Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Risk of bowel disease tied to antibiotics in infancy - (well no, not really)

This is the first post skewering the reporting of health-related news. is my favorite because they not only rely on poorly edited and written content from birth Reuters and HealthDay, they usually write an even more misleading headline to encourage parents to click from their "helpful" weekly emails that would scare the heck out of any loving parent. This reporting is a SHAM, a mockery and an insult to our collective intelligence.

Reuters Health has a great title here. "Risk of bowel disease tied to antibiotics in infancy". Except that the study that they're reporting on says nothing of the sort.

They story leads with, 
"Babies treated with antibiotics for middle-ear and other infections may have increased odds of developing inflammatory bowel disease later in childhood, a small study suggests."
So here's the concern, the headline and the article would lead the unsuspecting reader to question whether or not to put themselves and their infants out of their misery by treating a middle ear infection, lest the child develop inflammatory bowel disease, Chron's or Colitis. 

The study results and methodology as reported later in the article show nothing that would lead anyone with a background in the scientific method to believe any of this, but people become irrational where their children are concerned. (Case-in-point, I know that it is safer for my daughter and husband to fly home from Maui on an airplane than to drive to a shopping mall, yet I experience the emotion of fear more intensely when they are on an airplane. Luckily, I took statistics in high school, college and bschool and can calm myself (sort of) with the knowledge that they are actually safer than they would be on the 101 Freeway).
Even the researcher told the news outlet, 
"The design of the study does not, however, allow any conclusions about cause-and-effect, senior researcher Dr. Charles N. Bernstein, of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, told Reuters Health in an e-mail." 
I assume this email was after he heard that Reuters was about to link him with recommending letting a nine-month-old suffer needlessly from a  painful infection (and risk meningitis and hearing loss in EXTREME cases).
Reuters tells us this in PARAGRAPH 7. As if anyone reads that far down. It's "below the fold" on my computer monitor as well.  

Now, let's look at the study and what the study DID show 

A group of children with IBD, 36 children to be precise, who were an average age of 8 (between 1996 and 2008) had their medical records as infants examined to see if there were any things that they group had in common as infants. One common factor was that 58% of them had been treated by antibiotics at least once in the first year of life. The article does not report if they had anything else in common, (gender, family origin, diet, where they lived, what type of water they may or may not have ingested, relatives who also have IBD). it's likely that they had lots of things in common. Any one of these things may have occurred at rates higher than 58%.

Another group, children without IBD, 360 to be precise (10X the sample), 39% were treated with antibiotics.


Well, the difference between 58% and 39% was probably big enough to allow the team to continue investigating the rejection of the null hypothesis.
"Null hypothesis, what's that you say?" 

I'm so glad that you asked.  Since NOTHING can be proven in science, only disproved, we start with a statement that we wish to test. We can reject the statement if we can DISPROVE or REJECT it base on empirical evidence. According to the scientific method and logic, only in the realm of mathematics and logic can things be proven (think 1=1). Remember that when someone says, "It's a proven fact..." In your head, your BS alarm should immediately start ringing. 

An inquiry must begin by assuming that there is no relationship between two things that can't be explained by random chance. So, using whatever generally accepted test the researcher used, they are able to say that this difference in the rate of treatment may not be random and warrants further research (i.e. MONEY to pay for a bigger study).


Well, nothing really. So some already very sick children were treated with antibiotics as infants at a greater rate than an otherwise healthy group of kids. This should come as no surprise.  Many factors could explain this difference, perhaps these children were more prone to infections, perhaps they all lived in the same house, exposed to some crazy bacteria. Who knows? Reuters sure as heck doesn't (and if they do, they didn't show us that).  

But Reuters sold this content to who got me to click on it and can now sell advertising to make money because I looked at the BS article in the first place.


There isn't one. At least, there isn't a link that can explain how increased antibiotic use has ANYTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO WITH A CHILD DEVELOPING IBD. So young, nervous parents, please continue to save your child from the pain and risks associated with the actual ear infection.  Please note, that I am not suggesting the willy-nilly prescribing of antibiotics. However, if you want to not treat with antibiotics, this can't rationally be your reason.

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