MEDICAL CONSPIRACY THEORIES COULD AFFECT LIFESTYLE

Conspiracy theoriesA new study conducted by the University of Chicago has found that nearly half of U.S. citizens believe in  health-related conspiracy theories. Scientists surveyed subjects about six commonly held conspiracy theories, asking them both if they had heard of the theory and whether or not they believed it. The results revealed that a surprising number of Americans believe in conspiracy theories, though several of the theories have been thoroughly falsified by the scientific community. Medical professionals should be prepared to debunk these myths tactfully when discussing them with patients. The implication for doctors is that a large percentage of the population is considering medical treatment based on these false assumptions.

The study

The researchers used an online survey to question a representative sample of 1,351 adults.1 These results were then weighted for accuracy. Researchers specified that over the last 50 years, several conspiracy theories have gained traction, and the team sought out to find the degree to which these theories were believed. The scientists did this by explaining each conspiracy theory, and then having the survey participants indicate whether they had heard of the theory, and the degree to which they believed it.

The six theories, as listed on the survey, were:2

  • The CIA deliberately infected large numbers of African Americans with HIV under the guise of a hepatitis inoculation.
  • The Food and Drug Administration is deliberately preventing the public from getting natural cures for cancer and other diseases because of pressure from drug companies.
  • Health officials know that cell phones cause cancer but are doing nothing to stop it because large corporations won’t let them.
  • The global dissemination of genetically modified foods by Monsanto Inc is part of a secret program, called Agenda 21, launched by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations to shrink the world’s populations.
  • Doctors and the government still want to vaccinate children even though they know these vaccines cause autism and other psychological disorders.
  • Public water fluoridation is really just a secret way for chemical companies to dump the dangerous byproducts of phosphate mines into the environment.

The results demonstrated that 49 percent of those surveyed agreed with at least one of the conspiracy theories.The most widely known conspiracy theory was that vaccination can cause autism, which 69 percent of the survey group had heard before and 20 percent agreed with.4  More interesting is perhaps the fact that though only 63 percent of those surveyed had heard the myth that the Food and Drug Administration is preventing the public from access to natural cancer cures, 37 percent agreed with the theory.5 This theory was by far the most widely believed one, as none of the other myths had over 20 percent of the survey takers agree.

The survey population generally had a somewhat balanced distribution of those who agreed, disagreed or were unsure, but notably one of the myths had more than half of those surveyed disagree. Of those surveyed, 51 percent said they disagree with the theory that the CIA infected a large number of African Americans with HIV.6 Additionally, 46 percent of those surveyed disagreed with the theory regarding water fluoridation.

The myths

These myths are often propagated on the Internet and gain traction by citing difficult to understand scientific studies and focusing on natural cures. The main point behind many of these conspiracy theories is  the idea that the medical community is withholding information in order to make a profit and maintain control. Sources encouraging these theories online often link to evidence that would be challenging for the lay​ person to interpret. This technique allows conspiracy theorists to appear knowledgeable on a subject and use interprative evidence to back up claims. Medical professionals therefore need to be prepared to discuss these issues articulately.

One of the authors of the University of Chicago study, J. Eric Oliver, suggested that a lot of people might believe in these conspiracy theories because they are easier to understand than complicated scientific materials.An inherent uncertainty in medicine thereby may lead many people to seek alternatives.

A correlation

The interesting, but perhaps unsurprising, correlation researchers found from this study is that when compared to the total population, a larger percentage of those who believed in these myths were likely to seek natural cures and take vitamin supplements.The study found that only 13 percent of those who did not believe any of the conspiracy theories took vitamin supplements, whereas 35 percent of those who believed in three or more took supplements.However, this data does not suggest that conspiracy theorists are a paranoid contingency of herbalists. Instead, the overall awareness and belief in at least one of the theories proves that these myths are heard and shared commonly. Doctors may be able to use this data to predict certain health behaviors.

1“Medical Conspiracy Theories and Health Behaviors in the United States” by J. Eric Oliver, PhD; Thomas Wood, MA. JAMA Internal Medicine. May 2014. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1835348

2“Medical Conspiracy Theories and Health Behaviors in the United States” by J. Eric Oliver, PhD; Thomas Wood, MA. JAMA Internal Medicine. May 2014. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1835348

3“Half of Americans Believe Medical Conspiracy Theories” by Cliff Weathers. Alternet. July 18, 2014. http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/half-americans-believe-medical-conspiracy-theories

4“Medical Conspiracy Theories and Health Behaviors in the United States” by J. Eric Oliver, PhD; Thomas Wood, MA. JAMA Internal Medicine. May 2014. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1835348

5“Medical Conspiracy Theories and Health Behaviors in the United States” by J. Eric Oliver, PhD; Thomas Wood, MA. JAMA Internal Medicine. May 2014. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1835348

6“Medical Conspiracy Theories and Health Behaviors in the United States” by J. Eric Oliver, PhD; Thomas Wood, MA. JAMA Internal Medicine. May 2014. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1835348

7“Half of Americans Believe Medical Conspiracy Theories” by Cliff Weathers. Alternet. July 18, 2014. http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/half-americans-believe-medical-conspiracy-theories

8“Half of Americans Believe Medical Conspiracy Theories” by Cliff Weathers. Alternet. July 18, 2014. http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/half-americans-believe-medical-conspiracy-theories

9“Half of Americans Believe Medical Conspiracy Theories” by Cliff Weathers. Alternet. July 18, 2014. http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/half-americans-believe-medical-conspiracy-theories

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