Medical experts and many in the media are picking apart a flawed study on diet soda. First, the study is an abstract – a reckless and irresponsible collection of assertions that even its lead author is conceding in media interviews provides no link between diet soda and heart health issues. The study is not verified through publication in a peer-reviewed scientific or medical journal.
Here’s just a sampling of the criticism the abstract is receiving from medical professionals:
Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News Medical Correspondent, best summed up the credibility of the abstract by lead author Hannah Gardener of the University of Miami:
“When I see a bad study out there, I usually say let’s not talk about it. But when it captures headlines, it’s worth doing a reality check. And I have to say this is one of the worst studies I’ve seen capturing headlines in a long time. It’s bad because of the science. But it’s also bad because of the behavior that it can induce and the fear that people have. I don’t think people should change behavior based on this study.”
Even Dr. Nancy Snyderman, often a critic of beverages, called the abstract into question on the Today Show:
“The beverage industry does have a point, that we really don’t – there’s no reason to think that this is – there’s a villain in diet beverages. I drink them. But I think you have to remember, it isn’t water. It isn’t – there’s nothing nutritional in it. It’s a treat.”
WebMD.com wrote that “the study doesn’t prove cause and effect.” Its story quotes Phillip B. Gorelick, MD, MPH, head of neurology and stroke research at the University of Illinois in Chicago, who says the food questionnaire used in the study isn’t a good way to gauge people’s overall dietary patterns. “You have to look at what people eat in totality,” he tells WebMD. “People who are reducing calories by drinking diet soda may have an unhealthy dietary pattern, consuming a lot of fat and salt, for example. And that won’t be picked up using a questionnaire like the one used here.”
But some of the most damning words about the abstract come from the author herself when forced to answer for her assertions. Here’s what lead author Hannah Gardner of the University of Miami, Fla., said in the media today:
“It’s reasonable to have doubts, because we don’t have a clear mechanism. This needs to be viewed as a preliminary study.” – quoted in USA Today.
“We can’t assume that the relationship is causal because it was just an observational study with potential limitations.” – quoted in Cardiology Today.
“I don’t think that anyone should be changing their behaviors based on one study.” – quoted on MSNBC.com.
The problem is that real people are potentially being harmed by this abstract and the misleading headlines it generated. Yes, we’re upset because a set of our products was attacked without foundation. But there are consumers out there who rely on diet sodas in order to lead a healthy lifestyle. They received an unnecessary dose of inaccurate news today.
Many Americans struggling with their weight choose diet beverages to help control their weight and even lose weight. And millions of Americans living with diabetes turn to diet beverages for a safe, refreshing beverage choice.
Again, as Dr. Besser said: “It’s bad because of the science, but it’s also bad because of the behavior that it can induce and the fear that people have.”
Diet soda is safe. Don’t fall for so-called science geared to garner headlines, not better health.