Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Consumer Health Writing in the NYT

The most e-mailed article at the as of Wednesday morning is a consumer health piece titled, "A Rise in Kidney Stones Is Seen in U.S. Children."

Of course this is a topic of great concern to parents and kidney stones in children should be discussed in the media, to increase awareness. What troubles me about the article (especially the headline) is the lack of data. The author herself acknowledges this in the second paragraph:
While there are no reliable data on the number of cases, pediatric urologists and nephrologists across the country say they are seeing a steep rise in young patients. Some hospitals have opened pediatric kidney stone clinics.

“The older doctors would say in the ’70s and ’80s, they’d see a kid with a stone once every few months,” said Dr. Caleb P. Nelson, a urology instructor at Harvard Medical School who is co-director of the new kidney stone center at Children’s Hospital Boston. “Now we see kids once a week or less.”
But is this anecdote from the Harvard doctor enough to claim a rise in kidney stones in US children? No. I'm not saying that the increase is not real, it may as well be real. But responsible medical writing should be evidence-based, and the matter-of-factly tone of the article has probably caused a lot of concern among NYT readers.

BTW, a quick search in PubMed for "kidney stones AND children" and "renal calculi AND children" brings up thousands of articles. From the abstracts I read, it seems that kidney stones are still considered rare in children. Interesting...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

With the NYT, maybe their health/medical writing is like their political writing. It doesn't have to have facts to back it up just as long as it is far enough to the LEFT! Did Frank Rich write this article??