The newspaper headline cries “red wine fights heart disease” one day, and warns of the dangers of cancer and too much wine the next day.
Knowing how to interpret health news stories is probably one of the best gifts you can give employees. As Americans become more comfortable with taking responsibility for their own health, they especially need to understand what they read.
Check out The Health Care Blog for a succinct guide to reading articles about health and health care. Alicia White and her team at Bazian's, a company that assesses health care services, use a system to decipher the value of news articles:
- Does the article support its claims with scientific research?
Disregard claims that cannot be substantiated with research.
- Is the article based on a conference abstract?
Be wary: Research presented at conferences is often new and has not been reviewed by other scientists.
- Was the research in humans?
If not, be suspicious: “Studies in cells and animals are crucial first steps… However, …many drugs that show promising results in animals don’t work in humans,” White says.
- How many people did the research study include?
Look for large studies. In general, the more people studied, the more reliable the results.
- Did the study have a control group?
Studies looking at the effect of a new treatment should have control groups allowing researches to compare results in people who have used a treatment and in those who haven’t.
- Who paid for and conducted the study?
“The majority of trials today are funded by manufacturers of the product being tested – be it a drug, vitamin cream or foodstuff,” says White. It doesn’t mean the study is skewed, but it is worth knowing.