In research, biased reporting is grounds for dismissing a study. For many health and diet reporters, being biased is the way it works.
Fame And Honor, Here I Come
As many hopeful blog owners I'm subscribed to a service where reporters can ask questions and get help from experts.
What sounds like an altruistic service to broaden mankind's knowledge and strengthen the quality of journalism has a more materialistic background: they get content, you get publicity.
Turn Off Scruples, Get Publicity
That doesn't have to be bad. It could be a win-win-win situation. For the reporters, for the experts and for the readers who get to read better quality articles backed by, well, expert expertise.
Unfortunately that's not how it works. In the health, fitness and diet news business, reporters need positive news. News that promise stuff and play on human desires: the easy workout that gets you toned, the pill that makes you lose weight and the diet that's so much fun.
In that context the expert is not needed to give a realistic view, but to give affirmative credibility to the latest headline. What the reporters ask is "hand me proof that xy works." What they should be asking is "looking for evidence for and against xy."
Read some of the requests sent to me over the last weeks and you get the idea:
"Yoga For Pound Shedding"
For [XX], I'm working on a story on the best ways to practice yoga for pound shedding goals. Would love expert input. Emails only, please!
Presumably the yoga position that keeps you from eating.
"Why You Burn More Calories Exercising Outside"
As motivation to exercise outside, I'm doing a story on why you burn more calories even when doing the exact same workout. I'm looking to connect with a trainer or sports doctor on why this occurs and how best to take advantage of it.
It only would if you put in more effort when you do it outside, but then again that would also work the other way around.
"Getting Rid of Your Gut"
I'm looking for a few dietitians/nutritionists/personal trainers to suggest things people need to give up in order to "get rid of their gut" or lose belly fat. Please include an explanation of why the thing that needs to be eliminated causes storage of belly fat.
She (I estimate 90% of health and fitness reporters are female) much more needs an explanation why spot-reduction doesn't work.
"Shedding With Low-Carb Mornings"
Seeking women who lost 100+ pounds by changing their dietary habits by reducing carb intake for the first half of the day/eating a low-carb breakfast. Ideal candidates would have compelling "before" and "now" snapshots to share for reference.
When will she be looking for women who lost weight but kept on eating what they always did, just less?
"Did You Shed Pounds By Eating Healthy Fats and Cutting Out Carbs This Year?"
National Daytime Show in NYC looking for women who have shed pounds by eating healthy fats and cutting out carbs this year! If you've tried the paleo diet or have lost weight from eating low carb & healthy fats I'd love to hear from you. I'm looking for someone who success and got creative with their food like making avocado smoothies or paleo cookies. This is a great opportunity to share your success story with a leading health expert.
The frequent reporting of low carb success stories fuels the public perception that low carb is the one thing that works. You could of course find as many success stories for low-fat or low-whatever.
"Has the Paleo Diet Helped You With Pain?"
National Daytime Show focusing on health looking for women in the NYC-TriState area who have tried the paleo diet and seen results with pain. If the paleo diet has helped with your arthritis, fatigue, migraines or any kind of pain we want to hear from you. Must be available for Tuesday 11/18 (8am-11am).
I assume it's the same producer as in the request above. If I was a tad more optimistic and less cynical, I could believe they devoted this show to the placebo effect.
Dr. Oz Success Stories
One request for help that stood out to me was by one Jennifer DiRossi, associate producer for the Dr. Oz Show. I'm not anonymizing her because she is very vocal about her support for the show. She asked:
Have you shed pounds from one of the diet plans seen on The Dr. Oz Show? We want to hear about your success story. Have you tried the 2 week rapid diet?
Via Twitter and mail I sent her a question back:
@LegendaryJD When will you be looking for people who didn't "shed pounds" from one of the diet plans seen on The Dr. Oz Show?
I didn't receive a reply.