Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Terrible Journalism

Some days I feel a little masochistic and on those days I'll go to Yahoo! Health and poke around... this usually ends with me either banging my head on the desk or pulling some of my luxurious locks out. But today I'm going to be mildly productive and just write about one particularly bad article. And when I say bad I mean bad...

The article is entitled "5 Foods That Can Trigger a Stroke" and was written by Melanie Haiken, from; you can read the article here. Just doing a quick search brings here personal page up, seen here, and it turns out she has no health credentials at all... according to here site she is: "writer, editor, Web project manager, and national magazine journalist". That being said I am not abject to journalists writing health articles... but in this case her lack of... let's call it reading ability... is why journalists get ripped on when reporting in a specialized field.

So on to the study... I only want to focus on one of the five foods that she lists because it's the one I have the biggest beef with (pun intended). That is number four: red meat. I don't know why but red meat seems to be a standard in the list of foods that we shouldn't eat... I don't recall ever seeing a widely circulating article like this that doesn't mention red meat in some way. Even articles where you wouldn't think they could possibly sneak it in they somehow manage to.

The first half of the red meat section discusses a study in the medical journal Stroke in which Melanie states that the researches followed 35,000 women for 10 years and they found that women who consumed a large portion of red meat each day had a 42-percent higher incidence of stroke. This is what Melanie says.

Now let's look at the actual study... You cannot actually see the whole study unless you are a member or you pay (which I'm not going to do... I wonder did Melanie?) but you can see the abstract here. But even reading the abstract is enough to see that Melanie's damning of red meat is unsound. First off this study only followed women so this study CANNOT even draw a correlation for men. Secondly this was an epidemiology study of Swedish women, so now all your results only apply to Swedish women. Third this was a survey study and as I hope you know they are useless because of the wild inaccuracies that occur (at best surveys will establish a weak correlation, which does not imply causation). So now just based on the type of study this is and the general method we know that at best this study can show a weak correlation between stroke and red meat in Swedish women.

Let's mosey over to the results shall we? The results being scant as they are there is not a whole lot to say except that what is considered unprocessed meat? Can't red meat be unprocessed? I recall this place called a butcher shop that sells lots of red meat that seems unprocessed to me... seeing how it still looks like a cow when you buy it. So what if your a Swedish women who worries about weak correlations... can you buy a cow from your butcher because its unprocessed or will your weakly corrilated risk of stroke rise because its red meat. This vagueness disturbs me... and unless Melanie bought the article I wonder if she even read the results or skipped right to the concluesion...

So that's the study...

And from that Melanie determines (using all her medical training) that we should all eat less red meat and replace it with some poultry and fish, but be sure to emphasize beans, legumes, nuts, tofu, and nonfat dairy (because those are high quality proteins that are easily used by the body... cue eye roll).

As for the hemoglobin tidbit she adds... she gives no studies to support that claim so I feel no need to refute it... making a claim like that without providing any data is stupid and confusing to the reader who may be taking her words to heart.

And if you want to see what saturated fat really does go here.

But since Melanie is making claims without giving data I'm gonna make one to, and here it is: "Researchers are currently investigating a promising lead where infusing pig bile directly into the cerebral cortex allows humans to fly."

Isn't main stream nutrition wonderful!?

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