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.
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.
The cost of eggs and cereal are not in question.
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?
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.
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:
The competing WebMD story at least raised some of these questions in its coverage.
No disease mongering.
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.
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.
The availability of eggs and cereal is not in question.
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.
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.