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CDC Undersells Research Finding

Interesting. The CDC is apparently afraid of what the results of a recent study may lead to if they become public. Here is Trevor Butterworth’s take:

Sometimes, it seems as if the nation’s public health mandarins are the only responsible adults in a country swarming with perpetual teenagers; and, as with teenagers or children, sometimes the adults can’t risk telling the whole truth.

Thus did Thomas Frieden, the director general of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ever so subtly spin the results of a revealing analysis of the impact of four “low risk” lifestyle behaviors on health last month:

“If you want to lead a longer life and feel better, you should adopt healthy behaviors – not smoking, getting regular physical activity, eating healthy, and avoiding excessive alcohol use.”

So did that mean that moderate drinking actually improved your likelihood of living longer? Yes it did, even though Frieden couldn’t quite bring himself to say so. CDC researchers used data from the 2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) to examine the impact of never having smoked, eating a healthy diet, adequate physical exercise, and moderate alcohol consumption on overall mortality and specific disease related mortality. They found that it pays to be good – or in the bloodless terminology of public health, it pays to follow “low-risk lifestyle behaviors:”

I personally don’t drink. I’m not suggesting this makes me want to start. However, if the data indicate that moderate drinking is helpful, I want to be informed about that! Then trust me to make the decision as to whether I will choose to alter my lifestyle based on that information. Here are some more thoughts from Butterworth:

It will also upset those public health mandarins – notably New York City’s public health commissioner, Thomas Farley – who attack moderate drinking as being worse than excessive drinking and argue for polices to target moderation (yeah, sounds bizarre – but there’s a math to the madness, which you can read more about here).

At least one journalist was misled by the press release into a bit of righteous fulmination, until, that is, he read the study; but at least he was paying some attention: the CDC findings, released in the dead of August, have barely caused a ripple in the media. A blog post in Time and news pieces in Wine Spectator and the Times of Malta are among the few publications to report the findings – with the latter paper, perhaps given its Mediterranean perspective, headlining the news as, “Study recognizes moderate drinking.”

And there’s the irony: the finding on moderate drinking is precisely what makes this study striking, in terms of news; and if the CDC wasn’t so squeamish about saying out straight that moderate drinking was associated with a positive effect on health, it might have captured the kind of public attention this study deserved.

Let’s look at the truth that the study may reveal, and then decide what the appropriate response is, rather than censor the results based on what we think the affects may be. Read the whole piece here.

One comment on “CDC Undersells Research Finding

  1. […] The CDC undersells its own research. Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

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