Read Original Story

An Apple a Day May Help Keep Heart Disease Away

Rating

2 Star

An Apple a Day May Help Keep Heart Disease Away

Our Review Summary

Granted, it sought an independent nutritionist’s perspective but she was reacting to the same incomplete information from an abstract of a talk not yet given.

It also reports cholesterol-lowering results only in relative risk reduction terms, giving readers no good sense of the scope of the potential benefit.

 

Why This Matters

Cardiovascular diseases are still America’s leading killers.  Readers deserve more scrutiny of the evidence, better quantification of potential benefits, and more information to put new findings into the context of existing alternatives.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Not applicable.  The cost of apples is not in question.

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

Not Satisfactory

Again, the supposed benefits were only stated in terms of test scores – and then only in relative risk reduction terms, not absolute.  Read our primer on this topic.

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

Satisfactory

We can’t think of any potential harms, and the story stated that “Despite the addition of several hundred calories a day to their diet, the apple-eating women didn’t gain weight over the course of the study. In fact, they lost an average of 3.3 pounds.”

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

Not Satisfactory

There was some odd stuff here.

The story never explained why dried apples were used.  Yet it quotes a nutritionist saying she’d recommend fresh apples over dried apples.  So why were dried apples used in the study?

Also, the control group in the study apparently ate dried prunes.  The story – oddly – stated: “What effects, if any, the prunes had on cholesterol levels were not mentioned in the study abstract.”  So the story is based solely on a study abstract?  Apparently.  The story only quoted the researcher from a statement, and noted further that he was “to present the findings Tuesday at the Experimental Biology meeting in Washington D.C.”  So the researcher wasn’t interviewed.  His quote was pulled from a statement.  And the information came from a short abstract.  That’s not sound practice. 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

We’re going to take a hard line on this – and we admit we hold the bar high, but we think it’s for important reasons.

The story only discusses changes in cholesterol scores – and actually doesn’t do a very good job of that because it only provides relative risk changes, not the absolute score changes.  (14% of what?  23% of what?  4% of what?)  But the bigger point is that there was no discussion of what difference these changes actually makes on peoples’ cardiovascular heatlh.  Yet the story was headlined, “An apple a day may help keep heart disease away.”  Where was that shown?  The first sentence said “eating apples…may be good for your cardiovascular health.”  Where was the evidence that these lower scores actually equate to improved outcomes?

Changes in cholesterol scores are changes in risk factors – not necessarily changes in the disease itself or in individual outcomes.  The story could have said that in just an additional line.

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

Satisfactory

We’ll give the story credit for seeking the input from an independent clinical nutritionist, although she apparently only had a news release and/or an abstract to comment on – which is incomplete basis for comment much less a story.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

No, apples weren’t compared with anything else – dietary, other lifestyle options, or drugs – to lower cholesterol levels.  So even if readers could grasp the scope of the relative risk reduction figures given, they weren’t put into the context of what else is done to lower cholesterol levels.  Bigger impact?  Smaller?  Same?

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

Not Applicable

Not applicable. The availability of apples is not in question.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Applicable

If apples have ever been studied before by anyone else for cardiovascular heatlh, we weren’t told about it in this story. But since no claims of novelty were made, we’ll rule this Not Applicable.

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

Not Satisfactory

Although the story sought an independent expert’s input, the basis of the story was apparently a news release because that’s the source of the only quote given from the researcher.  And the story admits it relied on an abstract of a paper that hadn’t even been presented yet.

Total Score: 2 of 7 Satisfactory

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