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Educator response: behind the headline

The Educator team review the science behind the headline in the Sun newspaper December 2019.
Educator response graphic
© EIT Food

Welcome to Week 3 when you’ll be reflecting on where we get our information from, who we trust and how to identify reliable information. We’ll introduce you to a tool for assessing newspaper articles and checking their credibility.

But before we do that, let’s take a look at the headline you were presented with in Step 2.12.

headline reads 'CORE BLIMEY Eating two apples a day boosts health of your heart by slashing high levels of cholesterol, study finds'

The Sun. December 2019.

Here is a full analysis of the headline so that you can compare these answers with your own and identify any areas you found difficult to answer.

What kind of research was this?
This study was a randomised crossover trial comparing apple consumption with calorie-matched apple juice.
What were the study’s main results and conclusion?
A total of 40 mildly hypercholesterolemic volunteers (23 women and 17 men) were recruited at baseline to consume 2 apples a day or a calorie-matched apple juice for 8 weeks. The results showed that at the end of the study, the group on 2 apples a day had better serum cholesterol levels than the group on apple juice. The author concluded that the study shows clear cause and effect between inclusion of 2 Renetta Canada apples into normal diets and improved cardiovascular disease risk factors in healthy subjects with mildly raised serum cholesterol concentrations (mildly hypercholesterolemic). Further study is needed to explore the potential mechanisms.
What were the strengths of the current study?
The crossover design, the use of an energy-matched control, the size of the sample and the length of the study as well as the measurement of a wide range of outcomes led to a clear result and found that eating 2 apples a day may be beneficial in terms of reducing total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
What were the limitations of the study?
The volunteers’ diet was not restricted in terms of polyphenol-rich products such as fruits, vegetables, and beverages which are confounding factors. And it was obvious to the volunteers if they were given the apples or the apple juice control. However, they were told that either could have beneficial effects on their health. The study was also not able to discover any differences in effect according to gender.
How would you interpret the study?
Overall, eating fresh apples (which contain more polyphenols and fibre than the equivalent amount of apple juice) is likely to reduce cholesterol levels in healthy volunteers with mildly raised serum cholesterol levels, although the mechanism is not clear.
What’s your analysis of the headline?
The Sun has reported the study correctly but we need to aware of the limitations mentioned above.
© EIT Food
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Food and Nutrition: The Truth Behind Food Headlines

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