Believe it or not - conclusions

Here are the conclusions provided by the NHS Choices Behind the Headlines (BtH) service.

The service looked at the research behind each news story and summarised it. A link to the full analysis is provided for each story.

If you’re interested in learning more about evidence in the news this is a really great place to start. BtH also has a good glossary of terms that explains clearly what various terms mean.

The Express: Careful Kate! Doctors say skinny jeans are a serious health hazard - 23 June 2015

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By the tone of the reporting you could assume that hordes of hipsters are having skinny-jean-related health problems. In fact the furore has been sparked by just a single case report. A woman in Australia who, after squatting for a long time while wearing skinny jeans, had severe ankle weakness. She fell over and could not get back up by herself, and ended up having her jeans cut off and staying in hospital for four days until she recovered. It is thought that she developed a condition called compartment syndrome, where pressure in an enclosed bundle of muscles can adversely affect muscle and nerve function. This can sometimes occur, for example, as a result of a crush injury, or in people who are wearing a plastic cast, which constricts swelling tissue. Given the fact that many people wear skinny jeans and this is the first report of this kind of severe problem, it is likely to be a rare occurrence.

NHS Choices: Behind the Headlines

The Telegraph: Revealed: How to lose weight - drink plenty of red wine - 21 June 2015

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Sorry to be party poopers, but The Daily Telegraph’s headline “How to lose weight – drink plenty of red wine,” is simply nonsense. First, the study it reports on did not involve red wine. Second, it was carried out on mice, not humans. The mistaken headline was triggered by a study in mice looking into whether resveratrol, a plant polyphenol chemical found in the skin of red grapes, can stimulate the development of brown fat deposits within white fat tissue.

NHS Choices: Behind the Headlines

The Mail: Being a couch potato is bad for your mental health - 22 June 2015

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The evidence gathered by a new review is not as clear-cut as the headline would lead you to believe. The review summarised the results of nine studies on the link between anxiety symptoms and sedentary behaviour, such as using a computer or watching TV. Overall, five of the nine studies found a positive link – that as time spent sitting went up, so did the risk of anxiety symptoms. However, the results of a review are only as reliable as the studies it includes, and in this case they weren’t very good. The majority of studies looked at sitting and anxiety at one time. This can’t prove cause and effect, as we are faced with the classic ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma: does sedentary behaviour cause anxiety symptoms, or are anxious people likely to spend more time sitting? Importantly, we don’t know whether the studies took account of other factors that could be influencing the results, and most looked only at anxiety symptoms, not a diagnosis of anxiety.

NHS Choices: Behind the Headlines

The Mirror: Two chocolate bars a day can slash the risk of heart disease and stroke - 15 June 2015

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The headline is prompted by the results from a large study involving Norfolk residents, investigating how chocolate is linked to cardiovascular diseases. These are diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels, such as coronary heart disease and stroke. By comparing the highest chocolate consumers with complete chocolate abstainers, they found that chocolate was linked to a lower risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. However, the risk for coronary heart disease was not statistically significant, so the aforementioned results could have been down to chance. The biggest caution in taking these results at face value is the possibility that some of the benefits linked to chocolate are actually linked to the person being generally healthier overall.

NHS Choices: Behind the Headlines

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This study aimed to replicate the researchers’ previous findings, which suggest that cat ownership in childhood is a possible risk factor for developing schizophrenia in later life. This study is able to draw a link, but cannot prove cause and effect. There is a suggestion that this link may be due to the parasite T. gondii, which is transferred from cats to humans if they come into contact with the faeces of infected cats, or eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Even if this link between cats and mental illness was proven to be true, contact is unavoidable; children could become infected by playing in a public play area, even if their family did not own a cat. It is thought that schizophrenia is a very complex condition that can arise due to a combination of environmental and genetic factors, so simply owning a cat is unlikely to be a major risk factor for the condition.

NHS Choices: Behind the Headlines

The Telegraph: Marriage is more beneficial for men than women, study shows -12 June 2015

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These findings should be taken quite lightly and should not give cause for concern, regardless of marital status. It is very difficult to draw meaningful interpretations from these findings, with the analyses showing mixed results. This study does not prove cause and effect. There are complex interactions between personal relationships, health and lifestyle factors, and other life events and influences. This study is not able to pull this apart and explain the possible underlying reasons for any links between relationship status and the measured health markers. Importantly, the outcomes measured are only that – a varied collection of blood inflammatory and clotting factors, lung function and metabolic syndrome. These may increase the risk of, or be associated with, actual diseases, but these indicators are not diseases in themselves

NHS Choices: Behind the Headlines

The Times: Eat a few peanuts a day to slash risk of early death - 11 June 2015

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A Dutch study found a link between daily nut consumption and a reduced chance of dying from a number of chronic diseases, including cancer and heart disease. The study assessed the dietary and lifestyle habits of middle-aged to elderly adults from the Netherlands and followed them up over the next 10 years. Overall, researchers found people who ate nuts had a decreased risk of death from any cause as well as various specific causes, such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer, compared with those who didn’t eat any nuts. The most reduced risk was found with the consumption of 5-10g of nuts a day. However, not all risk reductions were significant and some of the researchers’ analyses were based on very small numbers, which means some of the results may not be that reliable. Also, it is possible nut consumption is just one factor that’s part of an overall healthier diet and lifestyle, and people who regularly eat nuts may be healthy in other ways. Despite constant media reporting, there is no such thing as a single superfood that will prevent ill health and premature death. Eating a daily portion of nuts will do you little good if you smoke, don’t take any exercise, drink alcohol to excess, and are overweight or obese.

NHS Choices: Behind the Headlines

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This article is from the free online course:

Making Sense of Evidence: The Informed Health Consumer

Cardiff University