Have you ever wondered if the editor behind a headline announcing ice cream’s healthy virtues has your best interests in mind? It’s time to do a quick fact check about which health reports to believe and which ones to just…let…slip…away. Today we’re talking about all those wonderful health studies and reports that you keep reading about in the news.
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Everyone loves a good health news story and that’s exactly why the news dishes them out so liberally. I’m taling about reports that say crazy things like “pizza cures depression” or “eating a banana first thing in the morning helps you lose weight.” This is where we figure out what to believe, what to throw and when you need to stop that newspaper subscripion altogether.
Does the story match the headline? If the story says that eating a banana helps you lose weight as long as you are eating right and working out regularly, then the headline is not exactly accurate, is it? You’d probably be able to get the same story done with an apple or a glass of milk.
Then comes the simple point of how big was the study, who conducted it and how long did it take? A study conducted on 50,000 people over 20 years, conducted by, say, the University of Michigan or the WHO is going to be more credible that the one conducted on 20 people over 2 months by a lesser known college. Studies and reports about lifestyle altering products or medicines have to come from a 20 year story – a lifetime, not a quick 2 months study.
Most studies suddenly won’t be anything more than repeated articles once you apply these rules. Remember, everyone loves a single one-point solution to weight loss problems – which is why they don’t work, because nothing comes from a simple, one-point solution. So the next time you wonder why you’re not losing weight even though you’ve been eating a banana every morning, you’ll know to read the report more closely.
Keep the following points in mind everytime you pick up the paper:
- Has the story quoted a credible source or is does the news article simply say a ‘recent research says’.
- How many people were observed, over how long a period of time, and from which universities.
- Where is the concluding paragraph, and has it come from the researchers or summarised by an unqualified rookie reporter? This matters, since most health studies do not conclude any report without several disclaimers and all-else-being-equal clauses.
- Therefore is there a direct conclusion, or is the bottom-line just a spin on an eye-grabbing headline?
- Is your daily routine compatible with that followed by the study’s participants. For ex: If chocolate milk is declared a great post-workout snack, then are you working out as much as the study participants, who were cycling at a moderate to rigorous pace for at least 60-90 minutes each day for 3 months?