More responsible health journalism from the women’s glossies

This month it’s the turn of Red Magazine, which runs an excitable story about a woman who lost an amazing 5lbs in ten weeks, leading to an incredible 2-inch reduction in her waist size. And the weight has stayed off!

The miracle cure? A 10-week course of vitamin injections, costing a mere £2,750. Mind you, the article also mentions in passing that the so-called expert also recommended “some dietary changes”. Now I’m no health professional, but I reckon that the successful weight loss (and 5lbs in two months isn’t a lot; you only need to make very small dietary changes to lose that amount) is more likely to be the product of a better diet than three grand’s worth of Haliborange injected into your arse.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, this is something that really bugs me. The crap in the glossies is probably the most visible version of it, but it’s the tip of the alternative health iceberg (pedantic note: surely the alternative to health is illness, or death?). What we have here is a massively profitable industry that’s taking the piss out of people and in many cases, selling snake oil. As the Guardian’s Ben Goldacre – who’s rapidly becoming my favourite journalist – writes, this is an industry based on:

the dismal outpourings of flaky humanities graduates in the media and the bogus pseudoscience of people with products to sell.

And then there’s what Goldacre calls “science by press release”. In this week’s column, he writes:

In February 2004, the Daily Mail was saying that cod liver oil is “nature’s superdrug”. The Independent wrote: “They’re not yet saying it can enable you to stop a bullet or leap tall buildings, but it’s not far short of that.” These glowing stories were based on a press release from Cardiff University, describing a study looking at the effect of cod liver oil on some enzymes – no idea which – that have something to do with cartilage – no idea what. I had no way of knowing whether the study was significant, valid or reliable. Nobody did, because it wasn’t published. No methods, results, conclusions to appraise. Nothing… It’s 17 months after “nature’s superdrug”: I want to know where the published paper is.

I love this stuff. Here’s Goldacre on nutritionist-free diets, and in another piece he skewers canned oxygen. Does anybody know if Goldacre’s put together a book of all this stuff?