Note to our followers: Our nearly 13-year run of daily publication of new content on HealthNewsReview.org came to a close at the end of 2018. Publisher Gary Schwitzer and other contributors may post new articles periodically. But all of the 6,000+ articles we have published contain lessons to help you improve your critical thinking about health care interventions. And those will be still be alive on the site for a couple of years.
Read Original Story

Medical Daily story on Mediterranean diet study mostly echoes news release

Mediterranean Diet Protects Heart Disease Sufferers From Heart Attack, Stroke

Our Review Summary

Mediterranean dietThis short story describes an observational study of 15,482 people from 39 countries around the world who were already diagnosed with heart disease and almost all taking medication for it. The people who reported eating a Mediterranean diet–heavy on fruits and vegetables and low on red meat–showed a reduced risk of heart attack, stroke or death, compared to those who said they ate a Western diet with more meat and animal fats.

This story does include quantified benefits, including a helpful statistic about “how many people out of 100” would likely develop heart disease, stroke, or die. However, it doesn’t provide much analysis that wasn’t already in the news release. A robust discussion of the study’s many limitations would have been useful, for example. For more about the limits of observational studies, see our guide.

 

Why This Matters

This matters because cardiovascular disease is a common cause of death. People love the idea that just adding a few healthy foods or taking a vitamin will reduce their risk of a disease while they still make poor dietary choices (hamburger and French fries). Media reports about a study like this, likely to interest a lot of people–and possibly affirm not-so-healthy dietary choices–should include a robust discussion of the study’s caveats, as well as a discussion of past studies on the topic, so people are fully informed.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not talk about costs. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables–and fresh seafood, especially–is associated with higher costs in many countries.

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

Satisfactory

The story helped clarify the somewhat confusing data points in the study by quantifying the benefits this way (italics added by us):

“Over nearly four years, 1,588 (about 10 percent) of the study participants suffered either a heart attack or stroke, or died. Those who ate more foods in the Mediterranean diet category were 3.5 times less likely to experience one of these three events than people whose diets more closely resembled the Western standard.

In fact, every one-point increase in a participant’s Mediterranean diet score was linked with a 7 percent reduction in risk of heart attack, stroke, or death. Look at it this way: if 100 people ate the highest proportion of Mediterranean foods and 100 ate the least, there would be three fewer heart attacks, strokes, or deaths among those who ate more foods from the Mediterranean diet. These findings held for every geographical region.”

We applaud the writer for including the 100 people example to help readers understand the risk reduction.

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

Not Applicable

Because this is a story about a study of dietary habits, this is N/A.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story explained the way the study was conducted, which is important. But, the story does not mention some key limitations, including that the short survey did not include as many foods as typically measured in diet studies, and the study did not account for possible benefits of olive oil. To put it another way: What if eating olive oil has a positive effect by itself? If that accounts for the three fewer bad outcomes, then the rest of the diet differences are not statistically significant.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

There was no disease mongering.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story would have been stronger if it had included analysis from at least one independent source who had no connection to this study. Especially considering that many of the study’s authors, including the source who was indirectly quoted in the story, received support from a variety of pharmaceutical companies, including GlaxoSmithKline, which is mentioned in this story.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story did an adequate job of explaining the two diets, and it mentioned medication, which is another approach to preventing heart disease.

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

Not Applicable

Both Western and Mediterranean foods are widely available. However, Western foods are known to be cheaper and more widely available in low-income areas, and that could have been mentioned. 

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

Novelty is addressed with these statements, “Surprisingly, the results suggest it might be possible they can have their cake and eat it, too.” and “Now here’s the interesting part: eating more foods thought to be less healthy — those typical of Western diets —did not link to an increase in heart attacks, strokes, or deaths. Eating more healthy foods was the key, even if some unhealthy foods were also consumed along the way.”

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

Not Satisfactory

We saw quite a few repeated phrases from the news release here and the story. It appears it did rely very heavily on the release, especially considering there wasn’t an outside source commenting on the study, nor direct quotes.

 

Total Score: 4 of 8 Satisfactory

Comments

Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.