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|All Health and Nutrition Bites|
Magazine articles on weight loss and their impact on teens
Studies of adolescent behavior indicate that about 10% of all high school students are trying to lose (or at least maintain) weight by using diet pills, powders or liquids. About 9% of boys and 14% of girls have fasted for 24 hours or more, and 12% of girls use risky weight-loss methods such as vomiting or taking diuretics or laxatives to lose weight. These behaviors have been linked in some studies with frequent reading of popular magazines, with their focus on an idealized level of thinness.
Tell Your Doctor About Dr. Gourmet
I was having a conversation with the editor of a major food magazine this week. We were talking about my new book, and the mission of Dr. Gourmet, when I said that one of my goals has always been to build an evidence-based nutrition destination that my colleagues would feel comfortable referring their patients to. This is because your doctor just doesn't have the time to say much other than "You should watch your diet," or "You really need to lose weight." The funny thing is that the editor had been to her doctor that morning and noticed just this.
The Quality of Food Advertised to Children
If you have kids, chances are they watch Nickelodeon: the cable channel's programs account for 47 out of the 50 top children's shows on television today. Those programs reach into movies, books, magazines, and websites, while the characters in those programs are used to market food products and are made into collectible toys.
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The American Council on Science and Health, a non-profit organization dedicated to sound scientific information in public debate, has been tracking nutrition reporting in popular magazines for over 20 years. They've just released a report entitled "Nutrition Accuracy in Popular Magazines" in which they evaluated the nutrition articles in 20 different popular magazines.
The magazines they looked at included "Consumer Reports", "Glamour", "Ladies' Home Journal", "Child", "Good Housekeeping", "Cosmopolitan", "Reader's Digest", "Men's Fitness", and "Men's Health", among others. Ten nutrition articles of at least one-half page in length were selected randomly from all of the issues of each magazine between January 2004 and December 2005. Each article was then reviewed by a team of four experts in nutrition for issues such as factual accuracy, documenting the source of the article, objectivity, rational conclusions, and appropriateness of recommendations, if any. The resulting scores were then analyzed to give each magazine an overall ranking of "Excellent", "Good", "Fair", or "Poor".
The only magazine to receive a ranking of "Excellent" was "Consumer Reports". Popular men's magazines, "Men's Health" and "Men's Fitness", were rated "Fair" and "Poor", respectively. "Reader's Digest" and "Cosmopolitan", however, only rated "Fair", while all other magazines analyzed fell into the "Good" category. Some of the most common problems with the nutrition articles were lack of source documentation (Where did the writer find this information?), advising readers to change their eating habits based on unconfirmed evidence, and not having the articles reviewed by a qualified health or nutrition professional before publication.
The ACSH makes several recommendations for the reader to consider when evaluating nutrition articles in popular magazines:
First, to consider the source. Which magazine is it, how did they rank with the ACSH, and does the article cite the actual study?
Second, how long is the article? Is it a short compilation of several bits of information, or is the article all about one study?
Third, do the recommendations make sense with what we already know about nutrition?
And finally, should you check with your doctor before making a change in your diet? This is especially important if you have ongoing health issues or if you're thinking about changing your child's diet.
We're often overwhelmed with health information, and it's hard sometimes to know who to trust. I encourage you to read the full article, as it will help you ask smart questions about the information you read in the newspaper and in magazines.
First posted: March 9, 2007