Professor Simon Pearce Dr Tim Cheetham published an fascinating clinical review in the British Medical Journal earlier this month. Their research, a collaboration between Newcastle University and Newcastle NHS Foundation Hospital, led the two respected academics to conclude that Vitamin D should be added to milk and other food products, in a bid to halt a rise in the number of children suffering from rickets. Here’s the press release from Newcastle University that highlights their research.
After reading the press release, a startling fact jumped off the page:
“Half of all adults in the UK have Vitamin D deficiency in the winter and spring, and one in six have severe deficiency. This is worse in northern regions and could be part of the reason for the health gap between the north and south.
“And the condition has been linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, several cancers, and autoimmune conditions as well as osteomalacia, which is the painful manifestation of soft bones in adults.”
I discovered their research after reading lurid headlines in the Metro Newspaper last week. The front page splash carried the headline “Video gaming leads to a surge in rickets”. The headline was so obviously misleading that I knew it would irritate the army of video game players who form Gamers’ Voice, the group we established just before Christmas.
Even the respected correspondent in the Times, David Rose, had to suffer the indignity of the headline “TV and computer games blamed for rickets” ITN (yes, ITN) ran the story “Experts say gaming leads to a rise in rickets”. Well done to the one media outlet I could find thatwrote the headline: “50% of UK Vitamin D deficient”
After consulting members of Gamers’ Voice, I emailed Professor Pearce:
“I read the front page of the Metro this morning with interest. Am I right in thinking that you have written a report that links video games to rickets? Is it possible to send me details?”
He was candid about how the story was portrayed in some newspapers and online outlets:
“No we really didn’t do a study to show that, or say that Gaming causes rickets. It was a classic piece of dodgy lazy journalism, taking 3 words out of PA’s hyped-up version of our press release.”
The Press Association release that I assume he’s referring to, does not mention video games, though there is a reference to computers.
By chance, I’d met the amiable Nicholas Lovell at a video games industry conference on the day the story was published. He was similarly irritated by the misleading headlines and had contacted the academics as well. Nicholas is not a journalist. He’s an analyst. Still, he did fair reporting a favour last week.
So, once again video games get a kicking in the press based on an untruth. And the poor health academics who are trying to get their important research across to policy makers have their work undermined by nonsensical headlines. Now that I’ve read the research and talked to Professor Pearce, I feel I have a duty to help them get their message across.
I’m going to table this motion later today:
This House notes with concern the recent clinical review by Cheetham and Pearce in the British Medical Journal, “Diagnosis and management of vitamin D deficiency” that shows an increase of rickets amongst children in the UK; further notes that this was reported in many newspapers as being linked to the growth of video games and that the newspaper “Metro” published the front page headline “Video gaming leads to a surge in rickets”; understands that half of all adults in the UK have Vitamin D deficiency in the winter and spring, and one in six have severe deficiency and the condition has been linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, several cancers, and autoimmune conditions as well as osteomalacia; understands that it has been known since 1922 that rickets and osteomalacia are caused by a deficiency of Vitamin D in the diet and inadequate exposure to sunlight; and therefore realises that video games do not, in fact, cause the disease; believes that the solution to combatting rickets is cheap and simple; calls on the government to examine the case for Vitamin D supplementation in food and for parents to encourage their children run around more.”
I’m also going to quiz Department for Health Ministers to see what work they’re doing in this area.
Finally, if you’re a gamer, why not let Metro know about the research.