In what appears to be a showdown between two PepsiCo products — Quaker instant oatmeal and Honey Nut Cheerios — instant oatmeal made people feel fuller after breakfast and led to them eat less at lunch in a small study. But the key findings are never quantified. How much more full did the oatmeal eaters feel and how much less did they eat at the lunch? We’re told that calorie intake was “significantly lower” in this group, but this is a statistical term — was the result meaningful in terms of helping people maintain a healthy bodyweight?
It’s not difficult to imagine how this news release could be picked up by various news media and nutrition-related blogs, many of which will suggest benefits from Quaker instant oatmeal and other products containing beta-glucan — the type of fiber that researchers suggest is responsible for the findings that were observed. Describing what those benefits were, using data from the actual study, can help journalists, bloggers, and readers understand whether the benefits were real and meaningful.
While the cost per serving of Quaker instant oatmeal versus Honey Nut Cheerios (the brands studied) might be similar, it still would be worth noting as the news release is attempting to make the case that an instant oatmeal breakfast will lead to less caloric intake at lunch. Nevertheless, we’ll rate this Not Applicable since most readers have at least a rough idea of what these products cost.
The release talks about two types of benefits. “Satiety,” meaning how full people felt after eating oatmeal, and how much they actually ate after eating oatmeal. It says, “The satiety benefits of instant oatmeal alone were important findings,” And it says that “Total calorie intake was significantly lower following consumption of instant oatmeal compared to the cold cereal.” Neither of these benefits are quantified.
Direct harm from consumption of these products isn’t likely, so we’ll rate this Not Applicable. However, the study itself does note that a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios has a lot more sugar than unsweetened oatmeal. In fact, one serving had about 20 grams, which is nearly as much as some experts say women should eat in an entire day.
The release talks about “The statistically significant results of the randomized, controlled crossover study” and even provides the number of people studied: “(n=47).” It names the journal where the study was published. But it contains no discussion of possible limitations to the research. The study itself names two such possibilities:
The main limitation of this study was that the macronutrient composition of the cereals was not matched; hence, it is possible that differences in the protein and sugar content, although insignificant in their individual effects, may have exerted a cumulative effect on satiety. Further, it is possible that prior perceptions about the satiating properties of the cereals may have influenced the results.
We’d add that if a study/news release is going to claim that a certain intervention affects hunger and satiety, it’s not sufficient to simply track calories consumed at the next meal. Clinical experience from working with thousands of patients on improving their satiety suggests that morning choices will often have an impact on afternoon and evening calories as well.
No disease-mongering of hunger or obesity.
The funding sources for the study are not made clear in the release, nor does the release tell us that the study researchers included PepsiCo employees. The journal article discloses all of this information so it would have been easy enough to find and include.
The study is ostensibly a head-to-head comparison of instant oatmeal and cold cereal. But there is no context provided in the release as to whether the purported benefits of oatmeal for breakfast are any better than other foods, including even other brands of the same types of foods. There has been a lot of research into the role of fiber-containing foods in controlling hunger and promoting weight loss — but the release doesn’t get into any of that research.
The release, by naming the brand of oatmeal studied, makes it clear that it is available. Few people will not have heard of Quaker instant oatmeal.
The release doesn’t establish what is novel about this research, nor does it allude to a previous, very similar study that this experiment was meant to improve upon. How does this study advance the field or differ from other research on fiber?
There was nothing out of bounds about the language used in the release.