Stop reading crappy articles in the media! They do almost everyone more harm than good, they really are hopeless, they serve only to sell newspapers and attract online traffic, to help the media site sell to advertisers.
We see all this garbage, news articles like “Drinking red wine does you as much good as going to the gym” and “Drinking coffee helps fight bowel cancer” and “Just 6 minutes of exercise is better for you than hours every day…” and “Eat more cabbage to prevent heart disease” or “Study shows eating sausages cures Parkinson’s” or whatever crap they write. What newspapers and media sites do, is take a grain of truth from a study and turn it into some kind of statement of fact. But the information we start with is NOT a statement of medical or biological fact in the first place, it’s often just an observation…only the dumbass newspaper tries to make it a fact.
The limitations of studies
So for instance, let’s look at a made-up, but realistic, example scenario. Maybe a team of researchers in Canada, or Finland, or California, conduct an observational study, known as a cohort study, to track a large group of people over a fairly long period of time. It may be that they follow 17,450 people for 14 years. At the start of the study, the people recruited were aged 30 to 50 and did not have heart disease, or at least no diagnosed condition or symptoms, such as high blood pressure. The study follows these people’s lives for 14 years, asking them to complete an online survey 4 times per year for 14 years, tracking a couple of hundred questions every time, to understand their behaviour, such as how much they smoke, how much they drink, how many coffees per day they drink, how many times per week they eat fish, how many times per week they eat meat, how many times per week they exercise, and so on. At the end of the study, the researchers primary target is to see how many people developed heart disease or signs of heart disease, such as obesity and high blood pressure.
Once the study is finished, the researchers will have a mass of data about 17,450 people (maybe 20,000 or 25,000 started, but a bunch dropped out along the way) which shows rates of obesity, high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, and so on, at the start, and rates at the finish, including who developed heart disease or cancer along the way. They also have all this data on what those people ate and did in between times, so they can then look for trends in the data, like xx% of heavy smokers developed xx condition, or xyz% of people who took no weekly exercise, gained the greatest % of weight gain…and so on.
There are many strengths and weaknesses of these kinds of studies, which we won’t look into in detail here. The point is this; often such a study will generate a finding such as “People who drank 3 or 4 cups of coffee per day were at 17% less relative risk of developing coronary heart disease or suffering a myocardial infarction (a heart attack), than people who drank only 1 cup per day or less.”
This makes it to the average trash newspaper or media site as “Good news coffee lovers, drinking 4 cups per day prevents heart attacks!” Read more