Unhealthy press coverageSensational stories seem to be...

Healthwatch

June 16, 1992|By Universal Press Syndicate

Unhealthy press coverage

Sensational stories seem to be newspaper editors' favorites when it comes to reporting health news. This is confirmed in a study by Gideon Koren, of the Ontario Ministry of Health, and his colleague Naomi Klein. They looked at how newspapers covered two back-to-back stories published in the March 20, 1991, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). One of the reports showed that radiation exposure causes higher cancer rates; the other showed no radiation effect on cancer risk. Guess which story got the most press? The JAMA story showing a cancer connection received by far the most coverage. The trouble with ignoring or downplaying those studies that show "no adverse effects" is that it can skew people's ability to make fully informed health decisions.

More on the coffee front:

They say in some parts of the country that if you don't like the weather you should wait five minutes for it to change. If you're a coffee drinker, you might do the same while following the coffee health news, which seems to change daily. Right now, anyway, it looks like cloudy skies for decaf drinkers. In a Stanford University study, 181 healthy, non-smoking men drank three to six cups of caffeinated coffee daily for two months. A third of the men stuck with this routine for another couple of months, another third switched to decaf, and the rest gave up all coffee. In the end, the men who had switched to decaf suffered the most; every one showed an increase in his level of LDL cholesterol, the artery-clogging kind. The other men showed no change. These results suggest that caffeine is not the cholesterol culprit in coffee; it's something in the decaffeinated version that does the damage.

Counseling pregnant mothers:

A cataclysmic event such as imprisonment or loss of a loved one can add tremendous stress to a pregnancy. Researchers have reported that women who go through pregnancy within a year of such stressful experiences are more likely than other mothers to deliver low-birth-weight babies. Now a study from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, shows that giving emotional and psychological support to stressed moms during pregnancy can turn those results around. Alan D. Rothberg and Bernice Lits enrolled 86 pregnant white women for standard care at a prenatal clinic. Each of them had suffered recent stressful experiences. Care included at least eight visits to the clinic. In addition, half the mothers received counseling, encouragement and advice from a social worker for at least 20 minutes during each of their clinic visits. Of the 43 women who received standard care alone, 18 delivered infants weighing under 6.5 pounds. Of the 43 who received the additional support from a social worker, only seven gave birth to infants who weighed that little.

Grief support:

The death of an aging parent can be as traumatic as the death of a spouse for many people, but the bereavement support systems don't kick in to help the adult children handle the process. Because such deaths are "expected," there is less social recognition of a daughter's or son's grief than of a widow's or widower's, says Clara Pratt, director of Oregon State University's program on gerontology. When a parent suffers during an illness, there is often relief by the adult child after the death, Ms. Pratt says. But that doesn't make the grieving process go away.

Newborn 101:

You first-time mothers should be in a class by yourselves. A study of 50 new mothers, which was done by a University of Wisconsin pediatrics expert, has found that pediatricians are more successful at counseling women on child care when they do so in small groups rather than on a one-on-one basis.

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