Last week, the peer-reviewed medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine revealed a brand new examine that discovered that larger consumption of sweetened tender drinks was related to the next threat of loss of life. According to the examine, which tracked greater than 450,000 adults throughout 10 European nations over 16 years, ordinary drinkers of artificially sweetened soda — like Diet Coke— have been 26 % extra doubtless to die prematurely in contrast to those that not often consumed sugar-free tender drinks, whereas customers of sugar sweetened soda — like common Coca-Cola — have been eight % extra doubtless to be linked to early loss of life in contrast to those that seldom drank sugary pop.
News retailers seized on this explicit discovering with predictably flashy headlines: “You’re even more likely to die if you choose diet soda” (Washington Examiner), “Just two Diet Cokes a day ‘increases your risk of deadly heart attack or stroke by 50%’” (The Sun), “It’s Not Just Sugary Drinks That Are Bad for You—Artificially Sweetened Ones Also Appear to Increase the Risk of Death” (Newsweek).
But, because the New York Times factors out, the examine was nonetheless “unable to resolve a key question: Does consuming drinks sweetened with aspartame or saccharin harm your health? Or could it be that people who drink lots of Diet Snapple or Sprite Zero lead a more unhealthy lifestyle to begin with?” For occasion, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researcher Vasanti S. Malik — who authored a examine in April that failed to affirm a conclusive hyperlink between synthetic sweeteners and elevated mortality in girls — instructed the Times, it’s solely possible that weight loss plan soda drinkers might be utilizing their consumption of Diet Coke to rationalize an indulgence in much less wholesome meals.
In different phrases, there’s a threat of conflating correlation with causation. As expansive as this explicit examine was, and as a lot because the researchers tried to mitigate these dangers by eradicating topics who have been people who smoke or overweight, observational research aren’t simply in a position to set up trigger and impact due to the variety of variables exterior researchers’ management (as opposed to scientific trials, that are extra hermetic however will be each costly and logistically unmanageable).
Food science — and, by extension, writing about meals science — is rife with research that each journalists and readers would do higher than to take at face worth, with out being attentive to their inherent issues and caveats. As journalist John Bohannon highlighted in his 2015 stunt that unfold the “scientific” discovering that chocolate leads to weight reduction, pitfalls can embrace flawed examine designs (too few topics, too many variables, and many others.) and shady publications which can be pay-for-play. Sometimes well being research are funded by the very industries that the researchers are finding out, like when Coca-Cola supplied monetary and logistical assist to a brand new nonprofit that promoted the concept that it’s more practical to deal with weight problems by way of train than by way of foods and drinks consumption. Or, as within the current downfall of prolific Cornell meals scientist Brian Wansink, some research stands out as the product of deliberate information manipulation so as to produce extra attention-grabbing — and headline-making — findings.
Food writing is usually seen as one of many “soft” subsets of journalism, as opposed to the hard-hitting beats of politics, enterprise, and the like. But meals journalism isn’t (or shouldn’t be) simply rosy profiles of star cooks, or Big Brand press releases regurgitated as gushing 200-word articles: meals is politics, and labor, and enterprise, and tech, and tradition, and crucially, well being and science. Figuring out what and the way to eat and drink is already onerous sufficient; let’s all simply add a splash extra wholesome skepticism to our content material consumption habits to keep away from complicating it even additional.