Daily Mail Health Articles

December 5, 2011 at 11:57 am (Media) (, )

The Daily Mail is known to some as The People’s Medical Journal for its love of health stories. Particularly health stories that involve unlikely cures, or anecdotes about alleged side effects of vaccination. I took a look at some of the latest stories in the Mail’s Health section. Caution: this article contains links to the Daily Mail’s website. PDFs are available for those who do not wish to visit the Mail’s website.

This article has a headline that asks “Can a few AA batteries relieve pain, gout and depression?” and answers its own question with “the answer will shock you”. This clearly implies (that the devices running on) AA batteries can relieve pain, gout, and depression. The third paragraph of the article mentions the names of two manufacturers, who must be grateful for the Mail’s promotion of their devices. The Mail write that:

They are being touted as treatments for everything from joint and back pain to headaches, gout, multiple sclerosis and even depression.

Is this a revolution in symptom management and a one-size-fits-all alternative to drugs? Or are manufacturers cynically targeting vulnerable sufferers who will try – and pay – anything to alleviate chronic conditions?

Surprisingly, some experts are quite open to the concept.

This implies that some experts are open to the idea that these devices constitute a revolution in symptom management, or the claims that these devices can treat the conditions named in the article. I found no evidence on Pubmed that supported the claims that such devices can treat gout, depression, or MS.

The Mail quote a professor  of physiotherapy who has no doubt that the devices are effective in treating pain but says nothing of their effectiveness in treating the other named conditions. Other experts quoted seem open to the idea that these devices can be used to treat pain but none support the other claims made – in fact, one expert refers to the “outrageous claims” of manufacturers that cannot be substantiated.

The Mail ignore the lack of substantiation for claims that the devices can treat gout, depression, or MS and devote the final nine paragraphs of the article to an anecdote of a single patient who believes that the device has helped with her depression. A manufacturer of these devices is named twice in this section of the article.

Uncritical promotion of an unproven treatment, a misleading headline, and promotion of named commercial enterprises.

This article is another that asks and answers a question in its own headline. Interestingly, the headline recommends that parents should not tell their children about “the birds and the bees”. This seems to contradict the opinion of the expert consulted by the Mail who, among other things, recommends that sex should be discussed openly and that parents explain “how it is important to take precautions and that people can easily get hold of contraception if they need it”. The Mail’s expert might have some interesting views on how sex should be discussed with ones children, but they most certainly do not recommend not discussing sex.

Another misleading headline, this time one which contradicts the advice of the expert selected by the Daily Mail.

Another question for a headline. The Mail report on a small study that compared two supplements in women undergoing IVF and found that more women in the group taking the multi-nutrient pill fell pregnant. The Mail not only name the specific brand of multi-nutrient pill used in the study, but also have a picture of a packet of the pills to illustrate the story. After much pimping of the product, the Daily Mail end the article with some caveats – a list of factors that affect fertility, and a quote from Dr Allan Pacey saying that “we should acknowledge that this is a relatively small number of patients and the study would need to be repeated in a larger trial before we could be certain of the results”.

It seems a little premature to publicise the findings of this small trial, no context is given (is there any other relevant research in this area that should have been referred to?), and the promotion of a particular brand of vitamin pill seems unnecessary.

From the Science section of the Mail, there is this health story: Teenage sex ‘leads to bad moods’ in later life. Here are the scary opening paragraphs:

Having sex during teenage years could lead to bad moods, changes in brain development and smaller reproductive tissues, according to scientists.

Researchers from Ohio State University College of Medicine found that these changes can occur because the sexual experience is taking place while the brain is still developing.

Study co-author John Morris said: ‘Having a sexual experience during this time point, early in life, is not without consequence.’

It is only in the fourth paragraph that the Mail reveal that the researchers studied 40-day old hamsters rather than teenage humans. That the team’s findings “do not necessarily apply directly to humans” is only mentioned in the penultimate paragraph. Those who read far enough will perhaps now be a little better informed about sex, development and mood in hamsters but will have learned nothing about teenage sex in humans. Those who did not read as far as the fourth paragraph will have been misled.

A rise in measles cases, reported by the Daily Mail without reference to their long-running campaign to manufacture a controversy about the vaccine that protects against this disease. An image caption notes that measles “can be fatal, especially in young children”, the article informs us that in Europe there have been over 26,000 cases of measles and nine deaths from the disease reported this year, a quote from a WHO employee is included (“the epidemic was fuelled mainly by low vaccination rates”), and a sub-heading informs Mail readers that “vaccination rates need to be above 95 per cent to stop outbreaks”.

So the Mail does know that measles is a serious disease and that vaccination against it can prevent death and misery. If they had a shred of decency, they’d acknowledge and apologise for their role in undermining public confidence in the MMR vaccine.

More

PDFs can be downloaded here: Batteries for depression; Birds and Bees; Pimping vitamin pills; Hamster sex; Measles.

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3 Comments

  1. Andi Mell said,

    Interesting article, James. Don’t know anything about the Daily Mail, as I’m not a reader, but the two articles do read like an ad-campaign. Maybe the manufacturers involved paid to publish or at least be mentioned in the article. The pregnancy/multivitamin article begs much deeper questions however, why do these woman have fertility problems to begin with? What is wrong with the foods they eat or why is there a problem with uptake of nutrients form the foods? If supplementation helped in getting them pregnant, maybe the IVF wasn’t necessary either? That proper nutrition from quality foods is the cornerstone of good health is no mystery to me at least. I would rather get nutrients from whole foods, there is so much more we get then just vitamins.

    You misinterpreted the headline and article about “the birds and the bee’s” though. The heading is exactly as Dr Ghazala Afzal suggests: “it isn’t necessary to have a formal conversation”, which would be the birds and the bee’s (the act of sex), as these facts are taught in school. She suggested instead: “From the age of 12, sex should be discussed openly, but not in direct relation to your child” and for the parents to instill values. The comments below the article were astounding, all four misinterpreted the article and left a completely subjective response based on their misunderstanding. No wonder they closed comments after those four. As for Dr Ghazala Afzal, sound advice in my opinion. And its just that, advice not the rule of law, any parent may tackle the subject however they see fit for their munchkin.

    As for your “PubMed” search for evidence I have some bad news, I found the links to articles I read some years back. Which explain why I am skeptical about medical info published on “PubMed” or similar sites. Not that there is anything wrong with the sites, the problem is in the information: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/01/23/why-almost-everything-you-hear-about-medicine-is-wrong.html
    This is the study, the above article is based on, and a very long technical read: http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124. And a follow up from last year: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2010/11/lies-damned-lies-and-medical-science/8269/

  2. davidp said,

    A useful rule of thumb: If a newspaper article headline is a question starting “Is X”, “Does X”, “Can X”, the correct answer is very probably “No.”

    If the evidence was decent, the headline would be an assertion not a question.

  3. Michael Ivo said,

    That’s great, I love it!

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