What is research?

The word “research” comes from the French word recherche, meaning to search. It uses a very strict set of method (scientific investigation, also called the scientific method”) to understand nature, and how it works.

The results of research studies have provided new findings (evidence) that have shaped the way we understand the world in every different area of science. In the context of children this includes understanding the biology of child development, understanding how food and nutrition influence their health and how to treat and prevent childhood medical conditions. It has also led to the production of new inventions and technology.

What does evidence-based mean?

Scientific evidence refers to data that have been measured by a scientific investigation that aims to answer a question (also called proving a hypothesis). This approach is the foundation of healthcare and is the basis of the term “evidence-based medicine”, which aims to use new knowledge of health to develop new and more effective ways to solve health problems.

Why is research important?

In the area of child nutrition, research is critical for understanding specific questions such as how nutrients work in maintaining health and preventing health problems, what their specific roles are in the growing body, how safe they are, and which are the best forms and ways of using them.

The same questions are used to understand how a pharmaceutical can help with a medical condition, for example.

What are the different kinds of research studies?

In human research, there are a few different kinds of research studies that are we often hear about:

  • Epidemiology studies: measures things about samples of the population (e.g. nutrient intake, nutrient status)
  • Cross sectional studies: measure something about a group of people at a specific point in time
  • Longitudinal studies: follows progress of a group of people over time and makes measurements at different times
  • Case studies: focus on the history of a specific person or a medical case
  • Controlled clinical studies: compare different groups to a control (eg effects of a test substance to a placebo (blank)). These are also called clinical trials and usually relate to a medical treatment or measuring groups of people with illnesses.
  • Single-arm studies: follows the effects of a treatment or measurement in a group of people over time, and measures differences before and after.
  • Comparative studies (multi-arm studies): – compare effects two or more different groups (e.g. different kinds of milk formula, or different doses of a drug)
  • Reviews: an assessment of past research studies, done systematically or using different kinds of statistics to look at large collections of data.

Studies can also be divided into quantitative (measuring numbers or amounts) or qualitative (describing trends or based on things like ratings).

Why are the standards of research highly regarded?

Research involving humans, including children, is regulated by a strict code of ethics, that controls all aspects of conduct. This is because information gained is valuable and considered an authoritative and reliable source of data. It also used to direct future healthcare and public health policies.

Researchers need to ensure their research is:

  • Done fairly, and does not result in any harm or safety risks to the people being studied
  • Abides by various scientific codes of conduct, including the correct use of measurements, standards and statistical methods
  • Not biased, in other words, the results are due to random chance and influenced by any kind of human intervention by the investigators or sponsors
  • Reviewed by other scientists to make sure it is legitimate and of good quality before it can be published
  • Original and has not been published before, copied from other researchers, or falsified