Understand medical news? Put it in perspective. (Check out what I found!)

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

I was scanning the medical news headlines today and I could not stop thinking how misleading some can be, and why you need information like James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor website and magazine, along with like sources, to sort out the confusion.

In just a few minutes, I found:

  • Yahoo! news reporting an AP story, “Cancer to be world’s top killer by 2010, WHO says.”  Cigarette smoking in third-world countries is believed to be the reason.  But, in paragraph three of the story, you see that one reason it may rise to the top is the “downward trend of infectious diseases that used to be the world’s leading killers.”  Did the headline mention that?  Probably not eye-catching enough.
  • At medicalnewstoday.com I found that adding nuts to your Mediterranian diet may reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome.  Netsurfing to alltop.com, I read at healthworldonline that 4 percent of children have a food allergy, mainly fish and nuts.  But at BMJ online I found an opinion piece from a Harvard doctor (PDF) stating, “This allergies hysteria is just nuts.”  He argues we’re creating a hysteria and cites examples like a school bus that was evacuated and cleaned immediately after finding a peanut on the floor.  He thinks we’re creating more allergies since it’s thought that keeping children away from eating nuts in early life may lead to sensitization and allergies later on.
  • Back in medicalnewstoday.com I found that two ways to reduce type 2 diabetes are increasing physical activity and decreasing television viewing, and they are independent of each other.  So is it the airwaves or a vast broadcast conspiracy? Also, I saw a link to the International Journal of Obesity, where we find a study that shows changing exercise and eating habits can keep weight off equally as well as surgery, but you do have to work harder at it.

I am not really criticizing.  I am just pointing out that headlines are to get your attention.   All these studies have merit. Some are pertinent to you.  Others are just guidance to more focused studies. You have to read the details, know the context and put it in perspective.

Have you seen other examples lately?

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5 Responses to “Understand medical news? Put it in perspective. (Check out what I found!)”

  1. Steve Parker, M.D. Says:

    You are so right, Dr. Hubbard!

    Also, I’m increasingly impressed by how much “news,” including medical news, is driven by press releases sent out to multiple media outlets. This makes it very easy for a “journalist” to change a few words and make it his own work product.

    A Google search on the Mediterranean diet/nut study revealed 375 news articles from 375 different sources on Dec. 8 & 9. They all said pretty much the same thing, not going beyond the press release. Reporters at the huge papers, like New York Times and LA Times, are more likely to dig deeper.

    Same story with the recent Crestor craze.

    You have to be skeptical.


    Steve Parker, M.D.s last blog post..Prepare For Weight Loss, Part 6: Weight Goals

  2. Sagan Says:

    It’s the same with research studies- 10 will come out at the same time, and they all state slightly different findings. Steve’s got a great point about how with articles, you can find half a dozen of almost the exact same writing from different websites or publications. There’s so much misleading information out there, it’s no wonder so many of us have trust issues…

  3. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Yes you do, Dr. Parker.

  4. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Many journalists just copy the press release, or copy the AP, etc. without ever looking at the study. Some would not know what they are looking at anyway. No disrepect for the writers, just a fact.

  5. James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor Blog » Blog Archive » CDC: HIV rates down, but new cases steady. What gives? Says:

    [...] this when other reports come out, such as the recent news that worldwide lung cancer will double in 10 years.  Three reasons [...]

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