I saw this promo on the TV the other day and thought, "Should I really be getting my health tips from a meteorologist?". I can sort of understand why a weather broadcast would report on things like pollen count, ultraviolet levels, and smog, but I discovered that Accuweather takes it a step further into the realm of health. In addition to the standard weather maps, they have handy dandy graphs such as the Dust and Dander Forecast, the Healthy Heart Fitness Forecast, and the Arthritis Pain Forecast. Their intentions are great, sure, but I just don't know how scientifically accurate or significant these charts are. When it comes down to it, these are really just predictions based on predictions.
Let's take, for example, the Migraine Headache Forecast. In New York, NY, today rates a 1 on a scale of 1-10, or Beneficial, meaning a "lowered risk of migraine, and will help to make a headache less severe and of shorter duration." This vague description also accompanies the chart:
Migraine Headaches can occur at any time. The AccuWeather.com Migraine Headache Forecast combines current weather with how the weather is changing to predict the probability of experiencing a migraine headache, as well as how intense it is likely to be and how long it is likely to last.I am an occasional Migraine sufferer--about one or two debilitating Migraines a year. They used to hit me every summer, then at some point, they switched over to exclusively winter. After more than 15 years of this, I feel like I can't even predict my own Migraine patterns, if one even exists. Migraines are a fairly mysterious affliction, so they've got the disclaimer "Migraine Headaches can occur at any time," but they make little attempt at explaining how they arrived at their predictions. So far this year, I've had Migraines on January 10th and March 15th, but Accuweather doesn't archive their statistics, so they don't allow me to test their accuracy. As with weather predictions, I don't think these folks have any interest in dwelling on the past.*
Predictions, by nature, also invite the possibility of psychosomatic effect. If I were to see a 10 on the Migraine Index for Friday, I'm probably going to stress out every day until then and actually induce one. You thought Snowmageddon was bad? Wait until Migrainageddon. Blindfolds and shades will be looted from every pharmacy in the country! The psychosomatic reinforcement may not always be negative though. A "great day for outdoor exercise!" on the Healthy Heart Forecast may actually encourage some people to get off their asses and head to the park for some cardio. Again though, this is a prediction based on a prediction, so if the weather that day ends up being hotter and humid than Accuweather anticipated, it may end up being a 10 on the Cardiologist Pager Activity Forecast instead.
Accuweather is not the only weather organization spreading their wings. The online incarnation of The Weather Channel actually has a Beauty Forecast in their Health Department. Today, there is a chance of frizz and dry skin, and they conveniently recommend Frizz-Ease Hair Serum Extra-Strength and Jergens natural glow Revitalizing Daily Moisturizer. No, seriously:
I recognize that we are in the Age of Information, and I appreciate these weather folks wanting to supply as much data as they can for the impatient, demanding, app-consuming public. Believe me, I eat up colorful maps and cute charts for breakfast. For the most part, I do believe they have good intentions, despite occasionally playing on our insecurities to the benefit of ready sponsors. These information gatekeepers have a power that we need to be skeptical of, and we should still use our best personal judgment in the face of their charisma and enthusiasm.
Speaking of charisma and enthusiasm...
I trust him to give me health tips like I trust Dr. Steve Brule to give me the weather.
* There are apparently some sites that track the accuracy of past weather reports, but I haven't explored them much. Correctweather.com is one example. Check It Out! For Your Weather.