It’s one of those “Well, what do you expect?” type articles that probably serves us right for even looking at the Daily Mail online.
The publication, displaying its singular talent for misinterpreting scientific research, manages to somehow extrapolate the notion that cycle commuting is “one of the biggest causes of heart attacks,” from some a study that makes no such claim whatsoever.
The Mail’s interpretation of the research by Dr Tim Nawrot, from Hasselt University in Belgium published in The Lancet is stunningly simple. If exposure to traffic and physical exertion are significant ‘final straw’ factors in inducing a heart attack and cycle commuting involves both, then, voila!, it follows that: “cycling to work is one of the biggest causes of heart attack.”
After her earth shattering revelation, it looks like the Mail journalist tried to stand up her claims but – oh no! – those pesky boffins and medical types didn’t seem too co-operative.
Professor David Spiegelhalter, a risk expert from Cambridge University tells the Mail: "A lot of other factors are contributing to the overall risk; air pollution, stress, physical exertion, even anger which is another well-known trigger for a heart attack. It’s a complex mix."
The paper then tries the British Heart Foundation, which explains that the benefits of outdoor exercise outweigh any risk posed by air pollution. Hmm, not much joy there,
Next up is Dr Tim Chico, honorary consultant cardiologist at the University of Sheffield, who tells the publication: “The foundations of heart disease are laid down over many years. If someone wants to avoid a heart attack they should focus on not smoking, exercising, eating a healthy diet and maintaining their ideal weight.”
You can almost hear the desperate journalist asking, “But can’t you just SAY riding a bike causes heart attacks? Go on, just say it, pleeeeeease….”
Maybe the Mail reporter should just have picked up the phone and spoken directly to Dr Nawrot like road.cc did.
He told us: “It’s not that people shouldn’t cycle anymore, of course it’s better to cycle in a clean rather than a polluted environment but doing physical activity is a factor that prevents cardiovascular diseases rather than induces them.
“The title of the [Daily Mail] article is misleading. One of the biggest causes of myocardial infarction is pollution but that affects those in cars as well. The title is not a conclusion I would draw. I think cycling to work is in general very healthy but one of the conclusions might be to avoid cycling in a polluted environment.
“I would not say you should not cycle to work, that’s the wrong conclusion. I would say the policy makers should reduce air pollution and one of the ways of doing that IS cycling to work.”
Elsewhere, Dr Nawrot is quoted in theheart.org explaining the biggest risk factors for triggering heart attacks: "Cocaine use, in this paper, is definitely the most important risk factor, with a 24-fold increased risk of having an event while using it, but not that many people use cocaine, making it rather weak at the population level.
“On the other hand, air pollution, in general, has quite a weak individual risk, but because many people are exposed to it at the population level, about 5% to 7% of myocardial infarctions are triggered by this risk factor."
So the Daily Mail missed a trick. Their headline should have been: “Why snorting a line while riding your Ridgeback to work in heavy traffic is one of the biggest causes of heart attacks.”