May 29 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: May 29

file Copyright: Matt Wuerker, Politico

The ‘Nocebo Effect’: Media Reports Can Trigger False Symptoms
News media stories about various disease and syndromes—even those that aren’t real—can lead people to report symptoms, according to a new study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research. Researchers call it the “nocebo effect” and say it clearly shows the importance of news organizations making sure their stories are based on scientific evidence and presented in a balanced, cautious way. The study uses the idea of a Wi-Fi signal that could cause health problems, finding that 54 percent of participants reported symptoms of the made-up syndrome. "It appears essential to stay critical about any kind of scientific, or pseudo-scientific, information in the media," said researcher Michael Witthoft, with the psychology department at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, in Germany. "I would advise consumers not to jump to simple conclusions prematurely, but to critically review several sources of evidence." (See the accompanying cartoon by Politico's Matt Wuerker for a humorous take on the issue.) Read more on environment.

Cedars-Sinai Aims to Involve More Women in Clinical Research
A new initiative from Cedars-Sinai hopes to improve the representation of women in medical research by registering at least 2,000 women with or without a history of breast and gynecologic cancers. Compared to men, relatively few women participate in clinical studies, meaning not nearly enough is known about how the biological differences might factor into disease diagnosis and treatment. This research for her initiative will work to “close this gap.” “What we try to tell women, especially women who do not have cancer or a family history of it, is that they can help make a difference in the fight against women’s cancers in a noninvasive, very simple way,” said BJ Rimel, MD, co-principal investigator of the research for her registry and gynecologic oncologist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cedars-Sinai. “We try to tell them how much of a benefit they are to others. That's our strongest weapon in this fight.” Read more on cancer.

Study: Smoking Down, Drinking Up in Popular Movies
While incidents of smoking are down on the big screen since 1998, the number of alcohol brand appearances is up in the top movies rated PG-13 and below and the overall screen time spent drinking is level, according to a new study in JAMA Pediatrics. A 1998 law forbade tobacco companies from paying for ad placements; there is not such law for alcohol products. Researchers looked at the movies with the top 100 box offices each year from 1996 to 2009, finding a drop in the appearances of tobacco. However, they also saw alcohol brand appearances in youth-rated movies rise from 80 to 145 per year. "Children who see smoking in the movies are more likely to initiate smoking," said Elaina Bergamini from the Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, to Reuters. "I think there is some concern that that may hold true for alcohol as well. The notorious thing you find in movies and in TV is heavy drinking without consequences. It leaves it up to parents to tell the consequences story." Read more on alcohol.

Tags: Public health, News roundups, Cancer, Health disparities, Alcohol, Tobacco, Environment