SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – August 2004

Doctors' body accuses drug firms of 'disease mongering'. The Royal College of General Practitioners has accused drug companies of "disease-mongering" in order to boost sales. The college, whose members include many of Britain's 37,000 GPs, says the pharmaceutical industry is taking the National Health Service to the brink of collapse by encouraging unnecessary prescribing of costly drugs. In evidence to a parliamentary inquiry, the college accuses the companies of over-playing the dangers of conditions such as mild depression or slightly raised blood pressure. Telegraph

Feeling pure won't help the world's poor. "As a fervent advocate of ethical consumerism, I seriously suggest that you consider flying long haul, wearing Levi's and drinking coffee at Starbucks. The fact that no one else seems willing to give the same advice is a sad indictment of the ethical consumerism movement. For what should be one of the most important moral campaigns of our day has been hijacked by woolly-minded, anti-scientific, eco-narcissists." Julian Baggini in the Guardian.

Why we're addicted to diets. Susie Orbach, author of many books on food and fat, believes the "obesity debate is contributing to people's anxieties around food." Recent reports have inflated the health risk for the overweight, suggesting that having a Body Mass Index – the key measure of body fat – of 25 (10 ½ stone for an average-sized woman and 12 ½ for men) could make people prey to a spectrum of fatal conditions. Professor Harvey Levenstein, a food historian from McMaster University in Canada, says that the recent creation of overweight (a BMI between 25 – 29.5) as a new category to the index has triggered a panic among people who were previously unconcerned by obesity. While medical dangers of being overweight remain unclear, the potential profits from weight-loss products has been spelt out by among others, Paul Campos in his book The Obesity Myth. The overall effect of our preoccupation with obesity says Professor Jeya Henry, a nutritionist at Oxford Brookes University, "is to make us a paranoid society. You can't enjoy your food without being seen as a glutton." He says that 80 per cent of women in the UK have been on a diet but only about 5 per cent should reduce their food for medical reasons…when people want a quick fix – one that doesn't involve changing habits by eating less and doing more exercise – they are prepared to believe almost anything. We persist in our gullibility and insist that regimes have magical properties.But as nutritionist Brigid McKeith says: "If a diet actually worked, then we wouldn't need a new one." Financial Times [registration required]

The BBC must not be led by the shock tactics of the Mail. Careless TV costs lives, as the over-hyped vaccine scares have shown. August is when phoney flammed-up stories fill the empty dog-days of summer. New Labour duty ministers used to prime the holiday-starved media with a daily grid of news, but now such conspicuous spin is over. And look what happens instead. "Chaos Over 5-in-1 Baby Jab" screams the Daily Mail, delighted by a chance to repeat its weird and lethal campaign against vaccines…Never mind if the new vaccine is yet safer and simpler – the Mail was in full scare mode. It would matter less if the BBC's Today programme hadn't rushed in to give this non-story legs — starting with another unscripted breathless early morning scare/chaos report. Polly Toynbee in the Guardian

Warning on complementary therapy. The public must not place too much faith in the ability of complementary medicines, a leading expert has warned. Edzard Ernst, the UK's only professor of complementary medicine, said most therapies were unproven. Some of the few that had been vigorously tested did work, but others did not, he told a briefing on Monday. Professor Ernst highlighted cancer websites peddling potentially dangerous therapies, and the risk of herbal medicines damaging conventional drugs. He said: "If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Don't believe ridiculous claims." BBC