The story allows the researcher to say, “More fish, more brain, less Alzheimer’s.” Pithy. Quotable. But simplistic and not proven by this study.
At least the competing HealthDay story interviewed an independent source who wondered about other possible confounding factors in the research and stated, “For now, the connection must be viewed as an association, rather than a cause-and-effect.”
So even though the WebMD story scored better, the HealthDay story did slightly better on this critical piece of analysis. (The HealthDay story had its own flaws – for example, burying that “association” line instead of placing it high in the story and overwhelming it with cause-and-effect language throughout the story.)
The cost of fish is not in question.
Even more than the competing story by HealthDay, this story focused only on the surrogate marker of what brain scans showed.
Did that make any difference in anyone’s actual cognitive abilities? The story never said.
At least HealthDay mentioned – although inadequate in its brevity – that those who ate baked or broiled fish showed better “working memory” enabling them to more effectively execute routine tasks.
Better than the competing HealthDay story, at least WebMD reminded readers:
“The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish and limiting albacore tuna to 6 ounces per week because of concern about levels of mercury in these fish.”
The story didn’t even hint at the limitations of observational studies.
It used boilerplate language at the end about the limitations of drawing conclusions from talks at scientific meetings, but that doesn’t get at the heart of evaluating the evidence being reported.
No disease mongering of Alzheimer’s disease.
The story turned to the chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer’s Association for comment. But the quote used from him didn’t contribute much to an evaluation of the study.
The story at least hinted at “other risk factors for memory loss that could affect the results, including age, gender, education, obesity and physical activity.”
The availability of fish is not in question.
The story at least stated that “the new study is the first to establish a direct relationship between fish consumption, brain structure and Alzheimer’s risk” and that “Several studies have linked a diet rich in certain fish to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”
It’s clear that the story did not rely on a news release.