We liked the careful framing of results, which avoided any suggestion that the alcohol was causing the better health outcomes. We also appreciated the caveat about avoiding higher alcohol intakes, which would likely negate any health benefits. But we wish the story included a comment or two from an independent expert about the limitations of the study, or the size of the effect that was seen.
Single-source coverage invariably tells only one side of a story about health research. An independent perspective can almost always help readers interpret complicated studies better. Stories reporting on dietary or lifestyle exposures have to be particularly careful to include context and discussion of possible harm.
The cost of alcoholic beverages isn’t in question.
The story cites the same relative risk comparisons reported by WebMD, which we think are misleading to the average reader for the reasons discussed in that review. The story should have found a way to communicate that the “almost 50 percent” difference between teetotalers and daily drinkers probably doesn’t translate into a very big difference in risk for the individual. See how the “Behind the Headlines” site in the UK analyzed the evidence and included the absolute differences.
The story cautions that higher levels of alcohol intake are not protective, remedying an important deficiency in the competing WebMD coverage. But it doesn’t really address the uncertainty about whether moderate alcohol intake might increase the risk for some diseases such as breast cancer or pose other potential harms. As such, it doesn’t fulfill the criterion.
The story does a good job of framing what it is this study tells us: “Even middle-aged women can have about a drink a day of any kind of alcoholic beverage as part of what they do to try to stay healthy as they age.” There is no suggestion here that the alcohol is causing the better health — merely that it seems to part of a healthy lifestyle. Contrast this with the competing WebMD headline, which said: “Moderate Drinking May Cut Disease Risk.” The story could have done a better job outlining some of the other limitations in this kind of analysis, but we’ll call it good enough for a satisfactory.
There was no disease-mongering.
There were no independent sources cited.
The study didn’t mention any other factors that we know can promote healthy aging, including a healthy diet and physical activity. That could have been done in just another additional line.
The availability of alcoholic beverages isn’t in question.
As with the competing WebMD story, the coverage did not really explain what is novel about this research. It shows that the potential protective effect of moderate alcohol consumption extends into older age.
Since there were no independent perspectives, we can’t tell to what extent this story may have relied on this news release.