Thursday, May 10, 2018

Pro-Tip: Copying Food Industry Press Releases Is Neither Helpful, Nor Journalism

So I saw this story published by Global News. It's about grain consumption in Canada and the headline sure is strong,
"University of Saskatchewan study shows importance of grain to Canada’s diet".
When I clicked through I read about researchers who by way of a cluster analysis of Canadians' grain consumption patterns, concluded that 80% of Canadians aren't eating enough grains and that as a consequence, they're apparently at risk of deficiencies in folic acid, some B vitamins and iron.

Oh, I also learned that
"there's less research supporting the benefits of enriched grain foods, sometimes referred to as refined grains"
and that refined grains are,
"important food sources for delivering key nutrients in the Canadian diet".
And that
"research suggests eliminating grain foods from diets is not associated with the body mass index (BMI)."
That the story reads like a press release is not a coincidence, because the same day the story ran, so too did this press release from the Healthy Grain Institute.

When I compared the two, it turns out that the Global News story was 49.5% identical to the Healthy Grains Institute press release.

Personally, I don't think the information in the press release warranted any news coverage, but if you're going to actually cover it, at the very least it'd be useful (and I think expected) to see:
  • That there actually isn't a published study, but rather just a presentation at a conference that was being hyped by a press release. 
  • Anything at all about what confounders were considered (or not considered) in the cluster analysis.
  • The proven and significant limitations of food recall based analyses.
  • The risks associated with increased intakes of refined grains. 
  • The funding of the "study" (not suggesting the research isn't useful, but rather that there isn't yet a published study to evaluate) by the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission (SWDC), the Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC), the Grain Farmers of Ontario and Mitacs, a Canadian not-for-profit funding agency supporting industry-academia collaborations
  • That Nutritional Strategies Inc. (the quoted co-researcher's employer (he's the VP)) provides food, nutrition and regulatory affairs consulting services for numerous food and beverage companies and food-related associations
Small wonder why people are confused about nutrition if food industry press releases about unpublished studies are copied and repackaged as news.