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Are you one of those people who think that if you believe everything your read, you’ll no longer be able to eat anything or do anything without it harming your health in one way or another? Have you ever wondered, while reading these kinds of health news stories, who on earth writes such rubbish?

I have to admit that I am one of the culprits. I have been a health and lifestyle journalist since the late 1990s, and have written my fair share of stories about all sorts of health studies and surveys. I’d like to think that I’ve kept a level head where my reporting is concerned, but it’s difficult to write about some health developments without achieving some degree of scare mongering, willingly or not. And then there are the stories that really do scare people to death (sorry, not literally, obviously).

You know the kind of thing I mean. Those stories with headlines like ‘Vitamins could kill you’ (remember that one?), or ‘A sausage a day can give you a heart attack’ (yes, it popped up just last week) and ‘Cream cakes give you cancer’ (okay, I made that one up, but I bet some scientist out there could design a study that would prove it)…

In my defence I can only appeal to your better nature and ask you not to shoot the messenger. As a jobbing journalist, it’s not my place to have opinions – just to report the facts. The problem is that the facts are often bent out of shape, depending on what the headline writers feel will grab enough attention to sell more newspapers/magazines or boost a site’s webstats.

So why riskfactorphobes anonymous? Well you’ve only got to look around you to see how some health advice is driving relatively sane people mad with confusion. Riskfactorphobia is a term coined, I believe, by the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) to describe how some people have taken health scare stories on board to such an extent that it has significantly changed the way they behave – for instance, some people are obsessive about what they eat, thanks to health stories that claim this or that food is bad for you.

In fact, if I had a quid for every time I have used the term ‘risk factor’ in my work, I would be seriously wealthy by now. No, really, I would.

So this is my chance to comment on what I think rather than just report the ‘facts’. Of course I’m not a qualified health professional nor do I promise to pour over the tiny details of clinical studies to bring you the small print, but I do promise to say it like I see it. Which, to be quite honest, will make a change.

I’ll also try to bring interesting, maybe even feel-good stories to this blog, the sort of things that don’t make the big headlines (probably because they’re not sensational enough…). So whether you agree or disagree with what I say, please add your comments. After all, life without some risk is hardly worth the bother.


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