America’s Health Illiteracy: How Easy It Is to Buy into Health Myths

PERSONAL HEALTH
Survey shows some of the medical facts that are far from true.

Photo Credit: Spot Us / Flickr

Ask any American for some medical advice and you’re sure to get an earful. Everybody, it seems, has a surefire cure for the common cold, hangover or sore throat. But how much can you trust that advice? Maybe not so much. In a world where, according to one survey by the Pew Health Group, almost half of the respondents thought antibiotics were effective against the common cold or flu (the answer to that is a big fat no, in case you were wondering), one should be exceedingly careful about the source of one’s medical information.

The truth is that Americans are not so smart about medicine, which makes us exceedingly vulnerable to hucksters peddling remedies. We don’t know much about heart disease despite the fact that it kills 1 out of 4 of us. We don’t even know the appropriate place to go for medical help. Only 18% of Americans are proficient in health literacy. An equal number of us have below basic health literacy and the rest of us are somewhere in the middle. Women fare a bit better than men, with 22% being proficient, while youth aged 18 to 24 fare the worst, with a third of them below basic health literacy.

Not every medical belief amounts to a life-or-death scenario (although our ignorance does add to the nation’s rising medical costs), but it is interesting to take a snapshot of some medical myths and dissect them to see who believes them, and why. That is exactly what the online insurance quote company, Insurancequotes.com, did, surveying over 2,000 people to see where they stand on a few widespread medical myths.

Below are seven of the most commonly believed medical myths.

1. Probiotics improve digestion for everyone who takes them.

In the survey, heading the list, over 83% of respondents thought that probiotics improve digestion for everyone who takes them.

While probiotics can help alleviate certain conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, childhood diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome, most healthy people won’t experience any digestive benefits from consuming them.

People of all ethnicities buy into the probiotic hype. In the survey, Caucasians and Asian Americans tied at 84%, and African Americans and Hispanics tied at 80%.

2. Creativity is controlled on the right half of the brain, logic on the left.

Almost 68% of respondents bought into this myth, but it isn’t true. It originated in the 1960s, when epileptic patients had surgical procedures on their brains that effectively walled off one side of the brain from the other. Researchers then found which sides of the brain were involved with language, math, drawing, and other functions. Pop gurus extrapolated from this information that one side of the brain was creative and one logical.

Studies since then debunk that notion. In fact, one recent study from the University of Utah of over 1,000 brains found no evidence that people are left-brained or right-brained.

3. Carrots give you better eyesight.

Nope, although over 68% believe otherwise.

Unless you have a severe shortage of vitamin A, eating a lot of carrots might turn you a bit orange (maybe our president likes carrots), but it won’t do anything for your eyesight.

4. When women live together, their periods become synchronized.

The myth that women in close proximity to one another for long periods of time begin experiencing their periods at the same time had its origin in an early 1970s study. Although subsequent studies seemed to bear this out, more recent studies say it is not true.

Still, more than 62% buy into the myth. Here’s a surprise: more men (44.6%) than women (29.8%) knew this myth was false.

5. Sitting close to the television set will cause poor eyesight.

Almost 61% of the respondents believed this to be true, but it is not. Although it could cause eyestrain, sitting close to the TV won’t cause any permanent damage to your eyes.

6. Myth: Women who are menstruating can’t get pregnant.

Women knew this one was false by a large margin, 72.7% to 57.6% for wishful thinking men.

Interestingly, Asian Americans believed this myth more than any other racial group, at 38%, followed closely by African Americans at 36% and Caucasians at 35%. Hispanics aren’t buying it, though, with only 30% believing this.

7. Myth: Vaccines are not effective at helping the body ward off disease.

Belief in the efficacy of vaccines (they are overwhelmingly safe and effective) has taken a hit in the past few years thanks to the misguided anti-vaxxer movement, which claims vaccines can cause autism (they don’t).

A sizable chunk of people (though, thankfully, still a minority) believe that vaccines are not effective, with 33% of African Americans believing this dangerous myth, followed by 22% of Hispanics, 20% of Asian Americans, and 13% of Caucasians.

Sources of health information

Based on the survey, it is clear where medical information is coming from. By far, the source of health information (or misinformation) is the internet. Seventy-one percent of Asian Americans report they get their health information online, followed by 59% for Caucasians, and 58% for both African Americans and Hispanics.

Given the fact that almost anyone can create a “health” website, including those with a business or political agenda, this may be a cause for concern.

Other health info sources include family and friends, and doctors. Asian Americans are least likely to get their information from a physician (18%), while Hispanics are most likely (35%). African Americans are most likely to follow the medical advice of family or friends (14%), while Hispanics are least likely (7%).

Health knowledge by profession and education level

Some professions, it would seem, are more easily taken in by myths than others. People in the marketing and advertising industry are the least likely to correctly identify medical myths, with only 52% accurately calling them out. They were tied with broadcasting and journalism, which should give us pause (FAKE NEWS!).

The military professions were most able to identify myths, at 62%. Somewhat shockingly, they beat out the scientific professions, who came in at 59%, barely ahead of homemakers at 58%, who disconcertingly in turn beat out the medical profession at 57% (apparently working in the field does not assure protection from incorrect medical information).

People with professional degrees led the pack in being able to accurately identify medical myths, at 61%. Overall, college degrees beat out those with only a high school degree or GED equivalent (who came in at 54%). The surprise here was that PhDs just barely beat out the high school crowd at 55%.

See the entire survey results.

Larry Schwartz is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer with a focus on health, science and American history. 

Depeche Mode’s “Spirit” is a reminder of how political the band can be

“Grabbing hands, grab all they can”:

The group’s latest studio LP is a byproduct of and commentary on today’s global political upheaval

"Grabbing hands, grab all they can": Depeche Mode's "Spirit" is a reminder of how political the band can be
Depeche Mode (Credit: Sony Music)

The members of Depeche Mode spent the weeks leading up to the release of their 14th studio album, “Spirit,” fending off an association with the far-right movement. In late February, white nationalist Richard Spencer — a self-avowed “life-long Depeche Mode fan” — facetiously called the influential synthpop group the “official band of the Alt-Right.” The act swiftly issued a crisp statement through a rep: “Depeche Mode has no ties to Richard Spencer or the Alt-Right and does not support the Alt-Right movement.”

The exchange was a reminder that Depeche Mode was actually tangling with politics more than it had in recent years. The Martin Gore-penned “Where’s the Revolution,” the first single from “Spirit,” encourages people to engage in mutiny against oppression. Although not explicitly liberal, a sampling of chorus lyrics (“They manipulate and threaten/ With terror as a weapon,” “Who’s making your decisions?/ You or your religion/ Your government, your countries/ You patriotic junkies”) points to a left-leaning perspective.

As many reviews have noted, the rest of “Spirit” also has an overt political bent. However, it’s more precise to say that the album features commentary on (and is a reaction to) the societal and cultural elements that led to 2017’s global political upheaval.

“Going Backwards” juxtaposes technological progress with decaying morals and devolution to “a caveman mentality,” while “Worst Crime” calls for people to own up to corrupt behavior: “We are all charged with treason/ There is no one left to hiss.” The electro-dirge “Poorman” is specific about its stance: “Corporations get the breaks/ Keeping almost everything they make/ Tell us just how long it’s going to take/ For it to trickle down.” And “Scum” pulls no punches in how it portrays a faceless person presumably abusing their position: “Hey scum, hey scum/ What are you going to do when karma comes?”

Speaking to Rolling Stone about the album, Gahan didn’t necessarily reveal inspiration specifics. “We called the album ‘Spirit,’ because it’s like, ‘Where’s the spirit gone?’ or ‘Where’s the spirit in humanity?’” he said. Earlier in the article, he admitted he “wouldn’t call this a political album, because I don’t listen to music in a political way. But it’s definitely about humanity, and our place in that.”

One could argue that the latter idea — someone deeply considering where they fit in the world among their fellow citizens — is inherently political. However, Gahan has a good reason for demurring on specifics. In a recent Billboard interview, he discussed not just the Spencer incident, but also how his band’s music has been misunderstood. “I think over the years there’s been a number of times when things of ours have been misinterpreted — either our imagery, or something where people are not quite reading between the lines.

“If anything, there’s a way more sort of socialist — working class, if you like — industrial-sounding aesthetic to what we do,” Gahan continues. “That’s where we come from. We come from the council estates of Essex, which is a really s—-y place, just 30 minutes east of London, where they stuck everybody when London was getting too overpopulated in the late ’60s.”

From a sonic perspective, Depeche Mode’s early music captures the cloistered existence Gahan describes. The fogged-up-window synths of 1981’s debut, “Speak and Spell,” give way to sharply modern keyboards on 1982’s “A Broken Frame.” That record’s programming conjures textures that are simultaneously drab and chirpy: dripping faucets, a dull church service or a melodramatic sitcom theme.

On subsequent records, Depeche Mode employs clanking production and scraping sound effects, as well as midnight-hued keyboards and generous slathers of reverb, to convey increasingly hollowed-out angst. The sounds of industry remain an aesthetic influence on a song such as “Black Celebration,” which resembles a bustling, belching factory, and on the “electronic metal” the band embraced as the ’80s progressed. But although modern technology and different production techniques changed the band’s sound — giving it a sleeker, dystopian and minimalist vibe — Depeche Mode has never lost its utilitarian, greyscale synthpop essence.

What’s more intriguing is how the thematic bent of “Spirit” revisits and amplifies aspects of the band’s past. Notable parallels can be made to 1983’s “Construction Time Again,” the record containing the greed-demonizing “Everything Counts.” That LP’s cover image features a chiseled, real-life ex-Royal Marine hoisting a sledgehammer. From an iconography perspective, it was a striking statement — even if its intent had many layers.

In a documentary about the record, Martyn Atkins, a longtime Depeche Mode-associated designer who worked on “Construction Time Again,” said “The kind of political look of the things was more fashion than a specific statement. If you look back, you’ll see a lot of those kind of elements creeping in, of both fascist and communistic kind of iconography. It was exciting looking stuff. And I think that nobody had really plundered it to market an everyday product like a record.”

Yet in an interview with NME journalist X. Moore, the members of Depeche Mode were firm about their political awakening and how the concept of “The Worker” dominated the record.

“The general tendency of the album is very socialized and The Worker sums it up — it’s the obvious image to get across socialism,” said keyboardist Alan Wilder. “It’s like, the first thing you think seeing the cover is that the hammer is smashing down the mountain, but not to destroy. Because he’s a worker, it’s to rebuild it, it’s positive. That was the overall idea of the album, to be positive — that’s why it’s construction time, not destruction time.”

Later in the article, Gore was more explicit about the ways his lyrics dealt with greed and money, and the disproportionate way wealth is distributed. “The thing is, the people in power don’t care about someone with a low wage, they only care about their own power. But I think people should care about other people, y’know, ’cause from the moment we’re born we’re put into competition with everybody else.”

Going forward, that kind of direct commentary emanated from Depeche Mode’s catalog only occasionally, although these moments resonated. “People Are People” somewhat clumsily (but sincerely) addresses bigotry: “It’s obvious you hate me, though I’ve done nothing wrong/ I’ve never even met you, so what could I have done?” The murky “New Dress” criticizes tabloid frippery (“Princess Di is wearing a new dress”) that is focused on to the detriment of more important matters: “If you change points of view/ You may change a vote/ And when you change a vote/ You may change the world.” And uproar over the sexual overtones of “Master and Servant” obscured the song’s coded societal commentary: “Domination’s the name of the game/ In bed or in life/ They’re both just the same/ Except in one you’re fulfilled.”

Still, it’s not like the group was an apolitical entity the rest of the time. Mat Smith’s excellent essay about the band’s political nature points out how ’80s Depeche Mode reverberated “in places like East Germany or Russia that were divided and separate from the West by ideology. Depeche Mode’s music spoke to a generation of young people that felt betrayed by Communism, capturing the hearts and minds of a youth who heard something in this music that we’ll probably never fully appreciate unless we were living through it with them.” And Gore’s lyrics very much politicize personal matters: His vignettes about spiritual struggles, romantic turmoil and internal battles with the self are charged with divisive emotions.

Depeche Mode might have been seen as comparatively lighter, because ’80s synthpop tended to deal with surprisingly weighty issues. Industry’s “State of the Nation” condemns needless (and deadly) wars, as does Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes.” The Human League’s monstrous “Dare” LP features “Seconds,” a song about the assassination of John F. Kennedy from the perspective of the shooter. Bronski Beat’s sociopolitical statement “Smalltown Boy” is about someone leaving home after being bullied about his sexuality. And nuclear war or nuclear apocalypse were popular thematic jumping-off points; Ultravox’s “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes,” OMD’s “Enola Gay” and even Modern English’s “I Melt With You” all fit into this category.

These topics might seem quaint or retrograde now, but as Depeche Mode cautions on “Spirit,” political backsliding is lurking around every corner. Speaking about new song “The Worst Crime” to NPR, Gahan says “The way we divide each other — you know, racial divides. [It’s] kind of calling out to really question that, to kind of check yourself — me included, everyone else included.

“Like, where do you really stand, what are the choices you’re really making? Do you really love thy neighbor, and are you willing to accept the differences? We just seem to be slipping backwards.”

 

Annie Zaleski is a Cleveland-based journalist who writes regularly for The A.V. Club, and has also been published by Rolling Stone, Vulture, RBMA, Thrillist and Spin.

Dying, with a lifetime of literature 

When I was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I didn’t expect the books I taught for 30 years to define how I coped

Dying, with a lifetime of literature 
(Credit: Shutterstock/Penguin/Salon)

When I was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I was determined to not let the disease define me. With the exception of one fundraiser, I declined offers to give talks, blog, or even write a narrative essay about my struggles with the debilitating symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or ALS). While I held to my promise, I hadn’t expected that the classic literature I’d been teaching for 30 years would define how I coped with my illness.

I was diagnosed with ALS in August 2015 — on the Friday before school was to resume. I slipped into my classroom that weekend and filled a box with mementos, leaving behind my personal copies of literary masterpieces and cabinets filled with curricula — at least I thought I was abandoning a lifetime of literature.

At first, my only thoughts of school were met with relief. Relief that I had left my job before greeting 150-plus new students, taking them on a journey of uncertainty and loss; at 17, they had plenty else to worry about.

As the months passed, however, my physical strength waned, and unlike the industrious doer I’d been my whole life, I became dependent upon others. After losing the use of my hands, it became difficult to find meaningful ways to spend my time. I despaired having no control over my life. I strove to focus on the moments of the day when I was warmed by a kind word or an image of natural beauty. When I did pause to appreciate these instances, I’d hear the words “This one is warmed . . .”

At first I was at a loss for the source of the line. I was certain it was from a Toni Morrison novel, but when I consulted Google, I was reminded that the phrase harkened from Morrison’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Near the conclusion of her lecture, she tells a brief story about a wagon filled with slaves journeying to a plantation where their lives will end. The driver stops at an inn for a meal, leaving the slaves shivering in the back of the wagon. Two children tend to the slaves, giving them food and sips of warm cider. Morrison sums up this respite from pain and impending hopelessness: “The next stop would be their last, but this one was warmed.” I too was nearly at my last stop — death — but pausing to appreciate the moments that were warmed by small gestures and glimpses of natural beauty dulled the pangs of despair, and I had Morrison to thank for expressing the ineffable emotions that I may have missed had it not been for her words echoing in my mind.

With my mobility limited and my voice diminished, I would often lie in bed and find myself bothered by ridiculous things: a shriveled leaf on a house plant or a crooked lampshade. When someone entered the room to visit, I would seek a way to ask them to correct the irritant. But if they plucked the wrong leaf or didn’t understand me at all, I would usually realize the foolishness of wasting energy on getting my way and somewhere from the recesses of my memory be reminded, “Do not seek to be master of all . . . ”

At first I assumed those words harkened from the New Testament or possibly the humanist Shakespeare, but when Google insisted that Sophocles quilled those lines, I found myself sharing the tragic stage with Oedipus as his brother-in-law Creon admonishes him for failing to learn that fate cannot be circumvented. Oedipus and I both had to learn acceptance. Although acceptance sounds like a passive stance, it would become the hardest work of my life.

Acquiescing to my fate and allowing others to do what they deemed best for my unfamiliar and uncooperative body took patience. But when my confinement to a wheelchair required dismantling my office into a bedroom, replacing my desk with a ramp and my bookcase with a portable commode, I balked. Like Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, who awakened to find himself a giant cockroach, I felt alien in appearance and among unfamiliar surroundings. In an attempt to make me more comfortable, my family, like Gregor’s, had replaced my furniture — my identity — with utility. I slept in a motorized bed with bars and awoke alone, with a green button to summon my husband to untangle my limp legs from the blankets. Despite the love and care I was receiving, nothing except the occasional dream let me pretend that I was myself.

Eventually all my inner turmoil will have to give way to complete surrender. I’m not quite there yet. But I do hear one of Hamlet’s less-famous lines spoken after most of the chaos in the play subsidies: “Let be.” Resonating in those two words is Hamlet’s acceptance: “There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” I pray that I may soon die accepting this lesson that’s taken a lifetime to learn.

Lynette Williamson taught high school English and coached debate for 30 years in Sonoma County, California, where she and her husband Don raised two children who had better keep their promise to their mother and produce grandchildren one day. 

A socialist response to Brexit

No to British nationalism and the European Union!

By Chris Marsden
25 March 2017

The following article is being distributed at today’s Unite for Europe demonstration in London.

With Prime Minister Theresa May set to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on March 29, warnings as to the impact of Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) abound.

May is touring the UK promising to “deliver a deal that works” for everyone and describing Wednesday’s beginning of the two year process of exiting the EU as a “historic event [that] will precipitate a shift in our role in the world and see Britain begin a bold new chapter as a prosperous, open and global nation.”

But she does so amid demands for a £57 billion “divorce” settlement from the EU, threats of punishment by the 27 remaining member states, reports of economic dislocation including banks such as Goldman Sachs and HSBC leaving London that in total threatens 230,000 finance jobs, and of a 92 percent fall in EU nationals registering as nurses in England.

The announcement will, moreover, be made under conditions in which the Scottish National Party-led parliament at Holyrood has made an official demand for a second independence referendum and with Sinn Fein in Ireland raising the issue of the continued status of Northern Ireland’s six counties as British territory.

It is against this background that the Unite for Europe national march to parliament has been organised.

There are clear and valid reasons for the concerns of those who will take part, including repugnance over the government’s refusal to guarantee the rights of EU nationals already residing in Britain. In addition, the attacks on such protests that are centred exclusively on the insistence that they are impermissible because they seek to flout the “public will,” as expressed in last year’s referendum, have wholly reactionary implications.

Dissent with the result among the 48 percent who voted against Brexit is entirely legitimate and its suppression has nothing to do with a genuine concern for democracy. It merely gives carte blanche to the reactionary pro-Brexit wing of the British ruling class to complete what they describe glowingly as the “Thatcher revolution,” based on slashing corporation tax and public spending while stepping up the exploitation of the working class to ensure that the UK business can go “out of Europe and into the world.”

However, neither are those individuals and political tendencies leading the Unite for Europe protest and the broader opposition to Brexit the “friends” of democracy and “progressive values,” or the future of the younger generation, as they claim to be. Their sole genuine and overriding concern is that alienating the UK from Europe, above all exclusion from the Single Market, is damaging to the interests of Britain’s capitalists. Everything else they say, centred as it is on a politically degraded apologia for the EU, is moral effluvia and lies.

That is why, having first opposed efforts to “incite hate and divide communities,” etc., the number one demand of Unite for Europe’s “open conversation where the UK’s civil society is consulted and where Parliament or the people have the final say on our future” is: “We want to remain a member of the Single Market.”

In the Brexit referendum campaign, the Socialist Equality Party refused to support either a Remain or a Leave vote because neither represented the interest of working people. We called instead for an active boycott and dedicated our efforts above all to explaining the fundamental issues posed for workers, not just in Britain but throughout Europe.

We wrote that the EU “is not an instrument for realising the genuine and necessary unification of Europe”, but rather “a mechanism for the subjugation of the continent to the dictates of the financial markets…”

The EU and its constituent governments have spent years imposing a social counterrevolution on Europe’s workers through unending cuts in jobs, wages and social conditions–in the process impoverishing millions and bankrupting entire countries.

As to associating the EU with “free movement,” its proper designation is that of “Fortress Europe.” It is a continent surrounded by razor wire, concrete walls and concentration camps, whose leaders have the blood of thousands of desperate refugees—forced to flee the consequences of wars waged by the US, Britain and Europe—on their hands.

It is for this reason that the xenophobia whipped up by Brexit finds its corollary throughout Europe, above all in the rise of fascistic movements such as the National Front in France.

Likewise, the claim of Unite for Europe, whose real leadership is an alliance between the Blairite right of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats—to be “resisting” not only “hard Brexit” but also US President Donald Trump—is equally bogus.

It is essential to distinguish between genuine popular opposition to Trump’s nationalism, militarism, racism and misogyny and the use that it is being put to by the pro-Remain forces. They view Trump’s presidency and May’s alliance with him as antithetical to the interests of British imperialism for two related reasons:

· His “America First” doctrine makes Trump an active opponent of the EU, because he sees it as a trade rival dominated by Germany that must be curbed.

· He has expressed reservations over the US commitment to NATO and the focus of the previous Obama administration on stoking up military hostilities with Russia, when China should be America’s main concern.

The response to this among Trump’s political opponents—the Democrats in the US and the European powers led by Berlin—is wholly reactionary.

On both sides of the Atlantic, the main charge levelled against Trump is that he is a stooge of Russian President Vladimir Putin for opposing NATO’s military build-up on Europe’s borders. In Europe, all talk is of building an independent military capability to project the interests of the major powers on the world arena—combined with efforts to capitalise on US hostilities with Beijing by signing trade deals that make a clash with Washington ever more certain.

To side with the EU against Trump is therefore to tie the working class to an escalating drive towards trade war and militarism that can only mean accelerated austerity and a potentially catastrophic confrontation with Russia.

Brexit, Trump and the ongoing fracturing of the EU along national lines are all rooted in the irreconcilable contradiction of capitalism that twice in the 20th century plunged Europe and the world into war—between the integrated and global character of production and the division of the world into antagonistic nation states.

Following the Second World War, the European powers, with the support of the US, sought to stabilise the continent and regulate such hitherto disastrous national rivalries through ever-closer economic and political integration.

This project has failed and cannot be revived. Only the unified and independent political mobilisation of the working class against all factions of the bourgeoisie, in Britain, Europe and internationally, offers a way forward.

The task at hand is the struggle for a workers’ government in Britain and the United Socialist States of Europe within a world federation of socialist states.

An essential foundation for such a movement is the conscious rejection by the most thoughtful elements—above all by young people attracted to the pro-EU protest due to its support for “free movement” and declared hostility to xenophobia—of all efforts to divide the working class along pro- and anti-Brexit lines.

 

WSWS