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Egg producers fund study confirming the health benefits of eggs

Rating

1 Star

Egg producers fund study confirming the health benefits of eggs

Our Review Summary

We’d welcome a bit more sarcasm in the coverage of health studies that waste readers’ time and insult their intelligence. But, while we agree that the story should have pointedly identified the funding source for this research and explained the potential for bias that might result, that doesn’t mean the study results should be dismissed merely because the research was industry supported. The study seems to have been reasonably well conducted — if inadequately described in the abstract and very limited in what its conclusions can tell us. That’s where the real emphasis could have been placed.  This is also not a new notion – related research has looked at the quality of breakfast food choices and later hunger/eating behaviors.

WebMD’s story on this same study wasn’t much different.

 

Why This Matters

Research on important scientific questions can’t take place without funding, and the only people who have an incentive to support some kinds of research are those who stand to profit from the findings. It’s not an ideal situation, as this story makes abundantly clear.  Funding conflicts should be just one of the factors in journalists’ overall assessment of research.  In this case, perhaps more attention should have been given to the limitations of drawing conclusions from small, short-term studies that are presented at scientific meetings with little or no peer review.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

The cost of eggs and cereal are not in question.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story doesn’t quantify the findings. It doesn’t say how much less hungry the participants felt during the egg vs. the cereal phase of the study or how much less they ate. It doesn’t tell us if the differences in hormone levels reported would be considered clinically meaningful.  Was it a difference of 50 fewer calories at lunch?  250? How big a deal was this?

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

Not Applicable

In just a line, the story could have addressed whether eating an egg a day, as participants did during this study, is safe from a heart health standpoint (eggs contain a lot of cholesterol), but that’s probably splitting hairs. We’ll call this not applicable since there aren’t really any harms from eating a reasonable amount of eggs. Most research from large cohort studies (Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow Up study) of diet have shown no increased risk of cardiovascular disease among regular egg eaters.  Nonetheless, just as it popped into our reviewers’ minds, we bet it popped into readers’ minds as well – yet wasn’t addressed.

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

Not Satisfactory

This story focused on the funding conflict with the American Egg Board. To be sure, the story would be justified in questioning why the Egg Board was so eager to trumpet these results based on a bare-bones abstract presented at a conference. But we wish the story had asked:

  • Do we know if the effects on hunger would last long enough to promote weight loss, considering that each phase of the study lasted only a week?
  • Is eating less food at a buffet really a good indicator of how each breakfast would affect weight over time?
  • What other foods were participants eating at each breakfast and could these have affected the outcomes?
  • What kinds of cereal were participants consuming in the cereal phase and might some types of cereal affect hunger differently than others?

The competing WebMD story at least raised some of these questions in its coverage.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No disease mongering.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story makes clear that the study’s funding source was the American Egg Board, but doesn’t seek out a comment from an expert who might be able to put the findings in perspective or show us how the funding conflict may have led to a warped result.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

Even a sentence about the effectiveness of other weight loss approaches, such as behavioral weight loss programs, would have been enough to satisfy this criterion.

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

Not Applicable

The availability of eggs and cereal is not in question.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

This research builds upon many previous studies suggesting that protein calories may be more satiating than other types of calories. The story doesn’t mention this background. Even one more line could have addressed the fact that this is not a new notion; related research has looked at the quality of breakfast food choices and later hunger/eating behaviors.

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

Not Applicable

Since there are no independent sources cited, we cannot be sure to what extent this story may have relied on a news release. We’ll rate it not applicable.

Total Score: 1 of 6 Satisfactory

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