Health scares will do you no good

The papers are full of health scares - but why do we believe contradictory and tenuous stories, while ignoring simple medical advice?

Broccoli fights cancer, says the British Journal of Cancer. This worries me because I remember vividly that once upon a time, circa 2001, broccoli was carcinogenic. Back then, it contained acetaldehyde, which was A Bad Thing Of Some Kind, and quite prominent in health stories until we forgot about it. Luckily, I don't use deodorant or incense, but phone masts, bacon and the rest of the fashionable carcinogens will probably get me if I live long enough.Or they will if the endless health scares in the press are to be believed.

But despite their repetitive, contradictory and medically tenuous nature, people pay attention to these lists of absurd things that are supposedly bad for you; they even act upon them - randomly banning bra underwiring or broccoli from their lives - while remaining resistant to constant, consistent and proven advice to eat, drink and smoke less and exercise more. Why?

Ben Goldacre, who, as well as being a doctor, writes this newspaper's Bad Science column, says the lure of the health scare story for the media lies in that fact that during the "golden age of medicine, miracle cures and sinister hidden scares really were being discovered". Now, "we move ahead by small incremental understandings of large numbers of modest risk factors, but journalists haven't found a way to write about that, so every fractional research finding has to be crowbarred into the 'miracle-cure-hidden-scare' template."

Source - Guardian

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