This story may have graded much lower, but we think we were generous with a couple of our scores.
It is difficult to understand why a news organization would devote time and space to such a preliminary story about a controversial "condition" or "diagnosis" without even mentioning the controversies. In effect, the paper turned over part of its pages this day to a university news release. That used to be called advertising. Except that the university got it for free.
But controversy over "pre-hypertension" aside, this story didn’t evaluate evidence, didn’t tell readers about how difficult it is to draw any conclusions from a study in just 9 people, didn’t have independent sources, and didn’t disclose that the watermelon research was funded by the National Watermelon Promotional Board.
Rather than reporting on such preliminary research, journalists may want to consider asking tougher, broader questions about the supposed diagnosis of pre-hypertension, which critics such as public health professor Curt Furberg of Wake Forest University says is "not a condition” but rather "a way of increasing markets for pharmaceutical companies.” Or, in this case perhaps, watermelon producers.
Not applicable. The cost of watermelon is not in question.
The story only reported that "researchers found that eating six grams of watermelon extract a day for six weeks lowered blood pressure in all nine middle-aged subjects with prehypertension." It didn’t say by how much. Was it a difference of159/99 down to, say, 120/80? Exactly how much of a difference in both systolic and diastolic pressures did it make?
We’ll give the story the benefit of the doubt for at least mentioning that the researchers "reported no adverse effects." Even if there had been any, though, there’s a good chance they may not have shown up in just 9 people.
There is no discussion of the limitations of drawing any conclusions from a study of just 9 people. The story mentions "pilot" and "preliminary" but doesn’t tell the reader anything about the limitations therein.
The story states that "Approximately 60 percent of U.S. adults are prehypertensive or hypertensive." No source is cited for that estimate.
More importantly, there is no discussion of concerns about the labeling of "prehypertension" as a disease. It’s not difficult to find criticism – even from other journalists such as Ray Moynihan, in a recent issue of the journal BMJ. Excerpt:
It also allowed one of the researchers to say "Cardiovascular disease [CVD] continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States. Generally, Americans have been more concerned about their blood cholesterol levels and dietary cholesterol intakes than their overall cardiovascular health risk factors leading to CVD, such as obesity and vascular dysfunction characterized by arterial stiffening and thickness –– issues that functional foods such as watermelon can help to mitigate."
But this story didn’t investigate any evidence about arterial stiffening and thickness. And it was not about all cardiovascular disease. It was about 9 people with "pre-hypertension."
There were no independent sources in the story.
The story also failed to disclose that the researchers are supported by grants from the National Watermelon Promotional Board.
There was no discussion of any other methods that might be used or have been researched to lower levels of so-called "pre-hypertension."
Not applicable. The availability of watermelon is not in question.
We’ll again give the story the benefit of the doubt for explaining that there had been some prior research: "While watermelon or watermelon extract is the best natural source for L-citrulline, it is also available in the synthetic form in pills, which Figueroa used in a previous study of younger, male subjects." But it didn’t tell readers whether any of these findings had been confirmed by any other independent research team(s).
Entire portions of the story appear to be lifted directly from a Florida State news release.