something relevant and meaningful to me. I had never heard, for instance of one of the many diseases that he writes about, Multiple Sclerosis, is much more prevalent in places far from, but nearly unheard of at the equator. Is that a fact or not? If it is so, why. Campbell purports to have an answer and explains it at some length.
He presents numerous studies that show different areas of the world that experience diseases primarily of affluence (heart problems, cancer, high cholesterol) and other areas where the diseases are mostly related to poverty. The diseases of affluence often relate, at least in this book, to people eating primarily animal-derived products. He examines other items, genetics and environment among others and keeps returning to diet.
What strikes me most is that often the groups of people who test one way in their native land, test nearly completely differently after a number of years when they come to a land that has a completely different diet. Somehow, they `take on' the diseases that predominate in that area of the world. Campbell says it is related to their diet.
Why, for instance, are there places in Africa that show almost no heart disease whatsoever while it is highly prevalent in the United States? Why do people from Africa who have had no history of heart disease start getting it when they come to the United States? What changes?
According to the book, when Zhou Enlai was dying of cancer and initiated the China Study to understand what was going on, the first thing he did was to map relative incidences by area of cancer throughout his country. Why does that map show some areas in his country as hot-beds of cancer while others are relatively free of it? Were the places referenced in Mr. DeMarinis' review about his extensive travels in China the ones on the map that were black (showing high incidences of cancer) or white (showing relatively few instances)? I don't know, since he never says where he went.
Why are there areas that have hundredfold instances of a particular disease in relation to others that are nearly free of that identical disease? Is Mr Campbell's data wrong? Is he lying? It never had occurred to me that there are places with such astonishingly different health experiences. Invariably, I'm most used to seeing data about something that shows a few percentage points of difference, not 1200% different, as I've seen repeatedly reading this book. Is the data skewed? I don't think anyone has said that. Then what explains these differences?
In Mr. DeMarinis' review I hear that the China Study material is not complete. He says that there are many more data points that refute most of what Mr. Campbell is trying to conclude. I don't know about that. What about the literally hundreds of different studies mentioned in this book that seem overwhelmingly to indicate that a predominantly plant-based diet is much more healthful than an animal-based one? Is all of the science shown within this book incomplete or skewed or deceitful in order to push a nefarious vegan agenda or does the science hold up?
I think the science, painstakingly reported about many different diseases and from numerous sources, does.
I believe the book makes a compelling argument to do greater study into the benefits and negative aspects of plant-based vis-a-vis animal-based diets and Campbell makes the strongest possible case for going into a primarily plant-based one. I'm pretty well sold by his book and that is a surprise to me since doing this had never occurred to me before reading it. I recommend the book wholeheartedly.
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