The Problem With Your Title

Courtesy Flickr/How can I recycle this.

Courtesy Flickr/How can I recycle this.

“PILOT STUDY FINDS ER PATIENTS DRINKING HIGH-OCTANE BEER,” read the Johns Hopkins press release.

Sent out nearly a month ago it, of course, caught national attention.  At first glance, it’s a morbid journalist’s dream: Emergency room patients are drinking more cheap beers (Budweiser, Steel Reserve, Colt 45, Bud Ice and Bud Light), than other alcohols.

According to lead study author David Jernigan, PhD, CAMY director,

“Understanding the relationship between alcohol brands and their connection to injury may help guide policy makers in considering taxation and physical availability of different types of alcohol given the harms associated with them.”

This is not the worst idea anyone’s ever had.  In fact, it’s not half bad.  Taxing things that are unhealthy isn’t new – junk food, cigarettes – there is a method to this madness.

The problem is that the headline hides that they haven’t necessarily found anything overwhelmingly incredible.


Point One: They collected data from Johns Hopkins Hospital Emergency Department in Baltimore, Maryland.  69% of respondents who admitted drinking were African American, which, according to the study’s authors, is proportional with the demographics of the area.  According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, the neighborhood is described as:

JHU

“Located below Erdman Avenue and Sinclair Lane, above Orleans Street, it is an almost exclusively African-American area, made up of low-income residential neighborhoods. Entire blocks of abandoned buildings and its chronic problem with drug trafficking made this area a frequent on-site film location for Homicide: Life on the Street and the sequels The Corner and The Wire ...”

In other words, it’s a violent, low-income neighborhood where emergency room visits are perhaps not entirely unlikely on any given night.

Courtesy rapgenius.com.

Courtesy rapgenius.com.

Point Two: If you’re living in low-income housing, you’re probably not drinking Gold Cuvee.  Sleuthing around online, the price of the beers recorded in the study is fairly cheap:

Bud Ice: $14.49 for 30 cans = $0.48/can

Bud Light: $18.99 for 30 cans = $0.63/can

Budweiser: $18.99 for 30 cans = $0.63/can

Colt: $2.00/can

Steel Reserve: $1.39/can

Not only are these not expensive local craft brews, but Budweiser and Bud Light are also the top selling beers according to this 2012 article from The Huffington Post.  So it’s not even unusual that people are drinking this stuff, it’s just popular.

Conclusion: What this press release is really confirming is that in areas of high crime and low-income, residents drink cheap beer and attend the Emergency Room.  This isn’t groundbreaking.  But it’s incredible how fast this “news” spread.

Courtesy Flickr/Mark Coggins.

Courtesy Flickr/Mark Coggins.

Follow-up: You can imagine my dismay when, the following week, Johns Hopkins released another press release, “STUDY SHOWS TRAUMA CENTERS SERVING MOSTLY WHITE PATIENTS HAVE LOWER DEATH RATES FOR PATIENTS OF ALL RACES.”

Dig a little deeper and you get:

“Most of the trauma centers that serve predominantly minority patients (81.5 percent) were classified as high-mortality.”

In other words, trauma centers serving minority patients, which are more likely to be in a low-income area, more likely to serve residents with no health insurance, and more likely to be less well-funded, are also less likely to be able to serve their patients as well.

A surprisingly rational finding, once again hidden behind a sensational headline.

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