Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Spinning the News

I recently posted a blogpost about how the popular press often simply regurgitates press releases publicity people at various institutions send them.

And now come two "stories" that are such blatant attempts to trump up business for a certain food -- pears -- that it's laughable. One says pear consumers weigh less than non-pear-eaters, and the other says pears are healthy.

One study was sponsored by USA Pears, the other by the Pear Bureau Northwest, which is, in their words, "a nonprofit marketing organization to promote the fresh pears grown in Oregon and Washington."

Then one paper says, and this is the shocking part, "While the body of evidence connecting pear intake and health outcomes is still limited, USA Pears has been contributing to research efforts by commissioning independent studies to learn and affirm the heath attributes of pears."

Hold on! USA Pears has commissioned research aimed at proving that pears are healthy? Presumably if the research shows that pears cause warts, they won't publish that. But that's not scientific research. Scientific research tries to ascertain the truth, not support some preconceived conclusion. So OK, in fact this ideal is often not reached. But at least you should pretend you have an open mind.

The other study concludes that "intervention studies with pears that show positive health outcomes, most likely improvements in gut health, are urgently needed." In other words, research that shows negative outcomes is not needed.

What bothers me is that this kind of "research" and the ensuing press releases do, in fact, work. Most people seeing headlines like this or hearing them read out on the evening news will only remember, "Gosh. Pears are healthy and if I eat pears I'll lose weight." In fact, when you don't have diabetes, most fruits are healthy in moderation. Each fruit is higher or lower in some nutrient, but they all contain healthy nutrients as well as sugars.

I keep those 100-calorie sugarfree canned fruits on hand to use when my blood glucose goes too low, and they do a good job of raising my blood glucose and taste good as well. But I don't expect to be a lot healthier or to weigh less as a result.

At this point, except for occasional rants like this one, whenever I see a story promoting the health benefits of a single food, I look to see who funded the study. If it's some growers' organization like USA Pears, I don't even bother reading the story. There's enough real science research to read about without wasting time on this sort of thing.


  1. I'm often quite skeptical of industry funded studies. Marion Nestle (over at www.foodpolitics.com) has a running tally of these sort of "rigged" studies. Another generally rational voice is Yoni Freedhoff (over at www.weightymatters.ca). I have to be honest, as someone with diabetes I’ve concluded that fruit is just not a food that I should be eating. This is in direct contradiction with what we are told to eat by the nutritionists and dieticians. Modern fruits are very high in sugars and despite claims, all the evidence I’ve seen suggest they actually have very little nutritional value. I don’t think most fruits are “healthy” for those of us with diabetes. I’ll have some berries here and there but that is about it. Thanks for pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.

    1. I think the nutritionists and dieticians are slowly reversing course. I'm wondering what the next trend will be.

  2. I think it's going in both directions at once. There are now hordes of researchers starting from the premise that low fat diets are an epic failure and looking into why and what to do instead. At the same time a LOT of money is being put into justifying Conventional Wisdom. Mostly the latter are getting the publicity.

  3. Conventional Wisdom will never admit it was wrong. It will claim that "new research shows that bla bla bla."