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US News “Best Diets” release rehashed as HealthDay story

Report: DASH Diet Best Overall Eating Plan The MIND, Mediterranean and Fertility diets also get high marks for health

Our Review Summary

Meal planFor the sixth year in a row, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet was selected by U.S. News & World Report as the “Best Overall Diet.”  The DASH diet was developed by the National Institutes of Health following studies of different diet plans as a method to help treat or prevent high blood pressure. The diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and low-fat dairy products while limiting fats, sodium and sugars. Today it is frequently recommended as a healthy daily diet plan for everyone. HealthDay’s story on the top ranking diet regurgitates the “who” and “what” as found in USN&WR’s news release but doesn’t describe any of the evidence supporting the different diets or give us any hard numbers on benefits. If HealthDay is going to cover what is basically a story from another news outlet, you’d think they want to add depth and context to the coverage rather than just parrot the source news release.

 

Why This Matters

Complications from diabetes, heart disease and a host of other health conditions are often made worse, or even caused, by poor diet and nutrition habits. Encouraging widespread adoption of diets that are backed by sound, long-term studies is a positive public health service. The DASH diet, among others, has been shown to lower blood pressure and help people maintain a healthy weight. Identifying diets that can meet these two goals and also be easy to follow is important for a healthy lifestyle.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The article doesn’t address costs associated with maintaining a DASH diet or other diets. According to an analysis published study in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2013, adoption of the diet has been low, despite its favorable recommendations by nutritionists. The authors noted, “Its limited uptake might be explained by economic constraints, since food prices influence food choices and constitute a major barrier to dietary change. Nutrient-dense foods, central to DASH, tend to be more costly compared to calorie dense alternatives.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story gives a nod to some of the diet’s benefits (it’s called “heart healthy,” for example) but offers no hard numbers on what that means in terms of outcomes.

The story gives only relative rankings of the various diets. It is unknown if the second best diet is only microscopically worse than the first, or dramatically substandard. There is no indication of range.  Also, by not indicating how the diet ranked in all categories, it is hard to differentiate what might be important to some — cost for example — as compared to ease of implementation.

The National Institute of Health’s decision some years ago to promote the DASH diet was based on three large trials that involved thousands of patients. Perhaps some data could have been drawn from one of the studies to engage readers and show how a diet can make a difference in health outcomes.

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

Not Applicable

Potential harms of the DASH diet are negligible, so we won’t ding the story for not mentioning them. We’d note, however, that USN&WR’s online summary of the “cons” of the diet include “Lots of grunt work” and “somewhat pricey.”  The implication of these drawbacks is that well-meaning people will not be able to adhere to the diet. We would have appreciated a delve into what “Lots of grunt work” refers to.

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

Not Satisfactory

The story doesn’t mention any of the hard numbers which would provide evidence backing the diet although they’re readily available on the USN&WR website as well as from numerous government health-related sites. And from HealthDay’s standpoint as an outlet covering these rankings, it would have been helpful to educate readers about the quality of this selection process. How much weight should readers give to the rankings of a bunch of unnamed experts? Does this represent high-quality evidence that a given diet is better than another?

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No disease mongering here.

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

Not Satisfactory

The only source quoted is the editor of USN&WR and that comment is lifted directly from the news release. It’s standard journalism practice to have at least one outside expert provide additional context or any opposing views in a news story. Many news organizations require two or three.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Satisfactory

The story (and the release it’s based on) focus on the comparative rankings of different diets. Besides DASH, the MIND Diet, Mediterranean Diet, Fertility Diet, Biggest Loser, Weight Watchers and Atkins Diet are also very briefly compared and contrasted in different categories including weight loss, ease of following, safety and nutritional value.

The original news release does provide ranking numbers which could have improved our understanding of the comparisons.

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

Satisfactory

It’s understood that the DASH diet is widely available. It has been available and promoted to the public for many years. There are books, public and private websites, shopping lists and menus devoted to it. It has been named the “Top Overall Diet” by one magazine six years in a row.

The concern that a broad swath of the public does not have the financial means or a neighborhood grocery store they can walk into and acquire the menu items is another matter.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Satisfactory

The fact the diet was selected as the top ranked diet for six years running is apparently the news hook. It’s hard to find the novelty in this story or why this is important to publish now. The DASH diet has been around a long time and is heavily promoted by government agencies including but not limited to the NIH, USDA and CDC.

The fact that the diet was selected as the top ranking diet for six years is not really news. (Generalisimo Franco is still dead.) The lede for the story is that for the first time the magazine ranked quick weight loss diets.  That is news, albeit not very compelling.

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

Not Satisfactory

As noted above, the story appears to rely exclusively on a news release.

It could have been much stronger had the story included some of the survey results which are linked and available online.

Total Score: 3 of 9 Satisfactory

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