Strangest health stories of 2011

The year 2011 has been an interesting one for medical science, with remarkable progress made in a wide range of fields, notably stem cell research. But for every great piece of research covered well by the media, there are examples that sensationalise more equivocal studies. We’ve rounded up some of the most interesting stories where the headlines told one story, but the research told quite another.

Analysing health news can be fascinating, giving us a better understanding of what’s good for us and what exciting developments are happening in medicine. However, sometimes people writing health news get it wrong. Here are just a few examples of the worst uses of health research this year:

Few of the studies that these stories are based on are ‘bad science’, but overeager reporting of findings can turn interesting, but minor, findings into overblown news. Thankfully, dangerous claims are rare. More often, the claims made in the media are just plain weird. Here’s a selection of the strangest:

Cancer cures featured heavily in the news this year, as always. The media appear to be obsessed with possible cures, particularly dietary ones. Earlier this year Behind the Headlines analysed all the claims for ‘superfoods’ (not just cancer cures), but despite our advice to view such stories with caution, they keep coming. Added to the list of possible cancer-busting advice were:

It’s a common saying that there’s a pill for every ill. And if you read the papers regularly it may seem so. However, news stories about wonder drugs and magic pills are the ones that should be viewed with the most scepticism (more so if they’re on the front page of the paper). This year we’ve been told that there are new pills to:

This year, Behind the Headlines has fact-checked and explained more than 500 health news stories such as these. Tomorrow we will present the most interesting and accurately reported health stories of the year. In 2012, we hope that health news remains interesting, insightful and exciting, without some of the problems Behind the Headlines has unearthed in the past 12 months.