Health is the most important thing to any individual in westernised society. So why is it then, in this world, there is an element of risk that is constantly drilled into our minds by an overactive media.
For example, many studies recently released state that drinking any amount of alcohol increases your probability of developing serious diseases, mental issues and problems in further life. Looking at this as an interested newspaper reader or television viewer, one might immediately leap to the conclusion that alcohol is bad, and no longer consume any of it.
However, looking further into these bold, generalised statements, we can infer quite a few things. For example, of course drinking alcohol raises a probability of developing diseases; through modern day science, we know that for example, alcohol causes liver issues. This does not necessarily mean that we will develop these problems, merely that there is a link between the two.
By covering news stories like this, there are many affects had on society. Firstly, it creates a kind of paranoia within the public. By constantly referring to science, the media can make you believe something to be fact, when it is just cleverly disguised opinion.
We must also consider the sources of such reports. One popular and famous example is that of a 2009 report on the BBC’s Breakfast show, where a supposed scientist appeared on the show to state that butter was a huge cause of health problems, urging people to find alternatives. This, in all likelihood, would cause sales of alternatives such as margarine and other low fat spreads to significantly rise. Eventually, it was found that the man’s “research”; was infact almost entirely funded by Flora, a well known margarine production company. It is examples like these which mean that instead of taking each report at face value, we now have to really examine the source of each piece of material, instead of taking advice on board quickly and easily.
This also means that there is a lack of trust within society towards health information; not knowing what information to trust and what not, means that often, people will switch off entirely. This means that potentially, more and more people are ignoring advice that could be life saving. It is not just the source of evidence that is the problem, however.
An example of where the combination of science and journalism has also caused a widespread panic is the link between the vaccination MMR and Autism. Originally, there was said to be a link between the two, because in a few test cases, those children that were given MMR went on to develop Autism. This sparked a mass panic in the public, with many refusing to give their child what could again, be a potentially life saving piece of medical research.
However, to say that there was a link between the two was hard to prove; Autism is not a rare or unheard of condition, as increased awareness since has proved. Given that almost every child was given MMR, the likelihood of a few going on to develop autism was inevitable; it could have happened to them anyway.
This means that in many pieces of information given to us through the news, we are also unsure of how the science came about. Rather than giving details, in order to simplify it to a larger audience, the media will use terms such as “scientists have proved”, rather than giving detail that is often necessary in each case.
To summarise, I feel that the key point here is that in society, we should only listen to health advice issued by doctors themselves; rather than listening to journalists who are inevitably looking to create a story worthy of a 30 pence newspaper sale. It is also morally and ethically wrong to suggest that there is a problem with medical research and information in order to create a story of interest to the public.