Health News Review

Drinking up to six cups of coffee a day may lower the overall odds of dying prematurely, mainly because it cuts the risk of dying from heart disease, a study released today suggests.

Our Review Summary

This was a story about a new analysis of data from the Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals follow-up study that scrutinized coffee consumption and the incidence of death, coronary disease or cancer. The study found that increasing coffee consumption did not result in more death or death from these specific causes. In the cohort of women studied, after adjusting for confounders, especially for smoking, there were fewer deaths due to cardiovascular disease. The effect of coffee in men appeared more neutral.ÂÂ

Our primary recommendation is that the story should have emphasized that this was an observational study and that there are limits to the conclusions you can draw from such studies. We know, for example, that other factors (including HRT use and sunscreen use) can be associated with decreased risk of heart disease but when tested in trials were not found to lower risk. Coffee likely falls into that category, a sort of "healthy user" effect. 
We also all journalists to abandon the use of only relative risk figures. This story stated, "Women who drank two to three cups of coffee a day, for instance, had a 25% lower risk of dying from heart disease than non-drinkers." That’s relative risk. You should ask, "25% of what?" What is the absolute risk reduction figure? How many out of how many to begin with?

Criteria

Not Applicable

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

There was no discussion of price, but coffee is a widely available beverage with a generally known price range.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story did not provide absolute risk reduction numbers for the benefit that one might hope to gain from drinking coffee. The real take home from the study was that coffee consumption did not appear to be harmful in terms of the risk a person would die.

Satisfactory

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Satisfactory

The story did at least mention anxiety and insomnia as two harms that might be associated with coffee consumption.It would have been more informative to provide some insight as to how commonly these symptoms are associated with coffee use as opposed to other causes.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story did not clearly explain that nature of the study reported on or the conclusions which could or could not be drawn from it because of the study design. While readers were provided with numbers of study subjects and the length of time they were followed, both of which are helpful for understanding how to consider the information, when it came to providing information about the results of the study, only a relative risk reduction was mentioned. Further, the ‘news’, i.e. the findings from a recently published study, was muddled with comments from credentialed individuals who provided their opinions on subject matter that was not supported by the study reported on. Although one researcher said, "If you want the best of both worlds, drink decaf – avoid the caffeine and get the good stuff," the published data demonstrated a strong relationship between caffeine intake and the number of cups of coffee consumed. So while this may be his opinion and may even be supported by other research he has knowledge about, it is not consistent with the study reported on. Another expert interviewed for the study mentioned that it says the key to coffee’s health benefits is its antioxidants. Coffee is a complex entity containing hundreds of different components. It is not possible from a study of this kind to make any sort of conclusion about what is responsible for any particular effect observed.

Satisfactory

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No overt disease-mongering.

Satisfactory

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

The lead study author was interviewed for this story. In addition, the story contained quotes from two individuals that were not connected with the study but who had some background related to coffee.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story did not contain any information about other means of lowering the risk of premature death or of dying from a heart attack.

Not Applicable

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

The availability of coffee is not in question. 

Satisfactory

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

Drinking coffee was appropriately not portrayed as something new or innovative.

Not Applicable

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Not Applicable

Does not appear to be derived exclusively from a press release.

Total Score: 4 of 7 Satisfactory


We Welcome Comments

But please note: We will delete comments that include personal attacks, unfounded allegations, unverified facts, product pitches, profanity or any from anyone who doesn't list what appears to be an actual email address. We will also end any thread of repetitive comments. We don't give medical advice so we won't respond to questions asking for it. Please see more on our comments policy.