In an article in The Toronto Star, the Montreal Heart Institute was forced to publicly denounce a fad diet that had become falsely connected with their name. The all hot dog and ice cream diet that promised people the loss of ten pounds in three days was understandably condemned as ‘foolish,’ but the institute feared people would continue to come across the diet on the internet. While it may seem like common sense that this diet would only increase the chance of gain and the risk of possible adverse health effects, the MHI felt it necessary to discredit it, because of its appearance as a quick and easy fix. Weight
Upon reading the article, I began to think about the amount of power and influence a published article in a newspaper or on the Internet can have on people and how their personal health and diet choices are so greatly affected by the media. Since it has become increasingly more difficult to see and spend time with a family physician to answer their numerous questions and concerns, people have begun to rely more and more on the media about health matters. While the media does publish and discuss many important ‘scientific’ studies about the recent findings of various research institutes, the problem with this method of obtaining heath and diet information is that these studies are filtered through the media to a point where they are condensed, summarized and reduced to a 500 word article or a 10-15 second sound-byte. Also, these health-related stories are often given catchy but misleading headlines such as ‘Hair Dye May Cause Cancer, Study Says,’ in order to grab people’s attention, however upon reading or watching the entire story, it may become clear that the study is inconclusive and very vague on what its findings really are.
A recent study on the affects of hair dye on the risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in women was just reported by an internet health site called www.healthday.com and the story was picked up and given high priority by the Google News search engine and The New York Times. While the article’s headline was clearly written in a way to attract people’s attention, upon further reading you’d find that according to one of the researchers, only the use of dark-coloured dyes place women at a greater risk of developing cancer. The article provides no distinction between what exactly were the light and the dark colours and whether the frequency of a person getting their hair dyed affected the risk of disease.
Furthermore, the article goes on to report that the risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is very low for women who dye their hair and the dyes associated with cancer-causing agents are only found in products used before the 1980s. With all of the inconclusive results of this study, the headline of this article seems to be very deceiving and could cause a lot of unnecessary worry.
Another study, found in The Washington Post, had as its headline ‘A healthy diet may not reduce the risk of prostate cancer.’ While this article provided its readers with detailed and clear information on this study and even a web link that would bring readers to the medical journal where it was published, people need to keep in mind that it is only one study of hundreds performed on this subject. Even though this study claims that a healthy diet that is low in fibre may not reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer, it does not mean that everyone should ignore the results of past studies and the recommendations of trained health professionals.
Scientific research on health and diet published in the media are often misleading and they do not provide information that is specific to every person. While it is important to remain up to date on new advances in discoveries, people need to take the information they have received in the media and follow it up with the opinion of a medical or health professional before they come to a conclusion which could seriously affect their life.