Book Review - The China Study

Cover image photo taken by David Wilder.

Cover image photo taken by David Wilder.

Conscientious people generally strive to be healthy, and many of us try to eat a well-balanced and nutrient-dense diet. There can be a lot of effort put into determining what constitutes a healthy diet, and even though trendy low-carb diets and a focus on weight-loss seems to have captured the attention of the American public, heart disease affects as many people as it did 30 years ago, two-thirds of adults are considered clinically considered obese, and children are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes (formerly considered an "adult disease") at an alarming rate.

This phenomenon is caused in part by the large amount of contradictory nutritional information we routinely absorb from the mainstream media. When one source claims bacon is a superfood and low-carb/high-fat diets are an excellent way to maintain one's weight, and another source claims the opposite, how is a nutritional layman to know who to trust?

Dr. T. Colin Campbell is an American biochemist whose book, The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And The Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-Term Health, details the connections between nutrition and heart disease, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and more health afflictions. He is an advocate of a low-fat, whole foods, plant-based diet and is the author of over 300 research papers and three books. Campbell was a lead scientist on the China-Oxford-Cornell Project, which was a longterm study on diet and disease, which The New York Times described as "the Grand Prix of epidemiology".

The book has experienced criticism from many because it presents scientific evidence arguing against the consumption of animal products, and has met with resistance from scientists, media, and organizations (often these people are directly associated with the meat, dairy, and egg industries). It covers a lot of ground that has upset a fair amount of people—the connection between including animal products in one's diet and a litany of diseases, issues with scientific reductionism, apparent widespread attempts at suppressing information about how diet affects disease, and more.

The first two parts of the book focus on the China Study's findings and what Campbell has termed "diseases of affluence", which include heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancers, autoimmune diseases, and more. They were a bit rough for me to get through—I'm by no means a scientist, and although I have an interest in the topic, it was a bit dry and repetitive for me. However, in my humble opinion, Campbell effectively demonstrates (time and time again, with a somewhat intimidatingly-large body of research) correlations and causations between a diet containing animal products and many diseases.

The third section of the book covers the concept of "good nutrition", which includes principles of food and health and advice for how to eat. In an effort too quickly summarize the section's 26 pages, you should probably eat a whole food, plant-based diet that is relatively low in fat, get some exercise, stay hydrated, and get adequate amounts of sleep.

The final section of the book discusses why we haven't heard this information before. It covers the dark side of science, problems with scientific reductionism, the "science" of industry, the role of government in nutrition and health, and the influence of the medical and pharmaceutical industries.

There are a few appendices following the main portion of the book, which discuss some experimental rat studies in detail, the design of the China Study, and "Vitamin" D. These may be helpful additions for some readers, but were mostly skimmed by me.

I would recommend this book for everyone to read, because it deals with something that we all have experience with on a daily basis—the consumption of food. It seems pretty clear to me that the Standard American Diet (SAD) has resulted in the disease-ridden culture that exists today. For many of us who have already made the transition to a plant-based diet, we have experienced positive effects on our health—weight loss, less sick time, increased energy, focus, and clarity, and more. The China Study is an excellent guidebook to health and nutrition, written by a true leader in the field, and could be used to help others achieve a healthier life.

5/5 stars. 417 pages.