Health News Review

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, self-described as founder of “a multi-disciplinary, ethical, evidence-based nutrition and weight management centre,” is also an active blogger. (An editor of the BMJ reacted on my blog to Freedhoff’s piece from last week about a white rice & diabetes study.  See the exchange of comments at the end of the piece.)

His latest is:  “What Reading That Eat Chocolate be Thinner Article Actually Told Me.

Quicker than a candy bar can melt, he got to the point:

It told me that the University of California in San Diego’s PR department is beyond shameless, and that the Archives of Internal Medicine will publish pretty much anything.

You can go to his blog to see how he dismantled the UCSD news release. But here’s his summary about the study:

“Basically here we have a study with no controls whatsoever rendering conclusions impossible, authors who rather than mention their study’s pretty much insurmountable methodological limitations instead made up a “growing body of literature” on magic calorie neutral or negative foods, a press release that spins it all as fact and as a result, as of early this morning, less than 24 hours after publication, there were already 423 chocolate makes you thin stories on the newswire to further misinform an already nutritionally confused world.

Once again I’m left scratching my head trying to understand how this could possibly have made it to – let alone passed – peer review, and why it is that ethics and accuracy don’t seem to matter to the folks who write press releases, or to the respected researchers who are drawing these unbelievably irresponsible and over-reaching conclusions despite undoubtedly knowing better. It also makes me wonder just how exactly they all manage to sleep at night.

[Even more amazing? This study was NOT funded by the chocolate industry]“

See how often you can find that kind of analysis in any of these news stories:

The Wall Street Journal – quoting the lead researcher saying “It’s my favorite vegetable.”

The New York Times, reporting “Chocolate may not be as hazardous to your waistline as you think — at least in moderation.”

USA Today at least noted, “The study was observational, meaning it analyzed data based on how much chocolate people said they ate, rather than a controlled trial in which some people are given chocolate and compared with others who did not get chocolate.”

Reuters included this independent expert’s perspective: “Because the new study is relatively small and couldn’t prove cause-and-effect, it’s hard to take any lessons from the findings.”

The Boston Globe at least reflected uncertainty in its headline: “Can chocolate help you lose weight? Study says yes, but evidence is uncertain.”

NPR also offered caveats: “this study certainly does not prove that frequent chocolate consumption causes people to be leaner.”

Huffington Post posted: “Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center and a blogger with The Huffington Post, said that attempting to establish a causal relationship from a cross-sectional study would be “informed guessing at best.”

HealthDay allowed the lead researcher to say that the findings “reduce any possible guilt that might come with chocolate consumption.” (Huh?)

WebMD’s story started with fluff:  Eat More Chocolate, Weigh Less? in the headline. Followed by the lede line: “People who are trying to lose weight may not need to bar chocolate from their diets.

 

Comments

P S Reynolds posted on April 9, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Just in: The same Arch. Int. Med. article “More Intake of Chocolate May Yield Lower Body Mass Index” appropriately rubbished by Dr. Freedhoff, is actually being offered up for CME/CE credits by Medscape Education Clinical Briefs today (April 9th 2012). Depressingly this is not a one-off – lots of poorly designed observation studies are offered up on a weekly bases for “educational” purposes.