Good news, bad spin.
Reuters recently did our industry a grave disservice. On Nov. 9, the news agency sent out an article with a headline that read “Exercise could endanger the out-of-shape — study.” I didn’t have a problem with the article, but I sure did have a problem with the headline. The article reported on a study published in the The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The study itself is a wonderful endorsement of exercise. It’s not meant to be construed as a warning against working out, as the Reuters headline implied. The study simply found that those who are at risk for heart attacks (e.g., the overweight, smokers, the deconditioned) should exercise caution when they start to exercise.
While the study noted that strenuous activity can harm those unaccustomed to vigorous exertion, it also explained that a moderate workout can help the deconditioned improve their health. In fact, the Reuters article made this point, stating that “sedentary people may benefit from modest exercise training.” Too bad the headline writer didn’t bother to convey this message, choosing instead to make a broad, inaccurate statement that didn’t address the entire truth of the study. The headline insinuated that all forms of exercise can damage the deconditioned.
Reuters is a respected source of news, so it’s likely that papers across the country picked up the news item — headline and all. And sometimes headlines leave a longer-lasting impression than the articles themselves. That means deconditioned people who glanced at the Reuters article may have concluded that all exercise can hurt them.
At press time, the Reuters article was still posted online. (You can find a direct link to the article at clubindustry.com/reuters.html.) Next time you are on the web, check out the article. When you’re finished, let Reuters know how you feel. You’ll find a feedback form at reuters.com/contacts/gencontact.htm. Tell them what you think about their headline. I did. “Inactivity and poor nutrition have created a population with an obesity rate of 20 percent,” I wrote. “Falsely reporting that ‘exercise could endanger the out-of-shape’ does little to remedy this problem.”
In the JAMA study, the researchers pointed out that their findings “should reassure individuals who exercise regularly and public health advocates of physical activity.’’ They are right; their findings are reassuring. It’s a shame that the same can’t be said of Reuters’ treatment of the study.