SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – March 2002

Working the web Risk. Scared of flying? If you're really worried about safety, watch that chip pan, says S A Mathieson. Since September 11, the world seems to have become a riskier place. The web can increase concerns through its ability to pass on rumours. But it also gives you the chance to see hard facts, many of which are reassuring. Guardian

Organic food is no safer than the ordinary cheaper kind. A new breed of missionary-salesman frightens the public with nightmare visions of modern farming. Phrases like "drenching the land with poisons", "industrial farming" and "monoculture" are repeated in an endless mantra. These are reinforced whenever possible with food scares … The same missionaries, having terrified the consumer, then follow up by painting a lyrical picture of organic agriculture in which everything is natural, tasty, clean and healthy … It may, therefore, come as a surprise to consumers of organic food to know that by the rules of the Soil Association (the ayatollahs of the organic movement) organic farmers are permitted to use a list of products all of which are manufactured in factories and are not made by little old ladies boiling up seaweed on a Cornish clifftop. Telegraph.

Modern worries, new technology, and medicine. Over recent years there has been a steady and important change in the public's perception of the relation between aspects of modern life and health. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, people's suspicion of modernity has increased to such an extent that it has undermined their view of their own health, increased their worries about environmental causes of poor health, and fostered a migration to complementary medicine. Concerns about the safety of mobile phones, environmental pollution, vaccines, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, genetically modified food, and food in general have led to a heightened awareness of the effect of environmental changes on health. We believe that these concerns about technological change, which have been largely unrecognised by researchers, have important implications for the way patients interact with health services. BMJ editorial

Allergy death risk 'small'. The risk of children dying from food allergies is very small, a study of death records from 1990 to 1998 has shown. In the study published in a medical journal, Archives of Disease in Childhood, Andrew Cant of Newcastle General Hospital and his colleagues say that, in that period, eight children under the age of 16 died as a result of a food allergy. Times

An instant diagnosis for our neurotic nation. Just in case anyone was worrying that we were not a nation of hypochondriacs, we have now been given some interesting news. While one in three of us think we have a food allergy, in reality only 2 per cent of us suffers from such a complaint. It is a telling statistic and one that confirms the image of a slightly neurotic Britain endlessly fretting about its health. Why we should be so prone to health concerns is puzzling. After all, we now live longer, have better diets than ever before (or at least we eat more than ever), are better cared for than before, with access to wonderdrugs once undreamt of, and today we have much better access to medical information than an old copy of The Household Doctor, every hypochondriac's bible. Independent

Food allergy risk over-estimated. Millions of people mistakenly believe they are allergic to some types of food. Researchers have found that one in three people believe they have a true food allergy – but less than 2% actually do. BBC

MMR and an epidemic of distrust. It is clear that concerns about a possible link between the MMR vaccine and a syndrome combining autism with a distinctive bowel disorder have had their effect. The more the government, and Scottish Executive, try to allay these fears, the more strident and hectoring they are perceived to be…But the precautionary principle cannot be applied to MMR without penalty. Dr Balfour can remember the legacy of measles he encountered 14 years ago as a junior doctor at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh. At Christmas, as Father Christmas, he visited a big house being used as a long-stay hospital. "There were about 15 children there, all blind and deaf as a result of measles encephalitis. The vaccine has been so effective that we tend to forget how devastating measles can be." Herald

Stop the Week: Football can play havoc with your hormones. Never mind a nation of shopkeepers. If Napoleon were alive today, he would be dismissing the British as a nation of hypochondriacs. Certainly if he’d had time to read the popular newspapers. Do you suffer from migraines? Help was on hand in Thursday’s edition of The Mirror. Are you sleeping too much? Thursday’s Mirror. Lumps in your testicles? Thursday’s Mirror. Bowel cancer? Osteoporosis? Childhood snoring? Worried about gum disease and tooth decay? Thursday’s Mirror. Sunday Times

Texting your way to TMI. It's not only safe sex teenagers have to think about these days (just when you thought it was safe to have a relationship so long as it didn't involve physical contact). I had to check the date of The Times yesterday to make sure it wasn't April Fool's Day, when I read the headline 'Mobile users must practise safe text'. Apparently, 'Chiropractors recognise that text messaging regularly, over a long period, could cause repetitive strain and lead to injuries later in life'. Et voilà, TMI – text message injury – was born. Spiked.

Anti-vaccine town struck by measles epidemic. Two homoeopathic doctors who oppose the MMR vaccine are being blamed for a measles epidemic among 700 children in a small German town. The debate for and against the vaccine in the country has become intense. Thirty children have been taken into hospital and the authorities fear there could be deaths if the infection rate continues to rise. Times.

Drink crime data 'meaningless'. Data for alcohol-related violence and crime in the UK is unreliable because authorities fail to keep accurate enough records, according to new research. A quarter of police forces kept no record of alcohol-related crime, said the study, conducted by the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford … Dr Peter Marsh, who led the research, said: "All existing procedures have such serious conceptual and methodological weaknesses that they are unable to provide any truly objective and reliable data." BBC.

Time for the greens to join us in the real world. The "green" card is being used unscrupulously in Scotland to play upon the guilt and fears of the population, the intention being to panic them into approving policies which are frequently foolish and sometimes dangerous. In the contrived atmosphere of continually impending catastrophe, it is difficult to distinguish genuine environmental problems from the profusion of threats on offer. It is also impossible to avoid the suspicion that many have as their true objective the denigration of yet another aspect of our lifestyle rather than the protection of the environment. Scotsman.