Health Communication , , ,

Brain Drain

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

We are bombarded with nutrition and other ‘healthy’ lifestyle information from friends, family, news stories, social media, and online content on a daily basis. In an attempt to stay up-to-date with topics of conversation, I receive a daily email of a wide range of nutrition-related headlines. I often just scroll without clicking – it can be a real brain drain to filter through everything.

But The Hunger in Our Heads (how physical activity might quell the eating binges that follow intense mental activity) piqued my interest enough for a click. I’ve always wanted to believe the reading, writing, and critical thinking associated with being a grad student was the cause of my brain drain come day’s end. But was there really evidence to support this, or was I just being dramatic? I immediately went to the source of inspiration of the story to do some fact checking. [Side note: there IS evidence that mentally demanding tasks can lead to fatigue and even overeating.]

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Headlines are headlines for a reason, and they can lead to confusion about what to do to lead a healthy lifestyle. A few reasons nutrition headlines are confusing include:

  • Research is a process and it is usually designed to answer a very specific question. But what is reported often extends beyond what the study actually showed.
  • Research studies have different results. This is an important part of the research process, and there may be good reasons why.
  • Not all studies are created equal. The quality with which a study was done plays a major part on how the results should be interpreted.

Fortunately the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Nutrition Source offers 7 questions to help put health news in context and the International Food Information Council Foundation offers a quick guide to evaluating evidence.

The bottom line is, take a moment to see if the evidence really supports all the hype. Your brain just might thank you.

 

Resources:

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Deciphering Media Stories on Diet. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/media/

International Food Information Council. Hot Off the Presses: 5 Key Takeaways for Evaluating Nutrition in the Media. http://www.foodinsight.org/evaluating-nutrition-science-media-headlines

Reynolds, Gretchen. The Hunger in Our Heads. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/11/well/eat/how-to-stop-your-food-cravings.html?_r=1

 

  • shaunala

    Another major issue is that journals, especially highly regarded ones, only publish significant findings. Thus for the one study that finds significance, there could be 10 that did not, only they weren't able to get published. I would like to see more journals reporting null findings. The scientific field needs to value both positive and negative results equally as they both contribute to the knowledge base. As Thomas Edison so eloquently stated, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."