Health News Review

Even large observational studies have inherent limitations, but this story barely cracked the shell on this topic.

Our Review Summary

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.


Why This Matters

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.


Criteria

Not Satisfactory

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

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.”

Not Satisfactory

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

Not Satisfactory

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?

Not Applicable

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

Not Applicable

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.

Not Satisfactory

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

Not Satisfactory

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

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Applicable

Not applicable.  There wasn’t enough information given about Type 2 diabetes for any disease-mongering to have been committed.

Not Satisfactory

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

Not Satisfactory

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.

Not Satisfactory

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

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:

  • “It’s probably not just walnuts that provide this benefit but likely other nuts as well.”
  • “every time a study includes several different types- the benefits and nutrition turn out to be nearly identical for walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and pecans. Pistachios and brazils? Probably; less data. Chestnuts are totally different- low oil, high in complex carbs.”
  • “What about other nuts, such as almonds? Can the study be extrapolated to them? Or does it have to be walnuts?”
  • “Given the fact that walnuts are an excellent source of Omega-3, would fish oil do the same thing? Or, do walnuts have something special for humans that fish, or fish oil do not?”
Not Applicable

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

Not Applicable

The availability of walnuts is not in question.

Satisfactory

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

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

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

Not Applicable

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.

Total Score: 1 of 6 Satisfactory


Comments

R Neuville posted on June 15, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Completely reversed my Diabetes on the Walnut Way.
Took 7 months. Also need to avoid food with man made trans fats.
Wrote a short paper free on Kindle Prime “The Walnut Way to Reverse Diabetes Type2″

Reply

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