Oh, how journalists love studies about dark chocolate. See some past examples I’ve collected.
Recently I wrote:
“We flood the American public with “health” news every day. And the overload may very well cause confusion and disorientation about what’s important in health and wellness in our everyday lives….We’re losing people, drowning them in a sea of questionable or downright useless health information.”
Well, here’s another dark chocolate wave in the flood.
The BringMeTheNews website cannibalized other sources to report, “Discovery: Dark chocolate may help walking ability.” Why a site that purports to deliver “the best stories that affect our readers: Minnesotans” would cherry pick the hype and ignore the caveats about a tiny, short-term study done in Italy is beyond me. Except that it’s chocolate.
How big was the study? 20 people.
How much was walking ability improved? 17 seconds longer and 39 feet farther. One reader left a comment after the BringMeTheNews story: “17 seconds longer??? Wow, pretty great improvement.”
BringMeTheNews actually just brought you the news that Reuters, Medpage Today and NPR had already reported. Only they left out some of the important caveats that the other sources included.
BringMeTheNews didn’t include any of the cautious comments in the way NPR ended its story:
“Do the results suggest that chocolate could be used as treatment?
Not so fast. As physician Mark Creager of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who reviewed the study, points out, “The overall effect [of the dark chocolate] was relatively modest.”
In an email, he pointed out to us that the 11 percent increase in walking distance doesn’t add up to much — only about 40 extra feet.
“To put this in context,” says Creager, “with other forms of treatment, such as supervised exercise training, maximal walking distance increases by approximately 100 percent.”
Creager says the new study highlights the potential role of antioxidant treatment, but he says follow-up studies, including a larger number of participants, would be needed to see if the findings hold up.”
The limitations that MedPage Today pointed out in its story were also not picked up by BringMeTheNews :
Natalie Evans, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic, who was not involved with the study, said further research is warranted.
“The study was really small, so I think it is hard to know how significant ultimately this will be,” she said, adding that restricting the study population to patients with intermittent claudication (IC) was another limitation.
“There is a huge population out there with peripheral artery disease, but only about 11% of them actually have intermittent claudication,” she said. “I think it would be really interesting to find out what impact dark chocolate would have on [patients without this complication].” …
“Who wouldn’t want to eat dark chocolate to feel better?” Evans said. “But I think there is a lot more bang for your buck in terms of managing traditional risk factors for PAD (peripheral artery disease).” This includes convincing PAD patients who smoke to kick the habit and urging them to maintain a healthy weight so they don’t develop diabetes, she said.
And Reuters Health had this from a Mayo cardiologist – also not used by BringMeTheNews:
“I just don’t think this is going to be a major answer.”
And here are the limitations listed by the researchers themselves in the published paper:
“(The study) should be considered a proof?of?concept study that is potentially useful to understand the mechanism of disease related to intermittent claudication (the leg blood flow problem) but not transferable to clinical practice because of small sample size and the design of the study. Further study, in fact, should be done to assess whether similar changes may be detected with long?term dark chocolate administration. The study is also limited by its single?blinded design and the lack of a placebo group. Some data interpretation is based essentially on indirect evidence. Thus, we have only indirect evidence that vasodilatation is the mechanism accounting for walking autonomy increase, because direct analysis of peripheral circulation has not been done.”
Someone brought to my attention that BringMeTheNews has recently posted a job opening for a “Health Journalist/Producer.” Part of the job description is to “create and deliver news to defined… quality standards.”
This story is only one example, but we hope it’s not an example of the quality standards being employed.
And, of course, BringMeTheNews wasn’t alone in oozing the chocolate hype.
“Next new drug”…”Major Win”…”Cure”…”Proven.” This is ridiculous.
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