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Diet discussions in the social media – 
A dietician’s view 
Presented at 8th World Congress of 
Science Journalists 
2013,...
My view is based on participation 
• Posted more than 500 
posts at different 4 blogs 
• Engaging in discussions 
in Finla...
Why do discussions on diet heat 
up? 
These are my personal views
4 
Academics 
Media 
Individualism 
Dieticians and 
nutritionists 
Interest groups 
(low carb, 
vegans etc.) 
Too often bl...
I’ll only focus on two of these. 
Nutrition authorities and media, 
because … 
It’s certainly true that some prominent low...
1. 
Public health messages cast by 
nutrition authorities are 
exaggerated or simplistic 
6 
Shades of grey. It is risky t...
How a single ecologic (correlation) 
study becomes the ultimate piece of 
evidence 
• Professor of Pediatrics in the 
Divi...
Sugar usage was linked to incidence of 
type 2 diabetes in an ecologic study 
8 
Correlation of sugar availability and typ...
Press release
2. 
Media spices up the story and 
oversells the outcomes 
10
Mark Bittman, NY Times stretches 
Lustig’s findings further… 
11 
• ”The take-away: it isn’t simply 
overeating that can m...
New York Times 
(It’s sugar, Folks 02/28/2013)
13 
8 days later, a correction appears
But who reads the correction 
anyway? 
Damage is done and one dogmatic 
view is facilitated.
Simplistic and exaggerated 
Example 2, read here 
(was not presented)
This is how it often goes when 
conclusions become distorted in 
media and in a population.
Media and academics do each have their role 
and cannot accuse only the bad behaving in 
social media 
4 Opinion, 
comment...
Furthermore, there truly is 
contradictory data in the field of 
nutrition. 
It’s rarely black and white.
Example 1 
Cancer and diet in cohort studies
Sometimes variety of results is 
very broad (cohorts) 
Schoenfeld & Ionnidis. Is everything we eat associated with cancer ...
Example 2 
read here (not presented)
Hierarchy of evidence is usually not 
well articulated or appreciated → 
Surrogate/cohort/mice studies tend 
to get equal ...
One step forward? 
Lets’ use the ranking tool for 
evidence. It’s been around for 
long. 
23
1. Randomized mortality & 
morbidity trials 
2. Prospective cohorts 
3. Randomized risk 
marker studies 
4. Cross-sectiona...
Let’s face it (despite our best 
effort): 
There will always be media which 
do not seem to care about the 
”truth” but ra...
Low Carb Diet 
26 
Good Diet Bad Diet
My two hopes for both media and 
nutrition authorities. 
Less black and white statements 
and less focus on selling. 
Page...
One more hope.
Let’s stop accusing short-sightedly 
the “bad” people across 
the border (low carb/paleo 
advocates, vegans, super foodies...
“Everything should be made as simple as 
possible, but not simpler” 
Page 30
Recommended readings 
• Hughes V. The big fat truth. Nature 2013:497;428–430 
• Shades of grey. It is risky to oversimplif...
Wellcome aboard! 
http://twitter.com/pronutritionist 
http://www.facebook.com/pronutritionist 
http://www.pronutritionist....
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Diet discussions, dieticians view wcsj 2013 helsinki

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My presentation at World Congess of Science Journalists in Helsinki 2013.

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Diet discussions, dieticians view wcsj 2013 helsinki

  1. 1. Diet discussions in the social media – A dietician’s view Presented at 8th World Congress of Science Journalists 2013, Helsinki, Finland [Updated December 2014] Registered dietician, M.Sc, MBA Reijo Laatikainen www.pronutritionist.net www.pronutritionistblog.com www.twitter.com/pronutritionist Page 1
  2. 2. My view is based on participation • Posted more than 500 posts at different 4 blogs • Engaging in discussions in Finland, US, UK and Australia • Follow nutrition literature • Meet patients regularly 2
  3. 3. Why do discussions on diet heat up? These are my personal views
  4. 4. 4 Academics Media Individualism Dieticians and nutritionists Interest groups (low carb, vegans etc.) Too often black & white, sluggish to admit mistakes & overselling own studies Selling news & hunting clicks is rife in some media. “I’m the best expert on my health” Dieticians are often absent or cautious. Stand up for the discipline, as a profession! Cherry picking, ridiculing & dismissing opposing data as a chosen strategy ✔ ✔
  5. 5. I’ll only focus on two of these. Nutrition authorities and media, because … It’s certainly true that some prominent low carb, vegan, paleo & other diet proponents cherry-pick data, dismiss opposing studies and ridicule ”opponents”. However, this is so obvious that I don’t find it particularly interesting.
  6. 6. 1. Public health messages cast by nutrition authorities are exaggerated or simplistic 6 Shades of grey. It is risky to oversimplify science for the sake of a clear public-health message. Nature 2013:497; 410 (editorial)
  7. 7. How a single ecologic (correlation) study becomes the ultimate piece of evidence • Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at University of California, San Francisco • Eagerly praised and followed by low carb and paleo communities 7
  8. 8. Sugar usage was linked to incidence of type 2 diabetes in an ecologic study 8 Correlation of sugar availability and type 2 diabetes worldwide Basu S, Yoffe P, Hills N, Lustig RH. The Relationship of Sugar to Population-Level Diabetes Prevalence: An Econometric Analysis of Repeated Cross-Sectional Data. PLoS ONE 2013; 8(2): e57873
  9. 9. Press release
  10. 10. 2. Media spices up the story and oversells the outcomes 10
  11. 11. Mark Bittman, NY Times stretches Lustig’s findings further… 11 • ”The take-away: it isn’t simply overeating that can make you sick; it’s overeating sugar. We finally have the proof we need for a verdict: sugar is toxic.” • ”Obesity doesn’t cause diabetes, sugar does”.
  12. 12. New York Times (It’s sugar, Folks 02/28/2013)
  13. 13. 13 8 days later, a correction appears
  14. 14. But who reads the correction anyway? Damage is done and one dogmatic view is facilitated.
  15. 15. Simplistic and exaggerated Example 2, read here (was not presented)
  16. 16. This is how it often goes when conclusions become distorted in media and in a population.
  17. 17. Media and academics do each have their role and cannot accuse only the bad behaving in social media 4 Opinion, comment, blog 2 Press 3 News release 1 Scientific paper (article) Authors present results University sells the story to media Media sells the story to people Someone further exaggerates and modifies data/context
  18. 18. Furthermore, there truly is contradictory data in the field of nutrition. It’s rarely black and white.
  19. 19. Example 1 Cancer and diet in cohort studies
  20. 20. Sometimes variety of results is very broad (cohorts) Schoenfeld & Ionnidis. Is everything we eat associated with cancer ? A systematic cookbook review, Am J Clin Nutr December 2012 ajcn.047142.
  21. 21. Example 2 read here (not presented)
  22. 22. Hierarchy of evidence is usually not well articulated or appreciated → Surrogate/cohort/mice studies tend to get equal attention as randomized hard end point studies and meta-analyses. Media embraces contrary results. → a mess 22
  23. 23. One step forward? Lets’ use the ranking tool for evidence. It’s been around for long. 23
  24. 24. 1. Randomized mortality & morbidity trials 2. Prospective cohorts 3. Randomized risk marker studies 4. Cross-sectional and case-control cohorts 5 Ecological & animal studies Strength of evidence Meta-analyses of 1,2 & 3 Modified from: Micha & Mozaffarian. Lipids. 2010; 45(10): 893–905 and Evidence Analysis Manual. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics January 2012
  25. 25. Let’s face it (despite our best effort): There will always be media which do not seem to care about the ”truth” but rather focuses on exploiting debates 25
  26. 26. Low Carb Diet 26 Good Diet Bad Diet
  27. 27. My two hopes for both media and nutrition authorities. Less black and white statements and less focus on selling. Page 27
  28. 28. One more hope.
  29. 29. Let’s stop accusing short-sightedly the “bad” people across the border (low carb/paleo advocates, vegans, super foodies, dieticians, authorities, university press officers etc. ) Let’s clean up our own behaviour and language too. Page 29 www.pronutritionist.net
  30. 30. “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler” Page 30
  31. 31. Recommended readings • Hughes V. The big fat truth. Nature 2013:497;428–430 • Shades of grey. It is risky to oversimplify science for the sake of a clear public-health message. Nature 2013:497; 410 • Sumner Petroc, Vivian-Griffiths Solveiga, Boivin Jacky, Williams Andy, Venetis Christos A, Davies Aimée et al. The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study BMJ 2014; 349:g7015 • Goldacre Ben. Preventing bad reporting on health research BMJ 2014; 349:g7465
  32. 32. Wellcome aboard! http://twitter.com/pronutritionist http://www.facebook.com/pronutritionist http://www.pronutritionist.net Reijo Laatikainen, registered dietician, MSc, MBA Images bought and licensed from BigStockPhoto. Snapshots from papers and sites refered to. Page 32

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