Deciphering Media Stories on Diet News Even at its best, science is a painstaking, deliberate process, which doesn’t fit very well into the cut-and-dry, newer-is-always better world of the mass media.
And it’s the media reports on health that are responsible for much of the frustration the public feels toward the public health community. With their emphasis on short, ”newsworthy” pieces, the media often only report the results of single studies, and many stories are chosen simply because the results run contrary to current health recommendations.
Because such reports provide little information about how the new results fit in with other evidence on the topic, the public is left to assume that, once again, the scientists screwed up and are now backtracking.
Fortunately, in many cases it only takes a few incisive questions to get at the heart of a research-related news story and see how important the results are for you personally.
One of the most crucial things to keep in mind is the issue we’ve already discussed above: How does a given study fit into the entire body of evidence on a topic?
Whenever reading or watching a news story on health, keep these questions in mind: Are they simply reporting the results of a single study? If so, where does it fit in with other studies on the topic? Only very rarely would a single study be influential enough for people to change their behaviors based on the results.
How large is the study? Large studies often provide more reliable results than small studies.
Was the study done in animals or humans? Mice, rats, and monkeys are not people. To best understand how food or some other factor affects human health, it must almost always be studied in humans.
Did the study look at real disease endpoints, like heart disease or osteoporosis? Chronic diseases, like heart disease and osteoporosis, often take many decades to develop. To get around waiting that long, researchers will sometimes look at markers for these diseases, like narrowing of the arteries or bone density. These markers, though, don’t always develop into the disease.
How was diet assessed? Some methods of dietary assessment are better than others. Good studies will have evidence that the methods have validity.
With these tips and a better understanding of the world of health research, you can look at health information with a more discerning eye. While this won’t be a guarantee against frustration, it should help you embrace health recommendations—and the healthy lifestyle they promote—with more confidence.
Lue erinomainen artikkeli ravitsemustieteestä ja mediasta ja suuresta yleisöstä – ja kuinka saada tolkkua kaikesta tiedontulvasta!