Exposure to conflicting information about the health benefits of certain foods, vitamins and supplements often leads to confusion and reactions contrary to nutritional recommendations, recent study finds Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives.
This confusion and backlash can make people more likely to ignore not only conflicting information, but also widely accepted nutritional advice such as eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and exercising regularly, said Rebekah Nagler, Ph. D., assistant professor at the University of Minnesota. School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Minneapolis and study author.
Nagler analyzed responses collected from 631 adults who participated in the Annenberg National Health Communication Survey in 2010. Participants were asked how much conflicting or contradictory information they had heard from the media, including newspapers, television , radio and the Internet on four specific nutritional topics. : red wine or other alcohol; fish; Coffee; and vitamins or other supplements.
Over 71% of those surveyed said they had heard moderate or high levels of conflicting information about nutrition. Those who were most exposed to conflicting information expressed the most confusion about nutrition. Greater confusion has been indirectly associated with a backlash against nutritional advice in general, as the agreement indicates with statements such as “Dietary recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt” or “Scientists don’t really know. not what foods are good for you â. This was true even taking into account age, education, or level of general mistrust. Confusion and backlash were also slightly associated with less intention to exercise or eat fruits and vegetables.
Many people get health information from the media, which may not be a clear indication that the research is constantly evolving. In addition, different research institutes may produce conflicting results on similar topics or produce results on related topics that go against the grain, such as the discovery that fish containing heart-healthy oils may be contaminated with mercury, which is bad for you, Nagler explained.
“Can the public treat [these messages]? Can they make sense of what they see? “Nagler wondered. Perhaps this is not just the journalists’ fault for not doing a good job of explaining the research since the The media landscape is changing as newspapers shrink and social media such as blogging and Facebook grow in influence, she added.
“The author emphasizes that there is an association at work here,” said Ivan Oransky, MD, vice president and global editorial director of MedPage Today and vice president of the Association of Health Care Journalists. The study notes that people who are confused about nutrition in the first place may blame the media for their confusion, he said.
Journalists should try to avoid relying on information based on the results of a single nutrition or health study and instead report on the results of study groups, Oransky said. If journalists are reporting on a single study, they must put the information in context, he added.