It seems like a major diet or exercise article comes out every month telling us what was good for us is now bad, and what was bad for us is now good.
Saturated fat used to be taboo; now media encourages us to eat more butter. Some say red meat causes cancer; others say it can save your life. The four-minute workout shows up frequently in the news; then you’ll read you can’t lose weight with exercise.
What’s a busy woman to do if she wants to keep up with current information on how to stay healthy?
I can’t tell you how many women have come to me, exasperated and defeated, disappointed time and again by popular fads.
Many have cycled up and down in weight because they’ve hopped from one diet to the next, hoping one will stick. “Research is moving so fast,” they say, “it’s too hard to keep up.”
If you feel this way, I’m here to tell you: Rest assured; research doesn’t change that fast, and you do know a lot about how to be healthy. It’s just a matter of keeping your bearings when reading the “newest” news.
When reading about health research in popular media, remember:
- A headline is written to attract readers.
A headline is supposed to be an attention grabber. If the headline interests you, read or skim the article. Sometimes the article’s main point is the exact opposite of what the title implies! But, you won’t know unless you read it.
- Going viral is the goal. Truth can be secondary.
Most journalists have a background in journalism, not science. When the media reports a research study, the author highlights the information he or she thinks is most exciting. Unfortunately, important information is often left out or misrepresented.
- One study will never provide the complete answer to a question or totally reverse our current knowledge on any subject.
There needs to be a lot of studies that point to the same conclusion in order to shift the tides in science. It’s not a downfall of science; it’s how we gain knowledge. For example: whether the subjects exercise regularly, the kinds of food they eat, their genetics, and even what part of the world the subjects live in will affect the results of a health study. There are so many human variables that one study can’t take them all into account or rule them all out. That’s why many studies need to be performed to answer one question.
- One size doesn’t fit all.
If a study is done on sedentary diabetics, we can’t assume the outcome would be the same if it were done on non-diabetics, active people, or even active diabetics for that matter. Study results only apply to the type of people who are studied.
- The further away the subjects of the study are, the more exotic the title is.
That’s about it. Because Amazonian tribes eat it, or Tibetan Sherpas drink it, doesn’t mean it’s healthy for Americans who work at a desk all day.
If a health topic in the news interests you, here are three ways you can get more info before you change your habits:
1. Find out what scientists agree on.
This is the easiest and fastest way for a busy professional to get the low-down on health facts: check out the websites of applicable associations and organizations. They make decisions and set guidelines based on what the greater body of research currently supports. Examples are the American Cancer Society, Center for Disease Control, American Heart Association, American Council on Exercise, and the American College of Sports Medicine. If you want other input besides American agencies, you can look to places like British Dietetic Association, Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, the National Heart Foundation of Australia, and the World Health Organization
2. Ask a professional
preferably someone educated and experienced in the topic. At the same time, remember that professionals can only offer advice based on or their background and experience so speak to more than one person if you can.
3. Go to the source
Find the research in PubMed and read the abstract to garner a quick idea of what the researchers concluded from the study. Sometimes scientists come to different conclusions than what shows up in the media.
You’re busy, and you deserve to be well-informed
so you can make quick and good decisions when it comes to your health. You can save social media, news, and magazine-type health articles for light reading and make solid life choices based on high-quality sources.
I recently made a video on the current media craze surrounding coconut oil to illustrate some of the points I’ve mentioned here. Is coconut oil good, or bad for you? Watch the video and see what you decide!
Luci Gabel- MA, MBA, ACE, ACSM – Exercise Physiologist, nutritionist, content manager and owner of LuciFit, LLC.
Luci helps clients and students drop the fads, sort out the myths from reality, and understand food and fitness in a way that works for their body, and for life. She has over 20 years of experience working with a wide range of clients, from professional athletes to the business savvy woman. You can count on Luci to be your truth-teller, and your myth dispeller when it comes to mass media information about food and exercise. And she’ll always be a cheerleader on your side!