Balance September 2017 - 33

W E I G H I N G U P T H E FA C T S

Evidence:
what
counts?
The sheer volume of data available when
trying to decide what's good and bad for
your health is overwhelming. So how
do you know what to believe?
words by
FR A NCE S CA
BA KER

his is a world with easy
access to a huge amount
of information. Just about
everything you could
possibly want to know is
available at the touch of a
button, from what to eat or how much exercise
to do, to the best way to raise a child, where to
invest your money or who to vote for.
You want to make informed decisions and
you've never had more information at your
fingertips. Trouble is, it can actually make life
really confusing.
If you've ever been unclear about whether
butter is actually good or bad for you, tried to
ascertain if the antioxidants in wine outweigh
the hangovers, or 'hacked' your sleep to
achieve a solid eight hours only to discover
that seven hours is, in fact, what you should be
aiming for, you're not alone.
A 2014 study in the Journal of Health
Communication: International Perspectives

T

DUBIOUS
INFORMATION
According
to a study
conducted
by marketresearch
firm Harris
Interactive,
98% of people
'distrust the
internet'. You
still read it,
though...

September 2017 BA LA N CE

examined the effects of conflicting media
information about fish, coffee, red wine and
supplements. The report raised 'concern that
exposure to contradictory health information
may have adverse effects on cognition and
behaviours.' The more information people
were exposed to, the higher the level of
confusion they reported, which led them to
making the wrong decisions. Not to mention
that evidence changes all the time, as more
scientific discoveries are made. It's difficult
to believe that smoking was once deemed
'healthy' and 1950s adverts for cigarettes
featured doctors encouraging the public
to smoke. In fact, in 1980, there were only
seven dietary guidelines which Americans
were encouraged to follow; by 2005, that had
swelled to more than 40.
It's not about quantity of information - the
abundance of evidence can be empowering
- but much depends on our ability to
scrutinise its quality and how useful it is.

THE RANKING OF EVIDENCE
According to scientists Mark Petticrew
and Helen Roberts in a study published in
the BMJ, there is a 'hierarchy of evidence'.
They outline seven different levels of study,
ranking them based on effectiveness,
process, salience, safety, acceptability,
cost effectiveness, appropriateness and
satisfaction. At the top - the most rigorous
and accurate - are systemic reviews and
randomised control trials, followed by cohort
studies, observational studies and surveys
through to testimonials and case studies.
You see, it's not only the type of evidence
that matters, but where it comes from.
Dietary guidelines are drawn up by
governments who also want to keep food
manufacturers in business. Studies aren't
cheap to run and are often funded by parties
with a vested interest in a positive outcome
for their products. The American Diabetes
Association, for example, is one of many
health groups which get funding from fizzy
drink manufacturers - Time magazine

WE WANT CONCLUSIVE
ANSWERS, AND FOR
SCIENCE TO PROVIDE
THEM, BUT THAT ISN'T
POSSIBLE WITH DECENT
QUALITY RESEARCH
33



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Balance September 2017

Balance September 2017 - 1
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