Nutritional Accuracy in Popular Magazines (1995-1996)

When they do a good job at reporting the facts, magazines can help consumers to adopt healthier eating practices. But misleading magazine reports can be counterproductive ("...what you eat can have a direct chemical effect on whether you're happy, sad, irritable, moody, alert, calm or sleepy") or misleading ("In many cases, diet alone could be the cause of and thus the solution to waning energy levels or plummeting moods"). Both of the foregoing quotes are from a popular women's magazine; such messages complicate learning and set consumers up for disappointment. Is it any wonder that an estimated 23 percent of consumers say they are confused by the nutrition reports they find in the media?
The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) has been tracking magazine nutrition reporting for 15 years. Over that period ACSH has found that the accuracy of the reporting has improved, reflecting most magazines' growing commitment to educating their readers. In this, the seventh Nutrition Accuracy in Popular Magazines survey, ACSH found the majority of magazines (15 out of 21, or 77%) to be EXCELLENT or GOOD sources of nutrition information. "These magazines are no longer looking at diet and foods frivolously, as they fads," observed survey judge Manfred Kroger.

Six magazines, or 23 percent, were shown to be only FAIR or POOR sources of nutrition information, however, reflecting a continued need for improvement. Three of the lowest rated magazines were titles new to the survey.

The highest rated magazine in the current survey was Consumer Reports, which earned a rating of 95 percent. CR was joined by Better Homes and Gardens (92%) and Good Housekeeping (90%) as the survey's only EXCELLENT (90-100%) sources of nutrition advice.

GOOD (80-89%) sources included Glamour (89%), Parents (88%), Health (87%), Reader's Digest (86%), Prevention (86%), Woman's Day (85%), Cooking Light (85%), McCall's (83%), Redbook (83%), Runner's World (82%), Shape (81%), and Men's Health (81%).

FAIR (70-79%) sources included Fitness (79%), Mademoiselle (79%), Self (77%), Cosmopolitan (74%), and Muscle & Fitness (70%).

Just one magazine, New Woman (69%), was found to be a POOR (less than 70% rating) source of nutrition information.

These results demonstrate the continued need for consumers to scrutinize the accuracy of the nutrition reporting they find in popular magazines. A recent survey of nutrition trends by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) indicated that consumers do have a healthy level of distrust for what they read; according to the ADA survey, only 39 percent of consumers trust health magazines and only 36 percent trust women's magazines to dispense accurate information. (The ADA survey did not list by name the magazines studied.)

The ADA study also indicated that a growing number of consumers like to hear about new nutrition studies, but that confusion and frustration over the published reports interfere with their knowledge, their behavior, and their attitudes with respect to nutrition.

In ACSH's survey most of the health magazines rated Health, Prevention, Runner's World, Shape, and Men's Health earned good marks. Two of the magazines in this category Fitness and Muscle & Fitness were found to be unreliable sources, however. The ratings given to women's magazines in the ACSH survey ranged from GOOD to POOR; their overall score averaged out to FAIR.

While the ADA survey did not break "consumer" or "homemaking" magazines out into separate categories, some of the highest rated publications in the ACSH survey fell into either the consumer (Consumer Reports, Parents, Better Homes & Gardens) or homemaking (Good Housekeeping, Cooking Light) groups.

Nutritional Accuracy in Popular Magazines (1995-96)