How Misreported Data Can Become Hyperbole

High HDL

I just read an article by Newsmax (http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/good-HDL-cholesterol-death/2016/08/17/id/743936/#CommentSection) that had the title of “Too Much ‘Good’ Cholesterol Linked to Early Death.”

Seeing as I have heart disease, I read with interest and saw that the study was in the Clinical Journal of American Nephrology (cjasn.asnjournals.org).  I searched the journal for the study and finally found one that I think the Newsmax story was referring (the study was not cited specifically in the article, so I had to do the search based on what was in the story).  This study was completed by researchers, some of which were from the Washington University School of Medicine (not all as implied by the story).  The title of the article was “High Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol and the Risk of All-Cause Mortality among U.S. Veterans” (http://cjasn.asnjournals.org/content/early/2016/08/10/CJN.00730116.abstract?sid=6a08e6c2-7164-4c48-bfe2-1a553bb161f4).

I read the abstract and found that the study was done on US Veterans (one factor that isolates this finding to US Veterans) and the study was done on over 1,000,000 MEN that were US Veterans between 2003 and 2004.  Basically, what this says is that this study is applicable to MEN who were veterans during a time when we were invading Iraq and preparing for that conflict.  In other words, by saying in a very general sense that “Too Much ‘Good’ Cholesterol Linked to Early Death” the news outlet published a misleading title and the article itself does little to mitigate the title.  The article does not refer to this article being done with US Veterans and Men only.  It does not go into the analogy that too much of ANYTHING can be deadly (including air and water).  It does not refer adequately to the study in question, other than the journal.  The title would have been better if it would have been specific to Male US Veterans that are suffering from kidney disease (that’s right, that was part of the study in the form of “eGFR” blood tests, which test for kidney disease).

I write this to ensure that people do NOT take news articles at face value.  Do some research and come to your own conclusions.  Do NOT let the news media outlets tell you how to think.  Do that for yourselves.

 I am surprised that the clinical journal authors have not tried to contact the news media outlet to let them know that the news outlet was wrong in their conclusions.  The sad part of all this is that some people will read this article and then believe that they need to reduce their HDL to survive longer.  This is not only misleading but could be fatal to those that do not understand the medical implications of what they are doing.  If you are in doubt, contact your doctor and talk to him/her about your condition and express your concerns to them.  They are the ones that are usually current on these studies.

As for me, I am going to continue to grow my HDL and ensure that I am protected against further instances of heart disease.   I will not let one article written by one news outlet that was in my opinion misleading to the point of life threatening influence me to do something that would be injurious to my health.  This shows how data, if taken in the wrong context, can be hurtful to individuals reading second-hand about the data.

Data analysts and journal writers, please be careful to give as much information as possible and cite your sources specifically.

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