Health News Review

We weren’t reviewing a news story here.  We were reviewing a university news release, which was simply rewritten without any apparent independent vetting of claims.

Our Review Summary

Sometimes when we read health news stories, we think of Louis Armstrong singing, "And I think to myself, what a wonderful world!"  WebMD, which in recent stories, has reported on baking soda boosting athletic performance (0 stars), on resveratrol for aging (1 star), and on "lots of coffee lowering oral cancer risk" (1 star), now rewrites a university news release to trumpet how drinking beet juice may fight dementia. 

This from a study of 14 people for four days. But despite the dementia-fighting claim, the story didn’t include one word about how study participants felt, or anything about improved cognition – outcomes that people would care about. 


Why This Matters

"Press release by proxy" isn’t journalism. 

But even for people who write news releases, we remind you that surrogate endpoints do not necessarily reflect on overall health outcomes.  And especially not from a study of 14 people over four days.

And from this we get the headline that "drinking beet juice may fight dementia"???


Criteria

Not Applicable

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Not applicable.  The costs of these veggies was not discussed, but it’s not in question.

Not Satisfactory

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

Not Satisfactory

As we said in the "disease-mongering" criterion above, benefits were not expressed in terms of any outcomes that people would really care about in their lives, but, rather, only in terms of improved test scores which may not correlate with improved outcomes.

Not Satisfactory

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

Not Satisfactory

There was no discussion of potential harms from consuming high concentrations nitrates.

Not Satisfactory

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

Not Satisfactory

There was not one word about the limitations of a study involving just 14 people for just four days.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

There was very little discussion of the underlying problem of dementia, which appears prominently as "the problem" in the headline.

But there was an element of disease-mongering in the framing of surrogate endpoints – test markers or images or scores such as MRI scans of brain blood flow and blood tests – as goals for "overall good health." 

Indeed, there was not one word about how people felt, how they thought, how they performed – outcomes that really matter.

Not Satisfactory

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

Not Satisfactory

There were no independent sources.  All quotes came from a university news release.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

There was no comparison – not even a line – between what nitrites could do and what other approaches might do or have already been shown to do.

Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

The story explains that nitrites are found in high concentrations in beets, celery, cabbage and other leafy green vegetables like spinach.

Satisfactory

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story briefly mentioned something about previous studies of nitrites in widening blood vessels, but then claimed that this study was the first to find nitrites also increase blood flow to the brain.  Of course, that’s what it said in the news release.

Not Applicable

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

Not Applicable

The story was nothing more than a rewrite and a rearrangement of a Wake Forest University news release.

Total Score: 2 of 8 Satisfactory


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