News about health and nutrition seems to flip-flop from day to day, so how do you know when the latest study is worth taking seriously? You can avoid getting yanked around by headlines if you ask yourself a few questions while reading the article.
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This list comes from NHS Choices, a British organisation that publishes wonderful explainers about the science behind top health news stories. Its cheat sheet includes seven questions you can ask yourself to figure out whether a health news story is based on sound science or not. They include:
- Does the article support its claims with scientific research? Sometimes a health article looks promising but is based on one person's opinion, or is just a thinly disguised advertisement. If they can't back up their claims, move on.
- Is the article based on a conference abstract? Scientists often talk about their work at conferences before it's ready to be published. Sometimes this gives us a sneak peak at something that's about to be big news, but other times it's a teaser for a study that turns out to be a dud. More reliable information comes from studies that are published in peer-reviewed journals, which means that a group of scientists has critiqued and approved it. A good news article will name the journal and ideally link to the paper.
- Was the research in humans? Lots of great headlines come from research that happened in a test tube, or in a population of mice. Those findings often don't work out in humans, although from the scientists' point of view they are an important stepping stone. Don't get too excited until the human trials roll around.
Other important things to ask include how many people were in the study, whether it had a control group, whether the scientists were really studying what the headline says they were, and who paid for or conducted the study. Read the full list at NHS Choices to be better informed next time you read a spit-take-worthy headline.
How to Read Health News [NHS Choices]