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December 11, 2006

Quaker Oats: Reduces Cholesterol by 75%* ?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:58 am

Quaker packageScientific studies have repeatedly proven that eating oatmeal regularly can help reduce your cholesterol. So, it is not surprising to see Quaker Oats making such health claims.

They say “it’s a unique whole grain food that goes in and actually soaks up excess cholesterol and removes it from your body.”  And, referring to the quaker pictured on the package, “your cholesterol trembles just at the sight of him.” [Newsweek ad, October 16, 2006]

How much can you lower your cholesterol? Here’s their chart:

Quaker chart 1

The chart makes it look like the drop is dramatic from week one to week four — about a 75% reduction.

*MOUSE PRINT: In their “representative” sample, cholesterol was only actually reduced from about 209 to 198 — a drop of only 11 points, or about 5%.

How can that be because their chart makes it look like a huge drop?  For the answer, you have to go back to high school math. Remember when the teacher said you always have to start the y axis (the left side going up) at zero on any chart or you will give people an erroneous impression?  Well, you have just been skewed by Quaker.

Creating a chart that does start at zero would look like this:

Quaker chart 2

In this chart, one can clearly see the actual point drop in overall cholesterol is rather small. That is not to say that dropping 11 points is bad. Lowering your cholesterol is a good thing. 

What isn’t good is giving the casual reader a misimpression of the effectiveness of eating oatmeal as a means of lowering one’s cholesterol. 

• • •

32 Comments

  1. Any food that tends to reduce the total count should be touted as such.
    The drop of 11 points in 4 weeks is of sufficient worth to get my attention.
    One can assume that the continued use would produce greater reduction.
    A longer period of testing would no doubt bear this out.
    Is such a study in your future?

    Comment by Robert H. Owen — December 11, 2006 @ 7:23 am
  2. This reminds me of when they first came out with Pepis Light, a “reduced calorie soda”. I cautioned my
    diabetic sister that she should be careful about drinking it because it still had a lot of sugar in it. She
    replied “well it can’t have that much sugar because it has only 5.6 calories!”, I read the can which had
    the statement that it had “5.6 colories PER FLUID OUNCE”, that’s 67.2 calories per 12 ounce can.

    That statement was obviously intended to mislead and in my sister’s case could have been dangerous. That
    product was soon reformulated so that it really did have only a few calories a can, but never really caught on.

    Comment by John A Elson — December 11, 2006 @ 8:21 am
  3. Why must we assume consumers are idiots? The numerical values of the cholesterol counts are stated quite clearly on the chart provided by the manufacturer. They are not trying to hide anything! I think the consumer bears some responsibility here to be a smart shopper, so if that requires going back and reviewing basic math, then maybe they should. We need to stop dumbing down America!

    Comment by Shawn — December 11, 2006 @ 9:20 am
  4. The point is that the chart is deliberately deceptive and yes, many people really are that stupid!

    Comment by John A Elson — December 11, 2006 @ 11:57 am
  5. This trick shows up everywhere, including the front pages of some major newspapers. It annoys me to no end, even in stock price plots, although I guess most traders are used to and/or prefer the relative changes to the absolute ones. Day traders, for example, are often more interested in short-term fluctuations than in absolute comparisons, but I agree that charts of that type are frequently little more than a cheap trick.

    Comment by OJCIT — December 11, 2006 @ 12:44 pm
  6. As for the suggestion that long term use would produce a greater reduction, that is actually quite ludricous.
    If long term usuage produced a truly dramatic reduction, they would show a chart demonstrating that.

    The mere fact that they stopped at the 4th week itself is pretty strong evidence that the slight drop shown in f
    4 weeks probably didn’t continue and that it probably leveled off after that.

    Of course, the real question is, were they just adding oats to their diet, or were they eating oats *instead* o
    of something else? Could it be that they ate oats for breakfast instead of eggs?

    Comment by John A Elson — December 11, 2006 @ 2:03 pm
  7. How is the chart deceptive? There is no law that y-axis of all graphs must start at zero! The numerical results are CLEARLY STATED!!!! What’s next? Do you want them to come to your house, cook the oatmeal for you and spoon feed it to you? Use your brain and quict passing the blame onto everyone else for your lack of intelligence!

    Comment by Shawn — December 11, 2006 @ 3:36 pm
  8. Yeah, I was a little let down by this one. But I guess I’ve been pretty immune to the “OAT BRAN OAT BRAN OAT BRAN!!!!” kind of claims for a while now. There ain’t no magic bullet, people….

    Comment by raindog — December 11, 2006 @ 6:21 pm
  9. How is it that John can call everyone “stupid”, I tell him to “go pound salt” and his comment remains and mine is deleted?

    I’m more than a little ticked off right now!

    Comment by Shawn — December 12, 2006 @ 9:36 am
  10. I didn’t call anyone “stupid” I simply stated the fact that there are people that who are that stupid. That’s
    quite different than calling a specific person stupid. One is an observation, the other is an insult.

    The chart (which is also pointed out by Consumer Reports) was deliberately designed to exxagerate the drop in
    cholesterol. The first thing people notice is the shape of the chart and only then do some of them look at the
    actual figures.

    You have to consider the target audience of the chart. The people the chart is aimed at are
    quite likely to be fooled by it, and that is the whole point of the chart.

    The more intellectually adept among us will see the chart as meaningless (a half point drop over the same
    time period could have produced the same shape) but it isn’t aimed at us.

    Comment by John A Elson — December 12, 2006 @ 2:20 pm
  11. news flash, eating more of something will not reduce cholesterol, fat, sugar or anything else. Replacing something with something else might though, for instance Bacon and eggs with this stuff…

    To their defense, they never said ’75% drop’ or anything like it.

    ps.
    “”the statement that it had “5.6 colories PER FLUID OUNCE”, that’s 67.2 calories per 12 ounce can.””
    seriously? you don’t have some regulations over there? In the Netherlands, companies have to put the (mal)nutritional info on it per 100gramms of product, and usually opt to put it on ‘per serving’

    Comment by Alcari — December 12, 2006 @ 5:32 pm
  12. I guess Quaker’s marketing team is only worried about selling oats to the intellectually challenged.

    Comment by Shawn — December 13, 2006 @ 10:51 am
  13. The thing with Pepsi light was about 30 years ago at a time when softdrinks weren’t required to show calories
    on the label.

    Comment by John A Elson — December 13, 2006 @ 11:54 am
  14. God forbid people have to actually read the writing as opposed to just look at the pretty picture.

    Comment by Bryan — December 14, 2006 @ 5:46 pm
  15. Thank you Bryan! Apparently John thinks he is the only one qualified enough to look out for YOUR health. We are all idiots here! We need more government regulation to protect the stupid people from themselves!!!!!

    Comment by Shawn — December 15, 2006 @ 9:30 am
  16. High school math not only said not starting a graph at 0 could skew the look of the results, it also stated that you must look at where the graph has started. I teach high school math, and any student who told me that this graph showed a 75% reduction on a test would fail. Stop the dumbing of America, learn to read!

    Comment by Chris — December 16, 2006 @ 5:27 pm
  17. I have started on oatmeal (used to never touch the stuff) on my doctor’s orders to get my cholesterol down. I’ve found I actually like it but I think the way it works is because I eat it INSTEAD of eggs, sausage and corned beef hash. I think this whole “cholesterol awareness” is a scam by the drug companies to sell their cholesterol reducing maintenance drug. “Now you’re going to have to buy and ingest our pricey drugs for the rest of your life. The doctors just play along. Quaker is just riding the tailcoats of the drug companies. I think cholestrol levels are hereditary and diet won’t really change much.

    Comment by Jim — December 17, 2006 @ 12:35 am
  18. The problem with the chart is the SCALE of the y-axis. I don’t see what the problem is. Sure it might appear deceptive from a casual glance but if you are going to be switching your diet shouldn’t you look closer?

    Comment by Bart — December 18, 2006 @ 3:25 pm
  19. Chris, “I teach high school math, and any student who told me that this graph showed a 75% reduction on a test would fail.”

    If you’re teaching your students to create graphs that look like that, then I think you may be part of the problem.
    I learned that when you create a graph like that you add a zigzag vertical line near the bottom to show that there is more of the graph that is being omitted.

    I call this deceptive advertising and use my same rule of thumb…if you asked an average 7-year old kid to interpret, what result would you get? If you get something other than the actual information then it’s deceptive advertising.

    You may call this the dumbing down of America…I call it information overload…and I simply don’t have time to deal with every single advertising gimmick. When I see this deception, I avoid that company in the future and only deal with companies that I can either “trust” or those that require the least amount of effort to interpret. The more they try to push some bogus gimmick, the more likely I’ll just walk away to their competitor. (Too bad the rest of American doesn’t do this.)

    Comment by RS — December 19, 2006 @ 1:54 am
  20. One thing that gets lost in this discussion of the graph is their claim that “it’s a unique whole grain
    food that goes in and actually soaks up excess cholesterol and removes it from your body.”

    That claim is clearly false. No researcher is making such a claim and no evidence supports it. The graph is
    misleading, but that claim is a flat out lie. False advertising plain and simple!

    Comment by John A Elson — December 19, 2006 @ 12:00 pm
  21. Every product on the market is Caveat Emptor…But any person who has taken a marketing course knows that first impressions leave the best impression. For the same reasons that the DOT makes caution signs and yield signs in bright colors, is the same reason that marketing companies make graphs look like the one that they published.

    Just imagine a person rushing through the store after a long day at work…If you saw these two graphs side by side on identical products, you would more than likely grab the one with the first graph.

    Comment by Justin — December 20, 2006 @ 4:47 pm
  22. To the poster that stated, “Why must we assume consumers are idiots?” Well – because they are.

    People are not born with the ability to understand probabilities, slights, risk, chemical and visual illusions, etc.

    That is why people play the lottery, gamble, enjoy magic shows, buy products because of a hot babe selling it, etc.

    God Bless America! You can sell them crap and as long as you have a hot chick holding that steaming dung in her hand and telling you how popular you would be hold this dung – there would be someone to buy it.

    Never forget this famous saying (your probably already did) “No one ever lost money under-estimating the taste of the American Public”. It probably should be updated to “No one ever lost money under-estimating the stupidity of the American Public.”

    Just watch the Tonight Show when Jay goes out on the street and asks:
    Who did we fight in the Civil War? People have answered: Spanish, English, Germans, etc.
    What continent is Canada in? Europe, England, etc.
    Yeah – many (if not most) Americans are ignorant (not stupid) – but ignorance “can” breed stupidity. Just couple ignorance with lazy and content = a special brew of stupidity.

    Americans as a whole are lazy and content. Smart Marketing people realize that they can take advantage of us by “suggesting” something is better than it actually is or describing the real details in very small print or heavy legalize.

    If you caught on then good for you, however they would not be doing it if it didn’t work. They are pitching the underhand ball to the vast majority of the population. Just because you connected – does not make one a genius. Isn’t that what marketing is about?

    So it’s up to you on what you want to call it. Yeah, stupid maybe a little harsh – I would rather say lazy and uneducated.

    Here is a good one: I was trying to explain to my broker that a stock fell 50% that means it has to increase by 100% to regain it’s losses. He didn’t get it, because he doesn’t understand math. Needless to say he is not my broker any more! Yeah – lazy and uneducated = stupid.

    BTW – enjoying the site!

    Comment by Michael — December 29, 2006 @ 5:22 pm
  23. I think this is a non-issue. Dropping your cholesterol by 75% would possibly be fatal. Cholesterol is a required component in building cells. This ad is targeted to people who have high cholesterol which means they already have been tested which means they’ve seen their doctor. Does the plot “mislead” a bit leading the reader to think the results will be “dramatic”? Yeah, probably. But I would never ever think 75% by looking at this. And, drop 11 points to 100 points by eating oatmeal EVERYDAY? I’ll pass anyway!

    Comment by Tom — January 1, 2007 @ 9:46 pm
  24. “And, drop 11 points to 100 points by eating oatmeal EVERYDAY? I’ll pass anyway!” reminds me of the
    classic cure for pernicious anemia, eating 1.5 pounds of liver every day. Many thought the cure was worse
    than the disease!

    I remember a commentator who remarked that ratings for the Miss America pageant had “gone down 500%.” I’m
    still not sure what he *really* meant.

    As for the mathematically challenged, I bought 10 cans of tuna for 69 cents a can and the clerk announced
    that the total was $10.69. When I told her that can’t be right she said “then it must be the register’s
    fault, I’m just telling you what it says”, all 7 people in line sided with me, but then they were all over
    30 and the clerk was in her late teens. Obviously, she had accidently entered 1069 instead of 10@69, but
    she couldn’t see that.

    Has mathematical ability dropped to the extent that the average highschool graduate can’t multiply by ten
    in their head?

    Comment by John A Elson — January 3, 2007 @ 5:13 pm
  25. First time I saw this was in consumer reports and I knew right away by reading this chart it wouldn’t reduce much cholesterol but for a person to read the chart and not catch it, then you have to go back to elementary school and start from there because this is something you have to know. Come on people, you wouldn’t buy it if you could read charts if you wanted to lower your cholesterol and obviously you can’t read graphs if you bought it already.

    Comment by Carlos — February 17, 2007 @ 9:37 pm
  26. Can’t speak for anyone else but my doctor told me to eat oatmeal to lower my cholesterol.

    I ate it every morning for 6 weeks and my cholesterol went from 240 to 205.

    I can’t complain.

    Comment by G — February 19, 2007 @ 11:40 pm
  27. I always laugh at the Quaker Oats commercials where the participants drop 7 or 8 points after a month.
    Anyone with half a brain knows that’s an insignifcant blip. Total cholesterol can fluctuate by that much in a day.
    It’s a joke and it’s insulting to consumers.

    Comment by Pam — March 18, 2007 @ 8:15 am
  28. You have to blame the drug companies who tell doctors to dispense drug as if they were candy so that the drug company can make more money. WBR LeoP

    Comment by Arnold — April 9, 2007 @ 2:06 pm
  29. I decided to put your commercial to the test. My chol. usually
    run between 276 and 260. I started to eat some form of oats everday
    for breadfast. I just had my blood work done yesterday and my c
    chol. had dropped to 226, my ldl was back to normal and my good c
    chol. was excellent. Thanks for making cherrios, Honey nut
    oats. It really does work and you call tell them I said so.

    Comment by Janice Bond — April 12, 2007 @ 3:30 pm
  30. If you are seriously interested in reducing your cholesterol, I’d suggest learning about a low fat (7-10%) vegan (plant foods, no animal foods or animal products) diet, as recommended by Dr. McDougall at http://www.drmcdougall.com, and Dr. Dean Ornish, among others. Oatmeal does work, but a healthy vegan diet works much better, faster, and without the side effects of drugs. You can see Dr. McDougall’s website to learn a lot about it, free.

    Comment by Carolyn — May 2, 2007 @ 5:18 pm
  31. Is it really proven? Then, who did the analysis / research? Proff is required to make the claim stron and believeable / trustworthy.

    Comment by ashwini singh — June 25, 2008 @ 8:20 am
  32. No rule, huh?

    And I quote: “Always use a zero base line. The vertical scale that represents size or amount is, with one exception, never broken because the design is based on the principle that the area displayed is proportional to the quantity of interest.”

    http://www.eia.doe.gov/neic/graphs/bars.htm

    Comment by Alex — September 7, 2008 @ 4:58 pm

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