Assertions can be reported so often that they are considered true (“factoids”). They may sometimes even be used to determine health policy when empirical information is lacking. Steven Cummins and Sally Macintyre use the claimed existence of “food deserts”—poor urban areas where residents cannot buy affordable, healthy food—to illustrate why policy makers need to look more critically at the facts
In December 2001 a cross party motion on food poverty signed by 198 UK MPs gained its first reading in parliament. The Food Poverty (Eradication) Bill is now waiting to be read for a second time.1 Though this bill is a laudable attempt to introduce a policy designed to improve the nutrition of those with the lowest incomes and in the poorest places, it is an example of how some ideas become accepted as fact though they may not be true. They become “factoids”: assumptions or speculations reported and repeated so often that they are popularly considered true; they are simulated or imagined facts.2 This paper illustrates how, if the social climate is right, facts about the social world can be assumed and hence used as the basis for health policy in the absence of much empirical information.
- Factoids are assumptions or speculations reported and repeated until they are considered true
- They are sometimes used to determine health policy when empirical information is lacking
- The assumption that in the United Kingdom there are poor urban areas where residents cannot buy affordable, healthy food (“food deserts”) is a factoid
- Policy strategies to combat the existence of food deserts exemplify how factoids can influence health and social policy
- The burden of proof, or demand for evidence, may vary according to a policy's perceived fit within current collective world views
- Policy makers need to move away from unquestioning acceptance and should look at the facts more critically