IFIC Article - How to Understand and Interpret Food and...

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Kumquats Found to Prevent Cancer! Exercise + eggplant = longer life!! O bviously, these “headlines” are fictitious, but they got your attention, didn’t they? Reports of new research findings in the area of food and health grab the attention of Americans from all walks of life. After all, food and health are central concerns to each of us. Reporters, professors, and health professionals all want the latest information — as do consumers. A single study and the reports surrounding it can send crowds of people in search of the latest food or supplement that holds promise for good health. Remember how virtually any food containing oats or oat bran practically flew off supermarket shelves in 1990 after an oat bran-cho- lesterol study was publicized? Frustrated and confused by the tremendous amount of food and health information being com- municated today, Americans look for simple cer- tainties to help them protect their health through diet. The trouble is that single studies rarely pro- vide such certainty, although they often make for great headlines. The media, health professionals, and educators are the gatekeepers of today’s food and health information. They determine, for the most part, what consumers hear, read, and believe about food and health. Along with that comes the responsibili- ty to provide the facts, put them in perspective, and help people determine how the findings may affect their behavior and lives. Fulfilling this responsibili- ty requires that new studies be critically reviewed before being publicized. News releases and study abstracts, although helpful for “previewing” research, do not provide the information necessary to accurately and responsibly report findings to the public. Happily, with practice, the process of critically reviewing scientific research becomes easier and less time-consuming. This IFIC Review is designed to help members of the media, health professionals, and educators understand how to read and evalu- ate food and health-related scientific studies. It presents an overview of key information to look for, questions to ask, and other important considera- tions. A Process of Discovery and Debate To consumers, it often seems that contradicto- ry studies about food and health appear in the media almost weekly, leaving many to wonder why researchers can’t get it right the first time. The answer is not an easy one to swallow, because to accept it means we must accept uncertainty. The scientific process is a road of discovery. It is a process of gaining knowledge about the uni- verse through the observation of measurable evi- dence (l). Contrary to what many people may believe, this “road” is not necessarily a straight one. That is, researchers may take different direc- tions of exploration, causing the “road” to twist, turn, and sometimes even backtrack or come to a dead end before the facts are uncovered. Even then the facts may be only part of a larger, partially How to Understand and Interpret Food and Health-Related Scientific Studies
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IFIC Article - How to Understand and Interpret Food and...

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