Category Archives: EXPOSÉ

vs Men’s Health

Men’s Health is the best-selling men’s lifestyle magazine in the world.

Millions of men worldwide subscribe to an extraordinary way of living – the Men’s Health way. Join them today and get the best out of your life… Men’s Health is the ultimate one-stop-shop for all things that matter to men…  

[Men’s Health / Why Men’s Health]

Really?

Let’s take the most recent issue.

Cover models

Nearly every issue of Men’s Health features a heavily muscled man on its cover. For August 2014 it’s Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson:

mens health

The assumption is that ‘men’s health’ is about looking like The Rock. There’s actually a feature on p36: ‘As solid as the rock’, complete with tips such as ’01: maintenance is for pussies’.

Because Men’s Health is not about how you feel, but how manly you look: the size of your biceps, percent body fat, six-pack visibility… The free book sold with the issue contains 47 recipes described as ‘FAST MUSCLE FOOD!’. Between adverts for watches, aftershaves and hair-loss foam, topless models are paid to pose for this kind of content:

Beside building the kind of leg muscle you’d normally find in an Olympic velodrome, this variation of the kettlebell deadlift works your lower back and torso in the highest gear. This means better core stability: not only will you have the balance to make the perfect beach-volleyball spike, there’s a chance the girl on the opposing team will be too hooked on your abs to notice.

[8-PACK ABS, NO EXCESS BAGGAGE, p19]

photo 2

Women

The only woman allowed her own voice in the magazine is ‘fashion comms manager’ and proud Brazilian Natalia Bojanic:

‘If you think women and weights don’t mix, you can think again. I’m always filled with pride when I’m squatting a bar that weighs more than the man next to me.’

[GO FULL BRAZILIAN ON YOUR CORE, p24]

Situated by a swim-suited picture (‘THE FITTEST WOMEN ON INSTAGRAM’), the bravado of Natalia’s statement heightens her sexual objectification rather than respect for weight-bearing women.

photo 4

Because the editorial team at Men’s Health enjoy sexual objectification. Men may be shallow and conceited, but, MH reader, at least you are a man – AND NOT A WOMAN! Any superficiality on your part, any interest in the subject of ‘health’, may even be excused through your need to attract image-obsessed members of an inferior sex.

01: HELP HER EYES DECEIVE HER… Since Adam first donned a fig leaf, there are certain garments women have become genetically predisposed to desire. Make the most of them when selecting what to wear on date night. Win her subconscious approval with this wardrobe edit and she won’t even know why she’s falling for you.

[SEDUCTION OF THE FITTEST, p48]

photo (2)

Science

Men’s Health is keen to appear scientific. The August issue we are told is ‘BROUGHT TO YOU BY… TOTAL 80 EXPERTS’. Men’s Health wants to convince you that you are not being conned but are getting ‘the most up-to-date and authoritative advice’ for fast results.

Good things come to those who wait, so they say. It’s a benign sentiment, but of no use to an MH reader. Tenacity and discernment are chief among your virtues; patience is a card game you stand to lose.

[NEVER TOO LATE TO BE GREAT (editor’s note), p13]

The magazine is packed with weird, unrounded numbers to provide the illusion of scientific rigour. Any opportunity is taken to magnify the numeric results of studies with minimal discussion of their context.

photo (3)
Advice to ‘make stress your bitch’ is pitched alongside the results of the dubious ‘Men’s Health MR AVERAGE SURVEY 2014’

And then there’s the feature articles.

On the cover, we are told there’s ’29 WAYS TO A V-SHAPE BODY!’ and ‘ADD 9 YEARS TO YOUR LIFE’. This would be fine if there was any reason for such numbers, but there isn’t. There isn’t even a feature on getting a v-shaped body, and the ‘add 9 years to your life’ thing (p28?) refers to a section entitled ‘BREATHE EASY WITH CANNABIS… and 13 other surprising ways to cure your respiratory ills and lift your lung capacity.’ The contents section actually refers anyone interested in living ’9 years longer’ not to p28 but to p147: ‘Our summer survival guide to playing safe (without raining on your parade)’.

Good advice and research is available to the discerning reader, but Men’s Health is more about the promise of science than its actual practice.

honest-slogans-mens-health

‘Men’s Health?

Men’s Health has a global readership of over 35 million. Every month they are sold an idea of health based on image: largely about looking good in order to have sex with women.

Health is not unrelated to looks, but the obsessive superficiality of magazines like Men’s Health alongside its association of health with sexual achievement and poorly discussed science has surely contributed to the increasing use of steroids among image-conscious young men.

If you are looking for workout and meal ideas, great: the magazine provides useful tips and references interesting research. But for the most part Men’s Health is just bollocks. The same formula is used every month to produce a magazine which emphasises design over content and never pauses to ask what ‘health’ is really all about.

gorilla
the man in the mirror

Bad Pharma

Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma (2012) offered this critique of the $600bn global pharmaceutical industry:

Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques which are flawed by design, in such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments… When trials throw up results that companies don’t like, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients… academic papers, which everyone thinks of as objective, are often covertly planned and written by people who work directly for the companies, without disclosure.

[Bad Pharma, 2012]

It is not ‘a cartoonish story of evil’ Goldacre is interested in describing, but one in which real people overlook the flawed processes by which a drug arrives in hand:

Drug companies are not withholding the secret to curing cancer, nor are they killing us all with vaccines… [But] it’s possible for good people, in perversely designed systems, to casually perpetrate acts of great harm on strangers, sometimes without ever realising it.

[Bad Pharma, 2012]

0412BL Bad Pharma

 

AllTrials

The selective publication of drug trial results is perhaps the most obvious issue. Separate studies have investigated the selective publication of antidepressant and antipsychotic trials. More general research has also been conducted.

The linked cluster of papers on unpublished evidence… confirm the fact that a large proportion of evidence from human trials is unreported, and much of what is reported is done so inadequately. We are not dealing here with trial design, hidden bias, or problems of data analysis—we are talking simply about the absence of the data.

[British Medical Journal, 2012]

The current best estimate is that half of all the clinical trials that have been conducted and completed have never been published in academic journals, and trials with positive results are twice as likely to be published as others.

Hidden clinical trial data are systematically undermining doctors’ abilities to prescribe treatment with confidence. A whole range of widely used drugs across all fields of medicine have been represented as safer and more effective than they are, endangering people’s lives and wasting public money.

[British Medical Journal]

The AllTrials campaign was launched in response in 2013; the group’s slogan is ‘All trials registered, all results reported’. The campaign attracted attention:

We were surprised and concerned to discover that information is routinely withheld from doctors and researchers about the methods and results of clinical trials on treatments currently prescribed in the United Kingdom. This problem has been noted for many years in the professional academic literature, with many promises given, but without adequate action being taken by government, industry or professional bodies. This now presents a serious problem because the medicines in use today came on to the market—and were therefore researched—over the preceding decades.

[House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, 2013-14]

Financial interest

The motives behind the selective publication of trial results, as well as other kinds of systemic bias, ultimately derive from financial interest:

Although the industry’s vast network of public relations departments and trade associations generate a large volume of stories about the so called innovation crisis, the key role of blockbuster drugs, and the crisis created by ‘the patent cliff,’ the hidden business model of pharmaceuticals centres on turning out scores of minor variations, some of which become market blockbusters.

[British Medical Journal, 2012]

Companies are delighted when research breakthroughs occur, but they do not depend on them. Since the mid-1990s, independent reviews have concluded that about 85-90% of all new drugs provide few or no clinical advantages for patients:

How have we reached a situation where so much appears to be spent on research and development, yet only about 1 in 10 newly approved medicines substantially benefits patients? The low bars of being better than placebo, using surrogate endpoints instead of hard clinical outcomes, or being non-inferior to a comparator, allow approval of medicines that may even be less effective or less safe than existing ones.

[British Medical Journal, 2012]

Bad Pharma

The shortcomings of pharmaceuticals have become well-known and steps have been taken.

But instead of waiting for politicians to make laws, you should recognise that while drugs can be life-saving, poorly tested drugs have also produced an epidemic of adverse reactions.

Caution advised when dealing with BAD PHARMA.