Lenore Skenazy has a fantastic blog up at Reason tackling a new study that urges pregnant women, and even those planning/trying to get pregnant, to lay off coffee.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), was conducted by Professor Jack E James–a man who seems hell bent on taking down the coffee industry himself. Skenazy points out that he’s written two books on the supposed dangers of coffee consumption.
This is nothing new. These studies pop up a few times a year and terrify women carrying babies or trying to get pregnant. Yet, this time, the reaction to this story is a little different. In an unusual move, 20 public health officials (almost all female) have written a letter to the BMJ suggesting the study and its recommendations “…should be interpreted with extreme caution.”
In his narrative review of the association between maternal caffeine consumption and pregnancy outcomes, Professor Jack E James claimed there was sufficient evidence of harmful causal effects to suggest that pregnant women or women contemplating pregnancy should ‘avoid caffeine’ (1). His opinions were widely reported by the media in line with a sensational press release that claimed there was “No safe level of caffeine consumption for pregnant women and would-be mothers”. We do not however consider these claims to be appropriate or justified, due to a number of serious methodological limitations, statistical errors, and a concerning lack of objectivity. The author declared no conflicts of interest, yet has written extensively on the ‘lethality’ of caffeine (2). For this, and the following reasons, we believe the review and its recommendations should be interpreted with extreme caution.
Skenazy goes on to explain the problems with these sorts of studies that generate multiple terrifying headlines. To summarize, she says they make pregnant women nervous and anxiety ridden, which is also harmful to the baby. And it’s hard for women who miscarry to hear this sort of thing because, inevitably, they’ll blame themselves for having that cup of coffee when they were 8 weeks pregnant. But mostly, it makes pregnancy unpleasant and for those getting pregnant, an even bigger challenge.
This sort of thing needs to stop–at the source. Scientific journals like the British Medical Journal should refuse to publish studies from activists like Professor James.