Media watch: Health overload


April Forristall, assistant editor

Published on
October 21, 2009

Over the past two weeks, mainstream media outlets were rife with coverage of health issues centering on seafood consumption. It seems the scientific world has been busy testing the potential health benefits and hazards of eating fish, from diabetes to heart failure to depression to autism.

A study by researchers at the Institute of Metabolic Science and University of Cambridge found that shellfish consumption may slightly raise the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but that consuming one or more portions of any kind of fish weekly may reduce the risk of developing the ailment by 25 percent.

Conversely, ABC News picked up on a study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health that suggested eating two or more servings of fish weekly may slightly increase the risk of developing diabetes. ABC also ran with a study that claimed that while a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may protect against heart disease, it apparently has little effect on preventing heart failure.

Yet another seafood-and-health related study media outlets picked up on showed mercury in seafood causes high blood pressures. However, the report’s lead author downplayed the findings, clarifying that the increase in blood pressure is negligible and will never outweigh the health benefits of omega-3s.

Meanwhile Los Angeles Times blogger Shari Roan covered a study that showed blood mercury levels in children with autism don’t differ from normally developing kids.

And if all that wasn’t enough to make consumers’ heads spin, two reports — one claiming fish oil decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease and another saying omega-3s do nothing to alleviate depression in heart patients — received coverage. While it’s clear that depression and heart disease are two different illnesses, the fact that the depression study was done on patients with heart disease is sure cause plenty of confusion.

The mainstream media’s coverage of the seafood industry this week went well beyond health-related issues. Outlets from the Los Angeles Times to the New York Times picked up on the release on Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “State of Seafood: Turning the Tide” report, which included a list of “Super Green” (Los Angeles Times) species. Headlines ranged from “Is your seafood hurting the planet” to “Good for the oceans, good for you” (Washington Post). However, while the headlines may alarm readers, the media got the message right by focusing on the report’s mostly positive message.

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