A survey undertaken by the researchers from University of Chicago, revealed that about 50% of the American adults believes in at least one medical conspiracy theory. In the survey, about 37% of the respondents agreed with the theory that US regulators are suppressing access to natural cures. On the other hand, 20% agreed with the theory that government knows; but fails to give publicity to the ‘fact’ that childhood vaccines can potentially lead to psychological disorders, such as autism.
Misleading beliefs casting negative impacts on healthVarious health problems might arise as a result of the widespread of medical conspiracy theories. For instance, these theories tend to misguide public health policies – leading to reluctance to follow prescription regiment. Changing in health behaviour could also be seen in people who believe in those theories, as they tend to turn down medical advice – seeking alternative treatment, instead.
One of the most concerning observations would be the decline in vaccination rates due to a publication of The Lancet in 1998, claiming a ‘possible’ link between vaccination and autism. Those who believe in this anti-vaccine conspiracy go on to support the idea that pharmaceutical companies and government have hidden this ‘information’, as part of the efforts to meet their own objectives.
Another study revealed a significant reduction in vaccination intention, following the exposure to anti-vaccine conspiracy. People believe in the detrimental effects of vaccination, thus prefer exposure to disease over vaccination. Parents also refused to have their children vaccinated due to the awareness of the ‘danger’ posed by vaccine.
Besides, exposure to anti-vaccine conspiracy also increases the feelings of powerlessness about the ability to change health status, thus reducing their vaccination intentions. The widespread of these conspiracies also leads to a feeling of disappointment in the vaccine manufacturer and administrator – reducing their intention to vaccination. Feeling of distrust to medical information was also found to be one of the negative impacts from this conspiracy.
Subsequently, the decrease in vaccination intention might increase the risk to be affected by the disease, leading to health worries.
Another conspiracy which concerns the population the most would be the cancer conspiracy theory. The conspiracy claims that government and pharmaceutical companies are preventing people from getting natural cures for cancer. In fact, these ‘natural cures’ had never been studied in any satisfactory way.
However, the widespread of this conspiracy had caused a large number of cancer patients to expose to this wrong information. Cancer patients who believe in this would most likely turn down the offer to chemotherapy, which could be the current most useful approach to suppress the growth of cancer cells. Instead, they would most likely go for full treatment of natural therapies, which they deem to be somehow, ‘safer and more useful’ than chemotherapy in curing cancer.
Yet, this might not be true. As reported last year in The Daily Telegraph, the decision of a DJ who had been diagnosed with colon cancer, has rejected chemotherapy – and turned to natural therapies – nearly get himself killed.
Battling medical conspiracy theoriesOwing to the rise of negative impacts from widespread of medical conspiracy theories, more aggressive efforts have to be taken to combat certain faulty theories. Medical information has to be given in a clearer and simpler way, so as to give patients a better understanding of their health status, the treatment options – to allow them to make more informed decisions.
As far education goes, people need to be educated with correct and accurate information – and to constantly refer to reliable and legit sources or channels for any information pertaining to their own health. MIMS
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