Recommended reading for getting health priorities straight

Hoover Institute Fellow and former ACSH trustee Dr. Henry Miller castigates Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin’s single-minded focus on obesity while ignoring other very important health issues. Instead, Dr. Miller presents former Surgeon General and ACSH friend Dr. C. Everett Koop — who led campaigns to increase awareness of HIV and smoking-related health risks — as a better example to follow. Dr. Miller also recommends that Dr. Benjamin address health threats that can more immediately be alleviated, such as faulty vaccination practices, patients’ failure to take recommended drugs and risky drug habits (like women who take teratogenic medications while pregnant).

At the same time that [consumers] indulge in such harmful behavior, many of these same people have hysterics over various negligible threats to their health. For example, many people eschew drugs that prevent heart attacks or cancer, or choose to expose their children to the very real dangers of childhood viral and bacterial diseases, while at the same time "protecting" them from imaginary hobgoblins such as plasticizers in toys and shower curtains and pesticide residues in foods. (Not only are the permissible levels of chemical pesticides in food extremely low — and seldom exceeded — but 99.99% of pesticidal substances in food occur naturally.)

Benjamin should use the bully pulpit that her position offers, such as doing public service announcements on TV and radio to educate consumers about simple ways to minimize significant health risks.

Speaking of hysterics, ACSH would like to compliment Margaret Wente for her op-ed featured in Saturday’s Globe and Mail. Ms. Wente wishes there were a vaccine against irrational fears in light of the continued anxiety and health consequences that lay in the wake of Andrew Wakefield’s recently debunked claims that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine can cause autism. This fear-mongering continues to be encouraged by the media and other social outlets:

The public is fed a steady diet of scare stories cooked up by rogue scientists seeking publicity, tort lawyers looking for a payday, environmental groups hungry for both publicity and funding, and gullible media ever eager for a good bad story. The “expert” journals share the blame. The Lancet sent Dr. Wakefield’s study to six reviewers. Four of them rejected it. But it was sexy, so the medical journal published it anyway. The Lancet took more than a decade to admit the study was junk.

The vaccination panic fed off popular mistrust of Big Pharma, the biggest villain du jour (after investment bankers) in today’s popular culture. Ironically, anti-vaxers are usually hyper-parents – obsessively worried that the world is full of hidden poisons that can harm their kids. They worry about the sun, or lawn spray, or trace amounts of chemicals in plastic toys. They trust their intuition more than they trust the authorities, and they trust their friends most of all. And they reinforce each other on the Internet.

She also presents the expert opinion of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Chief of Infectious Diseases and ACSH trustee Dr. Paul Offit, who points out that, more so than the less educated among us, “It’s the graduate-school-educated, college-educated people who tend not to vaccinate.”