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Nutrimedia, a project that analyses the degree of scientific confidence of messages concerning food and nutrition

Nutrimedia, a project that analyses the degree of scientific confidence of messages concerning food and nutrition

A project by the Science Communication Observatory that has assessed and provides solutions concerning various foods, such as antioxidant supplements, alcohol, fruit and vegetables, sugar, palm oil or the role of Danacol in cholesterol.

20.11.2017

The Science Communication Observatory of Pompeu Fabra University has launched the Nutrimedia website, a project that enjoys the collaboration of the Iberoamerican Cochrane Centre and the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology-MINECO and whose main goal is to analyse the degree of scientific confidence warranted by specific messages about food and nutrition disseminated through the mass media and social networks.

In the first phase of the project, a selection of myths, current news and advertisements that address topics of food and nutrition will be assessed. In addition, questions posed by the public via the Ask the Nutrimedia section will be analysed and answered. In all there will be 30 messages, six of which have already been published. The summaries of the evaluations, written in accessible, informative language, are presented according to the following structure: contextualization of the message, the verdict of the evaluation (the result is accompanied by a code of signs), justification for the conclusion, the degree of confidence in the results of the investigations and, in some cases, complementary information. For those who wish to know the details of each evaluation, the complete technical report is also available in PDF.

The results of the evaluations will be published little by little on a website offering scientific data and criteria to help citizens to make informed decisions about food and health. The project enjoys the collaboration of experts in evidence-based medicine (EBM), nutrition and the evaluation of scientific results linked to the Iberoamerican Cochrane Centre, and the support of the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (Fecyt).

Nutrimedia is the only source of information on food and nutrition in Spanish that applies a scientific evaluation method to establish the degree of confidence or the quality of evidence behind each message. To perform the evaluation, the first thing that is done is to formulate the message in terms of a research question; then, the most relevant studies concerning the question are chosen; next, the degree of confidence warranted by the results are analysed by means of the GRADE system (Grading of Recommendations Evaluation, Development and Evaluation), a proven methodology that allows determining and classifying the degree of certainty of health messages (high, medium, low and very low). Finally, the evaluation of the veracity of each message is classified into five grades: true, probably true, probably false, false, and uncertain.

The first six evaluations carried out have been published

The first six published evaluations provide the following conclusions:

·         “Antioxidant supplements prevent disease” (myth) is probably false;

·         “Moderate alcohol consumption is beneficial for the health” (myth) turns out to be false;

·         “Danacol reduces high cholesterol by up to 10%” (advertisement) is true;

·         “Eating more than five portions a day of fruit and vegetables is healthy” (news) also happens to be true;

·         “Sugar added to food is harmful to your health” (news) is probably true, and, finally,

·         “Palm oil or no more harmful for your health than other fats of similar use” (question) is uncertain, since there are no studies that analyse the direct effects on health, and those available are of very poor quality.

One of the peculiarities of the research in nutrition is that most studies are observational and they tend to provide low quality scientific evidence. It also happens that there are many questions of interest that have been little or not investigated at all or the results available are uncertain and do not allow drawing any conclusions or recommendations. But the intention of Nutrimedia is not to provide certainties that do not exist, but to help us to be demanding consumers of messages about food and nutrition, as well as give support to the media to disclose these matters.

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