Why Health News Is Almost Always Wrong

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Why Health News Is Almost Always Wrong

What you’re about to get into?

1700 words, 20-minute read.

Key Points

  • Most shock stories on health, diet, and fitness are written by journalists with little to no knowledge (or experience) of human physiology, nutrition or exercise physiology.

 

  • Bad science does exist. It’s known as Pseudoscience.

 

  • Take the majority of news articles with a pinch of salt.

 

What do all Health News Articles have in common?

  1. The extraordinary claims behind many of these headlines are eye-catching and strike an emotional chord with many readers.
  2. Their claims aren’t grounded on substantial evidence.
  3. They’re all pretty much nonsense.

 

Popular Headline Nonsense

“People who consume one diet drink a day three times more likely to suffer stroke or dementia.”

“Eggs are as bad for your arteries as smoking cigarettes.”

“Red meat triggers toxic immune reaction which causes cancer, scientists find”

 

Why do journalists do this?

One reason. To sell more papers and get TV views.

 

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Most of the time there is none.

It’s important to realize, the majority of journalists don’t have any relevant scientific training, so it’s somewhat ignorance.

No wonder the general public get confused with such scaremongering.

 


Knowledge is power. But, not all knowledge is reliable.


When it comes to deciding on things like,

  • How to eat?
  • What is the best supplement to take?
  • The best training program to follow?

You must base your decisions on evidence.

Where that evidence comes from is incredibly important. Especially, if you value your time, money and health.

As you’ll see in the hierarchy of knowledge pyramid below. Authority and Tradition, are highlighted as the least credible way to acquire knowledge.

 

Yet, in real life many people consider these sources to be the gold standard of developing knowledge. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

 

Authority typically presents itself as the opinion of the best-shaped gym member, a professional athlete or a famous Instagram model.

Tradition is what’s known as ‘old school’ or ‘we’ve always done it that way.’

When you have results to back up what you’re saying, whether that be in the form of a great looking body, high performance or good health, it often becomes hard to know who to trust.

Just think of the person who smokes 5 a day and gets cancer, versus the 100-year-old lady in the Guinness book of records that smokes every single day, lives life to the fullest and says ‘Smoking never did me any harm.’

Could she be compensating elsewhere with her health?

Diet, Stress management, Sleep, Genetics?

People who say ‘It must work for me too,’ often overlook the context of the result they are comparing themselves to. In respect to fitness, bodybuilding and strength training, this could include;

  • Age,
  • The length of time someone else has been training,
  • Ethnicity,
  • Genetics (biomechanics, hormones etc.),
  • Steroid Use,
  • Photoshop,
  • Time of year the photos were taken,
  • Adaption to stress,
  • Mindset,
  • and, much more.

Just because it worked for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for you. They have a unique set of circumstances behind their result. Whether those circumstances are better than yours is irrelevant. It’s your duty to get the best result in the fastest healthiest way possible.

The single best way to do that is to use the scientific method to support your decision-making.

 


What exactly is the scientific method?


 

It’s a body of techniques for investigating phenomena. It acquires new knowledge or integrates previous knowledge. For anything to be researched through the scientific method requires a method of inquiry that’s commonly based on measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.

In layman’s terms, an outcome that can be readily tested in relation to set factors.

While the scientific method may be the most credible form of evidence it’s important to realize that it only gives you a higher degree of certainty or doubt when coming to a decision. There are certain aspects of the scientific method that may not give you the full picture of what you need to know especially if research is lacking on a particular phenomenon.

 

7 Ways How to Spot Bad Science or Misinformation.

 


1. Sensationalist Headlines


 

These serve one main purpose. That is to grab your attention and sell media.

They are often taken out of context and don’t give the full picture.

 


2. Conflicts of Interest


 

Think of a supplement company funding research to support the use of its products.

In the food industry, there are common conflicts of interest among major food manufacturers and nutritional research. The famous food blog Food Politics written by Marian Nestle documents some great examples of all the food industry-funded research, paying particular attention to the number of results that favour the funder (i.e. the food company or an affiliate).

Her findings so far are remarkable and are available on her site to see with full link backs to the studies in question + their associated sponsor.

Of the 168 industry-funded studies she has examined, 156 boast results that favour the funder. That’s more than 90 percent.

Other research also supports the notion that the results of research sponsors are favoured in comparison to non-funded independent research examining the same issue.

Take this investigation of 206 publications on the health effects of milk, soft drinks, and fruit juices. The studies that were funded by drink companies were 4-8 times more likely to come to favourable conclusions about the health effects of those beverages.

Another example would be this review of studies on sugary drinks. Independently funded studies tend to find a correlation between soda consumption and poor health outcomes. Studies funded by soda makers, by contrast, are less likely to find such correlations.

While it’s entirely possible that there are some studies that don’t favour their funders, there is a definite need for more careful peer review of the studies that show favourable results in line with their founder.

Why are there conflicts of interest allowed to persist in nutrition research?

One of the main causes is lack of government funding in nutritional science. This provides lots of space for food companies to come in, sponsor research and provide employment opportunities for students.

Another main reason is simply to make their product look better and increase profits.

 


3. Population Sample


 

Would you base your training methodologies on research conducted on people that didn’t train?

 

Would you base your dietary strategy of people with underlying health issues you didn’t have?

 

It’s very important to consider the context of the population sample the research was conducted on before coming to a decision.

 


4. Cherry Picking


 

You’ll often find certain pieces of research have been purposely left out to support an argument or narrow-minded point of view.

 

It’s very important to let the ego go, and consider all the available research and angles before speaking in absolutes.

 

The whole Gary Taube’s notion of Insulin driving fat gain would fall in line with this.

 


5. Research with No Control Group or Blind Testing


 

If the research hasn’t been tested against a control group or some form of placebo.

The credibility goes out the window.

 


6. Overuse of Speculative Language


 

Look for words like,

  • May
  • Could
  • Potentially
  • Might

All these words suggest that there isn’t substantial evidence behind the claims being made in the information.

 


7. Referencing Doesn’t Include Testimonials


 

Referencing does not include personal testimonials. Whether it be from a Doctor, Celebrity or actor wearing a Doctor’s coat smiling with a clipboard and saying ‘Clinically Proven’.

Expect to see this kind of stuff on the side of fad supplements and diet books.

 

Why all health news is wrong

 


Case Study Example…


People who consume one diet drink a day three times more likely to suffer stroke or dementia.

This recent headline was published by the independent newspaper. A paper that would be considered credible by many.

Check out the results of the graph below taken from the Organic Trade Association. You’ll see an almost perfect relationship between organic food sales and the number of people diagnosed with autism between 1997 and 2007.

LOL.

No one in their right mind would come to the conclusion that eating organic food triggers autism. However, this is exactly what so-called health journalists did from THE INDEPENDENT.

The worst thing about it?

They do it every day.

 

Organic Food Causes Autism Graph

 

This graph perfectly demonstrates the idea that correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation.

 

Observational studies like this one aren’t useless. They can’t establish cause and effect, but they can help develop hypotheses to be tested using more in-depth forms of research like randomised control trials.

Read how the journalists spun the story here.

Another prime example would be the headline Eating large amounts of meat, cheese may be as deadly as smoking. This headline is 100% misleading and out of context.

I even wrote a 2100-word article on the issue, dissecting the research and getting to the truth of the research. You can read it here after you finish this piece.

The same goes for sugar. The popular notion that sugar is addictive is rife across the media. I wrote a huge piece on sugar for the members’ site, you can read it here.

 


Take Home


 

When it comes to Nutrition & Health, the media ONLY report on topics that can be sensationalized, and with no apparent concern about the accuracy of such pieces.

 

The details and complexities of interpreting research findings can be time-consuming and hard, but very worthwhile.

 

Don’t fall for click-bait health and nutrition headlines.

 

Written by Phil Graham

Founder of Diabetic Muscle and Fitness

Sports Nutritionist, Strength Coach, and Fitness Educator

Type 1 Diabetic for 12 years

 

 


References


  1. 2011 Organic Trade Survey. https://www.ota.com/resources/organic-industry-survey
  2. Food Politics http://www.foodpolitics.com/
  3. Bed-Rastrollo et al. Financial Conflicts of Interest and Reporting Bias Regarding the Association between Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review of Systematic Reviews. Published: December 31, 2013. http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001578
  4. Martijn B Katan. Does Industry Sponsorship Undermine the Integrity of Nutrition Research? Published: January 9, 2007. http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0040006#pmed-0040006-b003
  5. People who consume one diet drink a day ‘three times more likely to suffer stroke or dementia’ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/dementia-stroke-consuming-diet-drinks-increases-risk-american-heart-association-journal-a7694251.html#commentsDiv