Daily Mail claims that cycle commuting is one of biggest triggers for heart attacks

Research author tells road.cc Mail article is "misleading"

by Mark Appleton   February 24, 2011  

Commuter cyclist

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.”

Or something.

29 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Simon reports that reading the Daily Mail is one of the biggest triggers of high blood pressure.

simonmb's picture

posted by simonmb [360 posts]
24th February 2011 - 12:58


I'm worried those people I know read The Mail will be asking me questions on it - Mail, dodgy conclusions etc. - now THAT's a real cause of heart attacks Wink

Cycling - not just a pastime or sport - free your soul on the open road.

timbola's picture

posted by timbola [209 posts]
24th February 2011 - 13:03


The daily "hate & fear" mail is always good value for a laugh. I always wonder if their journalists actually believe the unbalanced drivel they spout or whether they're just trying to egg on their readership. I suspect it's a bit of both.

BTW - if anyone is interested on the subject of how the media misrepresents the reporting of science & medicine, there is a good book called Bad Science that I recently read.

posted by Jonty79 [29 posts]
24th February 2011 - 13:09


timbola wrote:
I'm worried those people I know read The Mail will be asking me questions on it - Mail, dodgy conclusions etc. - now THAT's a real cause of heart attacks Wink

What, you actually admit to associating with 'The Daily Fail' readers? Shame on you!

posted by mad_scot_rider [548 posts]
24th February 2011 - 13:17


but ... but ... but .... oh bother, I appear to have
lost the ability to ..... anyone sean some words
floating around here ?

Good 'ole Daily Fail, almost as comical as that fat
knacker Clarkson !

still on the 3rd switch-back of Bwlch !

posted by therevokid [716 posts]
24th February 2011 - 13:27


And the Mail presents yet another opportunity for morons across the UK to call for cyclists to pay road tax as we're nothing more than lycra louts. The death penalty or public stoning are what us cyclists all really deserve. Now to get a real job and start saving for that car...

mr-andrew's picture

posted by mr-andrew [297 posts]
24th February 2011 - 13:40


"Cycle commuting is one of the biggest triggers for heart attacks" - probably not, although 10 pints of beer, 40 fags and a diet of lard each day should do it.

posted by John G [53 posts]
24th February 2011 - 13:56


No surprise. The Mail wouldn't recognise honest science reporting if it bit them on the bum.

Chuffy's picture

posted by Chuffy [185 posts]
24th February 2011 - 14:15


Daily Fail. Have they published their "Cycling gives you cancer" or "Cycling cures cancer" articles yet?

I seem to remember that car drivers sat in city traffic are exposed to more pollution than cyclists.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1345 posts]
24th February 2011 - 14:27


Look on the bright side, at least it'll keep DM readers off bikes and out of our way. And on the even brighter side, they'll all be sat in their cars in queues, getting worse hit by pollution than we do on bikes (you process the crap better if you're moving and breathing harder) so they're actually far more likely to be struck by myocardial infarction than we are! Bonus!

dullard's picture

posted by dullard [140 posts]
24th February 2011 - 14:30


You don't actually take everything JC says seriously? Plain Face


London2Paris24: 450km, 24 hours, 5th-6th July 2014

I will miss TdF in Yorskhire!!! Please donate! Big Grin

koko56's picture

posted by koko56 [322 posts]
24th February 2011 - 14:50


I do!

... ... need more speed!

JC's picture

posted by JC [127 posts]
24th February 2011 - 15:52


... and some more poor reportage from around the world - seems some papers are happy just to pass other people's cr*ppy stories on



posted by mad_scot_rider [548 posts]
24th February 2011 - 16:18


Is it appropriate to throw a Victor Meldrew here??? Angry Anyway, same study, different paper and jounalist and absolutely no mention of cycling!! http://ind.pn/hgIEsc i just hope the link works Big Grin I, actually being the fool that I am, read some of the comments... quite scarey some of them and cannot believe that over 200 people 'liked' the article Angry

@ dullard, the DM cyclists will be those who ride on pavements with high spec mountain bikes giving us a bad name Crying

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1056 posts]
24th February 2011 - 17:20


generate your own Daily Hate headlines with this handy generator:


posted by rootes [39 posts]
24th February 2011 - 17:27


Occasionally the Daily Mail produces an article that is correct, unfortunately this is not one of them!

If cycling is indeed a sport of self-abuse why aren't more cyclists sectioned under the mental health act?

posted by hairyairey [290 posts]
24th February 2011 - 18:14


This is truly awful reporting, and worryingly there are comments on the article's website from people who have suffered heart attacks saying they are now considering cutting out cycling due to the risks!

Here's a link to the journalist's email address (Jenny Hope) for anyone else who wants to complain directly:

posted by Milky88 [10 posts]
24th February 2011 - 19:12


The Mail? Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing Laughing
Best laugh I've had all week. Thank goodness for a free press.

cavasta's picture

posted by cavasta [207 posts]
24th February 2011 - 21:47


posted by smoothhound [39 posts]
24th February 2011 - 22:13

1 Like

Ah yes, the Daily Mail: "Hurrah for the Blackshirts" and all that.

What a crock of shit.

posted by Mat Brett [1887 posts]
25th February 2011 - 0:16


I'm sure far more people die sitting on the toilet reading the Daily Mail than have heart attacks whilst riding a bike. Don't read it whilst taking a dump.

simonmb's picture

posted by simonmb [360 posts]
25th February 2011 - 3:46


I do wonder how many of the Daily Mail journalists use cocaine on a regular basis and I expect it's quite a few, which might explain why the drug being a major cause of heart disease is skipped over in the article. Umm, I did use to know a Daily Mail journalist (she was at uni with my wife) and she was a regular cocaine user.


posted by OldRidgeback [2205 posts]
25th February 2011 - 10:10

1 Like

A fairly typical Daily Mail story. Find a study, and write a story so it fits what you wanted to write about anyway.
That paper is full of stories either misrepresenting some good research, or taking a survey with a very small sample and expanding it's findings to the whole population.

The DfT study I've quoted from before had very different finding on air pollution levels for cyclists as opposed to car occupants:
Cycling and Health. - What's the evidence?
(I have put the reference next to the quote for each)

"It is often assumed that cyclists (and pedestrians) are exposed to higher air pollution levels than motor vehicle occupants because they are physically unprotected, and because they may be breathing more deeply than passive car occupants. However, in slow moving traffic, typical of rush-hour traffic, car occupants can be exposed to higher pollutant levels."
(van Wijnen, J. Verhoeff, A., Jans, H. and van Bruggen, M. (1995). The exposure of cyclists, car drivers and pedestrians to traffic-related air pollutants, International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, 67, pp. 187-190)

"A review of the literature has concluded that: “Cars offer little or no protection against the pollutants generated by vehicle traffic. Road users can be exposed to significantly elevated levels of pollutants as they are, in effect, travelling in a ‘tunnel’ of pollution. Those road users travelling closest to the centre of this tunnel tend to experience higher concentrations of pollutants than those nearer to the roadside."
(Institute for European Environmental Policy/Environmental Transport Association (1997). Road user exposure to air pollution: Literature review, Weybridge: Environmental Transport Association)

"Car drivers also suffer up to two to three times greater exposure to pollution than pedestrians in slow moving traffic."
(Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions (1998). A New Deal for Transport. Better for Everyone. London, The Stationery Office.)

posted by thereverent [300 posts]
25th February 2011 - 10:29


smoothhound wrote:
NHS Choices take on it: ...

Thanks for that - I heartily (no pun intended) recommend reading that article - a clear, concise and factual summation of the *actual* results from the study, including mention of where the study falls short.

All Daily Fail journos please take note!

posted by mad_scot_rider [548 posts]
25th February 2011 - 10:33


Lazy slack churnalism,but it's only to be expected from the DM, for more of this read Flat Earth News by Nick Davis.

posted by BBLeeds [34 posts]
25th February 2011 - 15:21



For a safe, healthy ride to work;

1) Do not attempt a home blood transfusion before setting off. If
you absolutely must do so, do not use Italian blood.

2) Avoid Spanish steaks before setting off.

3) The biggest danger you face on your daily commute?
Crazed Daily Mail reading cabbies, furious that (a) you are
riding a bike at all, and (b) that your bike has some funny
foreign looking name on it's frame.

posted by Tiber [16 posts]
25th February 2011 - 20:56


that your bike has some funny
foreign looking name on it's frame.

Brompton, Pashley, Flying Scot, Longstaff, Claud Butler...

OK, Claud might sound like a foreign Johnny's name.

posted by wee folding bike [3 posts]
26th February 2011 - 9:03


Good old Daily Mail. Yet another outstanding piece of journalism. It's always baffled me how they maintain such consistently high standards. Almost as informative as the Beano. I'm off to get my copy (of the Daily Mail)now. I find it gives me a bit of light relief from my usual quality paper, the Daily Sport. Usually I wrap the Mail inside the Sport before I walk home in case anyone sees it. Got to maintain some standards.

whizz kid

posted by whizzkid [62 posts]
26th February 2011 - 12:57


Everyone loves to hate the Daily Mail

posted by noleafclover [25 posts]
27th February 2011 - 19:30