Friends, relatives and clients frequently send me articles from the mainstream media
asking me to weigh in on reports of fitness or diet studies.
It seems like a national article comes out each week
telling us a particular food is good and the next week they tell us that it’s bad. As far as exercise, the media is sure to tell you that you can get fit doing much less than you think, and sometimes they’ll even say that exercise is worthless!
To top it off, the media will tell you they’re quoting
research articles published in well-respected journals. These mixed messages can be confusing to say the least.
When reading Health Related Research Coverage in the Popular Media there are three important things to remember:
1.) The goal of a headline is to attract the reader.
A headline will often say what people want to hear so they’ll read on. Sometimes a headline is the opposite of what the article is about just to grab attention. If there’s a headline that interests you, I highly suggest you read the entire article before grabbing your take-away.
2.) The media needs to create a buzz.
When the media reports on a research study, the author highlights information he or she thinks is most exciting. Unfortunately, when doing so, he or she can leave out small pieces information that are important to the big picture. Sometimes, they can misrepresent the true meaning of the research.
3.) One study will never provide the complete answer to a question
or totally reverse our current knowledge on a subject. There needs to be a lot of studies that point to the same conclusion in order to change the game.
Why does research take so long to come to conclusions?
In health research there are many variables that must be taken into account, like: where people live, the kinds of foods they eat, religious and cultural backgrounds, family status, what kind of exercise they do, genetics, and so on. Each of these categories can be broken down into it’s own, very long list. All of these categories represent variables that effect our health and must be taken into account when doing a health study. One study can’t account for all the variables, which is why many studies must be done to answer one question.
There are a few things you can do to get the real scoop
if a study captured by the media interests you:
Check out Websites
of related associations and organizations They make decisions and set guidelines based on what the greater body of research currently supports.( i.e.: American cancer society, American Heart Association, American College of Sports Medicine, etc.)
Ask a professional
what they think, preferably someone educated in the field, who has an unbiased opinion.
If you have the time and the interest, get the article
that the media is referring to and read it for yourself. If you want to take it further, check out review articles in pub-med. They’ll sum up current research findings on the topic and the conclusions that we can realistically make from them.
And, when you read the articles that the media spotlights,
simply watch the pendulum swing back and forth, and know that all of these are just small parts of a bigger body of knowledge. There’s no need for alarm.
Ultimately you want to be well-informed
so you can be the best advocate for your own health. It’s important to remember that the media is no substitute for getting information from a health professional and most journalists on health don’t come with a background in health-related science. When it comes to issues that concern you, get a few opinions from people with credentials that you trust.