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Understanding Media Reports of Studies

Posted 4/15/2014

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  The hype can be huge. Even in serious newspapers (think The New York Times rather than The Inquirer), reports of health-related studies can be presented and read in ways that greatly overstate the realities. I am thinking about the coverage, for example, each year from the San Antonio Breast Cancer Meeting. Inevitably, there is a newspaper story about a new treatment that seems to suggest that, if not a cure, is at least a long extender of life for women with metastatic breast cancer. It is not impossible that the study actually found that disease free interval was extended by a few months, not at all what we are hoping for.

  In less serious veins, there are frequent stories about general health and ways to improve it. We are told about magic bullet foods or exercise or some other strategy to keep us fit and young and strong. And then, a few months or years later, we are told something that specifically contradicts that recommendation. It is really hard to know what to believe, and I have come to read everything in the media with a very large grain of salt.

  This is an excellent article from the American Cancer Society about this issue. I give you the start and then a link to read more.

What to keep in mind when you see STUDIES SAY
By Alvaro Carrascal, MD, MPH

You may have seen some of these headlines recently in national newspapers and online:
More coffee linked to higher mortality rate: study
Four cups of coffee a day may raise early death risk in younger adults
4 Cups of Coffee a Day Can Be Deadly
New Study: Coffee Can Kill You
Under 55? Think twice before you reach for that extra cup of coffee, researchers say
After seeing these reports on the web and morning news, I had a thought as I reached for my morning cup of joe: Should I consider tea instead?
As a person who grew up drinking 2-3 cups of coffee a day, should I change my habits based on these news reports? What would happen if I don't? Should these reports stop my life-long friendship with Juan Valdez?
Then, I began to recall headlines from a few months ago.
Caffeine Linked to Lower Skin Cancer Risk
Moderate Coffee Consumption Lowers Heart Failure Risk
Moderate Coffee Consumption May Reduce Risk of Diabetes by Up to 25 Percent
What should we make of these contradictory reports? Who is right, who is wrong, and what should we believe?
Every day we are bombarded with reports about studies and occasionally these studies contradict each other.


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