The China Study
The China Study by: T Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M. Campbell II, M.D.
Reviewed by: Katherine Schwenger, PhD Candidate
The China Study by T. C. Campbell and T. M. Campbell explores the relationship between animal products (meat and dairy) and chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. T. Colin Campbell, M.S., Ph.D. currently holds the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University. Thomas M. Campbell, M.D. is an instructor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry as well as an executive director of the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.
The main thesis of this book is that by eating a low protein, plant-based diet and eliminating animal products from our diet, we can prevent and cure most diseases. As a Registered Dietitian and graduate student, I was intrigued by these claims. The China Study is a research and statistics heavy book, and thus, requires sustained attention while reading. Nevertheless, it remains accessible to the general public, the target readers of the book.
The China Study is divided into four parts. Part I refers to studies, which were conducted in the 1960s and 1970s in 65 villages throughout China. This study examined mortality rates due to chronic diseases. The mortality statistics were later analyzed and correlations were found between these statistics and the health and diet surveys completed by individuals residing in the same village.
Part II is entitled “Diseases of Affluence.” Essentially, Campbell states that wealth leads to increased consumption of meat, dairy and refined plant products. In the following seven chapters, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune, bone, kidney, eye, and brain diseases are described, analyzed and ultimately related to animal product consumption. At the end of each of the chapters is the same take-home message: remove animal products from your diet and replace it with a whole-food, plant-based diet. The authors claim that such a change will dramatically reduce your rates of these diseases of affluence. This section was particularly interesting because when treating disease, nutrition is often considered after medication, however Campbell and Campbell believe the reverse should be true. In addition, they highlight the societal obsession of focusing on controlling your intake of one nutrient, such as cholesterol, glucose or fat and claim that this does not result in sustainable, long-term health.
After analyzing the aforementioned diseases, Campbell and Campbell outline “The Good Nutrition Guide” in Part III. They outline eight principles of nutrition, with the hope that by following these principles people will have reduced confusion surrounding food and health. The principles largely follow the findings outlined in Parts I and II, with animal products being a common topic and the message being to avoid them when possible.
Part IV explores the reasons as to why this information has never been reported. Campbell and Campbell conclude “government, science, medicine, industry, and media–promotes profit over health, technology over food and confusion over clarity.” However, in stark contrast to the other parts of the book, fewer graphs, statistics and correlations are presented. The reader is effectively left to believe the authors’ explanation at their word.
There is no doubt in my mind that the “Western Diet” needs improving, and we need to increase our consumption of fruits and vegetables. Personally, I believe that nutrition is healthcare, whereas medicine is sick care, and that diseases can be improved and in some cases, prevented by nutrition. However, I am reluctant to eliminate an entire food group from my diet, even after reading The China Study. Such a course of action not only ignores the nutritional benefits that these foods provide but would likely also be impossible to follow for the majority of the population.