Another predictable "chocolate may be good for you" story – this time for Easter

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Just a month and a half ago, a health care journalist wrote on Twitter, “Just once it would be nice to get through Valentine’s Day without some new goofball health story about chocolate.”

She didn’t get her way. On February 11, we reviewed a HealthDay story, “Dark Chocolate May Lower Stroke Risk.”

0330_nut_easterchocolate.jpg Well, substitute Easter for Valentine’s Day and dark chocolate Easter eggs for hearts and you can trot out another holiday tie-in about an observational study to be published in the European Heart Journal about dark chocolate, high blood pressure and strokes.

Many stories used the same tired old formula: “chocolate may be good for you….but that doesn’t mean you should start eating a lot more of it.”

The AP story, though, this time added little caveats about the limitations of anobservational study – the kind of study this was. Excerpts:

• “Since the study only observed people and did not give them chocolate directly to test what its effects were, experts said more research was needed to determine the candy’s exact impact on the body.”

• Alice Lichtenstein, a nutritionist at Tufts University School of Medicine, said it was difficult to link the reduction in heart disease and stroke risk to the chocolate alone, since there may have been other differences between the study participants. “The relationship between chocolate and good health outcomes is still uncertain,” she said.

ABC was wrong with its headline: “Chocolate Protects Against High Blood Pressure, Stroke.” You can’t claim a protective effect from an observational study that can’t establish cause-and-effect.

So, technically, was CNN wrong with its headline, “Daily chocolate may keep the heart doctor away.”

And so was WebMD with its advice, “Nibble on chocolate for a healthier heart.”

But the worst was The Guardian headline from the UK: “It’s official: Chocolate is good for you.”

We have an entire article on the importance of the words used to describe observational studies.

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