As I See It
When It Comes To Your Health, Buyer Beware
By Jill Chapin
Mar 11, 2007 - 10:53:00 AM

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UNITED STATES—Over the past several years, I began immersing myself in learning more about drugs and food, who makes and processes them and who approves and recommends them. Being a neophyte in the investigation of health stories, I was surprised at how easy it was to discern from several news stories what was truthful, evasive or flat out wrong. I took no pleasure in this because instead of just enjoying my morning paper, I now had a job to do. I had to determine the validity of every darn health article I read.

The first thing I came to understand is that the FDA more appropriately stands for Farcical Do-Nothing Accountability. According to their own records, two-thirds of studies promised by drug makers after they win FDA approval have yet to even begin. And they freely admit that tests for U.S. produced food is down nearly 75 percent in the last 3 years. So much for product safety oversight.

My second epiphany occurred when a major newspaper ran a story about a drug that delays or prevents type 2 diabetes. Three doctors were interviewed about its efficacy. The first one all but said he couldn’t get his patients on this new drug fast enough. The other two were quite a bit more subdued. They questioned why anyone would need a drug for a disease they don’t yet have; they questioned its side effects, its costs and, most important, they questioned why not first do what has been proven to prevent or delay diabetes; namely, improve one’s diet and exercise regimen.

An e-mail to the paper confirmed my suspicions. The lone doctor who wildly supported the use of this drug is a paid spokesperson for the maker of the drug. The paper acknowledged that it should have been noted in the story, but the reporter apparently made a judgment call that this doctor was deemed to be a credible source. I begged to differ; I told him that to me, it made the doctor appear to be little more than a drug pusher.

We need to question the possible ulterior motives of doctor-recommended drugs. Whenever doctors promote a drug for which they stand to benefit financially, they have left the field of medicine and have entered the world of business. How unsettling to imagine that they may have more to gain from recommending the drug than we have to gain from taking it.

But most discouraging is my ne-found awareness that newspapers deliberately omit certain facts in these food and drug stories that can radically alter the meaning of our news. These pieces amount to little more than free advertising for anyone with a financial stake. Leaving out salient facts that could prevent a reader’s full understanding of the entire story essentially morphs the article from news into an infomercial.

Consider the recent Crisco story. This same paper reported that the maker of Crisco was eliminating its trans fats. The product states that it will contain zero grams of trans fats per serving. Because I know what that really means, I called the reporter who readily verified my concerns. The FDA allows for anything less than 1 full gram to be declared to have zero grams. So a product with nine-tenths of a gram of trans fat could claim to have zero. I asked why he didn’t include this undeniably important fact and he said without hesitation that they didn’t have enough space to mention this! The only thing more appalling than his reason was his comfort level in admitting it.

If the purpose of a newspaper is to inform readers of things that could be beneficial to their lives, why do they waste ink space on things that essentially do exactly the opposite? If you have a heart problem and are looking to cut trans fats from your diet, you would reach for Crisco, thinking you were acting responsibly.

Several newspapers have asked me to join their paper as a reporter. I declined because I admitted that I couldn’t be objective. Wouldn’t it be nice if all reporters were as candid?

 



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