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Nutrition Accuracy in Magazines

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The American Council on Science and Health, a non-profit organization dedicated to sound scientific information in public debate, has been tracking nutrition reporting in popular magazines for over 20 years. They've just released a report entitled "Nutrition Accuracy in Popular Magazines" in which they evaluated the nutrition articles in 20 different popular magazines.

The magazines they looked at included "Consumer Reports", "Glamour", "Ladies' Home Journal", "Child", "Good Housekeeping", "Cosmopolitan", "Reader's Digest", "Men's Fitness", and "Men's Health", among others. Ten nutrition articles of at least one-half page in length were selected randomly from all of the issues of each magazine between January 2004 and December 2005. Each article was then reviewed by a team of four experts in nutrition for issues such as factual accuracy, documenting the source of the article, objectivity, rational conclusions, and appropriateness of recommendations, if any. The resulting scores were then analyzed to give each magazine an overall ranking of "Excellent", "Good", "Fair", or "Poor".

The only magazine to receive a ranking of "Excellent" was "Consumer Reports". Popular men's magazines, "Men's Health" and "Men's Fitness", were rated "Fair" and "Poor", respectively. "Reader's Digest" and "Cosmopolitan", however, only rated "Fair", while all other magazines analyzed fell into the "Good" category. Some of the most common problems with the nutrition articles were lack of source documentation (Where did the writer find this information?), advising readers to change their eating habits based on unconfirmed evidence, and not having the articles reviewed by a qualified health or nutrition professional before publication.

The ACSH makes several recommendations for the reader to consider when evaluating nutrition articles in popular magazines:

First, to consider the source. Which magazine is it, how did they rank with the ACSH, and does the article cite the actual study?

Second, how long is the article? Is it a short compilation of several bits of information, or is the article all about one study?

Third, do the recommendations make sense with what we already know about nutrition?

And finally, should you check with your doctor before making a change in your diet? This is especially important if you have ongoing health issues or if you're thinking about changing your child's diet.

What this means for you

We're often overwhelmed with health information, and it's hard sometimes to know who to trust. I encourage you to read the full article, as it will help you ask smart questions about the information you read in the newspaper and in magazines.

First posted: March 9, 2007