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Media Distortion Damages Both Science and Journalism

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Simon Baron-Cohen, PhD, director of the Autism Research Centre at University of Cambridge, recently published a study that showed a positive correlation between levels of fetal testosterone (measured by amniocentesis) and the number of autistic traits a child shows post-natally. None of the children in the study, however, had actually developed autism. What was being measured was how sociable and communicative they were. But what did the newspapers report?  “Call for Ethics Debate as Tests in the Womb Could Allow Termination of Pregnancies,” with a front-page photo of a fetus and the caption, “The discovery of a high level of testosterone in prenatal tests is an indicator of autism.” None of this gratuitously inflammatory language was even hinted at in the study.


The Harvard Nurses Study has linked wise lifestyle choices to an 83% reduction in the risk of heart disease. Yet it gets little press, while research about a statin drug lowering the risk of heart-related incidents under certain conditions has drawn major media coverage. The Portfolio Diet from the University of Toronto worked as well as statin drugs to lower total blood cholesterol. The press barely reported the news, yet advertising has trumpeted the use of statin drugs that  turn off the body’s ability to manufacture cholesterol—while barely mentioning the long list of possible side effects. Harvard-based research showed a multi-factorial lifestyle approach lowers the risk of type II diabetes by 90%. Avandia’s success is only 47%, yet the news about Avandia was shouted from the rooftops.

Why does no one report on the financial benefit of changing one’s lifestyle versus the cost of taking medications?  Why is there little mention of the risks of a procedure/prescription approach to health? Why is lifestyle medicine almost never mentioned in the popular press? The sobering fact is, the pharmaceutical industry has made loss of life an acceptable side effect.

Our health deserves more than sound-bite sensationalism. Health freedom includes the freedom to educate ourselves about the science behind lifestyle medicine, clinical nutrition, exercise, and emotional health.

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