Nutrition in the Media is a Minefield - 5 Tips to Help You Spot Fact From Fiction

Many of you might have come across scary nutrition-related headlines on the internet. Similarly, have you put in a seemingly simple nutrition question on Google and then ended up being even more confused than before? UFIT One-North Personal Trainer Emily Whitelock gives us 5 tips on how to filter through the slew of information you find on the internet!

With a plethora of diet and health information at our fingertips it can be difficult to determine what is true. Here are 5 top tips to help you determine fact from fiction: 

1. Make a judgement call...is the headline just ‘clickbait’?

Is the author simply using a punchy headline to draw you in and drive traffic to their website? If you suspect this to be the case, make sure to read the whole article and not just the headline. The conclusion of the article may be very different from the initial words that drew you in!

Pretty sure a high-pizza, high-pasta diet with no vegetables is not the key to a healthy life!

Pretty sure a high-pizza, high-pasta diet with no vegetables is not the key to a healthy life!

2. Does the article mention any specific details about the scientific study it is based on?

If there is no mention of the actual study or studies that they are basing their piece on then that is already a bad sign! If the research is mentioned, try to find it online and give it a read; you should at least be able to have access to the abstract which is a quick summary of the work and results they found. Do further research to see if the study was done on animals or humans, the number of people involved in the study, the demographics of the people studied and the time period looked at etc. If the study looked at only four 75-year-old men of one ethnicity over a one-week period, the findings are unlikely to be representative of the global population!

Primary research comes in many forms and studying diet can be very complex due to many other factors in our lives that affect our health. Meta-analysis and systematic reviews summarise the findings of several primary research studies - if an article is based on this type of research you are on to a possible winner!

Article writers may cherry pick scientific studies to create an interesting article, whilst ignoring the findings of a vast number of other studies done. Generally, one study is insufficient to yield a clear-cut conclusion, with further research required. As such, be sure to read around the topic.

 

3. Correlation does not necessarily mean causation.

Many authors sensationalise the findings of scientific research so be sure to read carefully to see if there is any weight behind what they are saying.

Often, authors that cover nutrition-related topics have not got a scientific background and hence may misinterpret the findings of a study. A correlation between two variables does not always mean one causes the other, there may be many other factors involved. Things are generally a lot more complicated than they initially seem! Refer to the below for example:

Not so sure increased margarine consumption has directly resulted in a higher divorce rate or vice versa...

Not so sure increased margarine consumption has directly resulted in a higher divorce rate or vice versa...

4. Who carried out the research? Who funded the research?

When it comes to published scientific studies in academic journals, all sources of funding and potential conflicts of interest must be disclosed; this is, however, not the case for articles referencing the work in mainstream media coverage. If a study is partially or solely funded by an organisation who will benefit personally or financially from the results make sure to read around the topic; look to see if there have been any other similar studies and if they have come to the same conclusion.

5. Look to see what reputable organisations have to say.

Large organisations like the World Health Organisation, Singapore’s Health Promotion Board, British Nutrition Foundation, The National Health Service and American Nutrition Association have comprehensive websites with a lot of great science-based nutrition information which you can refer to when in doubt.

Hopefully you are now more analytical about everything you read. Nutrition, while being complicated, is an extremely interesting area to study and there is a lot of great research being done. There are a lot of amazing nutrition resources out there with simple and easy advice but don’t believe everything you see in the media otherwise there will probably be nothing left for you to eat!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

While pursuing her Nutrition Masters Degree, Emily’s passion for fitness and health grew rapidly. She worked within the food industry upon graduation but decided to make the career switch to follow her passion – exercise and nutrition. Emily enjoys helping people achieve their goals while having fun at the same time.