Thursday, December 09, 2004

Accuracy in Media Health Reports

Errors in newspaper articles covering emergency contraception pills (ECPs) may have contributed to incorrect beliefs about this form of birth control, according to an abstract* presented at this year's Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) conference.

The researchers found that, despite EC's potential to prevent unintended pregnancies and abortions--51,000 abortions deterred in 2000 alone--errors in newspaper articles about ECPs were prevalent, and persisted over time.

The study analyzed the content of 1077 articles in 113 newspapers, from 1992 to 2002, discussing both ECPs and medical abortions (MTP). Of all articles, 44.5% (n=479) included more than one instance of confusion between ECPs and one of the drugs used for MTP, mifepristone. Inaccurate portrayal of ECPs' mechanism of action as medical abortion was noted in 31.8% (n=343) of articles, and 13.1% (n=141) inappropriately applied terms such as "abortifacient post-coital contraceptives" for ECPs.

I haven't conducted a formal study, but while doing research for my book I most certainly noticed that the majority of articles about Seasonale and period control are inaccurate. They consistently get two basic facts wrong:

1. The real and the fake period are not one and the same.

Seasonale, or any comparable Pill regimen for that matter, doesn't reduce the number of yearly periods from 13 to four.

Women using the Pill don't have menstrual periods. Extended-, or continuous-use Pill regimens only shift the frequency of the fake period (withdrawal bleeding) from 13 to four.

2. There are over 30 years worth of studies on the safety of menstrual suppression.

Menstrual suppression isn't a new, experimental thing, and there is an abundance of long-term studies on the side effects of suppressing the period.

Tens of millions of women have been using the Pill, and thus suppressing their menstrual periods, since the 1960s. According to the FDA, over the years, more studies have been done on the pill to look for serious side effects than have been done on any other medicine in history.

Because skipping a real period has a different risk/benefit profile than skipping a fake period [I'll do a separate post on this topic], these entrenched errors negatively affect your ability to make an informed decision about menstrual management.

Between the errors found by the study on EC newspaper articles, the mountain of misinformation about menstrual menstrual management, and the factually challenged major media reports about the Ortho Evra skin patch, I think we have a candidate for Jeff Jarvis' new mediawatch segment about stories that receive too little [try none] coverage: Prevalent, and persistent errors in media health reports.

*Pruitt S, Dolan Mullen P. Contraception or Abortion? Inaccurate Descriptions of Emergency Contraception in Newspaper Articles, 1992-2002. Contraception. 2004;70(3):259-60.

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At 8:23 PM, Blogger Anne said...

Check it out:


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