Catchy headlines equal clicks, clicks equal readers, and readers equal money. It’s a formula the ever-changing news industry uses more frequently, as newsrooms get smaller and readers move quickly to the next trending topic.
No, it wasn’t true. But it was a very clickable message. And in case you were drawn into that headline, here’s the truth behind it:
An Austrian research team wanted to see how different diets affected health. But because they did not have enough vegetarians to study, they lumped together people eating fish and people who ate meat only occasionally—and called them all “vegetarians.” And, indeed, this group looked less healthy overall than the dyed-in-the-wool carnivores.
However, the study looked at individuals during a snapshot in time and did not separate cause and effect. For example, individuals with health problems who adopted a fish/vegetarian diet in hopes of losing weight or curing heart disease were lumped in with others who had followed a fish/vegetarian diet for many years. The researchers themselves note this on page six:
“Potential limitations of our results are due to the fact that the survey was based on cross-sectional data. Therefore, no statements can be made whether the poorer health in vegetarians in our study is caused by their dietary habit or if they consume this form of diet due to their poorer health status.”
Large prospective studies and randomized clinical trials showed just the opposite: vegetarians have much better health, compared with non-vegetarians. They have lower rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and lower BMIs. The Physicians Committee’s recent multicenter GEICO study also showed better quality of life. Another recent study showed that eating seven servings of fruits and vegetables per day increases longevity.
So if someone at the water cooler starts telling you about how they’ll be swapping their smoothies for sausage patties, let them know that just because it’s trending, doesn’t mean it’s true.