First, I would like to start by saying that I understand that the goal of news outlets is to produce stories that interest readers/viewers so they can sell advertising and remain financially solvent. I also understand that it is a tough business to be in and that catchy headlines are more likely to attract readers and create buzz.
That being said, as a researcher and someone who understands how important it is to both publish the research and to get press coverage of your research, it really bothers me when reporters don’t do a good job reporting the research. There have been many examples, but the reporting on a recent study about consumption of red meat and mortality was particularly bad. Here are just a few of the headlines about the study.
- Study finds eating red meat linked to early death (San Francisco Chronicle)
- All red meat is bad for you, study says (LA Times)
- Too much red meat may shorten lifespan (CNN)
- Daily serving of red meat raises risk of cancer, heart disease (MSNBC)
These headlines are all about the same study, but suggest very different conclusions. If you go and read the actual study, Red meat consumption and mortality, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, you will see that eating red meat daily is associated with higher rated of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. There is a big difference in eating something occasionally and eating something daily. That is overlooked some of the news stories.
The study also found evidence that replacing one serving of red meat with other low-fat protein sources will reduce mortality risk. When you really read the study, the information is nothing new. We all know that a balanced diet is made up of a variety of protein sources and foods high in fat and saturated fat should be eaten in moderation. This study was a well done longitudinal examination of eating something or not on a daily basis. It has some of the same issues that most research involving self-report data has, but the researchers controlled for a large number of items.
I have no opinion on the topic of the study, but this study generated a lot of attention and headlines like these can lead to a lot of misinformation. The biggest problem is that people often only read the headlines or the first couple of paragraphs in a news story. It is important that these accurately reflect the conclusions that came from the study.