Doctors are less likely than patients to have stopped eating beefBMJ 1996; 313 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.313.7050.171b (Published 20 July 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:171
EDITOR,—There has been saturation coverage in the media and several articles in medical journals about the possible relation between bovine spongiform encephalopathy, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and consumption of British beef.1 2 3 4 The speculation and hype surrounding this latest food scare have resulted in confusion about the true risks of eating beef. I conducted a study of 43 doctors and 44 patients to determine whether their beef eating habits differed during this crisis and what influence, if any, sex and socioeconomic status might have had.
Table 1 shows my findings. Patients were more likely to have stopped eating beef than doctors and to have stopped eating beef products. They were more likely not to allow young children to eat beef (33 (75%)) and beef products (40 (91%)) than were doctors (10 (23%) and 24 (56%) respectively). When patients' responses were analysed by occupational class those in classes IV and V were more likely to have stopped eating beef and beef products than their counterparts in classes II and III. None of those in classes IV or V would allow young children to eat beef or beef products. When both patients and doctors were analysed by sex women were more likely than men to have stopped eating beef and beef products and less likely than men to allow children to eat these products.
It is not surprising that doctors, with their medical knowledge, have been less worried about bovine spongiform encephalopathy and whether to eat beef than have patients. If, however, the public realised that their own doctors were continuing to eat beef then they might be less concerned. My findings show that socioeconomic status influences eating habits; this possibly reflects educational background (and thus the ability to separate facts and risks from the hype) and sources of information (for example, broadsheet rather than tabloid newspapers).
An important issue is the power of the media to influence diet. If people in lower socioeconomic groups continue to eat less red meat, beefburgers, sausages, etc and to prevent their children from eating these then a fall in the incidence of ischaemic heart disease may result—an unexpected benefit of the saga.