Do You Know When to Trust a Medical Study


Do You Know When to Trust a Medical Study?

3 min read Oct 17, 2019

What’s the first thing you do when you read about a new health study? If you’re like many people, you don’t know where to start because you’re not sure how this new information should affect your lifestyle. And just when you think you might make a change, a completely new health study comes out saying the opposite of the first health study. So, is it better to eat the whole egg or is it healthier to eat just egg whites? Is caffeine good for you or not?

We asked MetLife’s resident Medical Director, Dr. Leena Johns, MD how you can skip the confusion and take control of your health and wellness choices. These are the questions she thinks can help you make sense of any health study:

Does the research have a sponsor?

Check if the study talks about who sponsored the research and then try to identify where the writer got their information. Usually, when studies are published the original source may not be easy to find, making it hard to know if the information is trustworthy. If you find the sponsor, a quick online search should be able to tell you whether the sponsor has any bias or conflict of interest that you need to be aware of.

Who conducted the research?

If the study or your online searches don’t tell you who conducted the research, it could be a sign that the results and recommendations are not worth paying attention to.

How many people were tested?

The more people tested in a research, the more credible the results because it stops individual experience from creating statistical noise. This does not mean that studies with small numbers of test subjects can’t be trusted but like many things in life, there is strength in numbers.

How long did the research run for?

Research times may be different depending on what is being tested. For example, it may take years to test the side effects of a drug but only a few months to test whether ice cream or a cup of tea makes you feel better. Details about how long researchers spent observing and reporting on things like side effects can help you decide if any hasty conclusions were made and ultimately, if the study can be trusted.

Has it been published in any reputable peer review journals?

The results of any research will likely be discussed in trustworthy medical or health publications whose job is to verify groundbreaking research and scientific discoveries and how they can be used in the real world. Some examples are, The New England Journal of Medicine, The Journal of Pediatrics or the Journal of the American Medical Association and The Lancet.

Are there any recommendations from governing health organizations?

It’s the job of organizations like the Center for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration to make recommendations based on valid health care research. If a health study does not list lifestyle or health recommendations from one of these government organizations, it’s probably not worth making any changes to your daily routine.

Have you spoken to your doctor?

Because everyone has different health needs, speaking to your doctor can help you figure out whether the recommendations in a health study apply to you, particularly if you have a health condition or are at risk of developing one. Tap into your doctor’s expertise for greater peace of mind.

While taking these extra steps might feel time consuming, understanding what makes a good health study can help you make thoughtful decisions about your lifestyle now and into the future. You can take charge of your health and wellness by using these questions as a guide for whether or not a health study is worth paying attention to.