Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Latest Posts

Ibuprofen-Parkinson’s Study: Few News Organizations Report On It Accurately

We’re delighted to see that USA Today, Reuters, and WebMD were among the news organizations that included what an editorial writer said about an observational study linking ibuprofen use with fewer cases of Parkinson’s disease. All three news organizations used some version of what editorial writer Dr. James Bower of the Mayo Clinic wrote or said:

“Whenever in epidemiology you find an association, that does not mean causation.”
“An association does not prove causation.”
“There could be other explanations for the ibuprofen-Parkinson’s connection.”

Kudos to those news organizations. And some praise goes to the journal Neurology for publishing Dr. Bower’s editorial to accompany the study. His piece is entitled, “Is the answer for Parkinson disease already in the medicine cabinet? Unfortunately not.”

And unfortunately not all news organizations got that message. Because many don’t read the journals, so they certainly never get to the editorials. Instead, they rewrite quick hits off a wire service story. As a result, we end up with some of the following:

A story was particularly deaf to Bower’s caveat, stating: “That bottle of ibuprofen in your medicine cabinet is more powerful than you may think.”

A story never addressed the observational study limitation, instead whimsically writing: “Pop a pill to prevent Parkinson’s disease? A new study says it’s possible, and the pill in question isn’t some experimental marvel that’s still years away from drugstore shelves. It’s plain old ibuprofen.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

Prevention Magazine’s Inaccurate “Coffee Cures” Story

The September issue of Prevention magazine inaccurately headlines the story ”4 Ways Coffee Cures.” There’s no solid proof that coffee cures anything — unless some of you cure bacon with java, which I don’t want to know about.

What the story (below) did was to try to present a cute little graphic summary of observational studies that show a statistical association between increasing coffee consumption and fewer early deaths, fewer deaths from heart attack, fewer cases of dementia, and fewer cases of type 2 diabetes.

But such observational studies (they actually never cite the source — I’m just giving them the benefit of the doubt that they’re citing observational studies) CAN’T establish cause and effect, therefore it’s inaccurate for the story to use terms like “cure,” “protective,” and “lowers (or reduces or slashes) your risk.” Besides being inaccurate, such stories fail to educate readers. They mislead.

We ask the editors of Prevention to read and understand our guide “Does the Language Fit the Evidence? Association versus Causation.

Prevention coffee cures.jpg

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

New York Times: Lou Gehrig May Not Have Had Lou Gehrig’s Disease?

This was one time when the headline was okay, but the story that followed had our heads spinning. “Study Says Brain Trauma Can Mimic Lou Gehrig’s Disease” is a story that was troubling on a number of fronts. It reported on a study which at the time had not yet been published suggesting that some “athletes and soldiers given a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis…might have been catalyzed by injuries only now becoming understood: concussions and other brain trauma.”

To be clear — and please don’t anyone miss or miscontrue this point — this is an important and fascinating area of research. But the story did not exhibit the best of health/medical/science journalism:

1. It was based on a study of 3 people. (The ALS Association says there are up to 30,000 people in the U.S. living with ALS.)

2. It stated, “Lou Gehrig might not have had Lou Gehrig’s disease.” (No evidence for this was provided. He also may not have been a great left-handed hitter. That may have been an optical illusion.)

3. It said this could “perhaps lead toward new pathways for a cure.” (After a suggestive finding in just three people?)

4. The story later says, “The finding’s relevance to Gehrig is less clear.” (Hedging already after a bold earlier statement in the story.)

5. But just a few paragraphs later, the story says, “The new finding…suggests that Gehrig might not have had (ALS).” (Head spinning yet?) Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »