Research Exercise

Popular Media Piece:

“Red meat increases death, cancer and heart risk, says study.” BBC News: Health.


The article references a study that associates the risk of death from cancer and heart disease with the consumption of red meat. It suggests the substitution of red meat with other sources of protein and attributes this risk to high levels of saturated fat and sodium.

Primary Literature Article:

“Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies.” Archives of Internal Medicine.


The article describes the findings of a 28 year study during which the diets and health status of over 100,000 individuals were recorded and assessed. The study finds that substituting red meat with “healthy dietary components” (such as fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains) is associated with a 13% lower risk for cardiovascular disease mortality; a 18% lower risk for cancer mortality; and a 10% lower mortality risk overall. The researchers note, however that no distinction was made between processed and unprocessed red meat.

Do you think the popular piece accurately reflects the scientific finding?

I believe that the main scientific finding is accurately reflected (i.e. that the consumption of red meat increases the risk of mortality), but the popular piece is a great deal more aggressive in its propagation of this finding. The scholarly article includes the actual statistics from which the conclusion was drawn, which in this case are not as substantial as the headline of the popular media piece seems to suggest. The scholarly article also addresses flaws and potential biases in the methodology. Most prominently, it evaluates the lack of distinction between processed and unprocessed red meat (as processed meat has higher sodium content). This, however, is not even noted in the BBC article. Hence, the scholarly article presents a balanced evaluation of methodology and its potential effects on the conclusiveness of the study, whereas the popular piece presents the scientific findings as incontrovertible.

How are these two different?

These two different presentations of what is essentially the same material have different impacts on the reception of the material by potential readers. The scholarly article presents the material in a more balanced manner, giving a reader the impression that the conclusions drawn are suggestive, but not definitive. The popular piece, on the other hand, is more sensationalist, causing a potential reader to feel alarmed and inspired to immediately change their diet.

Where are the aspects exaggerated or misrepresented?

The significance of the results is greatly exaggerated by the popular media piece. Its title (“Red meat increases death…”) is aggressive and alarming and implicates extremely significant findings. The study itself, however, found that the consumption of red meat (both processed and unprocessed) is 10% more liable to cause death than the consumption of healthy substitutes. When phrased as such, the findings seem less alarming and more coherent with common knowledge.

How would you improve the popular media piece?

I would improve the popular media in two ways. First of all, I would include more information about the methodology of the experiment (e.g. the age and socio-economic status of the sample, variables controlled for within the experiment, the actual statistics of mortality increase etc.) so as to make the reader more aware of the limitations of the study. Furthermore, I would try to get an interview with the study’s author(s), and include quotes of their recommendation for action. This is because the researchers themselves would have a much better understanding of the significance of their findings, and how they should be acted upon.

4 responses to “Research Exercise”

  1. Dhruv Mohnot says:

    My popular media piece was similarly more aggressive in its conveying of the information found in the study.
    I guess the media just has to “spin” studies around to make them more newsworthy!

  2. Fabiana Vilsan says:

    My piece also presented the idea in a very sensational way in order to attract readers!

  3. Grace Frost says:

    I also found that the popular media piece provided limited information on the methodology of the research carried out, making it difficult to form your own judgement.

  4. Brianna Margaret Cathey says:

    I also got my popular media piece from BBC. It is interesting that you mention in that it could be improved by including more about the methodology of the experiment because I said the exact same thing. Also, I found that they didn’t really discuss the implications very much, which you seem to suggest when they didn’t offer comments for actions from the author. I wonder if BBC has a pattern of this.

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