Ostensibly reporting on a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this story, although labeled as "In Depth," actually gave little time to the results of the study or its ramifications. The majority of the air time went to various pieces of information about breast cancer prevention without any substantiation.
The story jumped around in a confusing manner. It initially informed us that "it’s true that adding fruits and vegetables to a women’s diet can help prevent cancer from recurring." Then it disclosed that the most recent study indicated that eating more fruits and vegetables didn’t reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. It ended with a conclusion that cancer diagnosis is a matter of fate and even though everyone wants to do everything in their favor, that "for the individual – there are no guarantees."
For something to be labeled "In Depth," we would have appreciated more clear explanation of what the new findings were, how or why experts differ with their findings about the impact of fruits and vegetables in this context, and what steps viewers could take to learn more.
Although technically the story addressed many of our criteria, the final ratings score may give the impression that the story was more complete than we actually think it was.
There was no discussion about the cost of increasing fruit and vegetable content in the diet, but it’s safe to assume that most people know the costs from their grocery shopping.
The story mentioned that the study it was reporting on found no reduction in breast cancer recurrence for individuals that reported eating more servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
The researcher said "We didn’t find any harm in going over (a threshold of fruits and vegetables)."
This story presented a mosaic of information without any indication of the relation between the pieces. It opens with a statement that "While it’s true that adding fruits and vegetables to a woman’s diet can help prevent cancer from recurring….". A nutritionist follows with some guidance to breast cancer patients sharing her advice about choice of fruits on the basis of color; and that the food "you eat matters tremendously". It then provides "data" from a previous study, though the percentage reported is not consistent with the study results. Finally, the story goes on to discuss the results of the most recent study which were cast as showing that eating more than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables doesn’t provide any benefit or additional harm. But then they go back and talk about other dietary advice regarding meat, alcohol, and tofu without any indication of what the source is for this information nor that it is independent of the newly-highlighted study.
Lastly there is a discussion between the anchor and medical correspondent where the anchor suggests that cancer risk is due to genetics and the medical correspondent agrees that "fate is a big part of it". However – genetics and fate are not synonymous and should not be used interchangeably.
There was no overt disease-mongering – that is, exaggeration of the prevalence of breast cancer or recurrence. However, one weakness in the story is that it contained no information about prevalence. In the study highlighted in this report, 16.7 and 16.9% of the women (in the intervention vs. control groups) experienced a recurrence of breast cancer. Providing this information allows the viewer to have a sense of how often the event they hope to prevent actually occurs.
The story sought independent perspectives. However, here are two suggested improvements: When the lead author of the highlighted study was interviewed, he was not identified as such; the nutritionist was identified by her work place without indicating that she was not involved in the highlighted study.
The story failed to mention other breast cancer recurrence stragies (avoiding weight gain, medications, etc.)
This story illustrated availability of fresh fruits and vegetables with a walk-through of a grocery store. That said, the study reported on involved an intervention designed to increase fruit and vegetable consumption, but not limited to fresh produce.
It’s clear that the study finding is new. However the story could have been much more clear on the context of other related research.
The story sought independent perspectives.