‘Misinformation is now our leading cause of death,’ FDA boss says

FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, M.D., speaks with an attendee at the event. (AHCJ photo by Paola Rodriguez)

Newly confirmed Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf says “the issue that keeps him up at night . . . is the proliferation of false and misleading health information, particularly online — and the distrust in institutions, data and expertise that it has wrought.”

So reports Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico for the Association of Health Care Journalists, from an interview AHCJ patient-safety team leader Kerry Dooley Young conducted with Califf on Friday in Austin at Health Journalism 2022, AHCJ’s annual conference.

“I believe that misinformation is now our leading cause of death,” Califf said, citing resistance to Covid-19 vaccination, the number of people taking the anti-parasite drug Ivermectin, and increasing use of electronic cigarettes.

“Historically, the FDA has been relatively quiet and puts out definitive information through guidance or labels or regulatory actions … that would be transmitted to consumers and patients through trusted intermediaries,” he said. “But the world has changed at this point.”
The shift has fueled the drop in Americans’ life expectancy compared to other wealthy nations, Califf said, and he “urged reporters to avoid clickbait, lean into fact checking, make sure the headline matches the copy, and take other steps to responsibly convey news about Covid-19 and other pressing health concerns,” Ollstein reports.

Califf said, “People are distracted and misled by the medical information Tower of Babel, but journalists like yourselves play an important role here and your work has a tremendous impact on public trust.”

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