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Higher Folic Acid Levels in Teens Tied to Academic Success

Rating

3 Star

Categories

Higher Folic Acid Levels in Teens Tied to Academic Success

Our Review Summary

The study reported on found an association between folic acid intake levels and a measure of school performance in a group of Swedish students.  This story did not clarify for readers how the group studied differed in an important way from youth in the US, who are raised consuming a food supply supplemented with folic acid.  The story failed to help readers understand that the results of the study were not generalizable to populations of children who differed from those studied.  Nonetheless, the story went on to mention many problems that have at one time or other been postulated to be related to folic acid levels.   And although the story indicated at the end that the study results did not show that folic acid supplementation was of benefit, the overall gist of the piece was that there was reason to be concerned about the folic acid intake of our nation’s youth.

 

Why This Matters

Associations between diet and cognitive function are of interest.  However, it is important that the insight from studies be reported so that readers can appreciate whether the outcomes apply to a US audience.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Not applicable.  No discussion of costs but we don’t think that’s a big issue in this case.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story did not quantify the improvement in scores as was done in the Reuters story.

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

Not Applicable

Not applicable. The story could have mentioned the potential for excessive folic acid intake to interfere with vitamin B12 uptake which, though unlikely in a teen population, could mask symptoms of B12 deficiency. But we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt on this.

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

Not Satisfactory

Although towards the end, the story quoted a pediatrician who explained that there was no evidence that taking folate supplements would be beneficial, the story failed to help readers understand that the study only showed that there was an association between the students score and their folic acid intake; that the population may have included youngsters who were deficient to begin with, and that the results of this small study may not be generally applicable to a population consuming a folic acid fortified food supply. These caveats were addressed in the competing Reuters story.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Not Satisfactory

Although the study reported on examined the association between folic acid intake and composite school group score, this story strayed awkwardly into a litany of all sorts of problems associated with low folic acid intake:  heart disease, brain development and function, poorer neurocognitive function and neurocognitive development, autism, spina bifida, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. But such a laundry list, with no discussion of the strength of the evidence, seems alarmist.

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

Satisfactory

Quotes from a clinician without apparent ties to the story were included in this story.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

This story did a very nice job of indicating food sources of folic acid as well as those foods that are good sources of folic acid by virtue of food supply supplementation.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story reported on the results of the study without helping readers understand that it was conducted on a population of youngsters without access to a folic acid supplemented food supply.  The competing Reuters story made this point clearly.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story discussed story a host of prior studies linking folate to cognitive function and reported that “these results provide new information” pointing to importance of watching folate status.

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

Satisfactory

The story did not appear to rely solely on a news release.

Total Score: 4 of 8 Satisfactory

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