Vitamin pills and life expectancy

with 2 comments

Today’s story about how vitamin pills make an early death more, rather than less, likely has provoked a sharp reaction online. The Times‘ front page and inside story come in for a barrage of criticism. ‘This is a very complicated subject and risks being dumbed down by the sort of reporting we see in The Times today’ Dr NAC Down comments . ‘A pretty sad piece of journalism’ agrees Gian Piero D’Amico.
In defense of Nigel Hawkes, who covered the story for The Times, and Michael Day, writing in The Sun, both do their best to report the research reasonably faithfully. The research is, however, complex, and almost certainly did not bear being put on The Times’ front page, squashed together with entirely separate research about the impact of low fat food on fertility.
But there was also room for more scepticism and for the representation of more views – particularly given the PA headline (as republished by The Independent) was itself misleading (‘Vitamins could increase risk of death’). As Richard Galle, another commenter on the Times’ site, notes – vitamin pills do not ‘increase risk of death’, rather they may lead to a possible reduction in life expectancy.
Still, ‘worried2′s’ comments on The Sun’s site probably best reflect the thoughts of the 10 million plus vitamin takers who saw today’s coverage: ‘As a pill popper, this sure worries me. Could we have the original reference please?’.
There’s a wonderful final irony about this story – if you search for it online you’re fed a series of ads for vitamin pills (‘Save on vitamins and supplements’, ‘Buy multi-vitamins at Healthspan’).

Written by Martin Moore

February 28th, 2007 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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2 Responses to 'Vitamin pills and life expectancy'

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  1. I find when it comes to polls and research it is easy to sway the results. Everyone looks to Vitamins, minerals and supplements as cure alls. When the key is ” a ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Is taking a quality vitamin going to up your odds of dying no worse then the process foods people down every day filled with preservatives and food coloring etc. Like anything in the market you have a wide range of quality on the market. If you take a vitamin and eat a big back I don’t think your going to be healthier or live longer. The media is awfully powerful tool and can be used to help people, but I find more then enough times, that it is used to implement the notion ” the sky is falling.” Looking for the fountain of youth and immortality, best find another planet. Because we are sure messing this one up…

    Rachel C Miller

    28 Feb 07 at 9:07 pm

  2. Just like you say, research that says the sky is falling makes alot better headlines than positive or marginal research. But its odd the journalists werent more sceptical – at least they could have raised a few more questions (such as, could it be that people who are less well in the first place tend to be more likely to take vitamins?)

    Martin Moore

    1 Mar 07 at 7:18 pm

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