Headlines are meant to catch the attention of the audience. But we wonder, who decided that bad news is more attention grabbing than good news? Even when new information represents positive changes in the world, we ve noticed that headlines focus on the negative parts of the study. And this tactic isn t too far removed from many of the other ways in which mainstream media seemingly intentionally aims to confuse and scare the public when it comes to health and medicine.
Although the population in sub-Saharan Africa has been living longer, according to a 3-year prospective study carried out by Tanzanian and US investigators, (while the overall life expectancy worldwide has increased by more than a decade since 1970), the story making the news is focused on the increase in hypertension-related deaths. JAMA posted the story with the headline Hypertension-Related Deaths Increasing in Sub-Saharan Africa. Similarly, Cornell Medical News posted an article on their website with the headline Hypertension-Driven Disease Rapidly Rising in Sub-Saharan Africa
Sickle cell anemia has also been making headlines. JAMA posts, Number of Children With Sickle Cell Anemia Increasing Worldwide. However, in the same study that the headline derived from, they reported that kids with sickle cell anemia were also living longer.
So why the negative headlines? ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan s perspective was this: The media depend on alarmism to generate interest which is sort of the opposite of what we here at ACSH do. So the obvious spin on encouraging stories like these two, for them, is to frame it in a dispiriting way. I would have written, More Africans living longer, so survival of kids with Sickle-cell Anemia who were doomed to an early death only twenty years ago are now surviving into adulthood. And the ravages of impure water and childhood viral contagions are being lessened, so more of the same peoples are living to be old enough to get diseases of aging such as hypertension. But I probably wouldn t have sold enough journals to keep my job.