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Heart attack relief? The truth about omega-3 fatty acids


3 Star

Heart attack relief? The truth about omega-3 fatty acids

Our Review Summary

This TV piece did a reasonable job explaining the new wave of omega-3 fatty acid fortified foods.  It is a shame that the sections on benefits and harms were not more descriptive.  To its credit, the story turned to world renowned experts for this story (Dr. Walter Willett from Harvard School of Public Health and Dr. Alice Lichtenstein from Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science Policy).The two scientists cited could have easily provided additional details to guide the consumer in this regard.  

While it was amusing to ponder whether orange juice supplemented with omega-3 fatty acid from fish would taste fishy, the story failed to deliver content that might help the viewer understand the magnitude of the benefits one might realistically gain from increasing dietary omega-3 fatty acid or the level of harm that has been associated with this nutrient.  In addition, the story did not include information about costs. 

It would have been better to provide people with more context to help them understand what they might gain from omega-3 fatty acids and to know that there are real risks associated with consumption of these – whether from fish or from fortified foods – so that consumers could make educated choices at the grocery store. 


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story did not mention the mention whether the costs for omega-3 fortified foods were typically higher than, equal to, or less than traditional products.  It also would have been helpful to have provided an estimate of the costs for a "therapeutic dose." 

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

Not Satisfactory

Though there was passing mention of health benefits associated with consumption omega-3 fatty acids from marine sources, there were no estimates of the magnitude of benefit that might be obtained.  There was also no indication about the nature of the studies demonstrating these potential benefits.

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


The story did mention preliminary results demonstrating an association between increased risk of prostate cancer and macular degeneration with increased consumption of alpha-linolenic acid from plants which the body can convert to omega-3 fatty acids.  There were no estimates for the magnitude of the increased risk, nor any details about the studies from which the association was derived.

The story ends with a recommendation to get omega-3 fatty acids from fish, but no discussion of the known potential harms from those sources.  But since most of the story was on fortified foods, we'll give the story the benefit of the doubt on this criterion. 

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

Not Satisfactory

The piece included bullet points indicating that omega-3 fatty acids reduce heart attacks and relieve arthritis pain.  At the end of the story, there was mention of preliminary research suggesting that plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids may increase the risk of prostate cancer and macular degeneration.  But for these benefits or harms, the story failed to explain the magnitude of the effect.  There was very little in this story about the quality of the evidence.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


No overt disease mongering.

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


The story turned to world renowned experts for this story (Dr. Walter Willett from Harvard School of Public Health and Dr. Alice Lichtenstein from Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science Policy).  It also gave an industry spokesman some airtime. 


Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

Although the story did make clear that one might obtain omega-3 fatty acids from fish or plant sources, there was no clear indication as to whether the health benefits that might be gained could be obtained through other treatment options.

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


It's clear from the story that omega-3 fortified foods are readily available.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


As the story states, there is, indeed a new wave of omega-3 fatty acid fortified foods.

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


Does not appear to rely solely or largely on a press release.

Total Score: 6 of 10 Satisfactory


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