Sleep off fat and other tall tales from TV health reporting

November 18, 2009

NPR’s On the Media recently had a very interesting discussion about the dismal state of television’s health and science reporting.  Here’s a look at some of the examples.

  1. NBC Today show clip on losing weight while you sleep.

In this segment, Meredith Viera says 63 percent of Americans do not get enough sleep, which just happens to coincide with the percentage of adults who are overweight or obese. Perhaps more sleep will make you slimmer, reasons Today, which then turns to the well-known science journal, Glamour, to test this incredible hypothesis on a sample of seven women. As Health News Review Editor and Health Journalism Professor Gary Schwitzer says, “it’s just sad, and… insulting to women viewers.”

2. CBS Early Show segment on whether blue food dye can prevent paralysis.

When researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center injected rats suffering from spinal cord injuries with the compound Brilliant Blue G (BBG), used in M&Ms and Gatorade, they were able to walk again with a limp (the rats also temporarily turned blue). However, CBS waits to tell viewers that the study was on rats until two minutes into the three minute segment. Schwitzer calls this “unforgivable” and says it gives viewers a sense of false hope.

Schwitzer, who leads a project to evaluate the accuracy of health news in the media has decided his team will no longer rate every item of medical news on TV because of the ongoing relentless espousal of dismal scientific standards.


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