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Nutrition Information in Magazines

Back in the dawn of the Internet era, JAMA, the top American medical journal warned, “Let the reader and viewer beware” of the quality of medical information on the Internet. This month the American Medical Association reiterated the warning – on the web itself – “regarding the incomplete, misleading, or inaccurate medical information available on the web.”

They aren’t, of course, talking about this blog or my website. Truly, I try my darnedest to be complete, leading, and accurate. I subscribe to the eight HONcode principles, as I state on my “Diabetes Directory”. The Health On the Net Foundation states in fact that, “Diabetes Directory is in compliance with the HONcode.”

Not every medical writer on the web, however, subscribes to the HONcode. So I can understand the AMA’s frustration.

Unfortunately, however, popular magazines don’t seem to do any better.

The American Council on Science and Health has just issued its tenth annual report on the accuracy of nutrition information in popular magazines. They judged about 10 articles each from 21 magazines. They looked at factual accuracy, presentation, and quality of recommendations.

The highest-scoring magazine was Consumer Reports with an overall rating of 90 percent. In school that’s good enough for the grade of A and to persuade me to subscribe to it again.

Close behind were Glamour with 87 percent, Ladies’ Home Journal with 87 percent, and Shape, 87 percent.

I was surprised that Prevention, the well-known Rodale publication, scored only 80 percent overall. Only three magazines did worse.

The worst was Men’s Fitness with 67 percent. In my book that rates no better than a D grade.

“Articles in Men’s Fitness…led us to wonder whether this magazine is in the business of publishing fiction,” the report says. “The most notable example was the March 2005 article ‘The Best and Worst Foods a Man Can Eat,’ which managed to make inaccurate, exaggerated, or undocumented statements about most of the 54 foods it evaluated.”

As a group the men’s magazines scored the lowest. The council concluded that men’s magazines strive for attention-grabbing content and cleverness in their writing style. Thank goodness that no one has yet accused me of those editorial sins.

The complete 20-page report, “Nutrition Accuracy in Popular Magazines, January 2004 to December 2005” is on the web and is free for your download. It’s worth studying.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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