The lighter side of health research

Magazine stand by  Manoj Jacob (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Magazine stand by Manoj Jacob (CC BY-SA 2.0)

One of the great health-related puzzles of our time has been answered. New Zealand researchers have published a cohort study in the eminent journal BMJ’s satirical December edition addressing the question that puzzles those who frequent doctors’ waiting rooms: Why are the available magazines always so old?

And it seems petty thievery is to blame. Professor Bruce Arroll, Stowe Alrutz and Simon Moyes set out to seek answers and tracked 87 magazines placed in the practice waiting room. This included non-gossipy magazines (Time magazine, the Economist, Australian Women’s Weekly, National Geographic, BBC History) and gossipy ones (not identified for fear of litigation). Gossipy was defined as having five or more photographs of celebrities on the front cover and most gossipy as having up to 10 such images.

After 31 days, 41 of the 87 (47%, 95% confidence interval 37% to 58%) magazines had disappeared. None of the 19 non-gossipy magazines (the Economist and Time magazine) had disappeared compared with 26 of the 27 (96%) gossipy magazines (P<0.001). All 15 of the most gossipy magazines and all 19 of the non-gossipy magazines had disappeared by 31 days. The study was terminated at this point.

It seems some just can’t resist the allure of finding out whether celebrity A is REALLY pregnant or let their appointment interrupt them reading until the end of ‘Stars without make-up’.

Full results of the study can be read in ‘An exploration of the basis for patient complaints about the oldness of magazines in practice waiting rooms: cohort study’,  which is available open access at

So it seems you can’t blame practice staff for not supplying the latest gossip mags for you to indulge in while you wait – your fellow patients are to blame!




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