A women feeds her grandson in Divisoria Market in Manila on June 8, 2016. (AFP / Noel Celis)

Hoax WHO graphic circulates online in the Philippines warning of 'biggest brain damaging habits'

Copyright AFP 2017-2020. All rights reserved.

A graphic has been shared repeatedly in multiple posts on Facebook and Twitter alongside a claim it shows guidance issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) about seven “habits” that pose the greatest risk of brain damage. The claim is false; the WHO told AFP it did not issue the graphic; multiple health authorities say brain health is not determined by social factors alone and is also influenced by genetics.

The graphic was shared in this Facebook post dated September 26, 2020.

It reads: "7 Biggest brain damaging habits.

“1. Missing breakfast / 2. Sleeping late / 3. High sugar consumption / 4. More sleeping specially at morning / 5. Eating meal while watching TV or computer / 6. Wearing Cap/scarf while sleeping / 7. Habit of blocking/Stopping Urine / Don't just ReadForward to whom you careAs I care for U". 

The WHO logo can be seen at the bottom of the graphic. 

A screenshot of the misleading post, taken on October 12, 2020

The same graphic was also shared here, here and here on Facebook, and here, here and here on Twitter, alongside a similar claim.  

The claim, however, is false.

In response to the claim, a WHO representative for the Philippines told AFP in an October 12, 2020 email: “[The graphic] did not originate from the World Health Organization.”

The representative also said that all seven “habits” listed in the misleading graphic have not been scientifically proven to cause brain damage. “Missing breakfast, sleeping late, high sugar consumption, sleeping in the morning, eating while watching TV or on the computer, wearing clothing while sleeping, holding in urine are not shown to cause brain damage.”

AFP also found that multiple health agencies advise that brain health is not determined by social factors alone, but also genetics. 

According to this factsheet on the WHO’s website, “Numerous interconnected social and biological determinants (incl. genetics) play a role in brain development and brain health.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also advises in this information sheet that “besides age, other risk factors [for damaging brain health] include family history, heredity, education level, head injury, exposure to pesticides or toxins, physical inactivity, and chronic health conditions such as heart disease and stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure.” 

The misleading claim was also debunked by other fact-checking organisations worldwide, including the India-based Factly here, Philippine’s Rappler here and Nigeria’s International Centre for Investigative Reporting here.