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Coffee And The Heart – Researchers Are Getting Paid Way Too Much To Rehash Old Data

This week, coffee seems to be good for the heart:

“People who are moderate coffee drinkers can be reassured that they are not doing harm because of their coffee drinking,” said Arthur Klatsky, the study’s lead investigator and a cardiologist at Kaiser’s Division of Research.

These “surprising” data are to be presented at the AHA meeting March 5th. (You’ll have to wait until then to get the REAL scoop, it seems.)

But a quick Google search on Dr. Klatsky’s earlier studies using the same questionaire database shows the problems with using questionaire data to make such sweeping conclusions. Take, for instance, these findings from 1973:

“Coffee drinking is not an established risk factor for myocardial infarction.”

And yet a bit later, in 1990, there’s a flip flop:

Because of conflicting evidence about the relation of coffee use to coronary artery disease, the authors conducted a new cohort study of hospitalizations among 101,774 white persons and black persons admitted to Kaiser Permanente hospitals in northern California in 1978–1986. In analyses controlled for eight covariates, use of coffee was associated with higher risk of myocardial infarction (p=0.0002). (By the way, British researchers failed to find a similar correlation in instant coffee drinkers)

So what, really, do these data from the Kaiser questionaire data regarding heavy coffee consumption and the heart say?

What they say is:

  1. Questionaire data crunched to suggest correlations are insufficient to mean causation, irrespective of how the media parses it.
  2. Questionaire data are subject to significant sampling and reporting biases.
  3. Rehashing the same old questionaires using the same samples with newer data can dramatically alter prior findings.
  4. Researchers are getting paid way too much to keep rehashing the same data for large health systems.
  5. On the lighter side, college undergrads and medical students should note that they could use these types of questionaire data to justify significant caffeine consumption along with alcohol to protect themselves from developing cirrhosis.

* Sigh *

*This blog post was originally published at Dr. Wes*


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