The Yahoo! home page has eye-catching headlines about politics, celebrities, sports, and health. Recently, one particular headline caught my attention: “A race with twice the heart risk as a marathon.” Following the first link leads to a second, more provocative headline and a brief description.
“Twice as risky as a marathon,” reads the next title followed by, “Another type of popular race poses a greater risk of sudden death than running 26 miles.” Whoa! Sudden death?? What could this be?
Following the next link finally gets you to the article with yet another title, “Study: Triathlons can pose deadly heart risks.” Before we even begin reading, we’re all buttered up for a story about how participating in an event that we may not even understand can cause us to die. Die?! We don’t want to die! The majority of us will skim the article and conclude that we’d rather chill on the back patio with a drink than risk dying in a triathlon.
Thanks Yahoo!, AP News, and Dr. Kevin Harris. We’re now destined to become a fat, lazy people. Dr. Harris, a cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, led this study using records on 922,810 triathletes competing in 2,846 USA Triathlon-sanctioned events between January 2006 and September 2008. Combing through this pile of data, Dr. Harris found that 14 died.
Okay, let’s see here… 14 divided by 922,810… multiply that by 100… equals 0.0015%. Therefore, we have a 0.0015% chance of dying while competing in a triathlon. Why is this news? How is this significant?
Let’s look further. Of those 14 people that died, six were autopsied and four of those six were found to have underlying heart problems. Hmm, okay, that’s 66%. Let’s assume 66% of the 14 had underlying heart problems. That’s 9-1/4 people – which we’ll round down to nine. What this says is five out 922,810 people that don’t have an underlying heart problem may die while competing in a triathlon. This equates to 0.00054%.
So, really, the Yahoo! news title should be revised to read:
Joe Schmoe has a 0.00054% chance of dying while competing in a triathlon
But, that’s not very scary is it? That wouldn’t draw attention to the insignificant results of this study. The media is in the business of selling news. If it doesn’t scare you or seduce you, the media can’t sell it.
Aggravating us further, Dr. Harris says, “While not a large risk, this is not an inconsequential number.” What? What can be more inconsequential than 0.00054%? I encourage doctors that have time to study something but have no idea what to study, find answers to one (or all) of the following:
1.) How many people will become sedentary and die after reading this Yahoo! news story?
2.) How many deaths occur from installing ginormous flat screen televisions.
3.) What are the sudden death statistics occurring within a 50 ft radius of Krispy Kreme restaurants?
Answering any one of those questions will result in far more beneficial news than presenting the risk of sudden death from triathlons. The fact that people may be discouraged from even considering an endurance event poses a greater health risk than this miniscule half-hundred-thousandth. Inflated news headlines like this do more harm than good. I suggest Yahoo! and the Associated Press help improve our health and save us time by not publishing such meaningless fodder.