Study Takes Bite Out of Media Claims about Low-Fat Diets
The broadcast news media mentioned the original study by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) roughly 20 times in the months following its May 17, 2005 release, according to a review of Nexis transcripts by the Business & Media Institute.
In one such occasion, NBCs Katie Couric told viewers on the Sep. 28, 2005 Today show that even if the study was later refuted, its never a bad idea for women to maintain a low-fat diet to ward off heart problems.
In terms of heart disease and so many other potential maladies, it's much better to eat a diet that's low in fat. But low-calorie, low-fat usually goes hand in hand, right, NBCs Today show host asked Dr. Clifford Hudis of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Hudis agreed, That's right. So one of the easier ways to achieve a low-calorie diet is to limit fats. And for that, we we continue to push that.
The study Couric and Hudis referred to examined less than 2,500 women over five years before reaching its conclusion that the tentative conclusion that results demonstrate the possible importance of considering dietary factors in cancer therapy trials.
But the February 8 editions of The New York Times and The Washington Post ran front-page reports showing that an eight-year, nearly 49,000-woman survey conducted by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) found no benefit in preventing cancer, stroke, or heart disease from a low-fat diet.
We set out to test a promising but unproven hypothesis that has proven to be less promising than we anticipated, NHLBIs Dr. Jacques Rossouw told the Post. Based on our findings, we cannot recommend that most women should follow a low-fat diet.
The New York Timess Gina Kolata ended her February 8 story with a warning to scientists not to hype isolated studies. We, in the scientific community, often give strong advice based on flimsy evidence, Kolata quoted UC Berkeley statistician David Freedman, That's why we have to do experiments.
The media would also do well to heed Freedmans advice on complicated, often contradictory studies in nutrition, rather than hype results and make broad generalizations.
The medias push for low-fat foods is often coupled with hype over unhealthy eating in America. The Business & Media Institute has previously issued studies on the medias unbalanced coverage of American obesity.