A couple of day ago I wrote about how bad science leads to many of the conflicting news reports we so often see. Today I was reminded about another way the news we get becomes distorted—-misleading headlines.
Here’s a real beauty from an article on the NY Times Wellblog: \”Why Doesn’t Exercise Lead to Weight Loss?\”. Does that statement have your attention? Has all the past research been wrong, is working out really a waste of time? Lets dig a little deeper and see if we can make any sense of this. Before you finish the first paragraph we learn this:
In the study, 58 obese people completed 12 weeks of supervised aerobic training without changing their diets. The group lost an average of a little more than seven pounds, and many lost barely half that.
So according to the study, they didn’t change their diet, they exercised, and they lost weight! Of course to bolster their claim that the exercise didn’t help, they were quick to point out that some people actually lost less than the average. Uh, forgive me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t that mean quite a few people lost more than the average? Isn’t that how averages work?
There seems to be an inference that a seven pound loss over 12 weeks is insignificant. But is 30 pounds over the course of a year a bad thing? Considering they’re still eating the same diet that got them obese in the first place, I’d say those results are pretty darn amazing. But I guess not many people are going to stop and read an article titled “Exercise Leads to Weight Loss”. We’ve seen that one before.
In all fairness the majority of the article does point out the many health benefits of staying physically fit. And it’s true that cutting caloric intake is an important part of any good weight loss strategy. But whoever wrote that headline was more interested in attracting attention than disseminating useful information.