Should you rely on health information from the news?

Whether it’s Dr. Oz promoting the newest herbal supplement or “60 Minutes” reporting on the dangers of sugar, the general population is quick to eat up health information from the news.

I get it, it’s easier to watch a three-minute report than to read research papers, but do you really think you’re getting the whole story? Like those students who only read the Cliff notes, they may be able to pass a simple test, but rarely know all the necessary details.

Catchy headlines and numbers of views are most important in media. “Overweight, sedentary individuals consume too much sugar and health declines” is stale. In contrast, the headline “New study: Sugar the new smoking?” has viewers yearning for more. Despite the fact that the former is the truth, it’s not sexy.

It seems like the news gets bonus points for fear mongering. Seriously, what hasn’t been reported to cause cancer at this point? But if you speak with cancer specialists, they will tell you exactly what does cause cancer.

One of the reasons the public gets frustrated with health guidelines is the thought that it’s complicated and contradictory. CNN may report that saturated fat is linked to heart disease, while ABC runs a special on how healthy bacon is, which is high in saturated fat. Again, speaking with a nutritionist quickly clears this issue up.

In the hierarchy of importance, accuracy is near the bottom for televised news programs. They want to be loud and being accurate is nearly a luxury. In their attempt to make a splash, news reports often pick a certain stance and then only provide evidence that supports it, with little effort to be objective. This, my friends, is called confirmation bias.

Be skeptical when you hear a report and dig for the other side of the story.

Not all inaccuracies are intentional. It’s important to note reporters aren’t doctors, dietitians or physical therapists – not that those people can’t be wrong, as well – so they’re automatically in deep water when discussing these health topics. Some reporters may be doing their best, but simply coming up short from a lack of knowledge.

The news is great for the same reason it sucks – it allows viewers to get quick information when time is sparse. After hearing intriguing news, I encourage you to examine the topic in greater detail. Message a friend in medical school (we all have those, right?) or check with those who could tell you more. Demand evidence before accepting information as true.