Have you noticed how often we read things such as a particular food stuff being the magic answer to certain health solutions only to be told the next week they are the problem?
Recently a headline suggested that research had “proven” that people who were in the obese weight range had a 24% reduced chance of developing dementia. The suggestion was that being over-weight was an important way to stay mentally healthy!
Sadly newspaper reporters are more interested in the circulation of their paper than in reporting accurate information. With that in mind I thought I would offer some tips for balancing headlines.
Firstly, few if anything is “proven” by research. Proven is a very concrete statement suggesting there is no margin for error. Often there are conflicting research projects that provide results that are at odds with each other.
This is more about complexity than anything else, issues such as dementia for instance are very complex and there are multiple indicators, causes and suggested ways to stay healthy. None of these can provide a 100% guarantee of anything.
Secondly, in research there are findings and confounding variables. Usually there are a number of things that can be reported as possibilities, sometimes these are just correlational. For example, in hot weather there are more ice cream stains on clothes.
Does hot weather cause ice cream stains?
I’m sure you are ahead of me here. Perhaps when the weather is hot more people buy ice cream and therefore the chance of ice cream dripping onto clothes is higher. However consider also that perhaps ice cream vans may only go out in the summer particularly in holiday spots. Maybe people on holiday eat more ice cream than when working.
Do you get the idea?
There are often multiple factors to any result. In the case of the research around dementia there were a number of other findings reported including possible problems with the results (this is normal in good research). It is also worth considering what the 24% related to. It is not 24% of the population!
So next time there is a sensational headline consider looking up the original research if you are interested enough. Or look in scientific magazines such as New Scientist who often report such research in an easier format that still has a less sensationalist stance.
I am in a health and well-being stream now so if you happen to live in the Crowborough, East Sussex area you might want to join me on 12th May at our NLP Practice group meeting. The topic is Well-being and hypnosis. More details on www.gwiznlp.com