X, Y, Z may be good for your health

Nathan Lawrence

This week, readers of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and MSNBC’s website were all greeted with a rather strange story: “Gossiping may be good for your health!” This is stupid.

I have no issue with the science behind this particular study — I don’t possibly have enough knowledge of what they’re saying to be capable of such a criticism — but I do take issue with the amount of weight placed on this story.

Every week, we are bombarded by headlines like this. Red wine, chocolate, beer, acai berries, videogames and even sexual activity have been pointed to by headlines through the past decade. A simple Google search for the phrase “good for your health” on The New York Times website alone yields more than 65,000 results. The problem is, of course, that not all of these stories turn out to be true.

Responsibility for this problem lies twofold: This is first and foremost a result of the mainstream media’s attitude toward science — instead of respecting it, they oversimplify, overanalyze and sensationalize it.

They take the delicate nature of complex studies and remove their context, distilling them down into a core headline that no longer appropriately reflects the original conclusions, but instead tells people exactly what they want to hear.

This is the second problem: The media wouldn’t be able to sell papers with headlines like “Gossiping may be good for your health” if the American public didn’t want to hear that news.

Headlines like these are also symptomatic of our own unique American brand of laziness. Instead of actually working out and dieting, many of us want to hear that it’s actually healthy to spend our free time drinking red wine, eating dark chocolate, playing videogames and gossiping.

The truth of how to stay healthy is much less interesting and much more intuitive. Here, Aristotle’s oft-quoted phrase “moderation in all things” comes into play. A cursory glance at all these studies reveals a similar theme toward the end: they tend to indicate that the study does not actually say you should be doing these things all the time.

Instead, they should be considered healthy once in a while. The funny thing is that this is no different from the rest of life. One should not spend all day chowing down on junk food, nor should one spend all day jogging. A good balance is necessary, another thing for which these ridiculous headlines seem to have no regard.

As for the gossip story, it isn’t even current events at all. Further investigation reveals that the study which prompted these articles isn’t current anyway; it was first released in a 2008 issue of “Scientific American MIND.” This is not a news item at all.

Writing this article was a waste of the author’s time, and reading it was a waste of mine. Unfortunately, though, until more people realize the foolish nature of these articles, those of us who read the daily paper will be forced to continue wading through them.