Should journalists avoid reporting on most food studies?

Friends dining in the suburban garden of Paris

We often see headlines claiming that a particular food will either save us or kill us. The problem is that there’s usually no good science to support those headlines. Should journalists just stop writing about food studies? Kelly Crowe at CBC News asks this question in her latest article.

The background is all the recent click-and-share health news. Journalists have written stories based on weak studies about how all alcohol consumption is bad for health, that cheese and yogurt protect you from death and that a low-carb diet could shorten your life. These news stories have been widely spread without being based on any strong evidence.

The problem is that journalists want to make clickable headlines no matter what effects they may have on the people who read it. Unlike nutrition researchers, who are careful to report their findings associated with a specific outcome, journalists often skip the nuance in order to make these news stories.

In an article published in JAMA last month, John P. A. Ioannidis, MD, also wrote about this. He looked at claimed life-extending benefits from published research, and concluded, for example, that eating 12 hazelnuts daily would prolong life by 12 years. Drinking three cups of coffee a day would provide an extra 12 years on top of that, and eating a single clementine every day would add five more years. Ioannidis continues:

If you were to gain all the benefits speculated by each one of these studies, we would be able to live for 5,000 years

The stories journalists are publishing may also often contain conflicting advice, which leaves people confused and worried. Both Crowe and Ioannidis are throwing a spotlight on something important. Should journalists just stop writing about food studies? Or should people just stop reading these articles?

CBC: ‘A large grain of salt’: Why journalists should avoid reporting on most food studies

JAMA: The challenge of reforming nutritional epidemiologic research


Could a low-carb diet shorten your life?

Harvard professor: Coconut oil is “pure poison”

Dietary guidelines

One comment

  1. Cassieoz
    No, what we need are more GOOD journalists who critically review the literature and publish the warts and inaccuracies clearly. There will always be trashy news media that use sensation and click-bait to sell advertising space and there MUST be a counter view available. Perhaps over time we can educate the public (and politicians) that 'correlation is not causation' and that observational studies just indicate the areas that need real research. Of course, we need to convince a lot of nutritionists too.....

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