Health News Review

The American College of Cardiology holds its annual scientific sessions in San Francisco from March 9 – 13 this year.  It is quite common for organizations like the ACC to send out news releases in advance of a meeting about papers that will be presented at the meeting.

But it is uncommon for an organization to send out a news release expressing “serious concerns” about a study to be discussed at its upcoming meeting, with concomitant concern about how “this study could be hyped” by journalists, especially in news headlines.

We also appreciate the fact that the ACC referred readers to our project as a resource to help people evaluate medical research.  Here is the news release content:

What’s Really Good for You: Sorting Out the Medical Research

WASHINGTON (March 7, 2013) — Drinking grape juice improves heart health! Does this seem too good to be true—maybe it is. Results of medical research, especially research that finds health benefits in common foods or activities, can be big news and highly publicized. But not all medical research is as simple as a headline makes it seem. The American College of Cardiology encourages consumers to be proactive in researching medical claims they hear about in the news and discuss such findings with their doctors before making drastic changes.

“Often medical research that is talked about in national media outlets touts the health benefits of a particular food or hobby, like wine or yoga, and results can be presented in an exaggerated way,” said CardioSmart Chief Medical Expert JoAnne Foody, MD, FACC. “Sometimes it is difficult to know what to trust, but I would encourage people to look for reputable medical journals and the number of participants included in a trial.”

A study being presented at the upcoming ACC Annual Scientific Session, found that “healthy” smokers who drink Concord grape juice have improved endothelial function. The endothelium is a thin membrane that lines the inside of the heart and blood vessels and functions to control blood clotting, immune function, inflammation and new blood vessel formation. Poor endothelial function can lead to coronary artery disease and other diseases of the arteries.

Without further details, this study could be hyped in the headlines as grape juice improving the heart health of smokers, which would be accurate. And while studies like this are important in medical settings and to advance cardiovascular research, Dr. Foody said she would have reservations about promoting this as a solution for smokers.

“I would have serious concerns about this study,” Dr. Foody said. “While we know that foods such as grape juice may have important benefits on arterial function, before making any drastic changes to your diet, check with your health provider.”Dr. Foody, following standard advice of most cardiologists, said she would also recommend a smoker quit smoking as the first step toward improving their cardiovascular health, rather than simple diet changes like drinking grape juice.

Consumers should look to reputable resources that provide clear and easy to understand health information in addition to speaking to their doctors about medical research results they hear about in the news.
Several resources are available for consumers looking to evaluate medical research:

  • CardioSmart.org is the patient education initiative of the ACC and provides consumer-friendly information and news articles on heart disease that are vetted by medical experts.
  • “Understanding Risk: What Do Those Headlines Really Mean?” is offered through the National Institutes of Health National Institute on Aging and encourages consumers to ask a series of questions when evaluating a new medical finding, including “Does the study include people like you?” and “Was the study conducted in the laboratory, in animals or in people?”
  •  Healthnewsreview.org provides in-depth analysis of media reports on medical research. On this site, medical writers grade how thoroughly and accurately health research is explained in news reports. While the site is geared toward medical writers, it also provides a framework for consumers interested in a deeper understanding.

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Comments

Brad F posted on March 7, 2013 at 7:09 pm

ACC corporate capture –

They are sprinkling a little friendship dust, you know, insurance policy for their upcoming partnership with a fast food conglomerate.

Oh, how naive :)