Taking a closer look at the science behind media, celebrity claims about health
February 1, 2013 - The importance of understanding the evidence behind health-related claims trumpeted in all forms of media has been the focus of several recent initiatives connected with the McMaster Health Forum.
An op-ed article by Forum adjunct faculty member Steven Hoffman, a student-led discussion, and a webinar geared towards helping journalists with evidence-based health reporting, all focused on how to decipher the many conflicting messages bombarding the public.
The Forum’s Student Subcommittee chose this timely subject for a Café Scientifique event they organized on Jan. 21. About 35 students took part in an interactive discussion with Tim Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health, Policy and Law, and Hoffman, a Fulbright and Knox Fellow at Harvard University, on Drugs, Deception & Diets: Falsehoods of the Health Industry. Café events are designed to provide a venue for a small audience to engage in one-on-one discussions with researchers about a topical health-related subject.
The presenters described many examples of ‘news’ reports about health-related claims that didn’t convey the true nature of the research, and discussed ways to decipher the hype, including celebrity endorsements, to gauge the validity of information related to improving your health.
Three days after the student event, a commentary by Hoffman and Medical Post associate editor Julia Belluz, examining the pitfalls of information presented by celebrity TV doctors such as Dr. Mehmet Oz, was published in the National Post as part of a four-part series on how health claims not supported by strong evidence are challenging efforts to improve the public’s overall health. To view the article, click here.
Belluz, author of the Maclean’s magazine Science-ish blog – a weekly online column that checks health-related headlines against the evidence – also offered a webinar on Jan. 30 that was part of a series organized by Cochrane Canada that focused on various ways to make the best use of evidence to inform decisions about policies related to healthcare. More than 170 participants signed on to hear Belluz offer tips on accessing and understanding scientific research evidence.
To view a video of her presentation, click here.