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Eating Brown Rice to Cut Diabetes Risk


3 Star

Eating Brown Rice to Cut Diabetes Risk

Our Review Summary

The headline alone seems to imply a definitive causal relationship that this study can’t prove – a point made, but not until almost the end of the story.  This could have been a story about much more than just the color of rice – even with a few lines.  Instead, it focused on a lot of numbers that may not have helped consumer comprehension very much.


Why This Matters

The topic matters because of concerns about obesity and increasing risk for type II diabetes. The information in this story adds to the evidence indicating a role for consuming low glycemic index foods in lowering risk of type II diabetes.  The story could have made that point much more strongly, clearly and with context.  Instead, the focus on rice alone may lead readers to miss the big picture.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

We’ll rule this not applicable, because, while there was no discussion of how the cost of white rice and brown rice compare, most people probably have a sense of the price ballpark.  However, we have seen Chinese restaurants that charge extra for brown rice.

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

Not Satisfactory

 The story presented the potential benefit only as relative not absolute risk of developing type II diabetes, which we find troubling.  What does it mean when you say "reduce their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by about 10 percent" or "almost 20 percent more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes"?  10 percent of what?  20 percent of what?  What were the absolute numbers in this huge observational study?

The statement "Just replacing a third of a serving of white rice with brown rice each day could reduce one’s risk of type II diabetes by 16%" is just not helpful for consumer comprehension.  

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

Not Applicable

Not applicable.  No harms discussed, but both of these food choices are safe and likely to be well tolerated.

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


Rather than give the story an unsatisfactory grade for both the "evidence" criterion and the "benefits" criterion, we’ll choose to focus on the good thing it did in discussing the limitations of the evidence, with these excerpts:

  • "Such food studies can be unreliable, since they rely on self-reported surveys. And correlation does not necessarily mean a cause-and-effect relationship, since factors other than brown rice consumption may have accounted for the decreased diabetes risk that was observed. …there were many possible explanations for why brown rice eaters are at lower risk for Type 2 diabetes."

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


 The story did not engage in overt disease mongering about Type II diabetes.

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

Not Satisfactory

 No independent sources were quoted to give perspective about the results of the study presented. Single source medical science stories are not a good idea – not even for (especially not for?) the New York Times.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

 Although the study came up with a suggestion derived from a statistical analysis about replacing some of one’s white rice with brown rice, there was no discussion of other methods (i.e. maintaining adult body weight within the normal range or engaging in aerobic exercise) for reducing one’s risk of type II diabetes. Even a short line could have been dedicated to this important context.

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


 Both white rice and brown rice are widely available.  That said – there are food oases where comprehensive grocery stores are not accessible and where brown rice would be more difficult, though not impossible to come by.  There was no discussion of this in the story.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


 The story was clear to indicate that this is not the first data analysis that has suggested that brown rice is a healthier alternative to white rice.

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

Not Applicable

Not  applicable because we can’t be sure of the extent to which the story was influenced by a Harvard news release.  We are sure that the story didn’t quote any independent sources – just  the study author. 

Total Score: 4 of 7 Satisfactory


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