Today’s post comes from Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD. Zelman is the Director of Nutrition for WebMD. Zelman has extensive media experience, including 12 years as a national spokeswoman and an elected member of the board of directors for the American Dietetic Association (ADA) – now the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – and currently serves as one of ENC’s Health Professional Advisors.
Beyond the Headlines: Tips for Analyzing and Reviewing Research
Science is a complicated process that does not easily fit into sound bites for mass media.
As credentialed professionals with strong science backgrounds, it is our job to translate and deliver credible, science-based information to reporters and consumers thereby building trust, respect and reliability on registered dietitians’ expertise.
Sensational headlines may generate buzz, but they don’t always reflect the true meaning of a study. Google is not a synonym for research. Oversimplifications, reading only the abstract, lack of context and/or misrepresentation of a study’s conclusion are common media mistakes.
The internet is a very popular source of news information for many people. Yet with the competition for followers, social media outlets demand brief explanations and catchy titles which often perpetuate myths and fuel consumer confusion.
It is our job to put research into perspective with consumer-friendly interpretation of the scientific evidence delivered in a trustworthy and interesting way on traditional and social media outlets. When reporting on research, consider how your communication can enhance the understanding of the study and inspire consumers ‘how’ to improve their health.
Here are a few tips for analyzing and reviewing research:
- Associations do not prove cause and effect.
- Animal research findings are difficult to extend to humans.
- How does this study fit into the existing body of evidence?
- Is the study large enough to impact public health recommendations?
- Studies that look at disease end points generally provide more insight compared to those that look at markers for disease.
- Not all diet assessments are valid; good studies have evidence that validate the methodology.
- Randomized trials and prospective cohort studies are considered the best information when seeking a link between a dietary factor and health outcome.
- Has the study been published in a peer reviewed journal?
- Are conflicts of interest disclosed in the paper?