It’s hard to know what to believe. Online, in print, via TV and radio broadcast, the health media delivers a lot of mixed messages and downright confusing data.
And as corporate interests increasingly shape and influence content streams, the more challenging it becomes to discern fact from profit-driven fiction.
This week on The Living Experiment, we explore some of the dynamics that undermine accurate health-media coverage, and offer suggestions on how to navigate this often disorienting territory.
We also suggest some experiments to help you become a better informed and more empowered media consumer.
“Health Media” Episode Highlights
- The barrage of confusing and conflicting headlines, especially about food and nutrition (4:20)
- The problem of health experts who resist admitting they got things wrong and refuse to update their conclusions (6:10)
- The corporate influences at work in scientific research and health media (8:05)
- How research published in respected medical journals is steered by funders with profit-driven motives (9:45)
- The unholy alliance between an industry and researchers — and how the results influence policies and nutrition guidelines (10:45)
- An example of an “authoritative” national institution that disseminates horribly misguided (but media-friendly) “healthy eating guidelines” for kids (11:20)
- The disturbing shift away from high-quality reporting toward viral, traffic-producing posts, often at the expense of decent coverage (15:50)
- The pernicious influence of advertising dollars on media content, especially from food conglomerates and pharmaceutical companies (18:15)
- Prevention magazine’s bold move to remove all advertising from their printed publication in an effort to safeguard their reporting (21:50)
- The importance of finding trustworthy experts and media sources, and Dallas’s short list (24:45)
- The problem with imposing conclusions from very specific research on the wider population (26:20)
- Filtering health data using your own developed logic or philosophy (28:00)
- Rote, media-repeated phrases like “fruits and vegetables” and “lean proteins” that sound healthy but can be misleading (31:55)
- A caution about recommended “food swaps” that promote lower calories, less sugar, lower sodium and less saturated fat but are inherently unhealthy (35:15)
- Pilar’s trusted short list of health sources (36:05)
- The functional medicine revolution, and the lack of media coverage (or hostile attacks) progressive physicians and researchers receive (38:45)
- “Half of what we’ve told you is wrong, but we don’t know which half” — the conundrum shared by responsible journalists and medical schools (41:30)
- The power of lifestyle choices and changes that can limit or eradicate the need for long-term use of medications (43:45)
- The value of reading outside the mainstream media canon (including government agencies and associations) (46:10)
- How health messages on television are influenced by industry priorities (48:35)
- How advertising drives magazine content, and why ads that disagree with editorial coverage may actually be a good sign (51:20)
- Looking more closely at “expert” sources (their associations, sources of industry connections or funding, and any boards they serve on) (53:20)
- Why certain so-called “pro-science” and “watchdog” websites tend to be questionable sources of information (54:20)
- The wisdom in consulting multiple trustworthy sources and avoiding being whipsawed by headlines, trends and fads (59:00)
- Self-experimentation for testing health recommendations — tracking what works or doesn’t work for you over the long-term (1:00:55)
- Suggested experiments for the week (1:06:50)
Read an article or two that peaks your interest from the list of trusted resources (see the Resources section, below) and choose something practical to change as a result. For example, replace margarine with coconut oil and butter.
1) Read Experience Life magazine’s article, “Decoding Health Media” to get a better understanding of the contemporary challenges media consumers face, and how you can overcome them.
2) Notice key words and phrases in health media, on product labels, and in advertising, noticing how they influence your assumptions and choices.
- Keep your eye out for features and seals that make a product sound healthy even when it may not be.
- Watch for phrases like “light,” “wholesome,” “low-fat,” “zero cholesterol,” “air popped,” “contains whole grains,” and “baked, not fried” — then read the label and challenge the underlying assumptions.
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- Ack! The National Institutes of Health’s wrong-headed dietary recommendations for kids.
- Dr. David Ludwig’s piece in the Journal of the American Medical Association: “Lowering the Bar on the Low-Fat Diet” and his book, Always Hungry?.
- Ludwig’s call for a public admission of the mistakes around widely disseminated low-fat dietary recommendations: “Low-Fat Diets Stuffed With Misconceptions”.
- A practical guide for “Decoding Health Media” from Experience Life magazine.
- Experience Life article on the “astroturfing” phenomenon, in which fake grass-roots efforts sway public perception of health truths: “Turf Wars”.
- Experience Life round-up of recent dietary-fat research updates: “The Facts About Fat”.
- Michele Simon’s book, Appetite for Profit, which offers resources and steps for fighting back against the health-undermining influences of the food and beverage industry.
- A Mind of Your Own — Dr. Kelly Brogan’s book about reframing depression as a symptom rather than a disease, and how healing the body can heal the mind.
- Innovative work on health and healing from Dr. Rangan Chatterjee.
- Some progressive physicians (many mentioned during the show) who offer good health and nutrition counsel: Dr. David Ludwig, Dr. David Perlmutter, Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Chris Kresser, Dr. Kelly Brogan, Dr. Amy Meyers.
- A recent piece by journalist Gary Taubes on the price he paid for being out ahead in questioning the low-fat dogma: “How a Nutrition Heretic Overcame a Big, Fat, Public Shaming”.
- Dr. Mark Hyman’s interview with Pilar on issues in health journalism for The Fat Summit.
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