This is the kind of story that leaves consumers’ heads spinning – the "yes, it’s good for you…no it’s not" yin and yang of observational studies or – in this case – pooled analysis of past studies. But even if you make an argument for the value of reporting this (an argument we wouldn’t make), it’s tough to get over the issue of inaccurate language used to describe the results.
Not applicable – the cost of coffee is not in question.
As already stated, it’s inaccurate to talk about benefits of "lowering risk" with results from a study that can’t establish a causal link.
If a story like this is going to promote the benefits of coffee, it should at least wink in the direction of possible harms of drinking 5 or more cups of coffee per day. This story didn’t wink.
This is the biggest failing of this story. A study like this can’t establish causation. Yet the story repeatedly used causal language:
This isn’t just semantics. It’s a matter of accuracy. You can’t lower risk, cut risk, boost an effect or have a protective effect for something for which you haven’t proven a causal link.
We offer a long and detailed explanation of why this is important in our Toolkit section.
Not applicable – there really wasn’t any background given on the types of cancer in question.
No independent source was quoted. Someone could have commented on study methods. Someone could have commented on the context of all of the other coffee-cancer studies that have been done. Someone should have been interviewed for such perspective, but it doesn’t appear that anyone was – at least no such interviews appear in the story. We don’t like single-source stories in any form of journalism, least of all in health/medical stories.
There was some discussion of whether the association could be attributable to caffeine or fruit and vegetable consumption, and what was seen in tea drinkers. We’ll give the story the benefit of the doubt for mentioning these other factors, although, again, inappropriate "protective" or "effect" language was used in this discussion.
Not applicable – the availability of coffee is not in question.
The story didn’t explain what is explained in the opening "Background" section of the published study: Only a few studies have explored the relation between coffee and tea intake and head and neck cancers, with inconsistent results. So this isn’t a first look at the question.
We can’t be sure if the story relied on a news release. We do know that no independent source was quoted.