Here at Sip & Savor, we’ve been known to blog about how scientific findings are often misinterpreted or misreported by the media. Let’s be clear – we can’t all be scientists and understand the important differences between cohort studies and clinical trials, or be well versed in why correlation or association is not causation – and why that matters. But when a media outlet is reporting for the general public, it would be helpful for the benefit of the reader, listener or viewer to share a little more than what the headline of a press release may state. Since that isn’t always the case, there are some ways that you can learn more about how to read about the “study of the day.”
Earlier this week, registered dietitian and diabetes educator Hope Warshaw addressed this issue by tackling the topic of study design during an education session on sweetener science at a gathering of food scientists in Chicago. As reported by FoodNavigator.com, Warshaw shared that the media has helped “warp public perception” of low-calorie sweeteners by failing to differentiate between types of studies. Warshaw noted that studies that are correlational are often reported as causational. So enough with the science speak - what does this mean?
As an example, there’s a lot of online chatter about diet soda “causing” people to gain weight. What isn’t explained is that these findings – which show an association rather than prove causation – are from cohort (or observational) studies. Number one: such studies do not prove cause and effect. Number two: The reported correlation may be what scientists call reverse causality. That is, those who weigh more (or are trying to lose weight) are drinking beverages with low-calorie sweeteners as a tool to help them manage their weight. So it’s not that the diet soda “caused” them to gain weight at all. Not what you’d think if you read the headlines, right?
Warshaw has been very vocal about the benefits and safety of low-calorie sweeteners. Getting the facts out is critical to helping educate Americans about exactly how these ingredients can be a useful tool – whether you’re trying to lose weight, not gain back lost weight, or simply avoid weight gain in the first place.
As we shared earlier in this blog, we don’t expect everyone to be a scientist. But we hope you take the time to read beyond the headlines. In fact, we found this interesting piece online that may help you out on that front. And if you have any questions about the wide range of beverages our member companies make – or the ingredients they contain – you can always check out Let’s Clear It Up.