Even large observational studies have inherent limitations, but this story barely cracked the shell on this topic.
It’s probably not the writer’s choice to submit such a short piece devoid of some of the context he could have provided. We don’t know why the New York Times continues to post such mini-briefs on complicated health/medical/science topics, but we don’t think it’s in the public interest. And when you read some of the comments left on the Times‘ website following this story, you’ll see that we’re not the only ones who feel this way.
The story leads with this: “Eating walnuts may reduce the risk for Type 2 diabetes in women.” But it never explained why the polar opposite – that eating walnuts may not reduce that risk – may also be true.
The cost of walnuts is not addressed. When we checked the comments left on the New York Times blog appended to this story, cost was mentioned in 4 of the first 10 comments left. So you may think our criterion is too strict, but apparently some readers don’t think so – one writing, “Walnuts are an EXPENSIVE luxury.”
The story stated:
“compared with women who ate no walnuts, those who consumed 8 ounces of walnuts or more a month reduced their risk for Type 2 diabetes by 24 percent.”
24% of what? Why not provide the absolute numbers of what was observed?
No mention of potential harms. Aside from the fact that walnuts carry a significant amount of fat and protein and should be eaten in moderation, we don’t know of other harms worthy of mention.
Awkward wording in the story. Example: “Though the findings are correlational….” Is this the best way to explain the evidence to a general news audience?
It certainly is not the best way to explain the limitations of such observational studies.
Not applicable. There wasn’t enough information given about Type 2 diabetes for any disease-mongering to have been committed.
No independent source was quoted – only the author of the study was quoted. The story did note that the study was partially funded by the California Walnut Commission. It did not mention that the researcher quoted in the story has received funding support from that commission.
Again, you can turn to the comments left after the story online to see what readers would have liked to have seen. Excerpts of the comments:
The availability of walnuts is not in question.
The story provided some historical perspective:
“Previous studies have suggested an inverse relationship between tree nut consumption and diabetes. … “There’s been a lot of research on nuts in general in relation to cardiovascular health,” said the senior author, Dr. Frank B. Hu, a professor of medicine at Harvard. “This is the first on walnuts and diabetes. Walnuts may have some unique benefits.”
Not applicable because we’re unsure. There was so little information provided in the story, it is not clear how much independent reporting took place.