How to understand health fads

Health scares occur when newspapers or television shows misrepresent the results of medical studies. Part of taking charge of your health means knowing what information is useful and what is not.

Don’t jump to conclusions or change your daily habits on the basis of one health study.

Understand the terms used to describe a study’s results. “May” does not mean “will,” “in some people” does not mean “in all people,” and “contributes to” does not mean “causes.”

Keep a healthy skepticism when reading about medical miracles or breakthroughs. Too often the results of a study have been built up to create reader interest.

Statements saying that something doubles the risk of a particular disease sound impressive but can be misleading. If the risk was one in a million, a doubled risk may not be that serious. You’ll want to pay more attention if the risk was one in a hundred.

Notice where information comes from. Results based on several studies are stronger than the results of one study. How many were in the study? How much time did it take?

Use common sense. If an author writes that one nation is healthier than another, realize that there is no single cause that can explain the results.

Be wary of any studies used to sell a product. The information is likely to be biased.