I must admit, when I first saw the headlines about the health atlas – a map showing which areas are most affected by certain illnesses and conditions – I was intrigued.
The map has been developed by researchers at Imperial College London to show an area’s health risks compared with an average for the rest of England and Wales.
So it shows how likely we are to develop certain conditions, right? Wrong.
The researchers state: “It is important to note that we are not making direct causal links between the mapped environmental agents and disease outcomes.”
Ok, fair enough: this isn’t a tool to predict my own personal health outcomes, but the statement “Relative Risk above average” certainly sounds like it.
I like to think I’m fairly calm about health scares – I’m not the type to read about an illness and declare I have every symptom – but I found this map strangely addictive. My “quick look” turned into an hour of me mentally clocking my likelihood of becoming unwell; thinking things like “good, so I’m not going to get skin cancer”– dangerous thinking for someone prone to sun burn at the best of times.
I can’t be the only person to read it in this way. I even wonder if, despite the reminders that the researchers are not making causal links, this will trigger hypochondria in some people and result in increased pressure on health services as the general public turn to them for reassurance.
Perhaps I’m being overly dramatic. Perhaps everyone who stumbles across it will see it merely as an interesting piece of research with no real relation to them. Then again, perhaps being overly dramatic is human nature.