Fox News' Flawed Nutrition Claim
For a university homework assignment, I was to compare and contrast reputable vs flawed science and then find an example of media bias using flawed science. Keep reading for the media clip of Fox News and their examination of whether "added sugar" should be on the nutrition facts label on food products.
What is Reputable Science?
Reputable science is usually carried out by experienced researchers who are qualified and named; research is usually peer-reviewed, no hidden agenda, methods are clear to see, statistics are reliable, information makes sense, statements are backed up by evidence, arguments are based on fact, references noted, limitations of research are acknowledged, and the funding body is stated.
What is Flawed Science?
Flawed science is usually carried out by inexperienced researchers, authorship is unclear, may have a political agenda, arguments are based on conjecture, report may include conspiracies, claims that are too good to be true or sensationalist or headline-grabbing, information doesn’t always make sense, selling something, no discussion of methods, conclusions are too simplistic, science may be attacking other science without justification, unclear funding body though still may have a vested interested, media-reporting of science is inherently flawed from its conception because the media usually aren’t scientists or researchers
The media benefits from controversial information, because it garners attention.
What is Media Bias?
Media bias is the selection of stories for audience’s attention, taps into people’s emotions, not usually backed up by evidence but lay public doesn’t know this or know where to find it
Example of Flawed Science Created by Media Bias
An article and video published by Fox News has made claims on shaky grounds. The newscaster claimed scientists said the new nutrition facts label is not based on evidence, specifically the new inclusion of added sugar content. They claimed when the decision was made to include added sugar on the label, an expert on sugar was not present. Back in the '90s, the sugar industry stated sugar on the nutrition label was “scientifically unsound” and that sugar is not linked to disease which the FDA supported (PR Newswire, 1999). But in later years the FDA has shifted positions, and Fox News reports that this unwanted label change was under the guise of Michelle Obama, the same First Lady whom was in full support of nutrition initiatives in schools.
The article and media clip were published by politically right-leaning Fox News in May 2016 – a time during a democratic presidential term which they opposed. As such, these claims appear to be politically motivated which is separate from whether the change to the label was evidence-based or not. Recommendations from the World Health Organization recommends added sugars limited to 10% of total calories (WHO, 2015), and Americans are frequently consuming over this amount (Yang et al., 2014).
The sugar industry’s argument is that “sugar has no link to disease” (PR Newswise, 1999). And according to the video, the sugar industry implies that they view themselves as the sugar experts (though certainly not nutrition experts). A search in a journal article database will provide plenty of information linking added sugar with morbidity, but here are three examples just to make this association abundantly clear. These articles are listed below in the References section. One journal article indicates a significant relationship between added sugar consumption and cardiovascular disease mortality (Yang et al., 2014). Another article demonstrates a positive association between greater sweetened beverage intake and abdominal obesity (Bermudez & Gao, 2011). Lastly, a meta-analysis of sweetened beverages and type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome show a 26% increase in risk for diabetes type 2 with consumption of 1-2 servings sweetened beverages per day compared to less than 1 serving per month (Malik et al., 2010).
Learning to detect the difference between flawed media claims and credible sourced information will be of benefit to everyone.
Bermudez, O. I., & Gao, X. (2011). Greater consumption of sweetened beverages and added
sugars is associated with obesity among US young adults. Annals of Nutrition &
Metabolism, 57(3-4), 211-8. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1159/000321542
Malik, V.S., Popkin, B.M., Bray, G.A., Despres, J., Willett, W.C., & Hu, F.B. (2010). Sugar
Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes: A meta
analysis. Diabetes Care,33(11), 2477-2483. doi:10.2337/dc10-1079
PR Newswire. (1999). The Sugar Association Says Science Has Already Weighed In: Added
Sugars Labeling Is Unnecessary, Scientifically Unsound. NY: 1.
WHO. (2015). Guideline: Sugars Intake for Adults and Children.
Yang, Q., Zhang, Z., Gregg, E.W., Flanders, W.D., Merritt, R., Hu, F.B. (2014). Added sugar
intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults. JAMA,174(4), 516-524.