Health Hoaxes, Part 2

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 11:22
Posted in category Health

In this way, the unsuspecting consumer is lured into the chain gang. Someone may vaguely remember hearing a television news report about genetically altered corn, so the e-mail-with all of its scientific quotes and statistics-does not sound completely far-fetched. In a good-intentioned effort to share this distressing “news” with family and friends, the recipient then forwards the email to others. Thus, a cyber-chain is born and the e-scare propagates across the Internet.

In addition to the aspartame scare, there are a few other health hoaxes making the rounds of the Internet. If you haven’t received them already, they may soon be coming to an e-mail box near you.

Headless Chickens

My daughter told me about a forwarded message that she recently received from a friend. The report falsely claimed that a leading fast food restaurant “does not use real chickens. They actually use genetically manipulated organisms.”

According to this fraudulent report, these genetically manipulated organisms have no beaks, feathers, or feet. Their bone structure is allegedly shrunk to produce more meat. The pseudo-chickens are purportedly kept alive by “tubes inserted into their bodies to pump blood and nutrients throughout their structure.”

I tracked down the University web site that is mentioned in the study and found,

“The hoax includes reference to an unspecified study … done at the University of New Hampshire and there is no such research or study that was done here. When you read the message carefully you can see it has all the hallmarks of a hoax. It starts with a well known subject…and a timely topic…and then spins out a story that progresses from possible, to improbable, and finally to impossible.”4

Flesh-Eating Bananas

Another e-scare cites a study at the fictitious Manheim Research Institute. According to the e-mail, a shipment of Costa Rican bananas was found to contain “necrotizing fasciitis” which is bacteria more widely known as the “flesh-eating” disease. This claim completely false according to the Centers for Disease Control, and the “Manheim Research Institute” has yet to be located. Web site information from both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control reassure consumers that “the bacteria cannot survive long on the surface of a banana.” 5

Scary Shampoo and Toxic Toothpaste

The American Cancer Society has also published an article to refute cancer scare rumors that have surfaced online. This particular rumor advises consumers to check the ingredients on shampoo and toothpaste labels for the substance, Sodium Laureth Sulfate.

The e-scare hysterically warns that Sodium Laureth Sulfate is so strong that it “is used to scrub garage floors…and is proven to cause cancer in the long run.”

The truth is that Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate are common cosmetic detergents used in products such as shampoos and toothpaste to create cleansing bubbles.

According to The American Cancer Society, these ingredients “do not cause cancer.” Furthermore, an expert panel of the Cosmetic Ingredient Review committee concluded, “On the basis of available information…Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Ammonium Laureth Sulfate are safe as presently used in cosmetic products.”6

Breaking the Chain

As with all information on the Web, it pays to thoroughly inspect any gift horse that comes your way. That helpful e-mail touting the latest cure-all may really be carrying inaccurate or even dangerous information.

Cyber chain letters thrive because people continue to pass them along. These letters generally end with the admonition to pass on this “news” to all the people you know. Just as my friend unwittingly passed along the aspartame scare to alert me to what she thought was a real danger, most people continue to forward these hoaxes out of genuine concern for family and friends.

Awareness is the key to breaking the chain of e-scares on the Web. When you receive an e-mail with a health warning read it carefully. Has it already been forwarded multiple times before reaching your inbox? Does it make outlandish claims or cite organizations you’ve never heard of?

Before you send the dubious message to others, check it out. Consider the source. Verify the contents. Visit the web site of a reputable organization to see if they have information or a disclaimer about the message.

For example, if the e-mail contains a cancer warning, stake out the American Cancer Society. If it implies a diet scare, call on the experts at American Dietetic Association.

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