We at Sip & Savor have frequently reported on “junk science” based on association circulating on the Internet and how it only unnecessarily scares and confuses consumers. This is important because showing an association is far from establishing causation. Now we bring you yet another example: A study claiming an alleged link between sugar-sweetened beverages and early menstruation is the latest example of how researchers – and some in the media – are peddling a tale as though it showed causation. Why does this matter? Because the study shows no proof of cause-and-effect. It’s not even designed to do so. In fact, the authors admit this themselves.
So what do you need to know about the latest paper? Here goes. The authors of the study, which was published in the journal Human Reproduction, looked at a group of adolescent girls and asked them – once a year – what foods and drinks they consumed over the course of the past year. Sound scientific? They then looked at the data and found girls who drank more than 1.5 servings of sugary drinks every day had their first period 2.7 months earlier than those who had two or fewer such drinks a week. That might not seem like much of an earlier start, but some research says that starting menstrual periods at a young age is linked to a small increase in risk for breast cancer.
However, the study out today does not in any way show that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages causes early menstruation, as the senior study author and Harvard professor Karin Michels acknowledged.
“We are showing an association. We can only do some guesswork on the mechanisms,” she said in an interview with CBS News.
We have seen plenty of studies like this before. The research shows that a certain population may have a higher incidence of a certain chronic disease or alleged health outcome all from consuming one or another food or beverage. Does this prove anything? No. In some cases it may warrant further research; in some cases not.
As an example, more people in the United States shop in malls during colder months than in warmer months. One could say increased shopping is associated with temperature, and lowering temperatures boost economies. The actual explanation is that the holiday shopping season arrives during those colder months.
The history of disguising or oversimplifying these studies in the name of public health also is a road that we have been down before. In fact, one of this study’s authors has been previously accused of using studies that show only association to advance his own agenda while attacking those that oppose his claims.
The beverage industry has always been committed to providing safe and refreshing options for our consumers. Yet when it comes to the science purported by some, there seems to be a lot of pointing fingers while using studies that show association and promoting them – and reporting on them – as though they are fact.
And time spent promoting studies such as the one we’re sharing today does nothing to address the real causes of early puberty or breast cancer or even obesity for that matter. So while our critics continue to pour their money and resources into studies such as these, we will continue to work towards real solutions that can have a lasting impact on our consumers. After all, we think you should go where the science takes you; not drive the science to the outcome you’re seeking.
To learn more about some of the myths and facts about our products, please visit LetsClearItUp.org.