Thursday, 26 July 2007

Man Bites Dog

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If it bleeds, it leads. That's pretty much what we've come to expect with the Man Bites Dog media, isn't it? Well, it should come as no surprise that the following was listed on the Fox News homepage today:

One Soda a Day May Boost Risk of Heart Disease.

Alarm bells sound. People duck under their tables and school desks. Animals head for higher ground. The news has spoken, and if I'm reading the article correctly, people who drink even one soda per day increase their risk of developing metabolic syndrome - a collection of symptoms related to an increased risk of heart disease.

Okay, now to dig a little deeper. According to this article, research from the Boston University School of Medicine shows that people who drink a soda per day -- even a diet soda -- seem to develop habits that ultimately lead to metabolic syndrome. While I don't necessarily doubt the data, I still question whether it's fair to just wantonly throw out a headline like that. Is it true that people who drink soda are more likely to have an increased risk of heart disease? Sure, if they say so. But, what about people who live healthy lifestyles, yet they enjoy a nice, cold soda (and, even more to the point, those that enjoy a diet soda)? Are they going to develop metabolic syndrome and heart disease? Not unless they also have any combination of three of the following maladies: High blood pressure, an elevated fasting blood sugar level, elevated fasting triglycerides, high blood pressure, or reduced HDL cholesterol.

So, is it truly fair to simply say that drinking a soda per day increases your risk of heart disease? Technically, yes. The folks at B.U. seemed to have demonstrated that. In reality, however, making such a proclamation is an example of poor reporting, if not entirely mendacious. Tossing around headlines like that (and scaring the hell out of people) is a bit irresponsible, especially when it is being done by the mainstream media. Blogs, forums, and other non-traditional news sources...well, I'm not sure if it's right for us, either. But, like I said, the mainstream media has a responsibility to report the facts. This also applies for headlines. And, If this is the headline that the media big dogs are using to attract readers, suffice it to say that this man's not biting.

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