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‘That finding could be due to chance:’ Reuters Health uses caution to explain study on trans fats ban

Rating

5 Star

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Hospitalizations drop where laws restrict trans fats

Our Review Summary

This story does a good job describing a recent study that looked at the association between a ban on trans fats in food, and New York hospital admissions related to heart disease. The study found a modest reduction in hospitalizations for heart attacks in restricted counties.

The story was careful to not overstate the evidence. This stands in contrast to an Associated Press story we also reviewed, which needed more on the study’s limitations.

One weak point for the story was the lack of independent sources.

 

Why This Matters

According to the CDC, some 610,000 people die of heart disease annually in the United States; it is the leading cause of death for both men and women.  The FDA plans a nationwide restriction of trans fats beginning in 2018, so understanding the impact of such a dietary shift is important.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

While there might be an aggregate, societal cost to this change in food ingredients, it is not clear that individuals will incur monetary costs as a result of this change.

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

Satisfactory

The reader is offered both percentage and absolute numbers to describe the decreases in hospitalization for heart problems. The story also makes clear what differences are or are not statistically significant. Lastly and importantly, the story makes clear that the study established an association, not a causal link.

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

Not Applicable

The concept of harm/side effects does not seem relevant here.

However, we did want to note: When trans fats were first introduced, they were supposed to be a healthy alternative to tropical oils with lots of saturated fat. Now that they are being removed, it’s worth discussing what they will be replaced with and whether that change could have negative health consequences, too.

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

Satisfactory

The story gives the basics on the study design, and lets readers know that the study couldn’t provide a definitive cause-and-effect relationship between a trans fat ban and fewer hospitalizations. We’re also told that other public health efforts could have contributed, such as clean air initiatives and citywide calorie counts on menus.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The story deals with a serious health issue, and it did a good job describing what trans fats are and why they’re unhealthy.

Trans fats raise bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol and ultimately increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. They’re found naturally in some foods but are often manufactured and added to processed foods to improve taste and texture.

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

Not Satisfactory

This was a weak point in the story–no independent sources were quoted.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story included a discussion about how the findings could also be linked to smoking bans and mandatory calorie counts on menus, which could be considered alternative public health measures to reduce heart disease.

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

Satisfactory

The story notes where trans fats are now restricted (New York City) and explains that restrictions will become nationwide in 2018.

By 2018, those fats will be nearly eliminated from American diets, they add.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The text notes that earlier research looked only at reductions in mortality; this new study expands that effort by focusing on hospitalizations.

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

Satisfactory

A news release was made available by Yale University, but this story offers a level of detail that far exceeds that.

 

Total Score: 7 of 8 Satisfactory

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