Mass doctors checking on journalists who write about health care

Quite a few Boston doctors are helping out at Health News Review, a website that holds health writers to very high standards. This week, the site took on a Washington Post story about actor Gwyenth Paltrow — dancing on the TV show “Glee.”  The writer took note that Paltrow has”osteopenia” — a mild form of bone loss. This one didn’t even come close to clearing the HNR bar.

Here’s what Harold Demonaco, director of the Innovation Support Center of Massachusetts General Hospital, told HNR:

I must admit that when I first read this headline in The Washington Post I was a bit bewildered. When did osteopenia (technically classified as a bone mineral density that is lower than normal) become an impediment to dancing? Has osteopenia now made it to the level of a disability? If so, there are a lot of women who have suddenly developed a medical condition that not only requires treatment but is disabling. 

What ever the intent, the story sends a disturbing message. The first is that osteopenia, a condition “suffered by millions of active women” is in some way dangerous. Dancing and presumably many other weight bearing activities (including yoga, running, biking, aerobics, skiing to name a few) are now risky and participants should be hailed as either courageous or irresponsible depending on your acceptance of risky behaviors. Can this be?

In reality, millions of American women have osteopenia. Some will go on to osteoporosis and some of those will indeed suffer a fracture. But the line from osteopenia through osteoporosis and fracture is not straight and is certainly not predictable. Yes, women with osteopenia should perhaps alter their lifestyle. A well balanced diet is important. Calcium supplements and vitamin D may help as well as weight bearing activities, like dancing. So the suggestion that dancing is somehow dangerous is well off the mark.

This piece could be forgiven if it ran in the lifestyle section of a newspaper. The fact that it appears in “The Check Up” is truly bewildering.”



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