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Misleading Medical Tweets Could Cause Harm

This is not a lesson about the limitations of 140-character messages on Twitter.

Rather, it is a warning about careless Tweets that mischaracterize the real meat of the message in longer stories linked to in the Twitter message. As I wrote on Twitter in response to these two episodes, “Better not to Tweet on complex health care topics than to mischaracterize your own story with a misleading 140 characters.”

First, my friend Andrew Holtz caught the fact earlier this week that Men’s Health Magazine tweeted:

If you’re a smoker, you NEED to get a CT scan. Here’s why: http://ow.ly/5x34y

That “here’s why” link took you to a Men’s Health Magazine story, that despite being headlined “The Medical Test Every Smoker Needs,” went on to explain:

Don’t run out and ask for a CT scan, though. More than 96 percent of the positive screens in the study were false positives, which could subject you to unnecessary surgery, cancer treatments, and the complications that come with them. They’re also expensive: A chest CT scan can cost up to several thousands of dollars.

So look at how silly Men’s Health looked on this confusing back-and-forth message:

1. You NEED to get a CT scan.
2. It’s a test “every smoker needs”
3. But don’t run out and ask for one.

Then this morning I caught AARP doing the same thing. They tweeted:

Are you a smoker? CT scan those lungs – they’re proven to cut risk of lung cancer death for 55-plus: http://aarp.us/rdleHu

That links takes you to a story that includes caveats such as the following: Read more »

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

Beware Of Potatoes: They May Cause You To Pack On Pounds

Chips

Without meaning to, you’ve gained a few pounds over the last few years. How did that happen? Certain foods, especially the humble potato, may be partly to blame.

In a fascinating study of 120,000 healthy, non-obese women and men taking part in long-term studies of diet and health, the participants gained an average of 3.3 pounds every four years over a 13-year period. When the researchers tallied up the foods that contributed most to this weight gain, potatoes topped the list—twice:

  • potato chips
  • potatoes
  • sugar-sweetened beverages
  • red meat
  • processed meats

Other contributors to weight gain included sleeping less than six hours a night or more than eight hours, drinking alcohol, and watching television. The results were just published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The study offered some good news and tips for losing weight, too. Foods and lifestyle choices associated with losing weight included Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

The Good Intentions of Men’s Health Week Promotion

prostateforweb.jpg

This week has been proclaimed International Men’s Health Week – the week leading up to and including Father’s Day. And it’s part of what’s more broadly been proclaimed by some as Men’s Health Month.

The campaign offers a variety of men’s health “materials” – including the squeezy prostate stress ball pictured at left – if you’re into that kind of thing.

There are also brochures like the one below.  The “Facts About Prostate Cancer” state that men at high risk should begin yearly screening at age 40 – all others at age 50. The “should begin (at 50)” recommendation crosses a line not supported by the US Preventive Services Task Force and the American Cancer Society, among other organizations.

The campaign also commits fear-mongering with these statistics: Read more »

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

Beer Bellies Anyone? Waist Measurement Can Determine Risk For Heart Disease

Beer-mug-with-tape-measure

Extra fat that accumulates around the abdomen goes by many names: beer belly, spare tire, love handles, apple shape, middle-age spread, and the more technical “abdominal obesity.” No matter what the name, it is the shape of risk.

Abdominal obesity increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, and other woes. The danger zone is a waist size above 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women.

As I describe in the April 2011 issue of the Harvard Men’s Health Watch, beer is not specifically responsible for a beer belly. What, then, is to blame? Calories. Take in more calories with food and drink than you burn up with exercise, and you’ll store the excess energy in fat cells.

Many studies indicate that people who store their extra fat around the midsection (apple shape) are at greater risk for heart and other problems than people who carry it around their thighs (pear shape). An analysis of 58 earlier studies covering over 220,000 men and women suggests that excess fat is harmful no matter where it ends up. This work was published in The Lancet. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?

Hand-and-sun

How much vitamin D is enough, and what’s the best way to get your daily dose of the so-called sunshine vitamin? It depends who you ask.

I just attended the latest Forum at the Harvard School of Public Health. The title, “Boosting Vitamin D: Not Enough or Too Much?” was a tip-off that we weren’t going to get a simple take-home message. (Watch a video of the event beginning Wednesday, March 30.)

Some background: Vitamin D isn’t really a vitamin. It’s a hormone. The body makes it when sunlight strikes the skin. This converts a cousin of cholesterol into a substance that ultimately becomes vitamin D. It is best known for helping the digestive system absorb calcium and phosphorus, so it is important for bone health. New research suggests—emphasis on suggests—that vitamin D may also be involved with regulating blood pressure, fighting cancer, and improving the immune system. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Latest Interviews

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Latest Book Reviews

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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…

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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…

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