Top 5 Most Outrageous Claims of 2011

Every day, hundreds of headlines vie for your attention with eye-catching claims about foods that save your life, chemicals that make you crazy, and toxins that are just waiting to “kill you,” ideally written in ALL CAPS with lots of exclamation marks.

Which do you believe, and which do you choose to forget?

This year, we’ve pulled together a list of the top five facepalm-worthy “findings” of 2011—health and beauty news you shouldn’t remember when your holiday hangover fades.

MORE: Top 10 Game-Changing Stories of ’11

1“Your Shampoo Will Make You Fat!”

Heard of “chemical calories?” If you read the headlines claiming that your shampoo is making you fat, then you probably have. But before you become a grungy, my-hair-washes-itself hippie, heed this: The actual study said nothing about your shampoo.

MORE: The Hype About Fattening Shampoo

What the study did say is that phthalates—chemicals found in tons of products from lubricants to paints to beauty products—can throw off your body’s hormone balance and possibly contribute to weight gain. But the link is small and you’d need some serious toxin build-up to really see any effects.

Bottom line: Shampoo’s still got nothing on a big ol’ pint of ice cream.

2“The Recession Is Causing Depression.”

If money is tight, you don’t need to add depression to your list of bedtime worries. Tsk-tsk to all the news reports that tried to say you should!

Reporters misinterpreted a stat showing a 43 percent increase in SSRI antidepressant prescriptions from 2006-2010, mistakenly attributing it to the recession. In reality, the rise happened for other reasons (including increases in long-term prescriptions and SSRI prescriptions for everything from anxiety to hot flashes).

Suffice it to say that none of those reasons have anything to do with your bank account.

Bottom line: You can rest assured that money still can’t buy happiness.

3“Fat Friends Make You Fat.”

If you’ve been blowing off your fat friends on account of this New England Journal of Medicine study claiming that obesity spreads in social networks, then you better crawl back and kiss their feet, stat.

When the study came out in 2007, the findings made headlines everywhere from the New York Times to Scientific American, but this year, a series of experts attacked the claims, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to come to such dramatic conclusions.

Bottom line: Fat is not contagious (at least as far as we know).

4“Rioters Have Brain Chemical Deficiencies.”

This year saw a host of riots, uprisings, occupations, you name it, and news outlets were scrambling to find studies to explain the chaos. The upshot? Headlines claiming rioters’ brains have chemical deficiencies.

The study that inspired the headlines actually found that lower levels of GABA neurotransmitters are correlated with higher levels of impulsivity in response to strong emotions or I-need-that-now urges. It didn’t even mention rioters—a misinterpretation the researchers later publicly corrected.

Bottom line: If you choose to burn down a building, don’t blame it on your GABA levels.

5“Midlife Women Hate Their Reflections!”

Earlier this year, a study supposedly found that 90 percent of women over 40 hate their reflections and have what experts—one expert, really, with no more than a B.A. in psychology—call “midlife mirror angst syndrome.” (Likely a close cousin to “bad lighting-induced distress syndrome.”)

But they neglected to mention that this “research” stems from informal, unpublished findings from a survey, given by an online fashion retailer, of only 1200 women. In purely scientific terms, the results are total B.S.

Bottom line: Midlife mirror angst syndrome isn’t coming to get you.