There is an old adage about lies, damned lies and statistics. This is something we see all too often in medical papers and the claims made off the back of them. The person in the street can get quite confused or alarmed about epidemics, which are hitting us, or great increases in rates of certain diseases.
It is sad to say that there is a degree of self-serving that goes on with many claims of epidemics. By and large the people making the claim usually are ready to provide the solution. The only missing element is … funding. This is in turn is generally sought from governments who have “a responsibility” to “fix the problem” and hence allow the health experts to “save the community” from the latest terrible fate. Hence we see a never-ending demand for more spending on “health (i.e. disease). Much of this spending goes into the pockets of those promoting the scares.
There is a pattern to this and it was best described in the book “Scared to Death” by Christopher Booker and Richard North. They descried how a plausible theory, with just a little uncertainty can be easily converted into a full blown health scare which can strike virtually anyone. Manipulation of statistics is part of this.
A textbook example of this happened with reported figures on Chlamydia (a sexually transmitted infection). The headline figure was that rates of this disease had tripled in ten years. This was accompanied by calls from sexual health experts for urgent “substantial” government funding for an education and screening program.
No prizes for guessing who would be lining up for this funding to implement this urgently needed program.
But here is the thing. Have the rates of infection actually gone up or have the rates of reporting gone up. In other words are more people aware of this condition and hence being tested than ten tears ago. In this scenario there is no need for massive funding to do what is already happening-more people being tested and treated.
The actual rates of infection may or may not have changed. There is no way of knowing. Reported figures are just that-reported figures. They can increase without any change in actual disease rates.
The take home message here has nothing to do with Chlamydia, which has served as a useful example. It is to say that people with a vested can present medical information,, if well meaning, interest.
The best way to influence government funding decisions is to whip up a public scare and then present yourself as the answer to the problem you have created and will happily solve for “substantial” funds. Swine flu was another good example. Money was wasted on vaccines on the recommendations of experts, 63% of who were found to have potential financial conflicts of interest. Nobody has been held to account.
And lets not forget the obesity epidemic, which of course, requires massive government funding to solve. When was the last time some “expert” observed that individuals being responsible for what they eat could solve the obesity “crisis”.
For those of you who are being responsible for your own health, just observe this pattern next time you see a call for “urgent government action” on a health topic. Ask yourself who is promoting the scare and what is in it for them. Look a bit deeper into what is being claimed.
Above all else do not buy into health scares and hysteria.
Medical Doctor, author, speaker, media presenter and health industry consultant, Dr Joe Kosterich wants you to be healthy and get the most out of life.
Joe writes for numerous medical and mainstream publications, is clinical editor at Medical Forum Magazine, and is also a regular on radio and television. He is often called to give opinions in medico legal cases and is an advisor to Reed Medical Conferences.
Joe is Medical Advisor to Medicinal Cannabis Company Little Green Pharma, Chairman of Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association and sits on the board of Arthritis and Osteoporosis WA.