At Thanksgiving time it is not unusual for news organizations to roll out stories about health benefits of turkey or cranberries. This story reports on health claims without providing the reader with any data about the claims made. The article did not include information about the magnitude of benefit that one might reasonably expect to attain from consumption of cranberries, the amount of cranberries that would need to be consumed and/or the frequency with which cranberries would need to be consumed in order to attain the benefits listed, and it failed to mention the potential harmful interaction for individuals using warfarin and eating cranberries.
The story overstates the certainty of health benefits of cranberries. The information in the article was just a list of some cranberry-related research currently under investigation. It failed to provide the reader with the information needed in order to assess the value of such material. It included ony a single scientific source, who may have had a conflict of interest.
This story contained no estimates about cost, but again, we consider the price of cranberries and their juice as common knowledge.
The story provides no quantitative assessment of the benefits presented. How big is the observed benefit?
The story provides no information about potential harms associated with cranberry consumption. There is good evidence about potentially serious lethal interactions between warfarin and cranberry-based products.
The story mentions work by a researcher at Rutgers (without mentioning that she works at the Rutgers Blueberry and Cranberry Research Center which is funded, in part, by Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc.). The story mentions work currently funded by the National Institutes of Health and other unnamed funding agencies. The story does not provide any information about where the data for these observations come from or any details like the size of the benefit or the dosage needed to attain the benefit.
While not overt disease mongering, the last two claims made in the story, namely that cranberries may prevent tumors and that extracts of chemicals from cranberries may prevent breast cancer cells from multiplying – play into people's fears about cancer. Nonetheless, we'll give the story the benefit of the doubt on this criterion.
The story contained a single quote from a researcher, who although funded by the National Institutes of Health, also appears to have a financial link with Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. Quotes from others who study compounds from plants to determine how they may affect health would have been helpful. It would have been more useful to readers to provide information from independent scientists who could have commented about the tiny bits of information provided. For example: how do the antioxidants found in food translate into antioxidants available for the body to use against damage from free radicals; what is the evidence about cranberry juice and urinary tract infections – what exactly do we know, how do we know it, and how can a person make use of this information.
While touting the potential benefits from cranberries, the story made no mention of other means for preventing or treating the conditions mentioned. So there was no basis for comparison with other approaches.
It is commonly known that both cranberries and their juice are easily obtained from the supermarket. So, while the story didn't explicity discuss availability, we rate this as not applicable.
This story presents summary statements on some of the latest research on possible health benefits from cranberries.
We can't be sure if the story relies solely or largely on a news release. We do know that it quotes only one source.