The role of epidemiology in developing nutritional recommendations: past, present, and future
Sommaire de l'article
Observations of the relations between food choices and health have been made since ancient times, but epidemiology, which can be regarded as the science of systematically studying these relations, has played a key role in official nutritional guidance only in recent years. In the past 20 y the principal goal of nutritional guidance has changed from the prevention of nutritional deficiencies to the prevention of chronic diseases. This evolving purpose of nutritional guidance has demanded that nutritional epidemiology play an increasingly important role. Although no other type of nutritional science can equal epidemiology in the relevance of either the dietary exposures or the health outcomes, substantial problems limit the ability of nutritional epidemiology to convincingly prove causal associations. The classic criteria for causation are often not met by nutritional epidemiologic studies, in large part because many dietary factors are weak and do not show linear dose-response relations with disease risk within the range of exposures common in the population. The most important problem in nutritional epidemiology in the past has been the inaccuracy of dietary assessment. In the future, an additional problem will be the proliferation of hypotheses that can be tested in multiple ways among the many subgroups of the population that can be defined by factors such as age, sex, and genotype. Future progress in our understanding of the relations between diet and health will necessitate improved methods in nutritional epidemiology and a better integration of epidemiologic methods with those used in the clinical nutritional sciences.