SIRC – Media Watch 09-04-99
This Week’s U-Turns
Whoops! It appears that the pill, mobile phones, eggs and even the dreaded cholesterol may not be quite as harmful as we were initially lead to believe.
1) The Pill Scare
Government health advisers, this week, radically re-assessed their advice concerning third generation contraceptive pills. The Committee on Safety of Medicines’ original release, back in 1995, warned women of a potential increased risk of Deep Veined Thrombosis in connection with these drugs and suggested that it would be inadvisable for them to be administered as a first line form of contraception. At the time of the announcement it was thought that approximately 2 million women, half of all British women taking oral contraceptives, were using these pills for precisely that purpose.
The committee’s announcement, caused widespread panic among the women who were prescribed these pills – 12% immediately ceased taking the drug – and radically affected the abortion rate, which according to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, increased by 9%, a figure that continues to climb. In the four years that it has taken for the committee to reverse its initial standpoint, this 9% has manifested itself in an estimated total of 29,291 additional abortions. Anne Furedi (BPAS) said, "It was a disaster that should never have happened. It caused a massive hike in the rate of unintended pregnancies.It undermined general confidence in the pill. We still see women requesting abortion who wrongly believe the pill is dangerous."
Dr Jeremy Meters, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, announced new guidance on the pill – effectively a U-turn – on Wednesday, April 7, "Of course I regret the unnecessary abortions, but the CSM gave the advice they thought was right at the time."
2) Phone Fears Unfounded
The government, the health professionals, the scientific community and the media this week grapple with mixed health messages and the mobile phone. Recent fears, emerging in the last few months, implicate microwave emissions from mobile handsets in an increased risk of short term memory loss, skin complaints, headaches and brain tumour development. To our rescue, enter Tessa Jowell, reassuring us that the government has selected a panel of experts to review all the research so far conducted into this issue. Not to be outdone, the World Health Organisation is currently finalising plans to enter the forum with the biggest study on the effects of mobile phones ever undertaken, funded with a modest budget of $6 million. A study at Bristol University, headed by Dr Allan Preece, offered up its findings this week and concluded that the use of mobile phones may, in fact, accelerate reaction times and improve the speed at which our brains function. The ubiquitous nature of the mobile phone – there are at present 15 million users in the UK, a figure expected to double in the next few years – has provided irresponsible health professionals with the perfect platform from which to launch unfounded scares.
3) Topical Consumption – Food for Thought
Being Easter, predictably, eggs have made this week’s news. By adding natural supplements to the diets of egg-laying chickens, Scottish scientists claim that the consumption of their nutraceutical "super eggs" actually reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers. Having, at various times, been warned of the dangers posed by this particular foodstuff, it will be interesting to see if the trend toward a decline in egg consumption will be reversed and their place on the ‘healthy’ breakfast menu re-instated. The Sunday Times, meanwhile, extols the virtue of the free range variety and discusses the European Parliament vote to ban battery cages within the next ten years.
4) Cholesterol Revisited
Results, published by Dr David Reuben from the University of California, suggested that low cholesterol, when combined with low level of albumin in the blood, may actually constitute a high risk of decline and death in elderly.