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Inadvertent disease-mongering of diabetes puts media innumeracy on display

In another of the occasional Hypewatch features on MedPage Today, Kristina Fiore writes, “Hypewatch: 100 Million Diabetic Americans in the Dark?

A third of Americans have diabetes but don’t know it? That’s almost as hard to believe as the IOM’s conclusion that a third of Americans live with severe chronic pain.

The diabetes figure is hard to believe because it’s not true — though you wouldn’t know that from several headlines this week, which proclaimed that three in 10 Americans — which would amount to about 100 million people — have no idea their blood sugars are out of control.

What the headline writers actually meant to say is that a third of Americans who have diabetes don’t know it — and that amounts to a much smaller proportion of the population: about 8 million Americans, or just 3% of the population.

We’ll give the benefit of the doubt to those who botched the stats.  But although unintentional, the harm to the public dialogue and to journalistic credibility is, nonetheless, very real. More than just innumeracy, I’ll call it disease-mongering.

And it’s not a lone example.

We’ve written about media messages that have struggled with incidence data for:

….just to name a few.

Disease-mongering, head-to-toe, is insidious.  Even if it’s unintentional.  If you can’t handle the numbers, you shouldn’t be reporting this stuff.


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