A report about a disease thought long gone has uncovered how some newspapers play fast and loose
In late-January, two researchers noted that in the UK, rickets - a disease most had thought vanished with the Victorian workhouse - had returned.
Rickets is caused by Vitamin D deficiency, making children's bones soften, leading to fractures and deformities which in turn cause the kids' to get extreme cases of bow-legs.
In the press release for the report, Simon Pearce and Dr. Tim Cheetham, of Newcastle Biomedicine, call for Vitamin D to be added to milk and other foodstuffs to halt rickets' spread.
Explaining how this almost-forgotten ailment has returned, Pearce and Cheetham write:
"A traditional UK diet often lacks Vitamin D and this could be a big reason for the increasing problem, as well as changes in lifestyle, such as children staying indoors playing computer games."
And then, "Kids tend to stay indoors more these days and play on their computers instead of enjoying the fresh air."
It was this segment of their press release that, with great fervor, the daily papers picked up and ran with - not that I can blame them: Who doesn't love a scientific study that blames computers for the kids' bad health?
However, the doctors are now claiming that their data was twisted and they were misquoted.
"I understand [some newspapers] said that we have linked computers to rickets, whereas we are actually saying lack of outdoor activity in childhood is a risk for poor D nutritional state," Dr. Cheetham told computer gaming website Gamesbrief.com. "We do not say that gaming causes rickets."
He continued, "What we are trying to say is that the Vitamin D status of older kids and teenagers is poor, because they tend to play outdoors less."
So just as I was more than willing to jump on the "blame computers" bandwagon, the angry mob in me wants to jump on the "blame tabloids" bandwagon as well - but on reflection, I will stick with the "blame the press release" bandwagon: It mentions children and computers twice - perhaps not empirical evidence, but certainly the cause for conjuncture.
I think the press release's authors are being a tad disingenuous when they claim a misconstruing of their comments.