A call for responsible journalism


Newspaper

In recent times it has become the norm to open the paper and to find out that something is bad for our health, can give us cancer, or can help fight obesity, which for the average member of the public can become very confusing, and lead to a contradiction in determining which advice to take.

In the past couple of months there have been reports that “Seaweed could slow the obesity tidal wave”, “High Protien diets are just as bad as smoking” and “Want to lose weight? Play Tetris: Classic game distracts dieters from food cravings”, all of which have featured in broadsheets such as The Daily Telegraph and the Guardian, not just the tabloid newspapers.

With the case of high protein diets and smoking, we were quite shocked that the newspapers could even put the two in the same category as we all are fully aware of health implications smoking can cause. The NHS has decades of evidence proving that smoking kills and – fortunately for meat lovers – it would seem that this latest comparison with high protein diets is to be a triumph of PR spin. The story itself came to light in a recent press release about a large study which found that for people aged 50-65, eating a lot of protein was associated with an increased risk of dying. However, the study, which assessed the diets of Americans in a single 24-hour period (rather than long-term), found in those aged over 65 that a high protein diet was actually associated with a reduced risk of death from any cause or from cancer. These differing findings meant that overall there was no increase in risk of death, or from dying of cancer with a high protein diet.

As stated in the NHS’s Behind the Headlines “We need to eat protein, we do not need to smoke.” and here at REPs we certainly agree with this.

The NHS stated: “The reporting of the results of the study was reasonable. However, the prominence given to the story (which featured as a front page lead in The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian) in the UK media seems disproportionate. The headlines suggesting a high protein diet is “as harmful as smoking” was not a specific finding of the study and could be seen as unnecessary fear-mongering. This is particularly of note given that the effects of a high protein diet were found to differ dramatically by age.”

Here at REPs we understand the effects health articles in the media can have on our perceptions, which is why as Exercise Professionals we should perhaps being telling our clients to sometimes question what it is they are reading and to seek out professional advice when it comes to our health.

The NHS’s Behind the Headlines is a great place to start if you are wondering whether or not a health story has any truth in it, as they provide an unbiased and evidence-based analysis of health stories that have been in the news.

At REPs we would like to see a more balanced approach when comes to reporting of health news and perhaps headlines that aren’t so fear mongering. As always we would advise that it’s best to seek out health and fitness advice from the trained, qualified professionals rather than sensationalist headlines.

One response to “A call for responsible journalism

  1. Well said. I couldn’t agree more.

    We all lose sight of the fact that newspapers only exist to sell their product, even to the extent of totally misleading the public with wild claims that often related to a tiny study (like this protein nonsense) on 12 rats or 3 monkeys. The level of reporting in the UK is a disgrace.

    I work in cardiac rehab and spend hours each month explaining absurd, inaccurate reporting to very alarmed patients/clients. A useful source for answering heart related “rubbish reporting” is Heart Matters from the BHF, who have a page in every issue dedicated to this exact problem. I’m not aware of anywhere in the fitness industry that provides “answers to news reporting”.

    Interestingly, the latest hyperbole around a BHF analysis on fats in diets has been endlessly mis-reported for dramatic effect. Visit the BHF website for their real position. It bears a passing resemblance to the newspaper, BBC, online etc reporting – but only a passing one.

    Our clients are confused enough without having the deal with this kind of mis-direction. Perhaps REPs could develop a section on their website to answer the claims that the media make related to fitness….though this may be a full time job for someone!

    Good to see that REPs is adopting this position. Well done!

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