Intended for healthcare professionals


Arthur Schatzkin

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 23 February 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1222
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. ns{at}

Found that high fibre diets don’t prevent colorectal cancer

In the 1990s the conventional wisdom among most doctors and the general public was that a diet low in fat and high in fibre would decrease the risk of colorectal cancer. The belief, though, was based mostly on a few small studies and educated conjecture, not on solid scientific evidence.

At the time, Arthur Schatzkin, an epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland, who was organising a major study on the topic, also suspected a link between intake of dietary fibre and colon cancer. But when the study was finally published in 2000 in the New England Journal of Medicine, generating headlines around the world, Schatzkin and his team concluded, “Adopting a diet that is low in fat and high in fiber, fruits, and vegetables does not influence the risk of recurrence of colorectal adenomas” (2000;342:1149-55, doi:10.1056/NEJM200004203421601).

Null results

Reflecting on that outcome a few years later, Schatzkin, who in 1999 was named chief of the nutritional epidemiology branch of the NCI’s division of cancer epidemiology and genetics, told the New York Times, “We had high expectations and good rationale. We got absolutely null results” (, 27 Sep 2005, “Which of these foods will stop cancer? (not so …

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