Guidelines for critically interpreting messages about food and health

Guidelines for critically interpreting messages about food and health

Disclosed to the public via the website of the project Nutrimedia, of the Science Communication Observatory of the Department of Communication, in addition to guidelines addressing journalists to improve the quality of information.  It contains new evaluations that answer some of the questions put by the public: Does meat cause cancer? Does an alkaline diet prevent cancer? Is lactose-free milk easier to digest? Is a vegan diet beneficial for the health?


To interpret messages about diet and health that are continuously disclosed in the media and social networks we must develop a critical eye. On this basis, the project Nutrimedia at Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) has drafted a series of guidelines with the aim of helping the public to discern the reliability of messages and to promote their independence when it comes to making choices that can affect their health. “Personal anecdotes are not scientific proof and cannot be generalized”, “the latest and the newest is not necessarily the best”, “the opinion of the experts is not always right”, and “if a piece of information speaks of incredibly positive or negative results, let’s be sceptical” are some of the ideas that are developed on the project website, in the section: “Guidelines for critically interpreting information”.

“To what extent do the results of a specific study on diet and health affect me?” This is one of the questions that we should ask ourselves when we read information based on research, since the more different we are from the study population, the less we can extrapolate the results”, is the explanation given in one of these guidelines. In the same way, it emphasizes “the need to approach with scepticism the messages that account for the results presented at scientific conferences and in research in animals. In the first case because they involve preliminary results that very often end up not being confirmed; and, in the case of studies in animals, because their results cannot be directly transposed to humans”, as explained on the website of Nutrimedia, a project carried out by the Science Communication Observatory (OCC) of the Department of Communication at UPF, in collaboration with the Cochrane Iberoamerican Center and the Fundación Española para la Ciencia y la Tecnología (Fecyt).

“This list of guidelines is just an initial draft which we will be shaping and completing. We plan to draw up a series of informative videos to develop these and other ideas that will help you to understand the difficulties of research into food and health, to interpret the messages and to develop a critical eye with regard to information”, explains Gonzalo Casino, a researcher at UPF and director of the project Nutrimedia. The result of dialogue between journalists, scientists and nutrition experts is the development of a series of guidelines aimed at journalists with the intention of drawing their attention to some problems and biases in the scientific information on nutrition and thus contribute to generating quality information.

New evaluations of messages

Among the latest evaluations on food and health messages, special emphasis should be given to the ones that, according to the available scientific evidence, have clarified whether meat actually causes cancer, if a vegan diet is beneficial for the health and if lactose-free milk is easier to digest. These are some of the issues in which the public has expressed most interest for the team of researchers at Nutrimedia to make their evaluations and thus provide a scientific answer. These evaluations bring a close to the first phase of the project just as a second phase is getting under way, in which there will be new evaluations of messages (myths, news in the press, television advertisements and questions from the public), and new contents will be added to continue providing relevant data and reliable criteria to help you interpret information about food and health.

Links to the latest evaluations (in Spanish):