"In today's nutrition education world, the media is king," said Dr. Brian Wansink, Cornell University Professor and author of the position statement. The media that were cited as having the biggest impact were magazines, television, books, newspapers, and the Internet.
How does the media score on accuracy? "They get good marks," said Wansink, but there are four inaccuracies that can be easily avoided: 1) reporting a correlation as causation, 2) generalizing a study's results to a broader population not represented by the study, 3) exaggerating the size of an effect, and 4) using a single link in a chain of events to make predictions about events in the future.
Given media's critical role in nutrition education, the position statement offers advice for journalists who are reporting on nutrition studies:
- Was the research done by a credible institution and by qualified researchers?
- Is this a preliminary study? Have other studies reached similar conclusions?
- Was the research population large enough? Was the study long enough?
- Who paid for the study, and is the science valid despite the funding source?
- Was the report reviewed by peers?
- Does the report avoid absolutes, such as "proves" or "causes"?
- Does the report reflect appropriate context (e.g., how the research fits into a broader picture of scientific evidence and consumer lifestyles)?
- Do the results apply only to a certain group of people?
The position paper will be published in this April's Journal of the American Dietetic Association. More information on the report can be found at the website of the American Dietetic Association (www.eatright.org) or by contacting the author, Professor Brian Wansink at 607-254-6302 or Wansink@Cornell.edu.