Health News Review

This MyHealthNewsDaily feature running on MSNBC.com violates all of our guidelines on how to report on observational studies. So the high 4-star score may be misleading.  The few flaws here were big ones.

Our Review Summary

Using language like this is simply not appropriate nor accurate to describe the findings from an observational study:

“slash risk”…”reduce the risk”…”reduced risk was more pronounced in women than in men”…”protective effect”…”melanoma risk was reduced the most”

When, oh when, will such news organizations become aware of and follow our carefully-prepared guidelines on the importance of language in describing such studies?

We email someone from each news organization whenever one of their stories is reviewed.  Anyone listening at MSNBC.com?

 


Why This Matters

Stories like this may simply become part of the background noise that overwhelms news consumers in the daily drumbeat of health care news coverage.  That’s why this matters.


Criteria

Not Applicable

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Not applicable.  The cost of Vitamin A is not in question, although the amount we collectively spend on supplements — most of which are probably unnecessary — is substantial.

Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

At least in clearly describing the study’s findings, the story spelled out the absolute numbers:

Among the 59,000 people in the study who had never taken vitamin A supplements, there were 506 cases of melanoma, while among the 5,800 people who were currently taking it and had used it regularly over the past 10 years, there were 28 cases.

Providing these data as a percentage in addition may have helped some people interpret them, though.

Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

The story included the caution “that taking too much vitamin A could lead to such harmful conditions  as birth defects, liver problems and bone loss.

Not Satisfactory

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

Not Satisfactory

As mentioned in the summary above, the story didn’t include one caveat about the limitations of drawing conclusions from observational studies.

Satisfactory

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No disease-mongering about melanoma.

Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

A dermatologist not involved in the study was quoted.

Satisfactory

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story discussed Vitamin A supplements and foods containing the vitamin.

And from a risk perspective, the story noted:

Reducing sunlight exposure has long been recommended to reduce the risk of melanoma. This includes limiting time in direct sunlight, wearing sun block and avoiding tanning beds.

Unfortunately, not all melanoma is a result of sun exposure. There is also a strong genetic component.

Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

The availability of Vitamin A from different sources was clear in the story

Not Satisfactory

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

There wasn’t enough context provided about where this study fits into the overall picture of past/other research on this topic in this field.

Satisfactory

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

Satisfactory

Because of the independent perspective provided, we think the story showed it did not rely solely on a news release.

Total Score: 7 of 9 Satisfactory


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