Last week I read a spectacularly bad article. Titled “Seven steps to a smarter child” it made wild, unsubstantiated claims about the terrible harms to the developing brain from tap water (too many metal ions), wheat, tooth filings and msg. Advice was given to avoid fluoride toothpaste and limit sunscreen use, despite the benefits of these. Unpasteurized milk and fish oils are enthusiastically endorsed without a balanced view of their risks and benefits.
So what, you may be thinking, there’s a lot of weird stuff on the internet. But I didn’t pick this article up from a link deployed in a Twitter argument. It was in my daughter’s school bag, put there by her teacher.
The article was printed in Families Oxfordshire, a free magazine distributed by local schools. It’s one of 39 national franchises offering local listings and “reliable advice on parenting and health”.
The article, which can be seen on page 23 here, was reprinted from, you’ve guessed it, ‘what doctors don’t tell you’ an alternative health magazine fond of undermining sound health evidence with articles such as “sunbathe your diabetes away”.
A jaunty note at the bottom of the reprint in Families recommended it as ‘a real eye-opener’.
So our children were being handed bad science to bring home. Does this matter? Yes, for several reasons. Firstly this article may lead to unnecessary health anxiety and expenditure on alternatives to the alleged toxins. Secondly, parents may avoid helpful things like fluoride and sunscreen due to this advice. Finally, all this nonsense conceals the very simple things you need to do to help kids cope with school; give them a balanced diet including breakfast, provide opportunities for learning through play at home, and TALK TO THEM. No raw milk and tofu smoothie will substitute for being listened to by a parent who has time for you and tries to understand.
The online version of the article, here, has a disclaimer about these not being the views of Families magazine, and some references. But as seasoned pseudoscience watchers will tell you, sticking a load of references after a dodgy article just makes a dodgy article longer. For the record this article is guilty of the usual mixture of cherry-picking, false inference and confusing proxy outcomes with real developmental effects.
And the fact remains that Families magazine was given to my children by their school. This lends Families an air of officialdom, which in turn obliges the publishers to adopt a higher standard of accuracy than holds for the upper shelves of WHSmiths.
So, the first thing to do is to ask them to stop. I’ve written a letter to the owner, and what I want from you, dear reader, is this:
1) tell me what to change about the letter
2) think about whether you might like to add your name. Drop me an email at maxdavie at gmail if you want to.
If that works, great. If not there are a few options, but I’d like to appeal to the owner’s better nature first.