Thursday, March 23, 2017

"I Can't Eat that Mom, I'll Get Cancer"

“I Can’t Eat that Mom, I’ll Get Cancer”

Posted by Anna Potorski

In a world with so much access to information, it’s everywhere. Fake science news preys on people hungry for answers. Oftentimes, it is easy to believe that those little pink pills you picked up from the store are magical and will make you lose the weight overnight. In all reality, those little pills you want so badly to work are probably just caffeine. That’s right, you just spent all that money for caffeine. And the itWorks company selling you herbal wraps to soak the fat right from your gut, those are just dehydrating you and that’s why you feel so terrible after using the product. It’s so easy to get soaked into trends when searching for answers. But, just because it is trending or popular, does not mean it is true or good.

When identifying fake science news, it is essential to know what you are looking for. Oftentimes fake science news will contain broad language. For instance, the article may only briefly discuss the topic and may not go into very much depth. This is because the author has little information. Fake science news may also just be a brief rehashing of the actual article. Fake science news is often no more than an advertisement. Whether the company wants you to believe that their wraps are soaking up your body’s fat or the diet pills are going to make the weight fall off, the science behind the product wants you to believe.

One particular study recently done had everyone running in circles. Suddenly, Nutella causes cancer. Suddenly, eight-year-olds won’t eat their lunch because their PB and Nutella is going to kill them and moms are spending hours cleaning out the cabinets.

Nutella contains palm oil. In 2016, the European Food Safety Authority began expressing concerns over two contaminants that form during the processing of palm oils. They are 3-MCPD and glycidol. In researching this, scientists used lab rats to examine the tolerable daily intake of both contaminants.

The study showed that the rat’s tolerable daily intake was 0.8 µg/kg bw per day for 3-MCPD. These numbers were based on a study in rats which the lowest “BMDL10 of 0.077 mg/kg bw per day for renal tubular hyperplasia in males was derived and application of an overall uncertainty factor of 100.”

Let’s just be realistic here – if a mom of three kids ranging from 5 to 12 read the quoted above, would she do more research? Most likely not. I know I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t question the uncertainty factor of 100 or what any of this means.

What is being said here is that the amount of 3-MCPD caused rat’s kidneys to contain too many cells indicating cancer. The findings of the experiment in general were rather shaky and to be safe, the scientists divided the number the developed by 100, which is how they developed 0.8 µg/kg of body weight as the tolerable daily intake.

Similar methods were used in researching glycidol.

What struck me first about this article was how random it was. Second, the language. The language used was incredibly scientific and would have led me to believe that the information was sufficiently backed by hard evidence. In my efforts to further my knowledge, I came across an article expressing the concerns of the numbers in the experiments regarding tolerable daily intakes. This is when it dawned on me: why Nutella?

Tons of foods contain palm oil. Ice cream, cookies, margarine, chocolate. Palm oil happens to be one of the most largely used vegetable oils. So, why are we picking on Nutella? Of all the foods, how come this hazelnut chocolate spread that goes great in sandwiches, on strawberries, or straight from the jar, is being picked on?

It’s fake. That’s why. The scientist wrote an article that made them sound knowledgeable. The language was sufficient with what was expected in a report on a study. There was in fact experimental data collected. But, is that enough to simply believe?

The biggest red flag was the discrimination against one particular food rather than palm oil itself. Further evidence and research would need to be done in order to prove that Nutella causes cancer. Better yet, further research on palm oil itself should be conducted should the scientists choose to better the evidence backing their rather flaky claims.



  1. I'm glad you brought attention to these trends that some people really stand by that are untrue and potentially dangerous. I feel like articles and "studies" that say some product will give you cancer or some other horrible disease are using scare tactics to trick the consumer into believing it. Throw in some science-y words and the average person will believe it. As for them only mentioning Nutella specifically and not palm oil leads me to believe that maybe a Nutella competitor wanted that article to go viral in order to get people to buy their product instead of Nutella. Either way, I think that now more than ever we need to make sure that information the public receives should be true and contain 100% factual information.

    Posted by Ross Cavalieri (Group A)

    1. One of the articles I read in my research actually mentioned that a competitor was most likely looking to encourage customers to not purchase Nutella. I found this interesting because right when this information came out, I vividly remembered a friend's sister telling her mom that she didn't want Nutella for lunch anymore because it would "give her cancer." It's so easy to be consumed by the science-y words and accept it for what it is when it is completely untrue.

      Posted by Anna Potorski

  2. Growing up my mom spent hundreds on magic diet pills and raps and other nonsense. This led me to believe that there must be some benefit or my super intelligent mother wouldn't be wasting all her money. Turns out the "benefit" of these pills and gimmicks were all placebo. Of course if you're spending money to lose weight you're probably exercising and eating healthier too. The two go hand-in-hand. People just get fooled by fake science and placebo results.

    Posted by Caitlin Lohr

    1. You are so right! One of the biggest things people don't look at when purchasing diet pills and other "nonsense" is the number of people in the study. We often see high percentages for success stories but how many people were in the group? Were there five hundred and 90% were successfull in reaching their goal weight, or were there 5 people and 90% were successfull? It's very easy to be persuaded!

      Posted by Anna Potorski

  3. I think you made a really good point about how Nutella is being singled out as something that causes cancer yet a lot of other foods containing palm oil are not considered "caner causing." I also found it interesting that the paper you looked at had evidence backing up the claim that Nutella causes cancer but I don't think one set of experimental data is enough to say Nutella causes cancer. I am also curious if you looked into any other studies on palm oil and it's relationship with cancer.

    Posted by: Katie Kossack

    1. So, one of the articles I found was the research leading people to believe Nutella caused cancer. One of the other articles was an article regarding the false claims. I did not look into any other information regarding palm oil and causing cancer. However, that would be interesting! THe information in the artcle claiming Nutella causes cancer was essentially done on palm oil. They simply then applied the information to Nutella specifically. I'd like to see some more promising research on vegetable oils in general and the potential to cause cancer without the side stories targeting certain brands. It seems that companies often use tiny pieces of evidence and apply them to a competitor in order to gain profit.

      Posted by Anna Potorski

  4. I found this particular article to be rather funny. This is because my parents read this type of news article and can become so easily fooled since they do not have a strong scientific background. It's not only deceiving to them, but also the general public as they try to pull out one example and single it out as a "cancer" causing factor. What about all the other factors that cancer can result from? Everything should be taken into account especially with such a devastating disease.

    Posted by Andrew Do

  5. First off great post it's very informative. I love this concept of debunking fraudulent articles because I love actually facts brought to the table. I enjoyed the comparison of weight loss pills because it goes to show you that you can't actually believe everything you read. And how ironic that there are other foods containing the same ingredient as Nuttella however there is no link between that food and caner. And it's a shame that parents jump to such rash decisions because of falsified information on the web.

    Posted By: Givenchy Humes (B)

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