Nutrition in the News- trustworthy?

by Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Posted on Jan 23, 02:01 PM in . No comments.

There are so many nutrition stories in the papers these days. People are interested and this is, of course, great. It can be a little tricky. There is so much and from various sources; and a lot of the stories can be conflicting. It’s so confusing for people when the latest miracle food can prevent cancer one day and cause it the next. I can recall so many times when clients have come to my clinics to see me, holding the latest paper with the newest diet or the most recent nutrition claim. I learnt very quickly that I had to keep up with the papers, (and the studies around the stories), so I can answer my clients’ questions on whatever the newest craze or claim is. Even glancing through the papers today, I can see at least six nutrition stories in print or online.

The articles look convincing but can we really trust what we read in the papers every time?

Last year, a well publicised study in which researchers looked at articles and health claims in ten UK newspapers over a typical week was brought to the fore. The researchers found and examined 37 articles and analysed the credibility of the claims in each article against two grading systems for scientific evidence. What they found was pretty scary. Only 27% of the articles fell into the convincing and probable category whilst 65% fell into the insufficient evidence category. This means that at least 65% of the articles had no credible basis for the claims being made.

But they were in the newspaper; surely it has to be true and credible? Seems not.

That study has been raised again this month in a popular Dietetic magazine and with the question of “Can the public trust the dietary advice provided by UK newspapers?” It would seem not.

So how can we address this and how can the public know which advice and articles they can trust?

The public need to be a little more discerning when considering the information presented in their papers. A few questions need to be asked. Firstly, who is writing the article? What are their credentials? Is the author selling something? Are they registered with a regulatory body which requires them to follow a code of conduct and ethics? I’m always amazed that people will believe celebrities and self styled nutrition “researchers” over qualified Dietitians and Nutritionists. Secondly, how much information has the author given about the evidence behind the story? Have they been critical with reading the research behind the story and claims and have they backed the story up with their sources?

It’s not all down to the public though. The papers themselves should have a responsibility to regulate the information being published .Would it be so hard to use qualified Dietitians and Nutritionists or credible health writers to write nutrition articles every time?

What do you think? I’d love to hear your views.

References:

The quality of the evidence for dietary advice given in UK national newspapers. Cooper WEJ, Lee WE, Goldacre BM, Sanders TAB. Public Understanding of Science 2011; DOI: 10.1177/0963662511401782
Can the public trust the dietary advice provided by UK newspapers?
Benjamin EJ Cooper, Medical Student, King’s College London and William E Lee, Researcher, Institute of Psychiatry. NHD Magazine Jan2012.

Tags: Media, Newspapers, Nutrition, Nutrition Articles, Regulation

About the author

Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Anne is a Health Professions Council (HPC) registered dietitian (RD), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD- Australia), a fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), a member of the British Dietetic Association, The Nutrition Society and of The Dietetics Association of Australia.

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