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Fish safe to eat?

Rating

3 Star

Fish safe to eat?

Our Review Summary

Eating fish for its health benefits is not new. However, in recent years there have been reports about just how much and what types of fish are safe to consume given higher levels of mercury and other toxins found in some types of fish, such as swordfish and mackerel. The broadcast attempts to explain the latest evidence on the risks of eating fish by describing a newly published Institute of Medicine (IOM) consensus report which clarifies safety concerns about eating fish, especially for certain populations (i.e. pregnant women and children under 12).

 

The broadcast also cites a new study on the association between moderate consumption of fish (about 6 oz. a week) and a reduced risk of heart disease. However, there are other confounding issues not mentioned here: eating fish twice a week is not a sole method of preventing heart disease, but only part of a heart-healthy program of diet and exercise.  The story does note that the findings of this study are not clear-cut and researchers are not sure just how fish plays a role in preventing heart disease. Other methods of dietary prevention or contributing factors of heart disease are briefly discussed (e.g. Fish may replace fatty meats in the diet).

 

The story reports that the IOM concluded that, for most people, the health benefits of eating a moderate amount of fish each week outweighs any risks of ingesting environmental toxins.  The story provides a balanced message about eating a variety of fish and accurately reports the recommendations and rationale of the IOM report.  We are given the relative risk reduction of developing heart disease associated with eating a moderate amount of fish each week, but no absolute risk estimates. (Read more about absolute vs. relative risks.) The story also provides no quantitative evidence about the risks of eating certain fish, especially for pregnant women. In order to weigh the cost to benefit ratio of eating fish, the health consumer needs this information.

 

The story cites public health researchers not affiliated with the fish study, as well as one of the IOM report co-authors.  The story doesn't mention the cost of fish in the diet, however, the Journal of American Medical Association article cited does provide a detailed cost estimate of including a moderate amount of fish (1-2 times per week) in this diet. This cost is about 9 cents/day, or 63 cents/wk. The actual (net) costs would be lower because intake of fish would replace intake of other source of protein. 

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story doesn't discuss the cost of fish in the diet, but the Journal of American Medical Association article cited does provide a cost estimate of eating a moderate amount of fish 1-2 times per week, which is about  9 cents/day, or 63 cents/week. The actual (net) costs would be lower because intake of fish would replace intake of other source of protein. 

 

 

 

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

Not Satisfactory

 We are told eating fish may reduce the risk of dying from a heart attack by about a third, but are given no absolute data. (Read more about absolute vs. relative risk.)

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

Not Satisfactory

The story does note that government health agencies agree mercury and other toxins are higher in certain types of fish and consumption should be limited to 2 times a week for certain groups (such as pregnant women). We are not told exactly why this is dangerous and how likely potential harms may occur with this level of consumption in people not in these groups.  There is no quantitative data on the risks of mercury in certain fish for high-risk groups (pregnancy women, children under twelve, etc).

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

Not Satisfactory

The story provides no quantitative evidence from either the government report or JAMA article on the safety of moderate amounts of certain fish for pregnant women or for the general population.  We are given the relative risk reduction on heart disease by eating a moderate amount of fish each week from a recent study, but not given the study design or absolute risk reduction.  (Read more about absolute vs. relative risk.)

 

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

The story attempts to explain the latest evidence on the risks of eating fish due to high levels of mercury or dioxins. The story notes that the Institute of Medicine's (IOM) report concluded that for most people, the health benefits of a moderate amount of fish each week outweigh any risks of ingesting environmental toxins. The story provides a balanced message about eating a variety of fish and accurately reports the recommendations and rationale of the IOM report.

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

Satisfactory

The story cites public health researchers not affiliated with the report, as well as one of the IOM report co-authors.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story cites a new study on the association between moderate consumption of fish and a reduced chance of developing heart disease. However, there are other confounding issues here, and eating fish twice a week or more is not a sole method of preventing heart disease.  The story does note that the findings of this study are not clear-cut and researchers are not sure just how fish plays a protective role for heart disease. We do not know whether people who consume fish eat less red meat or omega-3 fatty acids in fish protect against heart disease. Other methods of dietary prevention or contributing factors of heart disease are briefly discussed (e.g. Skipping fatty meats).

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

Not Applicable

Fish is known to be widely available.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

It's clear from the story that the discussion about risks and benefits from fish in the diet is not new. 

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

Satisfactory

The story provides several sources and does not appear to rely solely or largely on a news release.

Total Score: 5 of 9 Satisfactory

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