We should all feel thankful that, once in a rare while, the confusing morass of pop medical journalism is broken by the occasional intelligent voice of informed reason. Last month, the media had a feeding frenzy over a lone medical study linking caffeine to increased risk of miscarriage: Pregnancy Problems Tied to Caffeine. Today’s New York Times published a doctor’s rebuttal to this study, admonishing the media for their unbridled circulation of unmerited medical scares: Coffee and Pregnancy – New York Times.

The inexcusable state of medical journalism is a long, old rant of ours: rooted in the media’s egregious lack of knowledge or understanding of the scientific method, statistical analysis, and comprehension of the holistic health implications for any one-off, myopic study. Without any real capacity for this, the media simply spits out whatever medical research comes at them. An unquestioning public then treats this flawed information as gospel. The bloggers spread it. The general public responds with exaggerated binging or purging alterations to their diets. And then we complain that we don’t know what to trust when the next reported study comes along.

Peter Klatsky wrote the New York Times:

As practicing obstetricians, we are concerned about the extensive reporting of a small study that linked caffeine with miscarriages (“Pregnancy Problems Tied to Caffeine,” news article, Jan. 21).

Unfortunately, findings like these generate more media coverage because of the interest and fear they generate, rather than the quality of the evidence (this study has profound methodological limitations).

A more robust and better designed study was also released this month that found no association with coffee consumption and the risk of miscarriage. Sadly, the press ignored this study while every major news outlet aired the less rigorous, but frightening findings.

Together this practice scares our patients, misinforms the public, and places physicians in a difficult position in counseling our patients.

The result is a freaked out public that now worries that their double-tall, four-pump vanilla caramel macchiato may as well be a dose of RU486 for inducing the abortion of their fetuses.

Sweating to the Small Stuff

Not that we feel a reason to defend coffee or caffeine. More to the point, we feel a reason to defend reason. And for some reason, the obsessive preoccupation with coffee in pop medical journalism remains a hot topic even after hundreds of years of safe human consumption of the beverage.

Meanwhile, in the past couple of decades we’ve witnessed the American diet overtaken by unprecedented, massive doses of high-fructose corn syrup and other processed foods. All of which has been been linked to our obesity epidemic and implicated in the first-time decline of the average American’s life expectancy.

But never mind that. Keep an eye on that morning cup of coffee. Clearly, that’s our real concern. Now please pass the corn flakes.