Health News Review

The headline and the first sentence are simply wrong:  the story reports on a type of study that cannot prove that coffer lowers risk.  Since such a study can’t establish causation, such causal language is inappropriate.

Our Review Summary

This is the kind of story that leaves consumers’ heads spinning – the "yes, it’s good for you…no it’s not" yin and yang of observational studies or – in this case – pooled analysis of past studies.  But even if you make an argument for the value of reporting this (an argument we wouldn’t make), it’s tough to get over the issue of inaccurate language used to describe the results.


Why This Matters


Criteria

Not Applicable

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Not applicable – the cost of coffee is not in question.

Not Satisfactory

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

Not Satisfactory

As already stated, it’s inaccurate to talk about benefits of "lowering risk" with results from a study that can’t establish a causal link. 

Not Satisfactory

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

Not Satisfactory

If a story like this is going to promote the benefits of coffee, it should at least wink in the direction of possible harms of drinking 5 or more cups of coffee per day. This story didn’t wink.

Not Satisfactory

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

Not Satisfactory

This is the biggest failing of this story.  A study like this can’t establish causation.  Yet the story repeatedly used causal language:

  • Lots of coffee lowers oral cancer risk
  • 5 daily cups of coffee cut mouth/throat cancer risk
  • "…it does lower your risk of mouth and throat cancer."
  • "…a smaller but statistically significant protective effect."
  • "…the protective effect of coffee was not diminished."
  • "Nor was the effect boosted…"

This isn’t just semantics.  It’s a matter of accuracy.  You can’t lower risk, cut risk, boost an effect or have a protective effect for something for which you haven’t proven a causal link. 

We offer a long and detailed explanation of why this is important in our Toolkit section
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Not Applicable

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Applicable

Not applicable – there really wasn’t any background given on the types of cancer in question.

Not Satisfactory

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

Not Satisfactory

No independent source was quoted.  Someone could have commented on study methods.  Someone could have commented on the context of all of the other coffee-cancer studies that have been done.  Someone should have been interviewed for such perspective, but it doesn’t appear that anyone was – at least no such interviews appear in the story. We don’t like single-source stories in any form of journalism, least of all in health/medical stories.

Satisfactory

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

There was some discussion of whether the association could be attributable to caffeine or fruit and vegetable consumption, and what was seen in tea drinkers.  We’ll give the story the benefit of the doubt for mentioning these other factors, although, again, inappropriate "protective" or "effect" language was used in this discussion.

Not Applicable

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

Not Applicable

Not applicable – the availability of coffee is not in question.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The story didn’t explain what is explained in the opening "Background" section of the published study:  Only a few studies have explored the relation between coffee and tea intake and head and neck cancers, with inconsistent results.  So this isn’t a first look at the question.

Not Applicable

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

Not Applicable

We can’t be sure if the story relied on a news release.  We do know that no independent source was quoted. 

Total Score: 1 of 6 Satisfactory


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