Young men are more likely to believe COVID-19 myths. So how do we actually reach them?



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Carissa Bonner, University of Sydney; Brooke Nickel, University of Sydney, and Kristen Pickles, University of Sydney

If the media is anything to go by, you’d think people who believe coronavirus myths are white, middle-aged women called Karen.

But our new study shows a different picture. We found men and people aged 18-25 are more likely to believe COVID-19 myths. We also found an increase among people from a non-English speaking background.

While we’ve heard recently about the importance of public health messages reaching people whose first language isn’t English, we’ve heard less about reaching young men.




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What did we find?

Sydney Health Literacy Lab has been running a national COVID-19 survey of more than 1,000 social media users each month since Australia’s first lockdown.

A few weeks in, our initial survey showed younger people and men were more likely to think the benefit of herd immunity was covered up, and the threat of COVID-19 was exaggerated.

People who agreed with such statements were less likely to want to receive a future COVID-19 vaccine.




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In June, after restrictions eased, we asked social media users about more specific myths. We found:

  • men and younger people were more likely to believe prevention myths, such as hot temperatures or UV light being able to kill the virus that causes COVID-19

  • people with lower education and more social disadvantage were more likely to believe causation myths, such as 5G being used to spread the virus

  • younger people were more likely to believe cure myths, such as vitamin C and hydroxychloroquine being effective treatments.

We need more targeted research with young Australians, and men in particular, about why some of them believe these myths and what might change their mind.




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Although our research has yet to be formally peer-reviewed, it reflects what other researchers have found, both in Australia and internationally.

An Australian poll in May found similar patterns, in which men and younger people believed a range of myths more than other groups.

In the UK, younger people are more likely to hold conspiracy beliefs about COVID-19. American men are also more likely to agree with COVID-19 conspiracy theories than women.

Why is it important to reach this demographic?

We need to reach young people with health messaging for several reasons. In Australia, young people:

The Victorian and New South Wales premiers have appealed to young people to limit socialising.

But is this enough when young people are losing interest in COVID-19 news? How many 20-year-old men follow Daniel Andrews on Twitter, or watch Gladys Berejiklian on television?

How can we reach young people?

We need to involve young people in the design of COVID-19 messages to get the delivery right, if we are to convince them to socialise less and follow prevention advice. We need to include them rather than blame them.

We can do this by testing our communications on young people or running consumer focus groups before releasing them to the public. We can include young people on public health communications teams.

We can also borrow strategies from marketing. For example, we know how tobacco companies use social media to effectively target young people. Paying popular influencers on platforms such as TikTok to promote reliable information is one option.




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We can target specific communities to reach young men who might not access mainstream media, for instance, gamers who have many followers on YouTube.

We also know humour can be more effective than serious messages to counteract science myths.

Some great examples

There are social media campaigns happening right now to address COVID-19, which might reach more young men than traditional public health methods.

NSW Health has recently started a campaign #Itest4NSW encouraging young people to upload videos to social media in support of COVID-19 testing.

The United Nations is running the global Verified campaign involving an army of volunteers to help spread more reliable information on social media. This may be a way to reach private groups on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, where misinformation spreads under the radar.

Telstra is using Australian comedian Mark Humphries to address 5G myths in a satirical way (although this would probably have more credibility if it didn’t come from a vested interest).

Telstra is using comedian Mark Humphries to dispel 5G coronavirus myths.

Finally, tech companies like Facebook are partnering with health organisations to flag misleading content and prioritise more reliable information. But this is just a start to address the huge problem of misinformation in health.




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But we need more

We can’t expect young men to access reliable COVID-19 messages from people they don’t know, through media they don’t use. To reach them, we need to build new partnerships with the influencers they trust and the social media companies that control their information.

It’s time to change our approach to public health communication, to counteract misinformation and ensure all communities can access, understand and act on reliable COVID-19 prevention advice.The Conversation

Carissa Bonner, Research Fellow, University of Sydney; Brooke Nickel, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Sydney, and Kristen Pickles, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

5 COVID-19 myths politicians have repeated that just aren’t true



The purveyors of these myths aren’t doing the country any favors.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Geoffrey Joyce, University of Southern California

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has jumped to around 50,000 a day, and the virus has killed more than 130,000 Americans. Yet, I still hear myths about the infection that has created the worst public health crisis in America in a century.

The purveyors of these myths, including politicians who have been soft peddling the impact of the coronavirus, aren’t doing the country any favors.

Here are five myths I hear as director of health policy at the University of Southern California’s Schaeffer Center that I would like to put to rest.

Myth: COVID-19 is not much worse than the flu

President Donald Trump and plenty of pundits predicted early on that COVID-19 would prove no more lethal than a bad flu. Some used that claim to argue that stay-at-home orders and government-imposed lockdowns were un-American and a gross overreaction that would cost more lives than they saved.

By the end of June, however, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that national antibody testing indicated 5% to 8% of Americans had already been infected with the virus. With over 130,000 confirmed COVID-19-related deaths – and that’s likely an undercount – the case fatality rate is around 0.49% to 0.78% or about four to eight times that of the flu.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who also downplayed COVID-19 as the death toll grew, calling it a “little flu,” announced on July 7 that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Myth: Cases are increasing because testing is increasing

At one point, the idea that COVID-19 case numbers were high because of an increase in testing made intuitive sense, especially in the early stages of the pandemic when people showing up for tests were overwhelmingly showing symptoms of possible infection. More testing meant health officials were aware of more illnesses that would have otherwise gone under the radar. And testing predominately sick and symptomatic people can result in an overestimate of its virulence.

Now, with millions of tests conducted and fewer than 10% coming back positive, the U.S. knows what it is facing. Testing today is essential to finding the people who are infected and getting them isolated.

Unfortunately, Trump has been a leading purveyor of the myth that we test too much. Fortunately, his medical advisers disagree.

Myth: Lockdowns were unnecessary

Given the current spike in infections after reopening the economy, more people are arguing that the lockdowns were unsuccessful in crushing the virus and shouldn’t have been implemented at all. But what would the country look like today if state governments had tried to build herd immunity by letting the disease spread rather than promoting social distancing, prohibiting large gatherings and telling the elderly to stay home?

Most epidemiologists who study pandemics believe that reaching herd immunity could only be achieved at enormous cost in terms of illness and death. About 60% or 70% of Americans would have to become infected before the spread of the virus diminished. That would result in 1 to 2 million U.S. deaths and 5 to 10 million hospitalizations.

These are horrific, yet conservative estimates, given that mortality rates would surely rise if that many people were infected and hospitals were overrun.

Myth: The epidemiological models are always wrong

It is not surprising that many people are confused by the proliferation of predictions about the course of the virus. How many people become infected depends on how individuals, governments and institutions respond, which is hard to predict.

Faced with the warning early in the pandemic that 1 to 2 million Americans could die if the U.S. simply let the coronavirus run its course, federal and state governments imposed restrictions to constrain the spread of the virus. Then, they relaxed those restrictions as new cases ebbed and pressure mounted to reopen the economy.

Now, they must consider reimposing some of those restrictions as infection rates rise in a majority of states, including Texas, Arizona, Florida and California. The models were based on data and assumptions at that time, and likely influenced responses which in turn changed underlying conditions. For example, new cases of COVID-19 are rising in the U.S., while fatalities are falling. This reflects a shift in infection rates toward younger populations, as well as improved treatment as providers learn more about the virus.

Just like an investment disclaimer that past returns do not guarantee future performance, modeling a pandemic should be seen as suggestive of what might happen given current information and not a law of nature.

Myth: It’s a second wave

Sadly, the myth here is that we have contained the virus enough to buy time to prepare for a second wave. In fact, the first wave just keeps getting bigger.

A second wave would require a trough in the first wave, but there is little evidence of that from either an epidemiologic or economic perspective.

During the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, the weekly UK death toll from influenza and pneumonia, shown here, reflected three clear waves.
Taubenberger JK, Morens DM. 1918 Influenza: the Mother of All Pandemics. Emerg Infect Dis. 2006;12(1)

The U.S. recorded a record number of new cases during the first week of July, exceeding 50,000 per day for four straight days. The rising number of cases led several states to halt or roll back their reopening plans in hopes of stemming the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, most consumers are reticent to return to “normal” economic activity: Fewer than one-third of adults surveyed by Morning Consult in early July were comfortable going to a shopping mall. Only 35% were comfortable going out to eat, and 18% were comfortable going to the gym. For almost half of the population, an effective treatment or vaccine may be the only way they will feel comfortable returning to “normal” economic activity.

COVID-19 is an immediate threat that requires a unified, science-based response from governments and citizens to be successful. But it is also an opportunity to rethink how we prepare for future pandemics. Some misinformation is inevitable as a new virus emerges, but perpetuating myths for political or other reasons ultimately costs lives.

[The Conversation’s most important coronavirus headlines, weekly in a new science newsletter.]The Conversation

Geoffrey Joyce, Director of Health Policy, USC Schaeffer Center, and Associate Professor, University of Southern California

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

When a virus goes viral: pros and cons to the coronavirus spread on social media



Tim Gouw/Unsplash, CC BY

Axel Bruns, Queensland University of Technology; Daniel Angus, Queensland University of Technology; Timothy Graham, Queensland University of Technology, and Tobias R. Keller, Queensland University of Technology

News and views about coronavirus has spread via social media in a way that no health emergency has done before.

Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Tik Tok and Instagram have played critical roles in sharing news and information, but also in disseminating rumours and misinformation.

Getting the Message Out

Early on, snippets of information circulated on Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo and WeChat, before state censors banned discussions. These posts already painted a grim picture, and Chinese users continue to play cat and mouse with the Internet police in order to share unfiltered information.

As the virus spread, so did the social media conversation. On Facebook and Twitter, discussions have often taken place ahead of official announcements: calls to cancel the Australian Formula One Grand Prix were trending on Twitter days before the official decision.

Similarly, user-generated public health explainers have circulated while official government agencies in many countries discuss campaign briefs with advertising agencies.

Many will have come across (and, hopefully, adopted) hand-washing advice set to the lyrics of someone’s favourite song:

Widespread circulation of graphs has also explained the importance of “flattening the curve” and social distancing.

Debunking myths

Social media have been instrumental in responding to COVID-19 myths and misinformation. Journalists, public health experts, and users have combined to provide corrections to dangerous misinformation shared in US President Donald Trump’s press conferences:

Other posts have highlighted potentially deadly assumptions in the UK government’s herd immunity approach to the crisis:

Users have also pointed out inconsistencies in the Australian cabinet’s response to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s coronavirus diagnosis.

The circulation of such content through social media is so effective because we tend to pay more attention to information we receive through our networks of social contacts.

Similarly, professional health communicators like Dr Norman Swan have been playing an important role in answering questions and amplifying public health messages, while others have set up resources to keep the public informed on confirmed cases:

Even just seeing our leaders’ poor hygienic practices ridiculed might lead us to take better care ourselves:

Some politicians, like Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, blandly dismiss social media channels as a crucial source of crisis information, despite more than a decade’s research showing their importance.

This is deeply unhelpful: they should be embracing social media channels as they seek to disseminate urgent public health advice.

Stoking fear

The downside of all that user-driven sharing is that it can lead to mass panics and irrational behaviour – as we have seen with the panic-buying of toiletpaper and other essentials.

The panic spiral spins even faster when social media trends are amplified by mainstream media reporting, and vice versa: even only a handful of widely shared images of empty shelves in supermarkets might lead consumers to buy what’s left, if media reporting makes the problem appear much larger than it really is.

News stories and tweets showing empty shelves are much more news- and share-worthy than fully stocked shelves: they’re exceptional. But a focus on these pictures distorts our perception of what is actually happening.

The promotion of such biased content by the news media then creates a higher “viral” potential, and such content gains much more public attention than it otherwise would.

Levels of fear and panic are already higher during times of crisis, of course. As a result, some of us – including journalists and media outlets – might also be willing to believe new information we would otherwise treat with more scepticism. This skews the public’s risk perception and makes us much more susceptible to misinformation.

A widely shared Twitter post showed how panic buying in (famously carnivorous) Glasgow had skipped the vegan food section:

Closer inspection revealed the photo originated from Houston during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 (the dollar signs on the food prices are a giveaway).

This case also illustrates the ability of social media discussion to self-correct, though this can take time, and corrections may not travel as far as initial falsehoods. The potential for social media to stoke fears is measured by the difference in reach between the two.

The spread of true and false information is also directly affected by the platform architecture: the more public the conversations, the more likely it is that someone might encounter a falsehood and correct it.

In largely closed, private spaces like WhatsApp, or in closed groups or private profile discussions on Facebook, we might see falsehoods linger for considerably longer. A user’s willingness to correct misinformation can also be affected by their need to maintain good relationships within their community. People will often ignore misinformation shared by friends and family.

And unfortunately, the platforms’ own actions can also make things worse: this week, Facebook’s efforts to control “fake news” posts appeared to affect legitimate stories by mistake.

Rallying cries

Their ability to sustain communities is one of the great strengths of social media, especially as we are practising social distancing and even self-isolation. The internet still has a sense of humour which can help ease the ongoing tension and fear in our communities:

Younger generations are turning to newer social media platforms such as TikTok to share their experiences and craft pandemic memes. A key feature of TikTok is the uploading and repurposing of short music clips by platform users – music clip It’s Corona Time has been used in over 700,000 posts.

We have seen substantial self help efforts conducted via social media: school and university teachers who have been told to transition all of their teaching to online modes at very short notice, for example, have begun to share best-practice examples via the #AcademicTwitter hashtag.

The same is true for communities affected by event shutdowns and broader economic downturns, from freelancers to performing artists. Faced with bans on mass gatherings, some artists are finding ways to continue their work: providing access to 600 live concerts via digital concert halls or streaming concerts live on Twitter.

Such patterns are not new: we encountered them in our research as early as 2011, when social media users rallied together during natural disasters such as the Brisbane floods, Christchurch earthquakes, and Sendai tsunami to combat misinformation, amplify the messages of official emergency services organisations, and coordinate community activities.

Especially during crises, most people just want themselves and their community to be safe.The Conversation

Axel Bruns, Professor, Creative Industries, Queensland University of Technology; Daniel Angus, Associate Professor in Digital Communication, Queensland University of Technology; Timothy Graham, Senior Lecturer, Queensland University of Technology, and Tobias R. Keller, Visiting Postdoc, Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

9 ways to talk to people who spread coronavirus myths



from www.shutterstock.com

Claire Hooker, University of Sydney

The spread of misinformation about the novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, seems greater than the spread of the infection itself.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), government health departments and others are trying to alert people to these myths.

But what’s the best way to tackle these if they come up in everyday conversation, whether that’s face-to-face or online? Is it best to ignore them, jump in to correct them, or are there other strategies we could all use?




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Public health officials expect misinformation about disease outbreaks where people are frightened. This is particularly so when a disease is novel and the science behind it is not yet clear. It’s also the case when we still don’t know how many people are likely to become sick, have a life-threatening illness or die.

Yet we can all contribute to the safe control of the disease and to minimising its social and economic impacts by addressing misinformation when we encounter it.

To avoid our efforts backfiring, we need to know how to do this effectively and constructively.




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What doesn’t work

Abundant research shows what doesn’t work. Telling people not to panic or their perceptions and beliefs are incorrect can actually strengthen their commitment to their incorrect views.

Over-reactions are common when new risks emerge and these over-reactions will pass. So, it’s often the best choice to not engage in the first place.




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What can I do?

If you wish to effectively counter misinformation, you need to pay more attention to your audience than to the message you want to convey. See our tips below.

Next, you need to be trusted.

People only listen to sources they trust. This involves putting in the time and effort to make sure your knowledge is correct and reliable; discussing information fairly (what kind of information would make you change your own mind?); and being honest enough to admit when you don’t know, and even more importantly, when you are wrong.

Here’s how all this might work in practice.

1. Understand how people perceive and react to risks

We all tend to worry more about risks we perceive to be new, uncertain, dreaded, and impact a large group in a short time – all features of the new coronavirus.

Our worries increase significantly if we do not feel we, or the governments acting for us, have control over the virus.




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2. Recognise people’s concerns

People can’t process information unless they see their worries being addressed.

So instead of offering facts (“you won’t catch coronavirus from your local swimming pool”), articulate their worry (“you’ve caught colds in swimming pools before, and now you’re worried someone might transmit the virus before they know they are infected”).

Being heard helps people re-establish a sense of control.




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3. Be aware of your own feelings

Usually when we want to correct someone, it’s because we’re worried about the harms their false beliefs will cause.

But if we are emotional, what we communicate is not our knowledge, but our disrespect for the other person’s views. This usually produces a defensive reaction.

Manage your own outrage first before jumping in to correct others. This might mean saving a discussion for another day.




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4. Ask why someone is worried

If you ask why someone is worried, you might discover your assumptions about that person are wrong.

Explaining their concerns to you helps people explore their own views. They might become aware of what they don’t know or of how unlikely their information sounds.




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5. Remember, the facts are going to change

Because there is still considerable uncertainty about how severe the epidemic will be, information and the government’s response to it is going to change.

So you will need to frequently update your own views. Know where to find reliable information.

For instance, state and federal health departments, the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control websites provide authoritative and up-to-date information.

6. Admit when you’re wrong

Being wrong is likely in an uncertain situation. If you are wrong, say so early.

If you asked your family or employees to take avoidance measures you now realise aren’t really necessary, then admit it and apologise. This helps restore the trust you need to communicate effectively the next time you need to raise an issue.

7. Politely provide your own perspective

Phrases like, “here’s why I am not concerned about that” or “I actually feel quite confident about doing X or Y” offer ways to communicate your knowledge without attacking someone else’s views.

You can and should be explicit about what harms you worry misinformation can cause. An example could be, “I’m worried that avoiding Chinese restaurants will really hurt their business. I’m really conscious of wanting to support Chinese Australians right now.”




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8. On social media, model the behaviour you want to see

It’s harder to be effective on social media, where outrage, not listening, is common. Often your goal might be to promote a reasoned, civil discussion, not to defend one particular belief over another. Use very reliable links.




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9. Don’t make it worse online

Your online comment can unintentionally reinforce misinformation, for example by giving it more prominence. Check the Debunking Handbook for some strategies to avoid this.

Make sure your posts or comments are polite, specific, factual and very brief.

Acknowledging common values or points of connection by using phrases such as “I’m worried about my grandmother, too”, or by being supportive (“It’s so great that you’re proactive about looking after your staff”), can help.

Remember why this is important

The ability to respond to emergencies rests on having civil societies. The goal is to keep relationships constructive and dialogue open – not to be right.The Conversation

Claire Hooker, Senior Lecturer and Coordinator, Health and Medical Humanities, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

4½ myths about sunscreen and why they’re wrong



Ouch! Here’s the evidence to bust some myths about sunscreen. Now, there’s no excuse to look like a rock lobster this summer.
from www.shutterstock.com

Katie Lee, The University of Queensland and Monika Janda, The University of Queensland

Many Australians are reluctant to use sunscreen, even though it’s an important element in preventing the skin cancers that affect about two in three of us at some time in our lives.

The Cancer Council says myths about sunscreens contribute to this reluctance.

Here are 4½ sunscreen myths and what the evidence really says. Confused about the ½? Well, it’s a myth most of the time, but sometimes it’s true.

Myth #1. It’s bad for my bones

Many Australians are concerned using sunscreen might lead to vitamin D deficiency. The idea is that sunscreen would block the UV light the skin needs to make vitamin D, critical for bone health.

However, you need far less UV than you think to make the vitamin D you need: only one-third of the UV that causes a sunburn, and less than you need to tan.

Tests on humans going about their daily business generally show no vitamin D differences between people who use sunscreen and those who don’t.




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Myth #2. Its ingredients are toxic

If you google “toxic sunscreen”, you get more than eight million results. So people are clearly worried if it’s safe.

However, there’s little evidence of harm compared to the large benefits of sunscreens, which are highly regulated in Australia.

There is evidence large amounts of some sunscreen components can act as hormone disruptors. But the amounts needed far outstrip the amount sunscreen users are actually exposed to.

Some ingredients can act as hormone disruptors. But the amounts needed far outstrip the amount sunscreen users are actually exposed to.
from www.shutterstock.com

Some people have also been alarmed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announcing further testing of the sunscreen ingredients avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule. This was after a study showed their concentrations could reach over 0.5 nanograms/mL in the blood.

This experiment involved people thickly applying sunscreen to parts of the body not covered by a swimsuit, four times a day for four days in a row. In other words, this is the maximum amount you might apply on a beach holiday, and considerably more than you would wear on a day-to-day basis (unless you work in your budgie smugglers).

However, there’s no evidence these concentrations are harmful and the further testing is just a precaution.




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The FDA recommends people continue using sunscreen. If you still feel uneasy, you can stick to zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sunscreens, which the FDA says are “generally recognised as safe and effective”.

How about nanoparticles?

That leads us to another common concern: nano-sized zinc oxide or titanium dioxide in sunscreens. Nanoparticle forms of these UV filters are designed to make them invisible on the skin while still keeping UV rays out.

Human studies show they either do not penetrate or minimally penetrate the stratum corneum. This is the upper-most layer of the skin, where the cells are already dead and tightly packed together to protect the living cells below. This suggests absorption and movement through the body, hence toxicity, is highly unlikely.

Myth #3. It’s pointless. I already have skin cancer in my family

Genetics and family history do play a role in many melanomas in Australia. For instance, mutations in genes such as CDKN2A substantially increase a person’s melanoma risk.

However, sun exposure increases melanoma risk on top of any existing genetic risk. So whatever your baseline risk, everyone can take steps to lower the additional risks that come with sun exposure.

Myth #4. I’m already middle-aged. It’s too late

It’s true that sunburns in childhood seem to have a disproportionate effect on the risk of melanomas and basal cell carcinomas. But squamous cell carcinomas are more affected by sun exposure over the years.

Ongoing sunscreen use also reduces the number new actinic keratoses, a pre-cancerous skin lesion, and reduces the number of existing keratoses in Australians over 40 years old.

Regular sunscreen use also puts the brakes on skin ageing, helping to reduce skin thinness, easy bruising and poor healing that older skin can be prone to. And of course, getting burnt feels terrible at any age.




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Myth #4½. I’m allergic to sunscreen

This one’s only half a myth. Many people say they have an allergic reaction to sunscreen but only about 3% really do.

Often, people are just sunburned. They thought they were well-protected but simply stayed out in the sun too long, or didn’t reapply sunscreen often enough.

Your sunscreen might also be out of date. Sunscreen eventually breaks down and loses its effectiveness, faster if you store it somewhere very hot, like a car.

Alternatively, you may have polymorphic light eruption, a condition where UV light alters a skin compound, resulting in a rash. This can be itchy or burning, small pink or red bumps, flat, dry red patches, blisters, or even itchy patches with no visible signs.

Fortunately, this condition often occurs only on the first exposure during spring or early summer. Keep out of the sun for a few days and the rash should settle by itself.

If none of those causes fit the bill, you may indeed have an allergy to some component of your sunscreen (allergic contact dermatitis), which a dermatologist can confirm.The Conversation

Katie Lee, Research assistant, The University of Queensland and Monika Janda, Professor in Behavioural Science, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It’s not only teenage girls, and it’s rarely attention-seeking: debunking the myths around self-injury


Self-injury is associated with underlying psychological distress, and increased suicide risk. But people who self-injure aren’t doing it to end their life.
Author provided

Penelope Hasking, Curtin University and Stephen P. Lewis, University of Guelph

Non-suicidal self-injury is the deliberate damage of body tissue without conscious suicidal intent. It’s more specific than self-harm, a broader term that can also include suicide attempts.

Self-injury is reasonably common, particularly among young people. In community samples, 17% of adolescents and 13% of young adults had engaged in self-injury.

Self-injury is associated with underlying psychological distress, and increased suicide risk. People who self-injure are typically doing so to cope with intense emotions.




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Although we continue to understand more about self-injury, there remains significant public stigma towards people who self-injure.

This stigma can make people who self-injure reluctant to seek help or disclose their experiences to others. Research shows only half the people who are already seeing a therapist for mental health concerns will tell even their therapist about it.

One way to combat stigma, and support disclosure and help-seeking, is to debunk the common myths and misconceptions that surround self-injury.

Myth 1: only teenage girls self-injure

Self-injury is often thought of as a “teen fad”, and as especially prevalent among teenage girls. It’s true self-injury usually starts during adolescence, but people of all ages and genders self-injure. Recent research shows the second most common time to start self-injury is in a person’s early 20s.

Consistent with this, self-injury is common among university students; up to one in five report a history of self-injury, with about 8% self-injuring for the first time during university.

Although more women in treatment settings report self-injury, it’s likely that in community settings, self-injury is equally common among males and females. This may be because women are more likely than men to seek help.

Myth 2: people who self-injure are attention-seeking

One of the more pervasive myths about self-injury is that people self-injure to seek attention. Yet, self-injury is usually a very secretive behaviour, and people go to great lengths to hide their self-injury.

Instead, in the majority of research, people report the main reason they self-injure is to cope with intense or unwanted emotions.




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Talking about suicide and self-harm in schools can save lives


Other common reasons people self-injure are to punish themselves or to stop an escalating cycle of painful thoughts and feelings. People may self-injure to communicate how distressed they are, particularly if they have trouble verbally expressing their feelings. In other words, their self-injury is a cry for help.

A recent study found influencing and punishing others was the least likely reason for self-injury.

Myth 3: people who self-injure are suicidal

By definition, non-suicidal self-injury is not motivated by a desire to end life. In addition to serving a different function, the frequency of suicidal and non-suicidal behaviours differs. That is, suicide attempts are generally infrequent, whereas non-suicidal behaviours can occur more often.

People who self-injure can benefit from support from friends, family, and health professionals.
From shutterstock.com

The methods used, the outcomes of the behaviours, and appropriate treatment responses also all differ. People at risk of suicide may require immediate and more intensive intervention; although both non-suicidal self-injury and suicidal behaviour need to be taken seriously and responded to compassionately.

For these reasons, it’s important to be clear when we are talking about self-injury and when we are talking about suicidal thoughts or behaviour.

Myth 4: there is a self-injury ‘epidemic’

While many people report at least one instance of self-injury, fewer people engage in repeated episodes.

Further, there is little evidence rates of self-injury have increased in recent years. Hospital records indicate an increase in presentations for “deliberate self-harm”, but these are predominantly poisonings, not self-injury.

Other studies show more people reporting self-injury, but it’s unclear whether this is because people are more comfortable disclosing their self-injury, or because self-injury is increasing.

Research suggests when the methodologies of the studies are taken into account, rates of self-injury have not increased over time.




Read more:
Does more mental health treatment and less stigma produce better mental health?


Myth 5: social media contributes to self-injury

Internet and social media are highly relevant to many people who self-injure as they offer a means to obtain social support, share their experiences with others who have been through similar things, and obtain coping and recovery-oriented resources (for example, stories about other people’s experiences).

This is not surprising given the stigma attached to self-injury, which leaves many people who self-injure feeling isolated from others.

Despite these benefits, there are concerns online material, including graphic images and videos depicting self-injury, may trigger people to engage in self-injury. While only a few studies explicitly examine this, there is some evidence viewing graphic imagery is associated with self-injury. However, images of scars may not be as triggering.

There are also concerns exposure to messages that carry hopeless themes (for example, “it’s impossible to stop self-injuring”), may contribute to continued self-injury and impede help-seeking.

But at the same time, exposure to more positive messages may offer hope about recovery.

Fostering understanding

Self-injury is a common behaviour engaged in by a broad spectrum of people. Given its association with psychological difficulties and suicide risk, it’s critical self-injury be taken seriously and not dismissed or glossed over.




Read more:
Australian teens doing well, but some still at high risk of suicide and self-harm


People who engage in self-injury need to know it’s okay to seek support (from friends, family, and health professionals) and that people can and do recover.

For anyone who knows someone who self-injures, it’s important to respond to that person in a non-judgemental and compassionate manner. Just knowing there is someone supportive who is willing to listen can make a big difference to a person who self-injures.

If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.The Conversation

Penelope Hasking, Associate Professor of Psychology, Curtin University and Stephen P. Lewis, Associate Professor of Psychology, University of Guelph

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Four myths about water fluoridation and why they’re wrong



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Adding fluoride to tap water to prevent tooth decay is one of our greatest public health achievements. Yet, myths persist about whether it’s safe and works.
from www.shutterstock.com

Matthew Hopcraft, University of Melbourne

Evidence gathered over 60 years about adding fluoride to drinking water has failed to convince some people this major public health initiative is not only safe but helps to prevent tooth decay.

Myths about fluoridated water persist. These include fluoride isn’t natural, adding it to our water supplies doesn’t prevent tooth decay and it causes conditions ranging from cancer to Down syndrome.

Now the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is in the process of updating its evidence on the impact of fluoridated water on human health since it last issued a statement on the topic in 2007.

Its draft findings and recommendations are clear cut:

NHMRC strongly recommends community water fluoridation as a safe, effective and ethical way to help reduce tooth decay across the population.

It came to its conclusion after analysing the evidence and issuing a technical report for those wanting more detail.

Here are four common myths the evidence says are wrong.

1. Fluoride isn’t natural

Fluoride is a naturally occurring substance found in rocks that leaches into groundwater; it’s also found in surface water. The natural level of fluoride in the water varies depending on the type of water (groundwater or surface) and the type of rocks and minerals it’s in contact with.

Fluoride is found in all natural water supplies at some concentration. Ocean water contains fluoride at around 1 part per million, about the same as levels of fluoridated drinking water in Australia.

There are many places in Australia where fluoride occurs naturally in the water supply at optimum levels to maintain good dental health. For example, both Portland and Port Fairy in Victoria have naturally occurring fluoride in their water at 0.7-1.0 parts per million.

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The type of fluoride commonly found in many rocks and the source of the naturally occurring fluoride ion in water supplies is calcium fluoride.

The three main fluoride compounds generally used to fluoridate water are: sodium fluoride, hydrofluorosilicic acid (hexafluorosilicic acid) and sodium silicofluoride. All these fully mix (dissociate) in water, resulting in the availability of fluoride ions to prevent tooth decay.

So regardless of the original compound source, the end result is the same – fluoride ions in the water.

2. Fluoridated water doesn’t work

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Evidence for water fluoridation dates back to US studies in the 1940s, where dental researchers noticed lower levels of tooth decay in areas with naturally occurring fluoride in the water supply.

This prompted a study involving the artificial fluoridation of water supplies to a large community, and comparing the tooth decay rates to a neighbouring community with no fluoride.

The trial had to be discontinued after six years because the benefits to the children in the fluoridated community were so obvious it was deemed unethical to not provide the benefits to all the children, and so the control community water supply was also fluoridated.


Further reading: How fluoride in water helps prevent tooth decay


Since then, consistently we see lower levels of tooth decay associated with water fluoridation, and the most recent evidence, from Australia and overseas, supports this.

The NHMRC review found children and teenagers who had lived in areas with water fluoridation had 26-44% fewer teeth or surfaces affected by decay, and adults had 27% less tooth decay.

A number of factors are likely to influence the variation across populations and countries, including diet, access to dental care, and the amount of tap water people drink.

3. Fluoridated water causes cancer and other health problems

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The NHMRC found, there was reliable evidence to suggest water fluoridation at current levels in Australia of 0.6-1.1 parts per million is not associated with: cancer, Down syndrome, cognitive problems, lowered intelligence, hip fracture, chronic kidney disease, kidney stones, hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, low birth weight, premature death from any cause, musculoskeletal pain, osteoporosis, skeletal fluorosis (extra bone fluoride), thyroid problems or other self-reported complaints.


Further reading: Why do some controversies persist despite the evidence?


This confirms previous statements from the NHMRC on the safety of water fluoridation, and statements from international bodies such as the World Health Organisation, the World Dental Federation, the Australian Dental Association and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most studies that claim to show adverse health effects report on areas where there are high levels of fluoride occurring naturally in the water supply. This is often more than 2-10 parts per million or more, up to 10 times levels found in Australian water.

These studies are also often not of the highest quality, for example with small sample sizes and not taking into account other factors that may affect adverse health outcomes.

There is, however, evidence that fluoridated water is linked to both the amount and severity of dental fluorosis. This is caused by being exposed to excess fluoride (from any source) while the teeth are forming, affecting how the tooth enamel mineralises.

Most dental fluorosis in Australia is very mild or mild, and does not affect the either the function or appearance of the teeth. When you can see it, there are fine white flecks or lines on the teeth. Moderate dental fluorosis is very uncommon, and tends to include brown patches on the tooth surface. Severe dental fluorosis is rare in Australia.

4. Fluoridated water is not safe for infant formula

Some people are concerned about using fluoridated water to make up infant formula.

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However, all infant formula sold in Australia has very low levels of fluoride, below the threshold amount of 17 micrograms of fluoride/100 kilojules (before reconstitution), which would require a warning label.

Therefore, making up infant formula with fluoridated tap water at levels found in Australian (0.6-1.1 parts per million) is safe, and does not pose a risk for dental fluorosis. Indeed, Australian research shows there is no association between infant formula use and dental fluorosis.

A consistent message

The ConversationAdding fluoride to tap water to prevent tooth decay is one of our greatest public health achievements, with evidence gathered over more than 60 years showing it works and is safe. This latest review, tailored to Australia, adds to that evidence.

Matthew Hopcraft, Clinical Associate Professor, Melbourne Dental School, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bust the regional city myths and look beyond the ‘big 5’ for a $378b return



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Geelong’s relatively high creative industries score, coupled with a robust rate of business entries, provides a solid foundation for steady growth.
paulrommer from www.shutterstock.com

Leonie Pearson, University of Canberra

Investing in regional cities’ economic performance makes good sense. Contrary to popular opinion, new research out today shows regional cities generate national economic growth and jobs at the same rate as big metropolitan cities. They are worthy of economic investment in their own right – not just on social and equity grounds.

However, for regional cities to capture their potential A$378 billion output to 2031, immediate action is needed. Success will see regional cities in 2031 produce twice as much as all the new economy industries produce in today’s metropolitan cities.

Drawing on lessons from the UK, the collaborative work by the Regional Australia Institute and the UK Centre for Cities spotlights criteria and data all Australian cities can use to help get themselves investment-ready.

Build on individual strengths

The Regional Australia Institute’s latest work confirms that city population size does not determine economic performance. There is no significant statistical difference between the economic performance of Australia’s big five metro cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide) and its 31 regional cities in historical output, productivity and participation rates.

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So, regional cities are as well positioned to create investment returns as their big five metro cousins. The same rules apply – investment that builds on existing city strengths and capabilities will produce returns.

No two cities have the same strengths and capabilities. However, regional cities do fall into four economic performance groups – gaining, expanding, slipping, and slow and steady. This helps define the investment focus they might require.

For example, the report finds Fraser Coast (Hervey Bay), Sunshine Coast-Noosa and Gold Coast are gaining cities. Their progress is fuelled by high population growth rates (around 2.7% annually from 2001 to 2013). But stimulating local businesses will deliver big job growth opportunities.

Rapid population growth is driving the Gold Coast economy, making it a ‘gaining’ city.
Pawel Papis from www.shutterstock.com

Similarly, the expanding cities of Cairns, Central Coast and Toowoomba are forecast to have annual output growth of 3.2% to 3.9% until 2031, building on strong foundations of business entries. But they need to create more high-income jobs.

Geelong and Ballarat have low annual population growth rates of around 1.2% to 1.5%. They are classified as slow and steady cities. But their relatively high creative industries scores, coupled with robust rates of business entries, means they have great foundations for growth. They need to stimulate local businesses to deliver city growth.

Get ready to deal

Regional cities remain great places to live. They often score more highly than larger cities on measures of wellbeing and social connection.

But if there’s no shared vision, or local leaders can’t get along well enough to back a shared set of priorities, or debate is dominated by opinion in spite of evidence, local politics may win the day. Negotiations to secure substantial city investment will then likely fail.

The federal government’s Smart Cities Plan has identified City Deals as the vehicle for investment in regional cities.

This collaborative, cross-portfolio, cross-jurisdictional investment mechanism needs all players working together (federal, state and local government), along with community, university and private sector partners. This leaves no place for dominant single interests at the table.

Clearly, the most organised regional cities ready to deal are those capable of getting collaborative regional leadership and strategic planning.

For example, the G21 region in Victoria (including Greater Geelong, Queenscliffe, Surf Coast, Colac Otway and Golden Plains) has well-established credentials in this area. This has enabled the region to move quickly on City Deal negotiations.

Moving past talk to be investment-ready

There’s $378 billion on the table, but Australia’s capacity to harness it will depend on achieving two key goals.

  • First, shifting the entrenched view that the smart money invests only in our big metro cities. This is wrong. Regional cities are just as well positioned to create investment returns as the big five metro centres.

  • Second, regions need to get “investment-ready” for success. This means they need to be able to collaborate well enough to develop an informed set of shared priorities for investment, supported by evidence and linked to a clear growth strategy that builds on existing economic strengths and capabilities. They need to demonstrate their capacity to deliver.

While there has been much conjecture on the relevance and appropriateness of City Deals in Australia, it is mainly focused on big cities. But both big and small cities drive our national growth.


The ConversationYou can explore the data and compare the 31 regional cities using the RAI’s interactive data visualisation tool.

Leonie Pearson, Adjunct Associate, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.