Monday, August 11, 2008

Hitting the Big Time?.....

In a few days, I'm going to be interviewed for a parenting magazine, which at times can contain reliable and well-presented information for parents regarding children's health, but are often repositories for all manner of pseudoscience. I don't know the name of the magazine yet but I do know the topic and it should be interesting.

I won't be discussing skepticism or critical thinking directly of course, but I hope to get a few words in that will help a confused new parent get through those first few nights at home without losing their minds with worry. And to a lesser but still meaningful degree, I hope I save some poor community pediatrician or family practice doc a late night phone call from an anxious family. We'll see.

While sitting in my pregnant wife's obstetrician's office recently, I picked up a parenting magazine. Like all of them, the cover had a smiling and adorable baby on the front that looked as if pulled from one of the flower pots in an Anne Geddes spread. There were bold printed article titles there as well, revealing some of the topics covered within such as breastfeeding, circumcision, and a top ten list of things to do to prepare for the new baby, as well as private cord blood banking.

I read the magazine cover to cover (there weren't that many pages), and something set off my internal skeptical alarm. It didn't take long to figure out the problem considering where I was. I went over every page again and counted the references to private cord blood banking. The one on the front cover was followed by the article itself, a glowing and cursery review of the process by a pediatrician well known for disregarding evidence in establishing his own standard of care who likened privately banked cord blood to a reboot for the immune system and able to cure all manners of diseases, even heart disease and diabetes. It was incomplete and misleading at best but reaked of something worse.

There was another mention of private cord blood banking as one of the items on a checklist of things to do before the baby comes and finally a full page ad on the back cover. Each time private cord blood banking was mentioned it involved one particular company. I went to the inside from cover to confirm my suspicion and found in fine print at the very bottom that this "parenting magazing" was published by that same company. I held in my hands an advertisement deceitfully designed to influence parents into choosing to privately bank their child's cord blood. I looked around and saw that these ads were placed conspicuously on every table.

I detest tactics such as this. I'll cover private cord blood banking in a future post but for now I'll just say that if something was legitimate it would not need such trickery. Private banking is one small step up from a complete scam. There are some instances where it is the right thing to do but these are very rare. This ad in disguise pressured all parents into spending thousands of dollars for something that will almost certainly never be needed, and very likely has left parents who have chosen not to privately bank, or who couldn't afford it, feeling unnecessary guilt. New parents have enough to worry about without being taken advantage during emotional times when they might not be thinking clearly. Oh, and the pediatrician I mentioned earlier is the medical advisor for the cord blood banking company. Nice.


Pittypat said...

Reading the fine print is a very important occupation, isn't it? Doctors' waiting rooms seem to be full of things like this.

Pittypat said...

But then again, can't the publishers serve a larger good by proving good parenting information along with the propaganda? Should we throw the baby out with the blood by refusing the helpful magazine? Rhetorical question - Wasn't there something like this involving Nestle's and baby formula in Africa some years ago? You might as well expect this behavior from corporations. This is where teachers and doctors and THE MEDIA should come in today - to teach people to question the source and get ALL the facts.

Zoo Knudsen said...

The publisher merely piled together some generic parenting boilerplate, that can be found in various places all over the web and other magazines, in order to fool soon-to-be parents into thinking it a legitimate source of information and thus be more likely to buy into the private banking. The other info was bad necessarily, it just wasn't anything remarkable or helpful. If the OB office really wanted to help parents there are hundreds of better resources. But don't get me started on OB's lack of helping parents prepare for their new baby. It wouldn't be a nice conversation.

I do expect this kind of behavior from corporations but not physicians. The OB office should pay better attention to what is being put in their waiting rooms. But sadly, many OBs are on board with it having bought the hype presented to them by the private banks. There may even be financial incentive for them to encourage families to privately bank but I don't have proof of that. I wouldn't doubt it for a second though.

I don't trust the media to handle these kinds of issues. I have seen far too much half-assed health and science reporting to do that. If they don't know how to appropriately question their source how can we expect them to teach us to do it. I put more trust in the information I gather from blogs than the mass media. As far as teachers go, I don't think enough emphasis is put on critical thinking.

DomesticFather said...

I actually took a look at these banks myself before my daughter was born 5 months ago. I didn't realize they were getting this pushy.

The thing I found most remarkable was that most new parents accepted this as a necessity, without even questioning it.

I did find some mainstream media coverage of it, but it was pretty scarce. One recent article at MSNBC did a pretty good job of covering it:

Also, at the risk of being accused of link-baiting, my own take on it: