Health Scan: Misleading media

Study: Headlines misrepresent danger of health hazards.

newspaper 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
newspaper 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Reports on health scares often misrepresent the actual danger, thus overshadowing the ongoing dangers of physical inactivity, smoking, obesity and other chronic conditions that pose a danger to life and health, according to a new Israeli study of US newspaper and electronic media reporting on medical topics. Prof. Myer Brezis of the Hebrew University-Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine and his colleague, Larisa Bomlitz, published their findings recently in the Journal of Public Health. Studying a representative sample of 400 US print, TV and radio reports produced in a single year about several emerging and chronic health hazards, they found an inverse connection between the number of deaths due to the health risks and the number of media reports about these hazards. For example, bioterrorism and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) caused only a few dozens deaths in that year but generated more than 100,000 media reports, while smoking and lack of physical exercise - which killed nearly a million Americans that year - got much less publicity. They noted that health topics that get a disproportionately large amount of coverage also usually appear with large front-page headlines, further skewing the "importance" given to them by the media. They concluded that there is a "bias" by the media toward "overreporting emerging health hazards in comparison to their actual impact on public health." Although the study did not include the Israeli media, Brezis (a nephrologist and expert in quality control and avoiding medical errors) wrote his master's thesis in public health at the Braun School a few years ago on Israeli health reporting. He found that the level of expertise among most local health reporters was not high. A QUIETER MRI SCAN The prototype of a headset that softens the loud noises produced when one undergoes an MRI scan has been invented by University of Florida students. The noises - often as loud as a jet engine - are unpleasant and can even cause patients to move unintentionally and blur the image. UPI reported that although there are commercial noise-damping earphones, they use electronics forbidden in an MRI chamber, and passive systems are not enough to overcome the noise. Stephen Forguson and three other students designed the headset together with the Invivo Corporation. The new headset uses headphones attached to small tubes connected to specially crafted electronics and algorithm software located outside the MRI machine. Since MRI sounds are repetitive, and the piped-in sounds are timed to occur on top of the repetitions, the patients hear the same sound but at a much lower volume. TEACHING DIABETICS TO COOK WHAT'S GOOD FOR THEM A course teaching diabetics how to cook for themselves in a way that will improve their health has been opened at Laniado Medical Center in Netanya. Such a course is already available at Hadassah Optimal, the wellness-promotion center of the Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem. In the Netanya hospital, chef Shalom Revah teaches the course in a special kitchen in its diabetes center. Diabetics learn what food is best for them and how to cook it in the tastiest, most beneficial way to keep blood sugar and fat levels down. At the end of the three-hour course, participants are invited to eat what they have prepared. For Independence Day, diabetics were taught how to prepare a healthful barbecue GETTING TO THE BOTTOM OF IT Surgeons at UC San Diego Medical Center recently removed a dangerously inflamed appendix by laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery through a woman's vagina - a first in the US. After the 50-minute procedure, the patient reported only minor discomfort. Removal of diseased organs through the body's natural openings offers patients a rapid recovery, minimal pain and no scarring, said Prof. Santiago Horgan, director of the hospital's Center for the Future of Surgery, who has performed more than a dozen of these in Argentina. The key to these surgical clinical trials is collaboration with medical device companies to develop new minimally-invasive tools, he said. Called Natural Orifice Translumenal Endoscopic Surgery (NOTES), it involves passing surgical instruments through a natural orifice such as the mouth or vagina to remove a diseased organ such as an appendix or gallbladder. Only one incision is made through the belly button for the purpose of inserting a two- millimeter camera into the abdominal cavity so the surgeons can safely access the surgical site. "The path to innovation is dynamic, requiring quick response from the companies developing the tools," said Horgan, president of the Minimally Invasive Robotics Association. "Partnership with industry keeps us rolling from one success to another. The evolution of surgery to incisionless techniques is on the horizon." Horgan and Talamini used FDA-cleared RealHand High Dexterity instruments developed by Novare Surgical. ANOTHER REASON NOT TO SMOKE Smoking encourages infection by affecting the short-lived white blood cells that defend against invading pathogens by reducing their ability to seek and destroy bacteria, according to a story at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry in Kentucky. Prof. David Scott said the white blood cells, called neutrophils, are generated by bone marrow. The study, published in the journal BMC Cell Biology, found nicotine-treated neutrophils were less able than nicotine-free neutrophils to identify and destroy bacteria. The nicotine suppressed the oxidative burst in HL-60 cells - a function that helps kill invading bacteria. Nicotine also increased MMP-9 release, a factor involved in tissue degradation, the study said.