The Health Calendar
An excellent article in the Independent this week discusses the recent trend of date reclamation for the expression of a political or commercial agenda. [see also SIRC's media analysis Longevity: the 'Holy Grail' of the Health Profession.] For example, you may not be aware that we have just had Natural Mineral Water Week, or that we are currently in the middle of High Blood Pressure Education Month. Jeremy Laurance, the article's author, addresses this use of the calendar with a certain degree of cynicism and asks: "how embarrassing clashes are avoided – eg. between National Condom Week and British Fertility Awareness Month." While a central database does record the various dates assigned to a variety of different interests, there exists no restriction on who it is that may claim these days, weeks and months for their own cause. Although awareness weeks do not necessarily constitute news in themselves, they are often used to "tickle the public consciousness" and to serve as an introductory rhetoric that seeks new legislation or lifestyle change to counter these newly highlighted 'risks'. To parody the over use of this particular 'tool' he proposes a National You're-Not-As-Ill-As-You-Think-You-Are Week, suggesting that people with health complaints may be able to express their grievances at a "Giant Complaints fest to be held at Earl's Court."
Meanwhile, Canada's National Post has adopted the language of the opposition and designated this week as "Junk Science Week". In his editorial Attack of the Tomato Killers, Terence Corcoran discusses the European embargo on GM foods and seeks to define the concept of Junk Science which "occurs when facts are distorted, risk is exaggerated, and the results are steeped in politics and ideology."
The BBC report, Glasgow: the world's heart attack capital, highlights another prevalent 'risk awareness' technique, the creation of league tables. By providing figures that imply that an inhabitant of "place X" may be more at risk than an inhabitant of "place Y", the health professionals are able to fuel regionally targeted policies that focus on perceived regionally specific risks. The whole process is worryingly self- perpetuating. The 'high risk' league leaders will make the headlines and it is they who will unerringly qualify for an immediate drive toward improvement. For those at the base of the poll, their position simply clarifies the success of some previous health policy and thereby justifies its continuation and the allocation of future investment.