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5 Quick Tips: Putting Health News in Context
Whenever reading or watching a news story on nutrition and health, keep these questions in mind:
1. Is the story simply reporting the results of a single study?
Only very rarely would a single study be
influential enough for people to change their behaviors based on the results. So it is important to see how that study fits in with other studies on the topic. Some articles provide this background; other times, you may need to do more digging on your own.
2. How large is the study?
Large studies often provide more reliable results than small studies.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. How was diet assessed?
Some methods of dietary assessment are better than others. Good studies will have evidence that the methods have validity.