Tuesday, March 23, 2010

CBC, Vitamin D, and overlooking the real problem

Sometimes journalists and news organisations are guilty of bandwagon jumping.

You've seen it. I've seen it. Media outlets pounce on an event or a report and exhaust us with articles about it. It happened with swine flu, it happens with climate change, it happens with celebrity sex scandals.

Today, at the CBC, it is happening with Vitamin D.

Vitamin D, the "sunshine vitamin," has been in the news quite a bit over the last few years. Health professionals and supplement pushing quacks have been praising its virtues for everything from rickets to cancer. Many of the claims, however, have yet to be substantiated by research.

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, which is why it is added to milk (to avoid rickets in children.) The CBC article exclaims that the bone health of 1.1 million Canadians is at risk.

What irked me most about this article wasn't the glamorous tossing about of the latest health buzz product but the glaring statistic thrown in at the end of the article as an afterthought.

"Researchers also found 41 per cent of Canadian adults had a high total cholesterol level."

I don't know about you, but I would be much more concerned, both as a citizen and a taxpayer, with almost half of the country's adult population at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

Currently in Canada the three leading causes of death are cancer, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. In the next 25 years, the percentage of people over the age of 65 is expected to reach or surpass 25% of the total population of the country (courtesy of Statistics Canada.)

What does that mean? More people at risk for heart disease and stroke (which may explain two of the three leading causes of death.) More strain on an already overloaded health care and social support system. More people requiring treatment for cardiovascular disease or suffering the debilitating effects of stroke.

We don't look after our cardiovascular system these days. High cholesterol is one of the most manageable and easily controlled risk factors for heart disease and stroke; this sort of statistic shows that Canadians lack the education or initiative they need to keep themselves heart healthy.

Cardiovascular health isn't "sexy" right now, because you can't take a pill and make it all better. You have to change your bad eating habits and get regular exercise. So, CBC, go ahead and write your national headlines about vitamins and send Canadians flocking to buy supplements. It would be nice, however, to report the real story the statistics tell.

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