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Do you believe what you read?

31 May 2012

I’ve frequently been frustrated reading reports in the media about health news.  They are almost always inaccurate in some way, and rarely communicate the context behind the news.

Take today’s news for example, from (what a surprise) the Daily Mail:  “Don’t drink more than THREE glasses of wine a week” (31 May 2012).  If you take this seriously, 4,500 peoples’ lives could be saved by drinking less than three glasses of wine, or equivalent, per week.

Contrast this with one of their headlines just a year ago:

“How a daily tipple could help topple risk of heart disease”  (February 23 2011).  Hmmmm.  So everyone who felt vindicated after reading that article has had a great year having their daily tipple, only to be told today that they are putting themselves at great risk, and they could be one of the 4,500 would could die.

Well, let’s look at this sensibly.  Alcohol is harmful, of course.  In case you’re interested in this specific example, here is a recent NHS report which strives to put media claims about alcohol recommendations into perspective: A Sober Analysis of Alcohol: what’s your poison?  However, many things in life are harmful.  It is also necessary for people to find a balance in their lives between living a healthy lifestyle, and becoming utterly neurotic and paranoid about their health.

My point isn’t about the specific arguments around alcohol.  It is that every day, millions of people read a newspaper and are given the impression that they could be terminally ill or at serious health risk.   In contrast, millions of people also read a newspaper and are given the impression that they are at no risk, are infallible and can ignore any symptoms.  Both are equally dangerous, both physically and psychologically.

I therefore never believe anything that I read in a newspaper about health.  It isn’t just because I’d like to continue drinking more than three glasses of wine per week (although that’s a fair assumption).  It’s because I would rather seek out accurate information from a scientific or medical source, and understand it in full context.  It would be nice if our media could take a more responsible role in the health education of our population.


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