Earlier this year, NPR published an article entitled:
Dare you to give it a read, and more importantly, take note of its message.
The title really says it all: Research studies are often based on people reporting what they remember eating and doing, but people aren't really all that accurate or honest when answering such questions. The author summarizes a paper from the International Journal of Obesity that asserts that self-reported data are so poor "that they no longer have a justifiable place in the scientific research."
Flawed data leads to flawed conclusions! Our "conventional wisdom" about what prevents heart disease, cancer, or diabetes may be wrong. How can we trust articles claiming "Research finds that..." when the finding is based on faulty self-reported data?
The problem is serious, because it's not just misinforming people who read health news; it's misinforming our policy advisers and our doctors. This flawed data is what directs governmental health policies, as well as doctors' and nutritionists' recommendations.
What's needed are better-designed research studies with more accurate measures of dietary intake and energy balance. There's a lot to learn from well-done research, but in the meantime, be skeptical of what you read and pay attention to how the data was collected.
"Research finds..." may be flawed, so keep reading and keep an open mind!