In a continuation of his critique of the Huffington Post’s health coverage, Dr. Rahul Parikh chastises the online news outlet and Oprah Winfrey favorite Dr. Christiane Northrup for a story Northrup posted trumpeting the “paradigm shift” brought about by the “exciting new” findings of what seems to be a 2006 study that showed large doses of vitamin D might decrease the risk of developing breast cancer. She called the study “preventative medicine at its finest.”
Parikh notes that while the study cited by Northrup does appear to support her claims, it was an observational study inconsistent with later research. Furthermore, the doses of vitamin D given in the study were twice the recommended allowance, thus increasing the risk of kidney-and-bone-damaging overdoses.
Parikh also questions Northrup’s recommendation that women “can even visit a tanning salon that offers UVB tanning rays,” for reasons which should be all too obvious.
We may be trapped in the midst of a massive economic recession, but at least one sector of the media is booming. Fake news sites like the Miami Gazette News, New York Finance News and WKTV News 13 in New York are springing up across the Internet, all of them half-concealed advertisements for things including work-from-home scams and anti-aging drugs.
The sites are often quite convincing, with head shots of what is purportedly a TV news team, comments from supposed readers and production and design values that put many legitimate outlets to shame.
Forbes‘ Dirk Smillie took a look at the army of such sites looking to convert the popularity of Oprah Winfrey favorite Dr. Mehmet Oz into cash, while Wired‘s Kevin Poulsen notes that ads for such sites have run on the Web pages of numerous mainstream media outlets.
Matt Grant of KRCG-Jefferson City, Mo., provides an example of how such stories can be adapted for regional outlets, warning local consumers of local variants and explaining the larger phenomenon.
Blogging on open.salon.com, Dr. Rahul Parikh recounts Oprah Winfrey’s recent defense of her medical advice (delivered to Entertainment Tonight) and challenges her attempt to dodge the responsibility for her messages and to instead put the onus on viewers to independently evaluate her recommendations.
First, Oprah’s statement:
“For 23 years, my show has presented thousands of topics that reflect the human experience, including doctors’ medical advice and personal health stories that have prompted conversations between our audience members and their health care providers. I trust the viewers, and I know that they are smart and discerning enough to seek out medical opinions to determine what may be best for them.”
Parikh takes issue with her stance, arguing that at this point it’s willfully ignorant of Oprah to deny the power she holds over her massive national audience. In support of this allegation, Parikh cites numerous examples of the “Oprah Effect” driving sales of books, products and health care and accuses the talk show host of putting ratings, profits and entertainment value above the health of her audience. Oprah’s defense is more of a dismissive cop-out than a rebuttal of charges brought by Newsweek, Parikh and others, and Parikh feels that, absent some dramatic life-changing event, real change in Winfrey’s presentation of health advice is unlikely.
In Vital Signs at Salon.com, Rahul K. Parikh, M.D., writes about the lack of balance and medical evidence in the health advice offered on Oprah Winfrey’s television show.
Parikh points to recent guest Suzanne Somers, advocating bioidentical hormones. He says Winfrey failed to ask any tough questions about Somer’s history of breast cancer, her hysterectomy or the validity of her sources.
Winfrey’s health advice on other issues has also raised concern, according to Parikh. Winfrey has a development deal with actress Jenny McCarthy, who has “been leading an ideological, unscientific crusade against childhood vaccines.” Winfrey also has promoted cosmetic procedures without discussing potential problems and has done a show on which an “expert” said thyroid problems are “the result of a woman’s inability to assert herself.”
It’s certainly not news that Winfrey has strayed far from her journalistic roots but Parikh’s point that, given her influence, she should offer more solid evidence and balance, is well taken. It’s also a good reminder of the value of journalists who stick to the evidence and continue asking the tough questions.