Coffee, Death and the New York Times Well Blog |

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Gary Schwitzer is the founder and publisher of HealthNewsReview. He has covered almost exclusively healthcare news since 1973. Here’s his online bio. He tweets like @garyschwitzer or if @HealthNewsRevu

A New York Times headliner tried to be cute:

No, it’s not that simple.

And no, the study did not find that those who drank moderate amounts of coffee have a lower mortality risk than non-coffee drinkers.

That’s a cause-and-effect statement, and this observational study didn’t find not that prove that, but only be on a statistical association

The actual online version of the story, linked to the teaser above, covered and danced with various word arts. fragments:

  • “That cup of coffee in the morning may be associated with a lower risk of death”
  • “However, there are important caveats to the interpretation of this study… This is an observational study, which means that the data cannot conclusively prove that coffee itself lowers the risk of death; there may be other lifestyle factors that contribute to that lower death risk among people who drink coffee, such as a healthy diet or a consistent exercise routine.

But who you choose to interview also influences the message. And the Times chose to interview one of the editors of the Annals of Internal Medicine, which published the paper. And that editor was gushing with extraordinary joy for a magazine editor.

“It’s huge. Few things can cut your mortality by 30 percent,” said Dr. Christina Wee, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and deputy editor of the scientific journal where the study was published.

Except, again, the paper showed no percentage reduction in mortality.

As I’ve written before, coffee is the poster child for poorly communicated observational research. But amid all the COVID craze of the recent past, it has faded into the background. God help us if this is a comeback for crappy coffee cups.