First, we want to acknowledge that this story was a “brief” in the magazine – one of three such briefs in this particular issue of the magazine. In total, the three health briefs consumed less than 500 words. This particular story was only 106 words. There is a price to pay for brevity, one that was observed in this story. It’s not the reporter’s fault; this is the assigned format. The magazine should reconsider the value of such briefs, for the following reasons.
The story reported that “Women who drink cola-regular, decaffeinated, or diet-may be putting themselves at risk for osteoporosis.”
The brevity of the story gave it a feel of sensationalizing the results of a single scientific study rather than attempting to place the results of that study within a context that would inform the reader.
The data only show an association between a dietary parameter (cola consumption) and an intermediary measure (bone mineral density) rather than for the disease (osteoporosis) itself. Bone density is an imperfect predictor of osteoporosis. Secondly, the study reported a dose response between bone mineral density and cola consumption and only found statistically significant lower bone mineral density for those women drinking more than 3 servings of cola per week. The story made it sound as though any cola intake put a woman’s bones at risk.
Without providing background about the type of study from which the information was derived, the link between the measures used and the disease outcome of interest, or a clear indication of the magnitude of potential harm or benefit that can be obtained through dietary change, this story provided little information for a reader to follow up on.
The price of cola products is well known.
The story did not include information for the reader that the observed association between bone mineral density and cola consumption exhibited a dose response. In addition, since there is no known biologic basis for finding this association in women but not men, the relationship needs to be examined further to be sure that the association is real and robust, and that other confounding factors aren’t at play.
There was no mention of any effects, either positive or negative, of decreasing or eliminating cola consumption.
This story reported on a study that found an association between cola intake and bone mineral density in women but not men. The results of the study do not imply that decreasing cola intake will improve the bone mineral density of an individual. The nature of the data in the study was not specified. The study authors were careful to point out that total calcium intake, a factor well-documented to affect bone mineral density, was lower in women with the highest cola intake. It is valuable for readers to know when observations come from a single study (as in this case) or have been replicated in numerous studies in large groups of people. It would also have been valuable to explain that the association observed between cola consumption and bone mineral density in the group of women studied could have come from other differences between the groups consuming more and less cola.
The assertion that “Women who drink colaâ€¦. May be putting themselves at risk for osteoporosis” is more than a little over blown. First the data only show an association between a dietary parameter (cola consumption) and an intermediary measure (bone mineral density) rather than for the disease (osteoporosis) itself. Bone density is an imperfect predictor of osteoporosis. Secondly, the study reported a dose response between bone mineral density and cola consumption and only found statistically significant lower bone mineral density for those women drinking more than 3 servings of cola per week. The story made it sound as though any cola intake put a woman’s bones at risk.
This story included a comment from the first author of the study from which the results were derived. There was no obvious attempt to get independent insight about the study results. A quote from a nutritional epidemioloigst not associated with the study would have given some perspective on the observations reported on in the story.
There were no options presented for either maintaining bone mineral density or for treating low bone density. The only treatment recommendation within the story was for balancing phosphoric acid consumption with calcium rich foods; it would be more useful to present this in a more readily understandable format for readers to act upon if they so desired.
This story reported on a common dietary component and its association with bone mineral density.
This story reported on the results of a study that found that bone mineral density in women’s’ hips had an inverse relation to self reported levels of cola consumption.
We can’t be sure if the story relied solely or largely on a news release, although only the study author is quoted and no independent source was used.