Understanding Health Information: The Research Pyramid

Estimated time to read 2 min (394 words) 

Eggs are bad… eggs are good! Butter is bad…butter is good! Coffee is bad…Coffee is good!

There are all sorts of information out there on every topic. The Research Pyramid is a tool that we can use to assess the impact of a report. For example, If a local news station, health practitioner, or an online influencer mentions a newly published study

Research Pyramid

showing that coffee is unhealthy for various reasons, the first question I would like to know is if there is a systematic review or meta-analysis (a review of all prior research) available about that topic. Systematic reviews are on the top of the Research Pyramid and are likely to be more accurate. Of course it doesn’t mean that it is written in stone. As future evidence continues to be published, further systematic reviews will be completed and consensus can change.

Year publishedAuthor(s)Findings
2021Shahinfar H. et. al.Drinking coffee may improve the lifespan of those diagnosed with diabetes. But effects of using creamer and sugar is unclear.
2017Poole R. et. al.Looked at201 meta-analyses involving coffee consumption and any health benefit outcome. Health benefits including decreased cardiovascular disease, cancer rates, diabetes type II, Parkinson’s Disease, and liver disease are associated with drinking 3 to 4 cups per day. There is an association with low birth weight and childhood leukemia with pregnant women who drink coffee.
2016Grosso G. et. al. There is a decrease in all cause mortality, cancer, and cardiovascular disease when drinking 4 cups of coffee per day. There is no benefit of drinking more. Smoking may decrease positive affects of coffee.
Systematic Reviews for Coffee Consumption

This doesn’t mean that everyone should start drinking 3 to 4 cups of coffee per day. We all have our unique health issues that may be affected positively or negatively. Some with cardiac issues may need to decrease caffeine intake and consulting with a physician is always a good idea.

Besides the Research Pyramid, there are other issues such as bias, sample size, confounding variables, validity, reliability, and effect size that will give information to know how accurate the results are. Each topic can be difficult to understand and will be discussed in later posts. But understanding that systematic reviews can give a big picture of what is going on.


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