01/12/2007

The China Study (by T Colin Campbell and Thomas M Campbell

This is a book I borrowed from a friend, who shares an interest in healthful diet and nutrition. It's a lengthy tome, written by T Colin Campbell, an academic researcher and advisor on nutrition, and his son Thomas M Campbell, who are American.

'The China Study' claims to be a comprehensive study of diet and health, based around a huge study that apparently took place in China. However this study isn't really mentioned in the first few chapters, which focus instead on experimentation on rats. The author effectively shows that if the rats are given large amounts of casein (a protein mainly found in milk and other dairy products) then they are much more prone to cancer than rats with very small amounts of casein in their diets.

Campbell explains that some people might assume the problem is with protein in general, but that good research can't make such leaps of intuition; therefore further tests were done with plant protein, and that showed no such correlation with cancer.

He then makes an intuitive generalisation of his own (or so it seems), insisting that the problem is, therefore, with animal proteins.

This rather sets the tone for the book. Pieces of research are quoted, often with interesting statistics and correlations. If they fit in with the author's theories - that veganism is the only way to live healthfully - then they're approved. If not, they're skated over or explained. There are many generalisations, and assumptions based on pre-conceived ideas.

Another problem is that the book is written for an American audience, thus there's an 'all or nothing' mentality about it. As a Brit, I am much more interested in grey areas and moderation than absolute rules and legalism. Nor do I assume that all meat-eaters have regular meals of fat-laden double cheesburgers; if they did, it's not surprising that they would rapidly develop heart disease, cancer, and many other serious illnesses.

Still, there's certainly more than a grain of truth in the book. Most people do need to eat more plant products - or, at least, fruit and vegetables. Campbell barely mentions that wheat can cause as many allergic reactions and intolerances as dairy products.

It's also evidently true that some cultures - such as those in Asia - are trim and health when they eat even large amounts of traditional foods (which contain almost no dairy produce, and not much meat), but quickly start developing the 'Western' illnesses of cancer, heart problems, diabetes (etc) when they start eating fast-foods, often high in meat, fat, and dairy products.

So in real terms, the book didn't tell me anything I didn't know already. It was lengthy, detailed, and dramatic in places. But since, within a few chapters, I had realised that the author was primarily pushing his own (vegan) agenda, I kept an open mind and discarded all the extreme recommendations.

Worth perusing, perhaps, if you see it in the library or on a friend's bookshelf. For more about the controversy raised by this book, it's well worth reading through some of the reviews of the book that can be found via the Amazon links.

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