The headline that cried wolf

Oversimplification of research and inaccuracies in the detail often lead to very misleading messages. Certainly when it comes to early research developments (particularly those that show interesting findings from animal studies), there seem to be immediate extrapolations to potential life changing effects on human beings, just for the shock factor. Or perhaps it’s naivety but we simply can’t do this and as much as scientists might like to be able to predict the future, there often isn’t nearly enough evidence to  make any clear conclusions.

The problem is when the majority of pieces in the media are of this nature, the serious headlines and the accurate information gets lost or ignored. With the rise of social media, it’s also the non-expert views and non-evidence based claims that are equally damaging. So it has got to the point where the general public won’t take any health messages seriously.

When you read the public comments made in relation to such stories, they are often cynical, complain of constantly changing advice and of living in a nanny state.  I have read such comments on articles that I have contributed to (yes I did go to school and get a Degree and no I don’t have a big nose) and particularly regarding some of the celebrity ‘advice’ that seems to be so much more valid than a health professional’s (?!)

Here are just a few that caught my eye:

In other words, the previous food related health recommendations which were good for 15 minutes were replaced to some extent by competing food related health recommendations which will be considered provisionally useful for another 15 minutes until in turn replaced by contradictory food related health recommendations which may serve for yet another 15 minutes until they themselves are contradicted and superseded. And so on.

To be honest I tend to agree here! With diet and health being such popular subjects and the field of nutrition developing at a rate of knots, there are numerous new stories every day that have some connection with food. It becomes a competition to see who gets the ‘latest developments’ and get the most ‘likes’ ‘shares’ or comments. I read the above comment with amusement but the serious side to this is how on Earth are the public to know who or what to listen to when we are being told left, right and centre what to do? If everyone does switch off, then what hope have professionals got to help people change their health behaviours for the better?

Then there is the issue that people become misinformed and confused. This leads to incorrect understanding of the effects our lifestyle choices can have on our health:

The only thing starches are good for is some B-vitamins, which can be gotten elsewhere.

Wheat is not healthy, oats, rice, barley are fine in moderation.

The fat in butter (and meat, and everything) is good for you, it is what all predators need in their diet, but dairy is irrelevant, it not good for you.

Yes these statements are all wrong! (I’m not going into that can of worms here however!)

Then if we aren’t confused or misunderstood, we take the messages personally (regarding the new NICE guidelines on maintaining a health weight that were sold as children should NEVER be given sweets, say new NHS guidelines):

I think the only thing that needs to stop is the government, NHS and schools dictating to us how to raise OUR OWN KIDS!! 

Why don’t we get together and suggest what the NHS should be doing, such as saving lives, doing their jobs and reading about the freedom of choice act!

And of course there is always going to be the exception to the rule:

My husband has slept naked his whole life (33years) from the age of 25 he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (in relation to the sleeping naked could cut your risk of diabetes headline) 

My kids have sweets every day and they’re not overweight and have all their teeth! They eat really well. (Not that this says anything about their future health)

My worry is that if the media continue to Cry wolf then, like the fairy story, no one will listen to the real advice that is designed to improve our health and potentially save lives. NHS Choices have a great section on their website called ‘Behind the headlines’ Here they go through the headlines, summarise and critique the research before telling you if you need to take any notice of the story.  More often than not, you don’t! Why not take a look here

For any dietary advice, always check it is coming from a reputable professional; a professional organisation, registered nutritionist or registered dietitian.It is also so important that health professionals keep doing their bit and continue  promoting evidence based information and advice. To be honest, it is our professional responsibility to ‘keep going on’ and funnily enough Dr Susan Jebb has written a piece for BBC News called Why not nanny people about healthy diet? today. 

Lastly I’ll leave you with this comment that really made me chuckle 🙂

My dad had porridge every morning and was having sex at 84… mind you we lived at number 27.