April 8, 2014

Asthma inhalers and diet: shorter, with more swearing

Ok, so the previous post is about Herald (Daily Mail) story on asthma research. As science reporting goes it’s no worse than usual for these Mail reprints. The reason for this second post is that I read the story again and thought about health reporting.

The story lead says

Eating fast food and consuming sugary drinks renders the most common asthma inhaler ineffective, a study warns.

 That is, the Herald is telling people their emergency asthma inhaler will not work if they eat certain foods. There’s no suggestion of what to do instead in an attack or who to call for help. Even if the claim were true, that would be irresponsible. When it’s just linkbait, it’s fscking appalling.


Thomas Lumley (@tslumley) is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. His research interests include semiparametric models, survey sampling, statistical computing, foundations of statistics, and whatever methodological problems his medical collaborators come up with. He also blogs at Biased and Inefficient See all posts by Thomas Lumley »


  • avatar
    Joseph Delaney

    Oh wow — that is a good point. I was reading it initially as a strong admonition for asthmatics to eat a healthy diet. Even if not evidence based, it at least minimized the potential for harm — in the same sense that a report that walking a half hour a day reduces myopia might have accidental benefits even if the claim is bogus. I am displeased by such comments, but can at least see why a strong prior to credulity might end up being helpful in inspiring lifestyle changes. Bad science reporting but maybe not where the worst harm lies.

    But I never thought about “what if somebody had read this and thus did not use the inhaler because they thought the fast food they were eating would nullify the effect of the rescue medication”.

    Yikes! That could go so very wrong.

    4 years ago