The best and worst health news of 2016

Headlines tend to be concise and sometimes oversimplified, theoretically telling readers what a story is about in a few words. Unfortunately, this concision often leads to imprecision, and readers take reports of “breakthrough” research more seriously than is warranted. As a result, it’s easy to forget that findings published in the fields of health, nutrition, and medicine (among others) aren’t necessarily definitive, nor meant to go unchallenged. On the contrary, the constant flow of new, often conflicting research is designed to contribute to the dialogue on important issues and perhaps stimulate further studies.

Therefore, when pieces of contradictory research emerge, don’t throw your hands up in despair, or simply discard the results of one study for another; just consider them as opposing sides to an ongoing debate.

In 2016, a number of studies were published dealing with such issues of nutrition and health as whether butter was as bad as sugar, whether body mass index was a reliable indicator of health, and whether the the “five-second rule” really guarantees the safety of food eaten off the floor. You might be surprised by the results of some of this research. Ultimately, though, it’s up to you to analyze the existing information and make the final decision about what you believe.

Here’s the best and worst health news of 2016:

BMI Shouldn’t Be Used as an Indicator of Health

A person’s body mass index (weight in kilograms/meters squared) is the current metric used to evaluate whether a person is considered to be at a healthy weight, but a new study suggested that this measurement might not be the most accurate indicator of overall health. Janet Tomiyama, the study’s lead author, says that based on available cardiometabolic health data (a more accurate gauge of overall health that measures blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, insulin resistance, triglycerides, and inflammation), BMI is misclassifying nearly 75 million Americans as healthy or unhealthy, which results in inflated health care costs for perfectly healthy individuals.

Butter Isn’t as Bad as Sugar

This past year was without a doubt a comeback year for fats. TIME magazine published a piece exonerating butter, calling it “better than sugar, but worse than olive oil” for your health, while The New York Times released an exposé explaining how in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid scientists to shift the blame for heart disease away from sugar and toward saturated fat. Currently, the American Heart Association warns that a diet high in added sugar can substantially increase a person’s risk of dying from heart disease.

Cranberry Juice Doesn’t Help Cure Urinary Tract Infections,

Contrary to popular belief, the cranberry juice commonly found on grocery store shelves is ineffective at preventing urinary tract infections. Cranberries do in fact contain compounds that defend against bacterial infection in the bladder wall, which can help prevent UTIs, but cranberry juice doesn’t have a high enough concentration of these compounds to do much good. In order for a noticeable reduction in bacterial adhesion, a person would have to consume at least 32 ounces of cranberry juice daily.

The “Five-Second Rule” Was Disproved

Is nothing sacred? The “five-second rule” holds that if a piece of food falls on the ground, but is picked up within five seconds, it’s still “safe” to eat. Researchers from Rutgers University tested the amount of bacteria picked up by different foods being dropped on different surfaces for various time frames, ranging from one to 300 seconds. Though the results of the experiment didn’t explicitly disprove the five-second rule, it did conclude that food with higher moisture content could be contaminated by bacteria instantaneously.