On Monday 12 March 2012, researchers from the Harvard Medical School released a study in which linked the consumption of red meat to an increased chance of early death. The study, entitled ‘Red Meat Consumption and Mortality‘ was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It was also accompanied by an editorial entitled ‘Holy Cow! What’s Good for you is Good for Our Planet‘.
The researchers tracked 37698 men for 22 years and 83698 women for 28 years. All the participants were free of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer when tracking commenced. The diets of the participants were evaluated through questionnaires every four years. The subjects who consumed a card-deck-sized serving of unprocessed red meat each day on average saw a 13 percent higher risk of dying than those who did not consume red meat with the same frequency.
The study has garnered a considerable amount of attention. At the time of initial writing (around 21:00 on the evening of Tuesday 13 March 2012), there were 211 stories related articles that can be accessed on Google News. Another check around 23:00 on the evening of Tuesday 13 March 2012, showed that there were 231 related stories. Here are some examples of the headlines from some of the media outlets across:
The Independent – ‘Red meat increases risk of early death, says study‘
The Telegraph – ‘Red meat is blamed for one in 10 early deaths‘
United States of America
The LA Times – ‘All red meat is bad for you, new study says‘
ABC News – ‘Red Meat Tied to Increased Mortality Risk‘
Harvard Magazine – ‘Don’t Pass the Bacon‘
Fox News – ‘Red meat linked to premature death, research finds‘
Globe and Mail – ‘Red meat increases risk of death from cancer‘
Toronto Star – ‘Red meat linked to higher risk of premature death: Harvard study‘
Montreal Gazette – ‘Red meat linked to higher risk of premature death‘
The Sydney Morning Herald – ‘Huge study shows red meat boosts risk of dying young‘
Victor Harbor Times – ‘Love affair with flesh hits a snag as study links red meat to risk of death‘
Reuters – ‘More support for passing on the red meat‘
CNN International – ‘Study: Too much red meat may shorten lifespan‘
Media outlets exist within a context that is structured by the competition for public’s attention. Being constantly bombarded by a variety of stimuli, public attention can be fleeting and therefore is extremely valuable. Consequently, in order to capture the attention, media outlets must refer to very striking differences (differences from the ‘norm’). A response will only be garnered by a strong stimuli (Neidhardt, 1993).
As Neidhardt (1993), points out, the aforegoing scenario leads to implementation of particular strategies:
1) “…existing Material can become loaded linguistically by ‘the use of intense language’.” (p.343)
2) “…the selection of the material is guided by a preference for strongly deviating cases.” (p.343)
Case in point, the aforementioned study.
Neidhardt, F. (1993). ‘The Public as a Communication System’ Public Understand. Sci. 2, 339-350. doi: 10.1088/0963-6625/2/4/004
Pan, A., Sun, Q., Bernstein, A.M., Schulze, M.B., Manson, J.E., Stampfer, M.J., Willett, W.C., Hu, F.B. (2012). ‘Red Meat Consumption and Mortality’ Arch Intern Med. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2287