Health Research and the Public

Health Research and the Public


I was reading Kelsey’s blog today, ( which is always thought provoking and a good read, when the thought came to me: “Why is the public so eager to know each piece of health research as it gets published?” It’s not just the folks suffering with incurable and painful diseases that await the next pronouncement from the scientific community. The market for this information is much wider. The press is quick to seize upon each new article in the New England Journal of Medicine or JAMA purporting to show a link between coffee consumption and cancer, sugar intake and a host of disease, fat intake and heart disease, meat consumption and Alzheimer’s – the list is endless. And for those trying to make sense of all this “knowledge” confusion and a certain sense of disillusion is sure to follow as the findings of the latest study will not infrequently contradict a previously published “truth.” As careful as scientific papers attempt to be about not extrapolating conclusions based on limited evidence, the hyperbole of the press (and too often those speaking from the PR departments of academic institutions) generate false expectations and hope on the part of readers. Perhaps it is the disappointment coming from pronouncements failing to live up to their original promise that is responsible for the growing anti-scientific bias in our country. But I digress. The original question was, “why are we so desperate for this information?”


I think the answer lies in the word control. So much of what we see and experience in our lives is beyond our control. And the thing which is most feared by many, and we most like to control, is death and dying. As the epitaph on the tombstone reads, “I always thought that in my case they would make an exception.” So if we could only eat the right foods, avoid all those toxins, take the right combination of vitamins, cleanse our bodies of accumulated poisons, we could have some control over that which we so much want to avoid – our death. (Satisfying these fears is responsible for a multi-billion dollar industry.) Even in our language we reveal our fear. We use so many euphemisms: passing on, departing, going to our reward, buying the farm, checking out…the list goes on.


True story. A patient is sitting in the doctor’s office, being informed that the results of his recent tests show that he has a cancer. To which the patient responds, “Yeah, doc, but what was my cholesterol?” If only we could manage to keep these numbers in line, why we’d be OK. One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons shows a man walking down Fifth Avenue with a big smile on his face. The bubble over his head says “My cholesterol is less than a 100. My lean body fat is less then 2%. I exercise an hour a day and eat no red meat.” At the same time you see a piano being hoisted over his head, the rope had just broken, and he’s about to get splattered. Control is so illusionary. Yet, we are human. We need our illusions. Can we afford them?

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15 Responses to Health Research and the Public

  1. Michelle says:

    GUILTY!!! I do find myself looking at reports and feeling I am more informed . Although, I do not always follow the advice of the reports. I think keeping a balance is key. That cartoon is so true! Just because you do all the right things, it does not guarantee that you are going to be perfectly healthy or accident prone! Life is random in that way. I guess that is why it is so important to appreciate each day and take as much as you can from it! :)Thanks for your comments at my space. -Michelle

  2. Cheryl says:

    I don\’t believe any ofhteir statistics cause I work with statistics daily and you can pretty much twist them this and that a way. So I don\’;t get to sucked into the media stuff. I think you carry your longeveity and health conditions in your DNA and so you need to look at how your people died or eaht they had and that will probably cover about most things with the exception of the piano. lol

  3. Gelert says:

    Well. What gets me is how people digest this news and then promptly ignore it anyway. \’Ohhh,\’ they say, \’I know I shouldn\’t be eating this chromium, its meant to make your legs rot off, but…\’or, \’I know its bad for me, but …\’, or, \’I was reading today that this spun sugar marzipan custard ice cream bomb will give us heart disease – would you like some more?\’I think its that they know, they know, but hey, let\’s spit in the face of death and celebrate life with a second helping of cesium pie.

  4. Marcie says:

    You make a good point. I recently wrote about my bout with cancer. At the time, I wasn\’t worried about my cholestorol, but I can see how SO much information being shoved down our throats would distract us from the world going on outside. Isn\’t that funny?I hope all is well in your world. Good blog.

  5. Jaime Campbell says:

    It is interesting the level of fear and control over that which we absolutely cannot control. The piano. How much of life did that person miss trying to get all his numbers straight? And splat…Great entry.J.

  6. Kathryn says:

    thank you for your comment, Jorge — thank you.

  7. Michelle says:

    Thanks for your kind comment. I am feeling more serene now. I just had one of those mornings. :)I hope you have a great weekend!-Michelle

  8. Marie says:

    I believe our health data is written in our DNA at the time of our conception. So our DNA dictates how long we will live. But what we eat or take into our system have a lot to do with how well we will feel or how healthy we will be during the autumn and winter of our lives. Those who do take care can look forward to spending old age in bliss and happiness.Hugs, Marie

  9. Patricia says:

    My father has lost all his brothers, several years ago, and all but two of his sisters are gone…He was the oldest in the family…In his mid-nineties, he wonders why he is still here…how has he survived and his younger siblings are gone?…Is he the only one who got the longevity gene?…how did that happen?…do I have it?…a mystery…

  10. Nancy says:

    no, no, no.great entryexcelllent sitethanks for sharingnancy

  11. karen says:

    I gave up reading those reports long ago. I\’ve come to the conclusion that everything that I do, consume, wear, breathe, or come in contact with in this world will cause me to keel over at any moment. Having reached that conclusion, I have decided to just enjoy what time I do have to the greatest of my ability.karen

  12. A Utah Woman Am I says:

    Wow. I really enjoyed this post Jorge! I am truly humbled that such great thoughts and writings stemmed from my meager attempts to write…Control–that certainly would explain this issue, you are correct. Being human, we all want to control our lives: how we look, what we wear, how we feel…….we like to feel like we are in control. Because when we are not in control, often the feeling of vulnerability is associated with it. We just are uncomfortable. Unstable.Illusions provide a way to make us "think" that we are in control. And in all honesty–I don\’t think I want to know what a world would be like without illusions. And although they aren\’t "reality", we need them–we are without a doubt dependent on them.Thanks for sharing your thoughts J. I really enjoyed reading them as always. I hope that you are having an ever pleasent weekend!Take Care!Kelsey

  13. Jaime Campbell says:

    Hey Friend.A cozy Saturday night. You?Just saying hey.J.

  14. Unknown says:

    The piano is, of course, out of our control, but I think all of us need to think about eating a healthy diet with a wide variety of foods, drinking plenty of pure water, and getting plenty of exercise. Beyond that, I don\’t think there\’s a whole to we can do, beyond avoiding pianos and axe murderers, etc., because so much of our "future" is genetic. There isn\’t even any proof that lowering cholesterol reduces the risk of heart attack and I\’m a living witness. I\’ve ALWAYS had spectacularly "good" cholesterol and yet I have heart problems. Some were caused by radiation for lung cancer, but some by plaque. Perhaps I have survived a "terminal" diagnosis because of some of these ordinary things. I do take supplements that I have found help me, but I don\’t jump on every diet or supplement that comes along. And I\’m an absolute enemy of snake oil and the people who push it.I believe that medicine is an art, not a science, and my family doctor is the greatest artist on the planet.Hugs,MuMoHugs,MuMo

  15. Stephanie says:

    gracias, a lo mismo a ti, bakan espacio, beso Estefania

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