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A heaping helping of half-baked health headlines: 6 examples

Joy Victory is Deputy Managing Editor of She tweets at @thejoyvictory.

Last week we shared a Thanksgiving edition of our favorite picks in healthcare journalism, as part of our regularly occurring 5-star Friday series.

health headlines half-baked

Coffee and cinnamon taste good. Their health benefits are less clear.

Unfortunately, now we need to turn to 5-star flops, of which there were plenty over the holiday (just like last year). Blame it on the slow Thanksgiving news cycle and/or understaffed newsrooms–whatever the reason, over the past few days, there was a heaping helping of half-baked health headlines.

Here’s a quick rundown of six we came across and why they were so problematic:

Regurgitating a news release

Thanksgiving overeating could spell kidney problems, HealthDay
The problem: This story parrots a Baylor University news release, which provides no evidence that Thanksgiving is an especially dangerous time for kidneys–except for one Baylor doctor’s observations that his clinic gets an uptick in kidney stone patients after the holidays.

Overstating the evidence

This type of alcohol makes you feel sexy, according to science, TIME
The problem: The story claims certain types of alcohol make you feel a certain way, but the study wasn’t designed to prove cause and effect (why this matters). Does Wild Turkey make you feel angry, or are people in an angry mood just more likely to drink bourbon than they are Chardonnay?

Anecdotes outweigh data

Replacing lymph nodes to ease painful legacy of cancer care, AP
The problem: There is virtually no discussion of the medical evidence for this procedure (nor the risks), but plenty of details about one woman’s story. One quick paragraph near the end discusses the medical evidence (or lack of), but this isn’t enough to give readers a balanced take. See our in-depth review.

A dose of nature: doctors prescribe a day in the park for anxiety, NBC News
The problem: Same as the AP story above, except this story follows the patient anecdote with the statement that “there’s plenty of evidence of the healing power of a walk in the woods.” Really? All we’re told is that one study showed it helped an unknown number of depressed people feel “higher self-esteem” and less depression. The unproven claims here felt particularly reckless, since this is an intervention that almost anyone can try, but may not find helpful–something the story never points out.

Cinnamon and coffee will cure what ails ya

Drinking 3 to 4 cups of coffee a day may have health benefits: Study ABC News
The problem: While the story frames the evidence as showing coffee has health benefits, the main conclusion of the BMJ systematic review was actually “coffee consumption seems generally safe.” 

Cinnamon Has a Surprising Health Benefit, TIME
The problem: This was tested in mice and human cells, as we explain in our review of the news release. No actual people involved. ‘Nuff said.

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