Why you should not trust health articles on newspapers/ magazines/ websites


Yes, a fitness website suggesting not to trust web articles does seem counter-productive but here are some arguments to back my case against popular health journalism, prevalent especially in India:

  • This is not a rant against journalists but many of the writers do not possess the technical knowledge to write about exercise and nutrition. This is the same reason why you keep reading the same stuff in almost every third article on health and wellness. Here is a case: NY times publishes an article about “correlations between cardiac muscle scars and endurance activities”. Some Indian editor reads it and asks a junior to write a piece on it. That writer in his/her ability interprets the NY times article, does some basic Google search to read more such popular articles and rewrites it as “Running causes heart problems” without quoting the sample size, coefficient of determination and p-value or even the fact that it was an empirical study.Paleo-diet-meme

 

  • Any theory has to be backed with experimental results. Many experimental studies are performed on rats or guinea pigs and suggest similar data for human beings. Many are based on recall methods to collect data over the years(To what extent do you remember your diet and exercise routine 4 years ago?). Weak correlations , overlapping error margins are often ignored while drawing conclusions, especially by unskilled reporters. Old studies on saturated fats and cardiovascular disease risks are a classic example.

 

  • We also need to understand that a correlation does not imply causation. Most empirical studies stating a positive correlation can very well be contradicted by future studies on the same topic. Until unless there is a cause and effect relationship established based on principles of chemical interaction, energy balance etc; conclusions drawn should be taken with a pinch of salt.

 

Now does it make sense to actually follow tips given in your daily newspaper? Science is objective but lack of knowledge/expertise often leads to misinterpretation of data and often subjective biased opinions.

So, the next time you read about 5 super-foods to lose belly fat in a newspaper or website, laugh it off and tune in to PSI Fitness instead.

 

In Lucem Scientiam,

PS

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