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|Health in the media|
|Rabu, 01 September 2010 09:19|
Using fear or creating anxieties and then offering solutions
People’s personal health concerns can unfortunately be exploited and is all too common.
Perhaps a bizarre and extreme example is the following: The British Medical Journal reported in November 2005 (Volume 331, p.1103), that a fictional book about terrorists, and poisoned Canadian pills “was commissioned as part of an effort to cause US citizens to worry about the safety of Canadian drugs.”
The US has long had a ban on importing Canadian drugs and this combined with the exorbitant prices of US drugs means that many patients resort to Internet purchases from Canada and elsewhere, the BMJ explained. Apparently, the Vice President of PhRMA and a consultant for that pharmaceutical lobby group had been involved in the deal for the book. The BMJ did not report that the VP denied her own own involvement, only that PhRMA did not “directly” commission the book.
More generally, however, fear is exploited more subtly and the media strategies that health related industries (pharmaceutical, alternative, nutrition, food, etc) have invested in appears to pay off for them as the title from another BMJ article reveals: Who needs health care—the well or the sick? (Volume 330, April 23, 2005, p.954).
That article makes an interesting observation whereby “the rates of self reported illness are paradoxical: low in Bihar [the poorest state in India], where the low expectations of health are disturbing, and enormously high in the United States, which is equally disturbing but for different reasons.” In summary, it seemed that “the more people are exposed to contemporary health care, the sicker they feel.” A key reason for this appears to be related to the industrialization of health: “more money can be made from selling healthcare interventions for the healthy majority than for the sick minority.”
The radio/TV show, Democracy Now!, adds to this with their January 19, 2007 broadcast, noting that pharmaceutical companies have gone to excessive lengths to portray common ailments and problems as diseases, and have even highlighted obscure problems as common diseases. Through the use of uncertainty and fear in advertising campaigns people are therefore encouraged to purchase drugs as solutions. As Democracy Now! found out when looking at a documentary called Big Bucks, Big Pharma: Marketing Disease & Pushing Drugs, there are many examples, including drugs for “restless leg syndrome”, for your “restless mind”, “generalized anxiety disorder” and more.
— Big Bucks, Big Pharma: Marketing Disease & Pushing Drugs, Democracy Now!, January 19, 2007
In other words, many health news items appear to be repackaged press releases, or at least have that feel about them (which is not unique to the health industries unfortunately as explained further on this site’s section on media manipulation).
Sensational headlines sell, of course. That’s why an online vote in a doctor’s chat web site can result in headlines such as “Doctors Say No to Abortions in their Surgeries” (Daily Telegraph, 2007) because 4 out of 5 family doctors voted no to the question “‘GPs should carry out abortions in their surgeries’ strongly agree, agree, don't know, disagree, strongly disagree.”
The question is overloaded because there is no context (what type of abortion, surgical or oral pill? Under what circumstances, with extra training, time and money? And so on. So much so that many doctors complained about the question. Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science has the shocking details, pp.267 – 269. His favorite quote from the chat site was “I think that the question is poorly worded and I hope [the doctors’ web site] do not release the results of this poll to the Daily Telegraph”!)
So, the media itself also bears responsibility for many of these issues, and the next example shows this even more.