SENSATIONALISTIC SCIENCE

Nutrition and weight loss news are sure attention-getters, so this out of the UK comes as no surprise:

The front pages of yesterday’s newspapers had some sensational news for the yo-yo dieters and temporary gym members of post-festive Britain. Readers of the Times were greeted with ‘Diet drinks no healthier than sugary versions, scientists warn’, while the Telegraph ran with ‘Diet drinks can pile on the pounds’. The Guardian was only slightly less excitable with the headline ‘No evidence sugar-free soft drinks aid weight loss – study’.

There are a few problems with this. For example, there was no study and diet drinks do not make you fat. It was worthless as health advice, but as an example of how to get ‘public health’ misinformation into the media it was almost flawless.

I’ll say it again: there was no new research. All the media coverage was based on a commentary in a journal. Despite being essentially an opinion piece, readers could be forgiven for assuming it to be a fresh scientific study. Why else would the Guardian use the word ‘study’? Why would newspapers cover it at all, let alone on the front page, unless something new had been discovered? Those are questions for another day. Let’s just say that this is not the first time it has happened.

To summarise:

Don’t let them worry you. If you are trying to work off the mince pies, you would be well advised to switch from Coke to Diet Coke and start putting slimline tonic in your gin. It’s not the whole answer but it will do some good and it certainly won’t do you any harm.

The idea that zero-calorie products are a cause of obesity is absurd on its face and is unsupported by the evidence. It is not merely junk science, it is anti-science in that it implies that obesity is not caused by a surplus of energy but by some magical process involving bubbles and tin cans. It is front-page news because it is sensational, and it is sensational because it is not true.

For most people with any sense, when common sense tells you a news item is iffy, you’re probably right.

 

Link provided by Dan Lewis.

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