Ask Away...: Should We Take Health Scares Seriously?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Should We Take Health Scares Seriously?

Before we get started, it’s important to know that I’m talking about general health scares. If you head to the doctor, and they notice a problem, you should always take that seriously. It may be a sign that you need to improve your lifestyle to get fitter. Or, it may be just a case of getting the treatment that you need. Now that we’ve got that out the way we can think about what I’m referring to. You see health scares on the news all the time. One night there might be a story about how wine is good for you. The next, there might be an issue with freezing chicken. The stories are this vague and wide. The question I want to answer is should we take these health scares seriously. Or, can we just ignore them as another form of scaremongering to get us to watch Tv shows and buy papers? To answer this question, we’ve got to look at the facts.

Where Does The Story Come From

There’s usually only one source of health scares and that’s scientific research studies. If it comes from anywhere else, you probably shouldn’t trust it anyway. More often than not it’s just one person shouting about this opinion, hoping someone pays attention. However, it’s important to realise you probably won’t hear about the finding from the horse's mouth. Rather, you might get told by your neighbour who heard it from a friend who read it online. That online publication probably got it from a medical journal or another news report. But already we’re playing a massive game of Chinese whispers. Health scares can have some relevance and messages that we need to take on board. But by the time we heard the report it’s been stretched to the point where it’s unrecognisable.

Then there's the issue with those scientific studies. Scientific studies are based on fact and theory. But in most cases the facts aren’t always valid. They sound good and look interested on paper. But the facts simply aren’t there. Instead, general conclusions have been exaggerated to make specific claims. This may be the fault of the researcher or the reporter who catches the story. Don’t forget journalists are always looking for a story that sounds interesting. If it doesn’t sound interesting, they may pick and select different pieces that they think are. That’s why the general public never knows where they stand with health scares. But does that mean we can’t trust them at all?

Fact And Fiction

Fiction always comes from somewhere. Let’s take a random example of this. The story of the Loch Ness monster is derived by a tale of a wizard that lived by the loch. The wizard supposedly had power over a monster that lived in the loch. Many people believed they sighted the monster slipping back into the water. So, what are the facts in this story? Well, there was a house buy the loch. There were also believed to be amphibious creatures that could move in and out the water. That’s where the facts end.

Similarly, in the case of health scares, they are often based on fact. For instance, you may have heard about the beef e Coli scare. If you haven’t, you can get all the information from If you read about it in the news, you would be forgiven for thinking this is a new occurrence. Or it’s something fresh we have to worry about. Or, that we should stay away from this meat altogether. But none of these things are true. First, while a dangerous strain bacteria like e Coli is found in all uncooked meats. It’s dangerous if the meat isn’t cooked properly. The same is true for salmonella in chicken and any other food poisoning. As long as the meat is properly cooked the chances of the bacteria affecting you are minimal. The fact we should take away is that meat should always be cooked thoroughly before serving.

Another case of fact within fiction is the MMR-autism scare. Many parents to this stay are still scared vaccines cause autism. This is based on what report that proved no link to Autism and the vaccine at all. Instead, it showed that the vaccine was linked to changes in the intestine. These changes were seen in autistic children. The problem? There was only a small sample collected, and this shows a second correlation but not a direction. By all accounts, it wasn’t strong enough to make any serious claim.

Contradicting Evidence

Despite there usually being some fact behind health scare stories, they are still hard to take on board. Mainly because they constantly contradict one another. One story might tell you that all red wine is bad. The next, that one glass each week is good for your blood. Which one do you trust? You only have one option. If you want to follow these stories and learn from them, you must go to the source. You need to make sure that you know which one has stronger evidence. Essentially, this is the only way to tell which story to trust. Even then it’s going to be a gamble. These days there’s just too many reports out there and no way to tell which is right.

Your only option is to make an informed decision based on the research available. That way, at least you’ll be making the call on what you eat or drink.

To conclude then, I think these health scares do have relevance to how we live our life. We should always read up when a new one is reported. But we need to remember that in this case entertainment and knowledge are often blurred. In 2009 one news report claimed bird flu would kill five hundred thousand people in the first year. To this day, the total number of deaths by bird flu in the world is 236. Not quite the numbers the daily mail were expecting.

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