We love reading about diet and we’re always interested in the newest results of scientific research regarding healthy aspects of the food. But we also often question why it was recommended to drink milk twenty years ago and nowadays people say it’s bad for us. Why were we encouraged to drink a glass of red wine every day to prevent cancer and now they say even little bit of red wine can cause cancer. Why we had to avoid fat in 90’s and now we need to cut the carbs instead.
Is all the research wrong? Not really. It’s the way how it gets interpreted that may be misleading.
As I was writing for couple of female magazines in the past, I know a bit about how the basic information gets transformed into an attractive article material.
To succeed as an editor, your articles need to attract lots of readers. The online environment became very competitive, with individual bloggers often getting more attention than websites of established publishing houses. Regardless of the quality of the content, you need people to click on your headline.
And here it starts already. Based on headline psychology, readers will click more likely on a shocking information with a negative appeal (don’t, never, avoid, bad, worst). And because you want to look trustworthy, without being labeled as a tabloid writer or a militant loony, you rather add something like: Scientists confirmed.
Have a look at this article of Telegraph: Red wine is bad for you, say experts. It’s a classic. Everybody will click on such a headline, because it turns around what we believed in for many years. It provokes anxiety, maybe even anger. You urgently need to know what is this about. So you click.
The first sentence basically repeats the headline. It tells us these experts were government experts. We still don’t know their names or the name of the research institution. Only then we find out that the whole information comes out of a report that would be released “on Friday“.
So we have here “We know it first” type of article. But Telegraph wasn’t really first to come out with this, as the next paragraph is quoting the Sun. So the Telegraph, once known as a reliable British newspaper, is citing a tabloid with a trashy reputation. Seriously?
Right at this point, your attention will be distracted by hyperlink Black pudding hailed as a ‘superfood’ and you’ll happily click on that one, because although you’re not allowed to drink red wine any more, something raises your hope that you can eat kilograms of black pudding instead.
But if you read the red wine article till the end, you won’t find any specific data proving that red wine is bad for you, after all.
To find out the truth about the reported study, you will have to google. The statistics related to this topic can be found for example on Sciencedaily.com or Cancer.gov – if you read it carefully, you’ll find out that scientists, in fact, reported that every 10 grams of alcohol consumed per day is associated with a 5 – 12 percent increase in the risk of cancer. (Percentages vary from 5 – 12 percent depending on type of cancer and location of study.)
If you drink 50g of alcohol a day, the risk increases to about 50%. Although red wine itself is nowhere specified by the scientists, media take a glass of red wine as a perfect representative of 10 grams of alcohol to make a shocking article out of it. Nobody out of the experts said what kind of alcohol the observed subjects drank, and if it was the red wine, then what kind of red wine they drank (dry or sweetened?), or if they consumed a bag of salty crisps with every glass and had a couple of cigarettes in between.
The proper conclusion, based on the facts, should state: One unit of alcohol per day is linked to 5-12 percent increase in risk of cancer. But such a headline won’t attract anyone. For many people, the percentage will sound too little to bother, and may be affected by other factors, as mentioned above.
So before you get depressed by the feeling that by now there is no other chance how to be safe than moving to Mars, because everything on this planet is badly affecting your health, search for proper sources and make that effort to think little bit further. It’s worth it.