Professor wants ABC science program pulled
Tom Nightingale reported this story on Monday, October 28, 2013 18:35:00
DAVID MARK: A leading public health physician is warning the ABC not to air a second program on cholesterol, warning it will result in deaths.
Last week Catalyst claimed the notion that saturated fat and cholesterol causes heart disease is the biggest myth of medical history.
This Thursday's program is about anti-cholesterol drugs, known as statins.
The chair of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Medicines, Professor Emily Banks, has written to the ABC in a private capacity, warning the program might cause people not to take their drugs.
As Tom Nightingale reports, she says that will lead to more cardiovascular disease events and deaths.
TOM NIGHTINGALE: The drugs that lower cholesterol are known as statins, and they're widely used in Australia.
Professor Emily Banks is with the Australian National University.
EMILY BANKS: And if people stop using their statins or if they don't start them when they should be, it's very likely that it will result in death.
TOM NIGHTINGALE: Professor Banks also chairs the national Advisory Committee on the Safety of Medicines.
She's written to the ABC to try to stop the Catalyst television program on statins being broadcast on Thursday night.
EMILY BANKS: So it's likely that if this program goes ahead, and it does the unwarranted undermining of statins, that there will be people who didn't have to have a heart attack and didn't have to die from a heart attack, who will die through reducing use of statins.
TOM NIGHTINGALE: This Thursday's scheduled program is the second in a two-part series. Promotions say it examines how the benefits of statins have been exaggerated.
Professor Banks is highly critical of last week's program, which claimed the science linking cholesterol with heart disease is not as conclusive as widely thought.
EMILY BANKS: Now we have overwhelming evidence from studies of over 900,000 participants showing a strong and graded increase in the risk of heart disease with increasing cholesterol levels. But what we saw on Maryanne Demasi's report, was a series of anecdotes from, I think what would be broadly termed fringe dwelling scientists or people who weren't actually scientists, criticising things about the cholesterol myth.
But actually it's one of the relationships that we have the strongest evidence for.
TOM NIGHTINGALE: That's last week's program. What do you know about what the content is of this week's program?
EMILY BANKS: I don't have a lot of detail about what's going to be in this week's program but I understand it's the same journalist and I understand that the target this time is about use of statins for prevention of heart disease. And I'm just going on last week's show, which really said that cholesterol was a myth, which is clearly incorrect, that there's going to be some similar treatment of use of statins.
TOM NIGHTINGALE: You were talking about the evidence base for the Catalyst program's assertions, but you don't think it should be aired despite not knowing what the content is?
EMILY BANKS: Well I suppose my concern is that I've already seen what that journalist has said, and the way the journalist has dealt with it on the first Catalyst program. And all I can say is that I am afraid that there will be a similar treatment of the statin issue in the coming program.
TOM NIGHTINGALE: Is there an argument though that there should be a debate, debate shouldn't be shut down, science should be questioned? Medicine should be questioned?
EMILY BANKS: Well look, I'm absolutely for informed debate but what this does was really inappropriately call into question some of the things where we do have really solid large scale evidence.
TOM NIGHTINGALE: The series producer of Catalyst, Ingrid Arnott, told PM the program stands by its claims and has research to back them up. She also says this week's program is asking questions but not telling viewers to stop taking statins.
Doctor Steve Hambleton is the president of the Australian Medical Association. He thinks the program should go to air.
STEVE HAMBLETON: Well I think we have to have a debate. And I think that there needs to balance. We need to, as medical professionals, justify why we choose drugs. We do criticise others for not acting on evidence. We need to be judged by the same criteria. So if there's a good reason to take it we should be able to explain it, and we should be able to explain the risks and the benefits of any treatment.
TOM NIGHTINGALE: As the head of the peak doctor's body in Australia, do you agree with the assertion that cholesterol is a myth that's been over-hyped for years and years and years?
STEVE HAMBLETON: Well I'm not so sure I agree with that. I think that we know that when we look at the studies like the North American study which studied an entire town, we know that those with high cholesterol are over-represented with heart attacks. We also know that only explains half the problem, and that cardiologists will tell us that there are people having heart attacks with normal cholesterol.
But as I say, there's a balance. The Framingham Study, that's the town in North America, tells us that if you've got high cholesterol you're at increased risk. It doesn't tell us the whole story though.
TOM NIGHTINGALE: PM asked ABC Television if the program will air as scheduled on Thursday.
A spokesman says it will, and that it's an important contribution to medical debate.
And the program will include a note advising viewers it's not intended as medical advice.
DAVID MARK: Tom Nightingale.