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Lifestyle Changes Do Not Improve Heart Health: About Misleading Health News

Last week as I was sifting through various health news articles I found several similar headlines about a recently published trial: NIH Long Term Study Shows Significant Lifestyle Changes Do Not Improve Cardiovascular Health in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes. Technically, the headlines are true, nothing misleading. However what make the headlines and articles misleading is the failure to mention that the trial noted other benefits for diabetes patients if they make changes in their lifestyles.
Do not always believe the media when they are reporting health news.

Brief Summary Of The Look AHEAD Trial

The Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) trial was presented to a meeting of  the American Diabetes Association and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June 2013. The trial consisted of 5,145 people, ages ranging from 45 – 75 years old that were confirmed to have type 2 diabetes. The participants were randomly divided into 2 groups. One group participated in intensive lifestyle changes focusing on weight loss, low calorie diet and increased exercise. The other group received conventional medical diabetes care.  In short, there was little difference in outcome when it applied to cardiovascular events over a 9.6 year span: 418 people in the lifestyle intervention and 403 people in the control group suffered a cardiovascular event.

But Other Health Benefits Were Noted

Though significant lifestyle changes did not decrease cardiovascular events such as heart attacks or angina, the changes did have a positive effect on other health conditions including: less medication, partial remission of the diabetes for some participants, overall improvement in physical function, mobility and overall sense of well being. There were also decreases in sleep apnea, urinary incontinence and feelings of depression.

What was bothering while reading articles about this study was the sensationalism that was used by some authors. Many focused solely on the premise of the study and neglected to tell readers about the other noted benefits of lifestyle changes.  Readers of these articles could very well come away thinking that the lifestyle changes did not improve any aspect of health or quality of life.  This is dangerously misleading for those with diabetes.

Medical Trials and Studies Often Generate Misleading Articles and Results

Sadly, misleading articles abound in the media when it comes to medical reporting.  Many times the person writing the article has no medical training or understanding of medical terminology.  They tend to focus on the headlines and the report summary without fully reading or understanding the trial or study results. This often leads to misinterpreted results and sensationalized headlines.

Always Read The Original Trial or Study Report

It is important when reading the results of trials or studies that you find the original published source to study, most articles will provide a link.  Reading the results of studies and trials can be difficult and confusing because of the terminology.  However, the abstract, which is normally the opening paragraph of a published report is a summary of the research and results and is usually easily understood. However, do not stop at the abstract, read the rest of the report as this is where you will find other benefits and detriments that were noted in the study.  Most of the main points and results are usually easily found and can be understood. This information is often left out of mainstream articles.

Always remember when learning about new medical research, trials, and studies not to take headlines and the articles written about them at face value. Find and read the original source as well as other articles. Do a little research and find the whole truth behind the story.

Resources: 

  1. Read the original published Look AHEAD report
  2. A balanced article about the report written by Larry Husten
  3. Further explanation of the trial results written by Hertzel Gerstein M. D.

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