The Grand Prix of Epidemiology

-The New York Times

The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications For Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-Term Health (2005).

The China Study

In 2005, T. Colin Campbell, PhD and his son Thomas M. Campbell, MD, shared the China Project findings along with additional research with the world in The China Study. This groundbreaking book examined the connection between nutrition and heart disease, diabetes, and cancer and the source of nutritional confusion produced by powerful lobbies, government entities, and opportunistic scientists. The revised and expanded edition includes new content, statistics, research and information about the changing medical system and how patients stand to benefit from a surging interest in plant-based nutrition. The China Study is hailed as one of the most important books about diet and health ever written.

Revised Edition (2016)


History of the China Project

In the early 1980’s, nutritional biochemist T. Colin Campbell, PhD of Cornell University, in partnership with researchers at Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, embarked upon one of the most comprehensive nutritional studies ever undertaken known as the China Project. Sixty five counties in rural China were selected and the dietary, lifestyle and disease characteristics of the populations of each county were compared. China at that time presented researchers with an excellent opportunity to do a study of this type because of the wide range of disease rates there, as well as some very significant dietary differences among the people. The truly plant-based nature of the rural Chinese diet gave researchers a chance to compare plant-based diets with animal-based diets—a comparison that had not been possible in studies on Western subjects, who tended to consume diets that were (and still are) much more similar.

China survey areas in 1983

1983-84 Survey

Sixty five counties in rural China were selected for study and the dietary, lifestyle and disease characteristics of populations of each county were compared. Within each of the 65 counties, 2 villages were selected and 50 families in each were randomly chosen for study. One adult from each household (half men and half women), 6500 for the entire survey, participated. Blood, urine and food samples were obtained for later analysis, while questionnaire and 3-day diet information was recorded. A total of 367 items of information on these 6500 families eventually were judged to be reliable. These 1983-84 diet and lifestyle data included the 1973-75 mortality rates for about 4 dozen different kinds of cancers and other diseases. The data was published in the following monograph: Chen, J., Campbell, T.C., Li, J., Peto, R. Diet, Lifestyle and Mortality in China. A Study of the Characteristics of 65 Chinese Counties. A joint publication of: Oxford University Press, Cornell University Press and The People's Medical Publishing House, 1990.

1989-90 Survey

The same counties and individuals surveyed in 1983-84 were re-surveyed in 1989-90, with the addition of 20 new counties in mainland China and Taiwan, and 20 additional families per county, thus yielding 10,200 total adults and their families. A large amount of socioeconomic information also was collected. These data were combined with new mortality data for 1986-88, using the most recent disease classification scheme (International Classification of Disease, Edition 9). The data was published in the following monograph: Chen, J., Peto, R. Pan, W., Liu, B., Campbell, T.C. Mortality, Biochemistry, Diet and Lifestyle in Rural China. Geographic study of 69 counties in Mainland China and 16 areas in Taiwan. Oxford University Press, 2006. The text and data files from this publication are available online and can be downloaded here.

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Research Results

Researchers found that diseases more common in Western countries clustered together. Data analyses led them to conclude that these diseases might be attributed to nutritional extravagance, while those illnesses more common in poorer areas of the world were likely owing to nutritional inadequacy and poor sanitation. Other findings highlighted distinctions in disease outcomes relative to intakes of plant vs. animal-based foods. After detailed analyses, the consistency of these results led researchers to conclude that overall, the closer people came to an all plant-based diet, the lower their risk for chronic disease.