Hungry for a breakthrough

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Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

How do you get the general public to become excited about the results of a scientific study? Findings that are applicable to their daily lives, like sleep and exercise, are good. Incorporating emotions or heart, as I've written about previously, works too.

But if you really want to cause a stir with a study, the best way to grab the public's interest isn't through their hearts — it's through their stomachs.

A few times a month, new studies come onto my radar that either praise a food or beverage as the savior of a certain disease, or condemn it as a dangerous, disgusting harbinger of death. These studies seem to earn bonus points if the food in question is particularly beloved by people, or was previously seen as unhealthy.

Take for example red wine, champagne and chocolate. All three have been the subject of multiple studies on their health benefits, especially their powers of improving memory and staving off dementia. These studies are almost always followed by a deluge of online posts by people quick to point out that they must be really healthy because of how much of that study's featured substance they eat.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a recent study by the World Health Organization on link between eating processed meat and developing cancer received more news coverage than some of the candidates currently running for president. New studies are released just about every day on various lifestyle activities and comorbidities that increase our risks of contracting diseases, but heaven forbid science steps between people and their bacon.

The findings of these studies are so impactful not necessarily because of their implications, but because of how accessible they are. When it comes to adopting a healthier lifestyle, there's really no easier way than to have the occasional glass of red wine, or to stir some extra veggies into your dinner.

I typically try to take these types of studies with a grain of salt — only a grain, though, because you know what they say about too much salt .... (Except for this recent study which ties drinking coffee to a lower risk of dying prematurely. If this one holds any water, I might just live forever.) If whatever I'm cooking up for dinner tonight has the potential to decrease my risk of disease later on in life, that's wonderful! But there's always the chance that another new study is right around the corner, shooting down the claims made by previous studies and taking over in the news.

When it boils down to it, food-based studies can be an easy way to stay on top of the latest health research. It's far easier to understand, and apply, research on something you have a lifetime of experience with than a study on a newly discovered gene or tangle you need a specialized degree to fully understand.

For the general public, and especially those in the long-term care profession, accessible studies like these can help start a conversation of health, and the health of those you're tasked with caring for.  

And for the researchers? Let's just say if your study involves a food or beverage, there's a good chance people will eat it right up.

Emily Mongan is Staff Writer at McKnight's. Follow her @emmongan.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.