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October 18, 2019

Neglecting Major Health Problems and Broadcasting Minor, Uncertain Issues in Lifestyle Science

Author Affiliations
  • 1Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford (METRICS), Stanford Prevention Research Center, Department of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California
JAMA. 2019;322(21):2069-2070. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.17576

Proper communication of scientific messages to the general public and by the media is both an opportunity and a challenge.1 Accurate communication acquires even more relevance for public health issues and lifestyle choices. If the disseminated messages pertain to major problems with large burden of disease, such as obesity or hypertension, and the messages are true, the benefit can be substantial. Conversely, confusion arises when minor and uncertain issues occupy more attention than the key problems and higher certainty solutions. Lack of proportionality may blur what is essential and what is known.

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2 Comments for this article
Disseminating Science-Based Medical Advice
William Wilson, Family Physician | Primary Care
As a practicing family physician with over 40 years of clinical experience, I found this article to be quite insightful and engaging. The author states: "Effective dissemination of public health messages may need to focus on a few, powerful, easily understood, uncontentious pieces of advice. For example, uncontested, major recommendations include the following: do not smoke (or quit smoking), exercise regularly, do not eat too much, do not become obese, do not drink alcohol in excess, and sleep well." I completely agree with this statement, and this is what I convey to my patients. When it comes to avoiding overeating and obesity, those of us responsible for advising patients in these matters have been buffeted by every conceivable trendy diet including the Atkin's diet, the Pritikin diet, low carbohydrates diets promoted by the likes of Gary Taubes, the Gundy diet, the Paleo diet and recently ketogenic diets as well as many others. This trend has left many of us running in circles trying to advise our patients on the healthiest way to eat.

I recently read "The Resolution Zone" by Barry Sears of Zone Diet fame, and the book blew me away with its science-based approach to healthy eating and reversal of the inflammation that drives many common chronic diseases. Now I recommend that my patients read this book and follow the science-based program outlined in the book, saving me a great deal of time and effort.
The Scientific Method
Michael Mundorff, MBA, MHSA | Integrated Healthcare System
No doubt those who thrive in the environment of fake controversy, trivial effects, and unsupported scientific claims masquerading as “expert opinion” will pillory this Viewpoint for suppressing their right to “free speech”. Advertising should not be conflated with investigation. Those people can retreat to Facebook, which has just stated that they will allow objectively false political advertisements.