Thursday Thoughts: Media and Nutrition


It's Thursday, so you know what that means...

Thursday Thoughts

If you are new to my blog, or haven't been reading on Thursdays, this is a segment where I post my thoughts about various nutrition and health related topics, or maybe even something else if it is really an intriguing topic. Most of my current views and opinions come from experience working as a dietitian and as college instructor in nutrition courses. Most of that learning is science based or observational from the clinical setting. In general, I hate over-generalizations, so for many of the things I post, I expect there is one or two exceptions because broad sweeping generalizations are always bound to miss out on something.

Yes, Thursday Thoughts are back.  Too bad my brain is frazzled right now.  Actually, that is how I came to the conclusion of what I would write about today.  I was already worked up over work stuff and just wanted to relax a little with a workout.  I read while on the arc trainer.  Weird, yes, but it is my only leisure reading time.  And I fill that time with "junk".  I started with US Weekly, but when I was finished I still had 15 minutes left, so I picked up the other magazine I brought with me.  I will not disclose what magazine or what issue, but I knew right away this was going to get me worked up even more.  I even tried to put it down, but I could not resist seeing what this magazine had to say about making your belly flat, boosting your metabolism, or how to lose 6 pounds this week.  But, I opened the magazine anyway knowing I was going to see smoke pouring out my ears.

So, here are my thoughts on media (specifically print) and nutrition.

1) There are great, well qualified, nutrition experts out there, writing awesome, science based nutrition advice daily...so why do they not get the credit they deserve.  While reading said magazine today I did not see any articles written by anyone with credentials (RD or otherwise) behind their names.  They did quote a dietitian or two, at least that is a start.  These health writers take away from the credibility of writers actually trained in nutrition, and actually writing things that are true.  I have heard some people more likely to take the advice of a magazine over anything I have to say because the magazine seems for some reason to be a more credible source.  I think the magazines and newspapers (and some do, which is awesome) need to avoid hiring writers and start hiring professionals (who can write, by the way) to provide readers with factual information, not just some crazy, sensational story that helps them feel good about themselves until the next issue comes out with new material they can implement in their lives.  I really do understand those kinds of stories and headlines boost sales, but it is just wrong to allow some of the information I have seen in print get put out to the public, as they hold this as absolute truth (not all people).

2) Where do the non-professionals do their research?  I know magazines are not required to list references, but how can we say for sure that the author who wrote the article got their information from a credible source.  There is so much out there on the Internet about nutrition that is false or unsupported.  If the author uses that information, it just helps to spread the inaccurate information that those of us who are professionals are working so hard to clear up.  If the author does not have credentials, what makes them qualified to write about nutrition, weight loss, health, etc.  many of us have gone to school for many years to have ourselves deemed professionals in the field, and the expert on this topic, so what makes it alright for someone to try and take over that role.

3) As a consumer, it is your responsibility to see through the "junk" that is thrown at you every day from the media.  Never, ever take those stories at face value, as there is always a slant or a bias.  Research the facts for yourself and form your own opinion.  Just because a magazine shows that you can lose 6 pounds in a week does not mean this is healthy, long term, or even safe...heck, it might not even work.  They don't need to show you proof.  You could be putting your health at risk for something that never has been shown to work.  Since these magazines come out at least once a month, you can try this trick now, and before you have time to evaluate if it works or not, you get a new trick in the next magazine.  This really does make things worse in the long run when it comes to managing your weight.  If you are serious about getting in control of your weight and your health, you should be serious enough to visit with a professional.  Always, always, always evaluate where you get your information from.  

4) Just because the article references a study, don't believe it right away.  This is a great way to get you to buy in to the story.  Don't forget, not all research is good research, and just one article with a result is not enough to change everything we recommend that is supported by multiple other studies. This means more research needs to be done.  You also need to evaluate if the quote from the study was taken correctly.  The one I read today was for an article on boosting your metabolism for weight loss.  The trick presented was exercise before eating breakfast (which I learned was not the way to do it and I did have some studies on this before...I think they are in storage now).  The study had a group that ate before exercise and one that did not.  Here is the catch.  The groups were both fed a high fat, high calorie diet (and the article even stated this), and the group that did not eat before breakfast has less chance of gaining weight from the high fat, high calorie diet.  By the time I was done reading this I wondered what the study had to do with the article title.  My conclusion...NOTHING!  Although the article premise was that everyone has days were they eat poorly, so if you exercise before breakfast you won't gain weight from this poor diet you have had.  Somehow that had something to do with boosting your metabolism (just in general).  So, my advice, just because a study is cited, don't believe everything you read.  If you can and have the desire to, track down the article and see if this really was used in the correct context.

5) Seek out the experts online. I started off by stating that there are many experts out there on the topic of nutrition, and I would like to think that I am one of them (and many of you are too).  We work hard and we do have things published in print and online.  When looking for credible information, please check out the credentials and seek out RDs and other well qualified nutrition experts (yes, some students, especially those in grad school for nutrition, have great information to share on this topic too).  Make sure to spread the word.  If you notice others falling prey to quick fix and fad like articles in the media, help steer them in the right direction.  While those articles make for good and easy reads, they may be harming you in the long run.  There is no such thing as a quick fix, or a miracle cure, or top secret information.  Those are media buzz words out to suck you in, and get you reading and/or buying a product.  Anything that sounds too good to be true probably is too good to be true.  Your health is important and it will take time to make lifelong changes.  Without those changes, you will not be successful, and instead will be one short term change after another, and while some quick results may be seen, it is not something you can keep up with forever.  Then you are stuck following the directions in the magazine printed the next month.

Obviously this is not for every magazine out there and every article written on nutrition and health, but there are plenty out there.  The idea is just to remain vigilant and take care of your health.  Don't fall for the traps set with promises of a flat belly is just a few short steps, or lose weight fast, or whatever the claim might be.  Remember that you are in control and you don't have to believe everything you read.  You have the right to question the credentials of the author, you have the right to see bias in a written work, and you have the right to seek out more information on a topic.

Take control and really evaluate what you are reading.  Look for professionals and experts in the field to supply you with the latest information on that topic.  Trust me, you will never see me writing about something I don't already know about (well, unless for school and I am doing a research paper, LOL).

QUESTIONS:  What are your thoughts on this topic?  Have you ever read and article and wondered where the author got their information?  Do you ever check up on the author's credentials?

7 comments:

Biz said...

I take most of those articles with a grain of salt - 9 times out of 10 they are just lose weight quick schemes that will never work in the long term.

Eat healthy 90% of the time, and you'll do well to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Mari said...

I never checked the credentials when I read a magazine article but it something I should start doing...I used to get sucked into fads etc but like biz said "Eat healthy 90% of the time, and you'll do well to maintain a healthy lifestyle. "

Simply Life said...

Great info - I try and read reliable sources because I usually don't think to check the references and just hope it's valid info!

sophia said...

I'm a journalist, so I'm kind of surprising that magazine don't need to list credentials?! What?! That's not ethical.

Also, I think that some topics are really complex. Nutrition, for example, is complex. It takes more than 500 words to give an accurate view. In addition, magazines are more a business than journalism. They are trying to sell their product, not the truth. So I do think that consumers need to be aware of that fact and not believe everything a magazine has to say.

Gina; The Candid RD said...

I always read this type of article with a complete open mind, and really as entertainment.... In fact, I stay away from them as much as possible. I think your 4th point is most important. So many people don't have a clue about research, and have no ida how easy it is to take one research result and skew it to make it sound more positive or negative. Even something as simple as saying, "this supplement contains clinically proved weight loss ingredients" can be taken to mean something it shouldn't. I mean, that's fine, but did you use the SAME amount of those ingredients in your product?! PRobably not. You have to read between the lines. And no one does when they're desperate for a quick fix.
Great post.

Kristen (swanky dietitian) said...

Great topic! It is so hard to believe what you read now a days. I am sure if I wasn't an RD, I would be very confused by all that is out there.

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