Years ago Forest published a report entitled Health Wars: The Phantom Menace. It featured many of the health scares reported by the British media in 2001. I am often reminded of it, especially when I see headlines like "Smoking in pregnancy ups risk of cross-eyed baby".
Yesterday the Telegraph reported that "Women who are obese or smoke during pregnancy can cause their sons to have a low sperm count in adulthood ... Experts warned that a mother’s lifestyle could have a 'major impact' on her son’s future sperm. In fact, choices she makes during her lifetime can be even more important than those he makes during his, at least for sperm production, they believe."
Full story HERE.
Writing for The Free Society, Karen McTigue points out that the report is seriously lacking in actual evidence. According to the Telegraph (although this was not reflected in the scare-mongering headline):
The review found there was no evidence to link exposure to individual chemicals to poor sperm production. However, exposure to complex mixtures of environmental chemicals, as might be experienced in real life, may have an impact on the development of testicles and lead to low sperm counts in adulthood. However, more research would need to be done before a link can be fully proven.
More research? Fancy that! Karen adds that:
Saturday’s Daily Mail revealed that Samantha Cameron was spotted drinking a bottle of Mexican lager on Thursday post [leadership] debate ... Current governmental advice states that pregnant women should not drink at all, which, as with most governmental advice, we should happily go ahead and ignore. In other words, babies or no babies, the government and it’s researchers should back right up and let us worry about our own bodies.
Full article HERE.
Commenting on Health Wars: The Phantom Menace, one reviewer wrote:
The bulk of this volume is made up of health scares featured in UK newspaper stories from the first half of 2001. Lined up one after another, carefully catalogued day by day, they make a strange document ... It has been compiled by Josephine Gaffikin of the smoker’s rights organisation Forest. Smoking, as we all know, carries with it risks. Forest’s interest in health scares is not just the way in which they are often exaggerated, but the way in which they are used to justify the regulation of lifestyle. The purpose of Health Wars is not so much to denounce health scares which are based on unfounded junk science (although there is some of this), as to draw attention to the moralistic and authoritarian purposes to which the scares are put.
The most persistent themes of health scares are highlighted as “cancer, the MMR vaccine, deep vein thrombosis, BSE/CJD, mobile phones, asthma, autism, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, food, diet and weight.” With a list like that you may have thought that there would not be much left. However, not only does each item on the list appear in every possible combination, but there is a bizzare variety of other scares, ranging from the influence of the moon (Daily Telegraph) to dolls theat “could give the dangerous message to children that it is safe to sunbathe” (Daily Mail) and “burning nine candles in one room” . My own favourite is a warning against thinking too hard .
The only weakness of the book is a focus on the “top down” origins of health scares, which underestimate of the “bottom up” component. The pressure groups, journalists, politicians, scientists, doctors and companies targeted by Gaffikin all bear responsibility for spreading panic. But we live in times that are uniquely susceptible to fear, and the resonance that health scares find in the broad population is undeniable. Without Forest to help us see the wood for the trees it is all too understandable that people succumb in the face of the sheer quantity and diversity of scares.
PS. I'm seriously beginning to think we should publish a new volume.