HealthBeat

HealthBeat

Medical conspiracy theories abound

Nearly half of Americans believe at least one medical conspiracy theory, with about 18 percent agreeing to three or more, according to a new study.

For decades, medical conspiracy theories have surrounded public health issues. Researchers decided to investigate whether the American public actually supports the conspiracy theories.

Researchers used an Internet market research company to survey a nationally representative sample of more than 1,300 adults. The survey asked people their thoughts on six popular medical conspiracy theories.

The theory with the most support has to do with cancer cures. About 37 percent of respondents agreed the Food and Drug Administration is deliberately preventing the public from getting natural cures for cancer and other diseases because of pressure from drug companies, according to the survey.

About 20 percent of respondents believe health officials know cellphones cause cancer and health officials aren’t doing anything because of pressure from big corporations.

And 20 percent said they agreed that doctors and the government still want to vaccinate children even though they know the vaccines cause autism.

Those three theories were also the best recognized by survey respondents.

The other three theories received less support and were less well know.

About 12 percent of respondents agreed with each of the remaining theories:

-The CIA deliberately infected large numbers of black people with HIV under the guise of a hepatitis inoculation program.

-Genetically modified food distribution is part of a secret program to shrink the world’s population.

-Public water fluoridation is really just a secret way for chemical companies to dump dangerous byproducts into the environment.

The survey found conspiracism correlated with the greater use of alternative medicine and the avoidance of traditional medicine.

High conspiracists (those who agree with three or more) were more likely to buy farm-stand or organic foods and use herbal supplements. They were less likely to use sunscreen or get influenza vaccines or annual checkups, according to the survey.

Marissa Harshman

I'm the health reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. I started at The Columbian -- my hometown newspaper -- in September 2009. Reach me at marissa.harshman@columbian.com or 360-735-4546.

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