Food, Diet & Nutrition: Popular Subject, Difficult PubMed Search

By Eric Rumsey and Janna Lawrence

In December, Altmetric published a list of the most popular research papers of 2013 <http://www.altmetric.com/top100>. The Altmetric site has developed a method to quantify popularity by using social media and traditional media to measure the “buzz” about particular articles. Of the top 64 articles on the altmetric list, a surprisingly high 19% of them (12 articles) are on food, diet and nutrition (FDN). In comparison, by our count the number of citations in the top 64 for other popular topics are: Brain/Neuro 9, Sleep 5, Heart/Cardio 3, and Cancer 3.

The popularity of FDN strikes us especially because we have recently written on this blog about the difficulty of searching FDN subjects in PubMed. The Altmetric list provides a good opportunity to test our ideas on FDN subjects that are identified by Altmetric data as being especially  popular.

Shown below are the 12 articles in the top 64 articles in the Altmetric ranking that are on FDN, with PubMed links and FDN-related MeSH terms that are used for each of the articles (the asterisk after some headings indicates that the subject is given major emphasis in the article). At the end of the list, we’ll have a few brief comments on MeSH indexing problems.

FDN-related articles on the Altmetric Top 100 Research Articles of 2013

#2 (See comments on this article at bottom)
Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet
New England Journal of Medicine
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23432189
FDN-related MeSH terms:
Diet, Fat-Restricted
Diet, Mediterranean*
Dietary Supplements
Nuts*
Plant Oils*

#8
Association of Nut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality
New England Journal of Medicine
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24256379
FDN-related MeSH terms:
Diet*
Diet Surveys
Nuts*

#15 (See comments on this article at bottom)
Impact of insufficient sleep on total daily energy expenditure, food intake, and weight gain
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23479616
FDN-related MeSH terms:
Eating/physiology*
Weight Gain/physiology*

#19
The Autopsy of Chicken Nuggets Reads “Chicken Little”
The American Journal of Medicine
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24035124
FDN-related MeSH terms:
Dietary Fats/analysis
Dietary Proteins/analysis
Fast Foods/analysis*
Poultry Products/analysis*

#23
Myths, Presumptions, and Facts about Obesity
New England Journal of Medicine
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23363498
FDN-related MeSH terms:
Breast Feeding
Diet, Reducing
Obesity*/physiopathology
Obesity*/prevention & control
Obesity*/therapy
Weight Loss*

#26
Prospective Study of Breakfast Eating and Incident Coronary Heart Disease in a Cohort of Male US Health Professionals
Circulation
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23877060
FDN-related MeSH terms:
Breakfast*
Food Habits*

#33
DNA barcoding detects contamination and substitution in North American herbal products
BMC Medicine
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24120035
FDN-related MeSH terms:
Not yet indexed

#38
Persistence of Salmonella and E. coli on the surface of restaurant menus
Journal of Environmental Health
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23505769
FDN-related MeSH terms:
Food Microbiology*
Foodborne Diseases/microbiology
Foodborne Diseases/prevention & control*

#54
Meat consumption and mortality – results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23497300
FDN-related MeSH terms:
Diet/adverse effects*
Feeding Behavior*
Meat*
Nutrition Surveys

#58
The Relationship of Sugar to Population-Level Diabetes Prevalence: An Econometric Analysis of Repeated Cross-Sectional Data
PLOS ONE OPEN ACCESS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23460912
FDN-related MeSH terms:
Carbohydrates/analysis*
Obesity/epidemiology

#60
Inverse relationship of food and alcohol intake to sleep measures in obesity
Nutrition & Diabetes
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23357877
FDN-related MeSH terms:
This journal is not currently indexed in PubMed/MEDLINE

#64 (See comments on this article at bottom)
Intestinal microbiota metabolism of l-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis
Nature Medicine
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23563705
FDN-related MeSH terms:
Meat

Our comments on the Altmetric list

The twelve FDN citations in the Altmetric rankings cluster around three subjects – Plant-based foods: #2, #8, # 33; Obesity & Weight Gain: #15, #23, #58, #60; and Meat: #19, #54, #64. In a brief examination of the list, we can see that there are MeSH problems in each of these areas, most notably in these citations, one in each of the three clusters:

  • Plant-Based Foods - #2 (Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet) – Olive oil, a major top of this article, is indexed in MeSH as Plant Oils. This is not in the Food explosion, or any other FDN explosion, so it’s not picked up by a comprehensive search for FDN subjects.
  • Obesity and Weight Gain – #15 (Impact of insufficient sleep on … food intake, and weight gain). This is indexed in MeSH as Weight gain, and not as Obesity. The latter term is retrieved by a broad FDN search because it’s in the Nutrition disorders explosion. The seemingly closely-related term Weight gain is not in that explosion, and is therefore not retrieved in a broad FDN search.
  • Meat – #64 (Intestinal microbiota metabolism of … red meat, promotes atherosclerosis) - “Red Meat” is generally considered to be beef, pork and lamb – Because none of these has separate MeSH terms, the article is indexed only as Meat. This is a problem because when that term is searched in PubMed, it is automatically exploded, and the exploded heading includes not just meat, but also fish and poultry. Even searching for Meat as an unexploded MeSH term retrieves some articles for poultry and fish.

We have written previously on the problems of searching in PubMed for Plant-Based Foods. We will write in the future here on the other topics above – Obesity and Meat.

Acknowledgements:

  • Thanks to Colby Vorland (‏@nutsci) who first noted in a tweet the popularity of FDN in the Altmetric ranking.
  • Thanks to Chris Shaffer, for a close reading of our article and useful comments.