SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – September 2003

 Age of anxiety. If you have breasts and read the tabloids, you are soon likely to be in a state of almost constant anxiety, if you are not already. Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes around again tomorrow, launched in 1985 by Betty Ford in the US to raise both consciousness and funds, and brought to Britain in 1992. Of course, this is A Good Thing. It would be hard to argue otherwise about a project meant to encourage women to be "breast aware" and to improve cancer survival rates. But after the recent flood of cancer scare stories, you might be forgiven for wanting to hide until October is over – especially as, according to recent reports, "stress can double the risk of breast cancer". Guardian

Public perceptions do not equate to risks, but reflect controversies. Public reactions do not necessarily relate to real risks to health, and these are fed by mass communication. Bellaby uses three examples to contrast the varied public perceptions of risks to children's health: autism caused by MMR vaccination, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) from food containing the agent that causes bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), and injuries and death from road crashes. Perceived risks are filtered through mass media and the medical and scientific communities, which often miscommunicate true risk. As a result, Bellaby argues, parents tend to ignore the most obvious risks to their children (road crashes), reject experts' assessment (over BSE), and amplify a virtually non-existent risk (autism after vaccination). BMJ.

Row erupts over asteroid press scare. Astronomers have been so horrified by press scares over asteroids that they are toning down the scale they use to rate the threat posed in an attempt to discourage journalists from covering potential collisions. The most prominent recent furore involved asteroid QQ47, which briefly had a one-in-a-million chance of crashing into our planet in 2014. New Scientist

All it takes is one maverick scientist . . . When child mortality was 50 per cent, far too many had far too little to eat; dirt and disease were endemic; families of ten were squeezed into two rooms; whole tenements used one toilet; on farms, cattle had better housing than the workers, and staying alive was the goal and reaching 40 a genuine milestone. As it still is in some countries. But not here, where we are better fed, have better health, live much longer and, most of us, are much better off than any previous generation. And are we happy? Do we talk about how good things are, how healthy we are, what a choice of food we have, what a range of activities we can enjoy, what a good time it is to be alive? Ho, ho, my aching ribs. Scotsman

Killer virus to wipe us all out!! Let's look at what last month's news stories would have done for your health. You would be worried – quite inappropriately – about giving your child MMR, putting your child and whole community at risk; you would have stopped your HRT and your Seroxat, or made a panicked beeline for your GP; you would be terrified of the "superbug" that "may kill 150,000"; and you would be convinced that we are four times more likely to die after surgery under the NHS than in the US. Guardian

Health scare stories distort NHS priorities. It's official: health scares are bad for your health. A new study blames media hype over controversies, ranging from the MMR vaccine to the conditions on NHS hospital wards, for putting Britons' well-being at risk. Scares have potentially harmful effects not only on individuals' behaviour – the abortion rate rose by eight per cent after research in 1995 linked types of contraceptive pill to blood clots, frightening many women into ceasing to take the pills – but on government decisions and priorities, says The King's Fund study. Observer

What's with Which? There is even more reason to be optimistic about life, after recent research showed that optimists live significantly longer than pessimists do. Of course this gives pessimists something else to worry about … A good barometer of this rising tide of angst is that organ of the middle classes, Which, the journal of the Consumers' Association. Once upon a time it concerned itself with comparative tests of toasters and suchlike essentials of life, but nowadays it is much more than that. Increasingly it loves covering bad news, and uncovering things that we should worry about. Spiked.

Chewing the fad. In death, as in life, Dr Robert Atkins cheated the po-faced medical community. Everyone wanted him to die of a huge coronary meltdown, but no, he slipped on the pavement and banged his head. Atkins-refuseniks had to admit that in the ultimate test case there is no retribution whatever for a carbohydrate-free life (apart from my friend, who mooted the possibility that there had been some butter on the pavement, and had there been a cracker underneath, Atkins would have been OK). Guardian

The odds on Armageddon shorten to 909,000-to-1. AN ASTEROID large enough to wipe out a continent could collide with the Earth in 11 years, astronomers said yesterday. There is no reason, however, to prepare for Armageddon just yet. The chances of an impact are remote, at just one in 909,000, and the odds of oblivion will lengthen still further as more details of the object’s orbit become known. Times

Three fruit and veg may be enough. Just three portions of fruit and vegetables a day may be enough to protect against heart disease, according to a study. In Britain, the government and leading experts advise people to eat five portions each day. But a study by doctors in Greece involving 1,900 people indicates that three portions may be more than enough. BBC