Open letter to the
Associated Press Medical Editor

February 15, 1998

Mr. Dan Haney
Medical Editor
Associated Press
184 High Street
Boston, MA 02110

Dear Mr. Haney:

I am writing regarding Ms. Brenda Coleman's AP story of February 10, 1998 titled "Study: Walk, You'll Live Longer."

While it is widely accepted that people who exercise more are "healthier" and may live longer than those who exercise less, Ms. Coleman's report exaggerated the results of study.

The key result reported (i.e., brisk half-hour walks just six times a month cut the risk of premature death by 44 percent) is a very unstable and incomplete result--and obviously so.

That result only took into account the confounding risk factors of age and sex. When smoking was included, the decrease in mortality declined from 44 percent to 32 percent. Further adjustment for alcohol use reduced the decrease in mortality to 24 percent--a weak association that was barely statistically significant. Ms. Coleman's reporting overlooked the trend of these more-telling results.

Also, other potentially significant confounding risk factors for mortality were not considered in this study. For example, people with few social ties are reported to have the same mortality as heavy smokers. The reported decrease in risk of premature death could very well have disappeared altogether if sociability and other relevant confounding risk factors were considered.

The media often parrot uncritically the results of studies on smoking simply because smoking is "unhealthy." Are we now to be subjected to uncritical reporting of studies on exercise simply because exercise is "healthy?"

Steven J. Milloy

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