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Causes of Death in the Media vs Causes of Death in Reality

Causes of Death in the Media vs Causes of Death in Reality

Does The News Reflect What People are Dying From?

Does the news reflect what people are dying from? That is the question a team of researchers and data scientists asked and sought to answer in a 2018 study.

The answer, they discovered, was a resounding NO. The study paints a picture of a mainstream media that obfuscates the truth on the leading causes of death in favour of sensationalist and click-bait-driven reporting. In other words, the mainstream media deliberately and knowingly distorts, or at the very least misrepresents, reality when it comes to what people are dying from.

The Problem With Mainstream Media

The mainstream media's modus operandi is subverting the public consciousness and manufacturing hysteria for the sake of clicks, views, and, ultimately, advertising dollars. Alas, the truth about the leading causes of and risks for death is grossly under-reported by the mainstream media. In contrast, things that present an incredibly low risk of death are often exaggerated and over-reported. The chart below, taken from a 2018 Our World in Data study, highlights this phenomenon.

It shows that heart disease and cancer account for a combined ~60% of all deaths in America yet attract only 16% of media coverage. Terrorism, on the other hand, accounts for less than 0.01% of deaths yet accounts for 35.6% of news coverage. Similarly, homicide accounted for approximately 0.9% of deaths yet received 22.8% media coverage.

Said differently, eating fast food (a known catalyst for heart disease and cancer) presents a far greater risk of death to Americans (and indeed everyone in Western countries) than terrorism and homicide combined. You just wouldn't know it if you listened to, watched or read the mainstream media.

The Disconnect Between Reality and Reporting

Hannah Ritchie, who conducted the study, says, "As we can see clearly from the chart above, there is a disconnect between what we die from and how much coverage these causes get in the media. Another way to summarise this discrepancy is to calculate how over or underrepresented each cause is in the media. To do this, we simply calculate the ratio between the share of deaths and share of media coverage for each cause." To this end, the chart below highlights how over or under-represented each cause of death is.

Why Is This A Problem?

This misalignment between reality and reporting is problematic on many health fronts. First, it skews public perception and leads to a misinformed public - meaning fewer people can take preventative action. As Hannah Ritchie says, "There's a strong argument that things we search for and gain information on encourages us to take action which prevents a further death". For context, the more people are aware of heart disease and how it is a leading cause of death, the more likely they are to be able to seek medical advice and take preventive measures.

Secondly, the media is hugely influential in shaping government policy priorities. As such, government resources and funding may be severely misallocated, whereby over-represented causes of death (such as terrorism) may be over-funded relative to the number of deaths they cause, and vice versa for heart disease.

What is the Reason For This Disconnect Between Reality and Reporting?

There are two answers to this question. One is idealistic, the other cynical.

The idealistic response is that the media is biased towards single-event stories (like terror attacks and homicides) because they are more shocking and, therefore, more engaging, ultimately driving greater viewership.

The cynical response is that the mainstream media are beholden to advertising dollars and are, therefore, beholden to the agendas or interests of their biggest advertisers. One of the two biggest advertising industries on American TV is the consumer packaged goods sector, which includes food and beverages.

Some of the most marketed foods and beverages are those high in sugar, trans-fats and artificial ingredients (think soft drinks, chips, lollies and chocolates) - all of which are known to compromise human health and are linked with chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. Thus, it stands to reason that the misalignment between reality and reporting on causes of death is because mainstream media outlets are forced (financially) to protect the interests of their biggest advertisers.

For context, the chart below highlights how 11 companies control nearly every major product in supermarkets. Controlling hundreds of brands and thousands of products, these companies are some of the biggest advertisers.


Uncovering the Hidden Truths of Health

When it comes to health, the truth is often obscured, making it difficult to find reliable information. This challenge contributes significantly to the rising prevalence of chronic diseases and illnesses.

At Nutrition Diagnostics, we've dedicated over 30 years to helping people combat chronic disease and improve their health by adhering to one simple guiding philosophy: the truth. For health advice you can trust, schedule a consultation with us today.

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