When is scaremongering ok?

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iVillage Member
Registered: 04-18-2003
When is scaremongering ok?
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Wed, 08-29-2012 - 3:01pm

A common criticism of BF promotion is that it is "scaremongering" e.g. in the AIDS discussion below.  Leaving aside that particular comparison, what is your opinion on whether

A) scaremongering is used more or less regarding formula than other health issues

B) scaremongering is ever acceptable or warranted.  

 

It has been my impression that scaremongering is pretty much standard practice, and is rarely questioned (i.e. the tactic is rarely questioned, as opposed to the veracity of the claims) on issues of

- vaccination

- breastfeeding while HIV+

-  co-sleeping 

 

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iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Wed, 08-29-2012 - 4:02pm

It has been my impression that scaremongering is pretty much standard practice, and is rarely questioned 

That's my impression, too. Even though the 2004 Ad Campaign was gutted by Tommy Thompson, I think the Ad Council hit onto something when they realized that agreeing to with the expression "breast is best" has no impact on behavior change, whereas agreeing to the expression "not breastfeeding is risky" does impact behavior.

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-16-2010
Thu, 08-30-2012 - 10:57am
pterodactyl wrote:

A common criticism of BF promotion is that it is "scaremongering" e.g. in the AIDS discussion below.  Leaving aside that particular comparison, what is your opinion on whether

A) scaremongering is used more or less regarding formula than other health issues

B) scaremongering is ever acceptable or warranted.  

 

It has been my impression that scaremongering is pretty much standard practice, and is rarely questioned (i.e. the tactic is rarely questioned, as opposed to the veracity of the claims) on issues of

- vaccination

- breastfeeding while HIV+

-  co-sleeping 

 

Scaremongering is rarely or never ok, and I think it is questioned whenever it is used on anything involving actual controversy about the magnitude of the risk involved and/or the countervailing reasons to do the thing (as opposed to something like smoking, where there isn't really any such controversy).  That said, I don't think you can have this discussion without defining what you mean by "scaremongering."  I'd say it includes:

1.  Statements or images that try to associate X with something generally deemed much scarier, as a way of making the risks of X seem greater than they really are.  Examples:

-the ads comparing formula feeding with riding a mechanical bull while pregnant

-the anti-co-sleeping campaign showing babies sleeping with butcher knives

I'd put the ABA counselor's decision to mention AIDS while talking about the risks of formula in this category.  

2.  Statements that make X sound scary, where the statements are factually false or misleading.

-I'd put the ABA counselor's statement that formula "destroys your immune system and then you just die of anything" in this category.

3.  Statements that distort, ignore, or exaggerate scientific evidence to make X sound scary. 

-Anything suggesting there's a link between vaccines and autism, or that "we just don't know" whether there's a link.

-Something broadly claiming that formula "causes" lower IQs, when the scientific evidence isn't really there to support that.

 

Scaremongering does NOT include objective factual statements that a particular practice is associated with certain risks--even if those factual statements happen to be scary. 

 

A note on "risky":

I dislike the term "risky," because it actually gives virtually no information.  It cannot just mean "associated with risks," because such a meaning is so broad as to be meaningless--Everything is risky; where do you draw the line?  Walking down the street is risky.  Getting on an elevator is risky.  Drinking a glass of tap water is risky.  Taking an ibuprofen is risky.  Taking birth control pills is risky.  Jogging is risky.  Getting a flu shot is risky.  Using donor milk is risky.  Using formula is risky.  Breastfeeding while taking medications is risky.  Driving is risky.  Bungee jumping is risky.   

Instead of saying something is risky, it's better to give a sense of (1) what the risk is, and (2) what its magnitude is.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Thu, 08-30-2012 - 3:22pm

Instead of saying something is risky, it's better to give a sense of (1) what the risk is, and (2) what its magnitude is.

I think you are as knowledgeable about the risks of formula as any regualr member of this board. So how would you give a sense of the risks of formula and the magnitude of those risks?

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-16-2010
Thu, 08-30-2012 - 3:33pm
nisupulla wrote:

Instead of saying something is risky, it's better to give a sense of (1) what the risk is, and (2) what its magnitude is.

I think you are as knowledgeable about the risks of formula as any regualr member of this board. So how would you give a sense of the risks of formula and the magnitude of those risks?

I wouldn't, because I'm not qualified to do so.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Thu, 08-30-2012 - 4:00pm

Kind of a non-sequitor, you feel qualified to assert that your definition of cause-and-effect is correct in spite of evidence to the contrary, but you do not feel qualified to comment on how risky formula use is? That's interesting.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Thu, 08-30-2012 - 4:04pm
Benefits and Barriers

Risk communication benefits include improved decisionmaking, both individually and collectively. The purpose of the exchange and the nature of the information have an impact on the benefits. Depending on the situation, personal and community anxieties about environmental health risks can be reduced or increased. For example, a goal might be raising concern about radon and prompting action.

Other benefits of the RC process include a better educated public, an appreciation of limited resources and difficult choices, increased coordination between various levels of government, and the development of working relationships between diverse interest groups such as the Sierra Club and the Chemical Manufacturers Association, to name an example from a project in the State of Washington. As citizens become more involved as participants, they become part of and contribute to the solution.

Because the RC process is so deeply embedded in broader social issues, barriers and problems are many. A key barrier is the term 'risk' itself--how it is measured, described, and perceived: Interested parties perceive risk differently. People do not believe that all risks are of the same type and size. Many consumers do not understand probabilities--a .05 probability is less comprehensible than the statement, "5 of 100 people have an increased risk for a disease." Figure 2 on page 4 shows some of the factors influencing risk perception.

Conflicting risks and messages, difficulty of translating scientific information, and disagreement on what is the risk itself and how to assess it present other problems. Barriers also exist in agencies' lack of RC expertise and in organizational cultures unfamiliar or uncomfortable with two-way processes.

http://odphp.osophs.dhhs.gov/pubs/prevrpt/archives/95fm1.htm

 

 
iVillage Member
Registered: 03-16-2010
Thu, 08-30-2012 - 4:10pm
nisupulla wrote:

Kind of a non-sequitor, you feel qualified to assert that your definition of cause-and-effect is correct in spite of evidence to the contrary, but you do not feel qualified to comment on how risky formula use is? That's interesting.

Not really.  One is a basic understanding of how empirical science establishes causative links.  The other would require a detailed understanding of thousands of different specific scientific studies, the general prevalence of the specific risks they studied, and how they fit together.

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-16-2010
Thu, 08-30-2012 - 4:40pm

Communication about risk is difficult and important.  It's not done well. Scientists use a set of terminology that is impossible for most people to understand in a useful way.

What people really want to know is this:

The risk of Disease X is approximately:

1/___ for children exclusively breast-fed

1/___ for children exclusively formula-fed

1/___ for children exclusively fed breast milk by bottle

1/___ for children half breastfed, half formula-fed

(Etc.)

Plus some sense of how "good" the studies are in terms of suggesting that the link is causative.

I have no idea how feasible it would be to provide some or all of this information.

iVillage Member
Registered: 07-11-2006
Thu, 08-30-2012 - 4:52pm

What people really want to know is this:

The risk of Disease X is approximately:

1/___ for children exclusively breast-fed

1/___ for children exclusively formula-fed

1/___ for children exclusively fed breast milk by bottle

1/___ for children half breastfed, half formula-fed

(Etc.)

Nah. I think all people really want to know is, "Is my child going to get sick, if I don't breastfeed long enough."

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-16-2010
Thu, 08-30-2012 - 5:10pm
nisupulla wrote:

What people really want to know is this:

The risk of Disease X is approximately:

1/___ for children exclusively breast-fed

1/___ for children exclusively formula-fed

1/___ for children exclusively fed breast milk by bottle

1/___ for children half breastfed, half formula-fed

(Etc.)

Nah. I think all people really want to know is, "Is my child going to get sick, if I don't breastfeed long enough."

Maybe, but there's no way to answer that question.

But really, I think the marginal value of additional studies of the risks of breastfeeding is minimal at best, and all of those studies should be stopped, with the funding going into them redirected toward making breastfeeding easier.  Tell people,  "Studies show an association between not breastfeeding and an increased risk of certain diseases and conditions, including X, Y, and Z [where those are the ones with the best evidence]," make sure hospitals know how breastfeeding works, make sure women have paid maternity leave, and make sure women have access to all of the how-to breastfeeding support they need.

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