Report: People Who Drink More Coffee Don’t Die As Fast

August 30, 2017

3:50 pm

Look, I won’t bore you with an introduction: We all know why you’re here. You need a reason to justify your insane coffee drinking habit. Congrats! A new report confirms a correlation between drinking more coffee and lowering your risk of death. So here’s that news, followed by an explanation of why this report isn’t quite the smoking gun coffee lovers want it to be.

More Coffee = Less Death?

The report is an observational study from the annual ESC (European Society of Cardiology) Congress in Barcelona this week: Nearly 20,000 participants noted their “lifestyle and sociodemographic characteristics, anthropometric measurements, and previous health conditions,” the report explains, and coffee consumption habits were included. When the survey followed up ten years later, 337 participants had died.

After checking up on the data, the study concluded that those who drank more coffee lived longer:

“The researchers found that participants who consumed at least four cups of coffee per day had a 64 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality than those who never or almost never consumed coffee. There was a 22 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality for each two additional cups of coffee per day.”

With me so far? The data looks solid. And it might be. But here’s why it might not.

Correlation Isn’t Exactly Causation

Any survey that tracks a massive amount of personal information can pick and choose which correlation to highlight. There could easily be another factor that both means you’re likely to live longer and to also drink more coffee as you do so. Perhaps being relatively wealthy means you have the free time to drink coffee while also having the means to live the healthier life that will keep you alive longer?

I certainly won’t accuse those who ran this study of intentionally cherry-picking data! I don’t know them. And I am drinking a cup of Joe as I type this, so I’m definitely a fan of the headline that resulted. Coffee shops are great. But if you’re interested in learning more about how the junk science industry can churn out sensational headlines so smoothly, you should definitely check out this long-read written by a guy who successfully produced a bogus report on how eating chocolate can help you lose weight. How? By surveying a massive amount of data and picking the one correlation that looked weird.

Read more on how to stay healthy here at TechCo.

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Adam is a writer with an interest in a variety of mediums, from podcasts to comic books to video essays to novels to blogging — too many, basically. He's based out of Seattle, and remains a staunch defender of his state's slogan: "sayWA." In his spare time, he recommends articles about science fiction on Twitter, @AdamRRowe

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