Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Who's saying what: one study, three articles

While a lot of what we do here at 21 Reasons involves sharing prevention resources with parents, businesses, law enforcement, and our other community partners, we also like to link to news articles, especially through our website and our Delicious links.

We’ve noticed that when a major story breaks – for instance, if new research is published – it’s common for multiple news outlets to pick up the story. Whether you’re a fan of Fox, CNN, CBS, ABC, and so on, chances are you’ll hear or read the story eventually.

But what if you’re not getting the whole story? We got a reminder recently that all news is not created equal.

The source article was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, entitled “Relationship between alcohol intake, health and social status and cardiovascular risk factors in the urban Paris-Ile-De-France Cohort: is the cardioprotective action of alcohol a myth?”

At least three major news outlets picked up the story, but they had very different takes on what the results actually meant (click for larger image):

There are more interesting differences in the three articles. First, the Telegraph article begins with a picture, whose caption reads, “Drinking modest amounts of alcohol does not necessarily make you healthier, [researchers] claim.” This is pretty much the exact opposite of what the title suggests. If you dig a little more, you’ll read that both light AND moderate drinkers are healthier – the amount of alcohol consumed in these groups is UP TO ½ a bottle of “weak” wine a day.

Compare that to the Fox News article, which clearly promotes drinking. There is no mention of several quotes by the authors that explain that there is no direct link between alcohol and health in this study. The only part that comes close is this vague sentence: “Importantly, the findings showed moderate alcohol consumption is a powerful general indicator of optimal social status, and this could be a key reason for improved health…”

Finally, we have the MSNBC article. Their subtitle clearly states that drinking doesn’t lead to better health, and the second paragraph explains in depth. This article is also the only one of the three that mentions the negative consequences of drinking.

So what’s the point? We’re not here to slam news agencies for bad reporting – none of them wrote anything that was actually false in the articles mentioned above. What is important is that we recognize that news articles might not be able to explain the whole study in one column. Maybe this means we read all the news coverage we can find about a certain study. Maybe it means we hunt down the original journal article. What we shouldn’t do, though, is start drinking three mixed drinks a day because a news headline mentioned that vodka can get rid of wrinkles … you get the idea.

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