Journalists shouldn't treat risk factors as diseases

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Prime example – ABC’s story this week on red yeast rice to lower cholesterol. reviewers said:


“Like so many news reports, this one treats elevated cholesterol as a disease, not just a marker of coronary artery disease risk. Indeed, nowhere does the story even mention coronary artery disease or heart disease of any kind; lowering measurements of blood cholesterol levels are treated as the ultimate goal. This confusion of a lab test result with an actual health outcome then leads the story to proclaim that red yeast rice “just might be the answer,” without ever making clear that this study was neither long enough nor large enough to provide any answers about whether people taking red yeast rice live longer or healthier. …

In the journal article abstract, the authors caution that, “The study was small, was single-site, was of short duration, and focused on laboratory measures.” Then in the discussion they write, “A larger, multicenter trial with longer follow-up is needed to determine whether red yeast rice offers a safe and effective solution for this unmet medical need and to evaluate its effects on cardiovascular outcomes.” Viewers heard neither of these important caveats.”

There was also no mention of an editorial accompanying the published study that read, in part, “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration continues to warn against inconsistent and possibly toxic formulations of red yeast rice, and we should not prescribe it until it has been standardized and tested further.”

Why weren’t these caveats included?

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