China Project

The China Study: My Response to Campbell

Alright folks, I’ll be honest. I was not expecting my China Study critique, which started as a nerdy personal project pursued in the wee hours of the morn, to generate much interest. Like most of my weird projects, I figured it would be briefly perused by a few number-lovers before fading quietly into the abyss of cyberspace.

Instead, it went viral and racked up 20,000 page views within 24 hours.

I’m surprised, but equally thrilled. My self-marketing skills are pretty dismal, and it was only by the grace of all the bloggers who featured my critique that this page-view boom occurred. Thank you to everyone who helped spread the word. I owe y’all!

This post is going to be quite long (no shocker there) and, in places, a bit more technical than the last. I know not everyone digs science mumbo-jumbo, so I’ll try to keep that to a minimum and explain things like journal quotes in simpler terms.

First, I’d like to address a couple points I’ve seen crop up in reader comments and emails I’ve received. (more…)

The China Study: Fact or Fallacy?

Disclaimer: This blog post covers only a fraction of what’s wrong with “The China Study.” In the years since I wrote it, I’ve added a number of additional articles expanding on this critique and covering a great deal of new material. Please read my Forks Over Knives review for more information on what’s wrong with the conclusions drawn from Campbell’s casein/aflatoxin research, and if you’d rather look at peer-reviewed research than the words of some random internet blogger, see my collection of scientific papers based on the China Study data that contradict the claims in Campbell’s book. I’ve also responded to Campbell’s reply to my critique with a much longer, more formal analysis than the one on this page, which you can read here.

When I first started analyzing the original China Study data, I had no intention of writing up an actual critique of Campbell’s much-lauded book. I’m a data junkie. Numbers, along with strawberries and Audrey Hepburn films, make me a very happy girl. I mainly wanted to see for myself how closely Campbell’s claims aligned with the data he drew from—if only to satisfy my own curiosity.

But after spending a solid month and a half reading, graphing, sticky-noting, and passing out at 3 AM from studious exhaustion upon my copy of the raw China Study data, I’ve decided it’s time to voice all my criticisms. And there are many.

First, let me put out some fires before they have a chance to ignite:

  1. I don’t work for the meat or dairy industry. Nor do I have a fat-walleted roommate, best friend, parent, child, love interest, or highly prodigious cat who works for the meat or dairy industry who paid me off to debunk Campbell.
  2. Due to food sensitivities, I don’t consume dairy myself, nor do I have any personal reason to promote it as a health food.
  3. I was a vegetarian/vegan for over a decade and have nothing but respect for those who choose a plant-based diet, even though I am no longer vegan. My goal, with the “The China Study” analysis and elsewhere, is to figure out the truth about nutrition and health without the interference of biases and dogma. I have no agenda to promote.

As I mentioned, I’m airing my criticisms here; this won’t be a China Study love fest, or even a typical balanced review with pros and cons. Campbell actually raises a  number of points I wholeheartedly agree with—particularly in the “Why Haven’t You Heard This?” section of his book, where he exposes the reality behind Big Pharma and the science industry at large. I admire Campbell’s philosophy towards nutritional research and echo his sentiments about the dangers of scientific reductionism. However, the internet is already flooded with rave reviews of this book, and I’m not interested in adding redundant praise. My intent is to highlight the weaknesses of “The China Study” and the potential errors in Campbell’s interpretation of the original data.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: My response to Campbell’s reply, as well as to some common reader questions, can be found in the following post: My Response to Campbell. Please read this for clarification regarding univariate correlations and flaws in Campbell’s analytical methods.)


Tuoli: China’s Mysterious Milk Drinkers

Important disclaimer: In light of new information, this post needs to be taken with a really whoppin’ huge grain of salt. It turns out Tuoli was “feasting” on the day the survey crew came for China Study I, so they were likely eating more calories, more wheat, more dairy, and so forth than they typically do the rest of the year. We can’t be completely sure what their normal diet did look at the time, but the questionnaire data (which is supposedly more reliable than the diet survey data) still suggests they were eating a lot of animal products and very little in the way of fruits or vegetables.

At any rate, I recommend not quoting this post or citing it as “evidence” for anything simply because of the uncertainty surrounding the Tuoli data in the China Study. Please see the following posts for more information on the issue of Tuoli’s accuracy:


As I mentioned in the previous post on dairy consumption and disease in China, there’s a fascinating little county by the name of “Tuoli” situated in northwest China—a place quite worthy of nutritional study, due to their unique diet.

They live here:

Which looks like this:

Where they eat a lot of this:

But not a lot of this:

The Tuoli diet is so abnormal for China, in fact, that T. Colin Campbell et al omitted this county from analysis in several China Study papers—such as “Vitamin A and cartenoid status in rural China,” published in the British Journal of Nutrition:

One county (Tuoli County in Xinjiang Autonomous Region), composed primarily of an ethnic minority population of herdspeople, had disproportionately high values for retinol, lipid and protein intake due to an exceptionally high intake of animal foods. This ‘outlier’ was not included in the analysis, to characterize more accurately the average intakes of the rural Chinese population and to avoid the undue influence of one data point on the results.

Given the prevailing beliefs about nutrition and health—such as saturated fat and cholesterol as a cause of heart disease, the necessity of fiber for colon health, the immunity-boosting properties of fruits and vegetables, and the dangers of a diet high in animal fat—it would seem the Tuoli should showcase the health woes that come from breaking every rule in the diet book.

But is that the case? (more…)

A Closer Look at the China Study: Dairy and Disease

Mongolian yaks: A source of Chinese dairy.

I’ll admit it: Out of all the variables in the China Project, dairy is the one I’ve been most eager to analyze. Not because I’m a dairy lover myself (I haven’t touched it in years) or because I’m secretly a billionaire milk tycoon with my own thousand-acre Holstein farm (au contraire; I’m strangely phobic of cows). In his book, T. Colin Campbell makes such a compelling case about casein (a milk protein) as a cancer-promoting agent that I’m left wondering: Does the China Study data shows an equally convincing link between dairy and disease?

After all, the counties studied in the China Project weren’t eating the hormone-laden, antibiotic-stuffed, factory-farmed dairy we find in most stores. Their dairy was from pastured animals—typically sheep, goats, or yaks along with cattle—raised on natural diets in rural areas. As best I can deduce, milk products were neither pasteurized nor homogenized. This means that any connections we find between dairy and mortality variables are probably from dairy itself—not the nastiness that accompanies the dairy Westerners are more familiar with. This could be one of our best opportunities for studying dairy consumption in its raw, natural state. Yeehaw! (more…)

A Closer Look at the China Study: Eggs and Disease

Ah, eggs: Incredible and edible, as the commercial goes. A quintessential staple of American breakfasts, loaded with protein, packed with cholesterol. Bodybuilders chug ’em down en masse, and raw foodists sometimes experiment with them—but could they raise your risk of disease, as T. Colin Campbell claims all animal foods do? Let’s take a look at the original China Study data and find out. (more…)

A Closer Look at the China Study: Fish and Disease

In my last post, I explored what the China Study data says about meat and disease—which turns out to be a far cry from what Campbell reports in his book of the same name. In a nutshell, meat has no statistically significant correlations with any diet-related disease, and actually has a negative correlation with death from all causes and death from all cancers. That means the populations that ate more meat generally had fewer chronic diseases than the populations that ate less of it. While it’s impossible to tell from the China Project alone whether this is because meat was protective of illness or simply corresponded with other helpful factors (like better health care), it does undermine Campbell’s assertion that animal product consumption always went hand-in-hand with disease in the China Project.

(If you’re not sure what the China Study is or why I’ve suddenly made it my life’s purpose to examine every modicum of its data, take a gander at the previous entry for an explanation.)

Of course, the “meat” category doesn’t include fish, eggs, or dairy—so these foods aren’t out of the hot seat yet. In this post, I’ll be looking at fish. Sushi lovers, listen up. (more…)

A Closer Look at the China Study: Meat and Disease

As promised, it’s time to unveil all this China Study business. Grab a raw, nonalcoholic drink and make yourself comfy!

Let me start by saying that this isn’t an attempt at “debunking” the China Study or discrediting T. Colin Campbell. Quite the contrary. “The China Study” book is excellent in many ways, if only to underscore the role of nutrition in health. If I ever met Mr. Campbell in person, I’d give him a jubilant high-five and thank him for fightin’ the good fight—for exposing the reality of Big Pharma, for emphasizing the lack of nutritional education most doctors receive, for censuring the use of scientific reductionism, for underlining the importance of diet in disease prevention. Campbell and I are on the same page in many ways. His scroll of accomplishments is impressive and I sincerely believe his heart is in the right place, even if I don’t agree with all of his conclusions. (more…)