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Bypass patients can benefit from a few drinks: study

Bypass patients can benefit from a few drinks: study

Our Review Summary

The biggest flaws were common ones:

  • Using causal language in the headline – “bypass patients can benefit from a few drinks” – for an observational study that cannot prove cause and effect;
  • There was no discussion of the limitations of drawing conclusions from observational studies – and not a word about the potential weaknesses in a study that relied on people to fill out a questionnaire about their alcohol consumption;
  • Using only relative figures – not absolute – to describe both benefits and harms.  See our primer on this topic.

 

Why This Matters

Studies have been done for decades on alcohol and heart disease.  This story never mentioned that long history.  In 220 words, no time or space was provided for context or for an evaluation of the evidence.  That’s why it got 0 stars.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

The cost of alcoholic drinks isn’t in question.

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

Not Satisfactory

The benefit – in terms of risk reduction – was provided only in relative risk reduction terms – 25% reduction in additional heart procedures, heart attacks or strokes.  But readers should be told “25% of what?” See our primer on this topic.

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

Not Satisfactory

Most of the story focused on benefits.  The story reported that “bypass patients with a condition called left ventricular dysfunction who were heavy drinkers, defined as having more than six drinks daily, were twice as likely to die from heart problems.”  But twice as likely as what?
Twice as likely could mean 1 in 100 going up to 2 in 100.  Was that it?  Or was it 25 in 100 jumping up to 50 in 100? This is why we expect stories to quantify harms (and benefits) in absolute terms, not just relative. See our primer on this topic.

It concluded with: “The American Heart Association recommends men limit themselves to two drinks a day and women to one drink a day, because too much alcohol can raise blood pressure and have other negative effects.”  But again, no information was given on the extent of blood pressure increase or on what “other negative effects” they were talking about.  If it’s worth mentioning, it’s worth specifying.

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

Not Satisfactory

We’ve said before that news organizations that make causal claims about observational studies should have to write on the blackboard hundreds of times:  “Association does not equal causation.”  So using phrases like “can benefit from a few drinks” in the headline is wrong.

There was no discussion of the limitations of drawing conclusions from observational studies – and not a word about the potential weaknesses in a study that relied on people to fill out a questionnaire about their alcohol consumption.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Applicable

Not applicable because this 220-word story didn’t really given any background on the heart conditions in question.

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

Not Satisfactory

No independent expert was quoted – only one of the researchers.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The potential benefit of alcohol consumption was not compared with any other approach for reducing the risk of additional heart procedures, heart attacks or strokes in people who had bypass surgery. This could have been done with a little homework and a few more sentences.

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

Not Applicable

The availability of alcohol isn’t in question.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

We aren’t given any context of the long, long history of research looking at alcohol and heart disease.

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

Not Applicable

Not applicable. We can’t be sure of the extent to which the story may have relied on a news release.  Only one researcher was quoted.

Total Score: 0 of 6 Satisfactory

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