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The Healthy Skeptic: Cutting through the Hype about Your Health

ROBERT J. DAVIS
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 254
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnsv3
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  • Book Info
    The Healthy Skeptic
    Book Description:

    It happens every day: we pick up a newspaper or magazine or turn on the television and are bombarded with urgent advice about how to stay healthy. Lose weight! Lower your cholesterol! Early detection saves lives! Sunscreen prevents cancer! But in many cases, pronouncements we rarely think to question turn out to be half-truths that are being pushed by various individuals or groups to advance their own agendas.The Healthy Skepticexplores who these health promoters are-from journalists and celebrities to industry-funded groups and consumer activists-what their motives are, and how they are spinning us in ways we often don't realize. This treasure trove of little-known facts, written by a seasoned health reporter, provides invaluable tips, tools, and resources to help readers think more critically about what they're being told. Becoming a healthy skeptic is vital, Davis argues, because following the right advice can have a profound impact on overall health and longevity.IN TEN ENTERTAINING CHAPTERS, ROBERT J. DAVIS DISCUSSES: * Diets and why they don't work * Dietary supplements * The campaign to reduce cholesterol * Celebrity exhortations to "get tested" * Sunscreen and its promoters' claims * The antichemical activists

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93323-1
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[vii])
  3. INTRODUCTION: HEALTH SELLERS
    (pp. 1-11)

    Nearly all of us can point to particular moments, often seemingly inconsequential at the time, that ended up affecting our lives in profound and lasting ways. For me, such an instant came during my sophomore year of college and involved, of all things, milk. When the topic somehow came up at lunch one day, I bragged to friends that my highly enlightened family had always shunned whole milk and restricted ourselves to 2 percent, the type that’s low in fat. Basking in my own virtuousness, I couldn’t stop there. As they downed their glasses of whole milk, I advised my...

  4. CHAPTER ONE: SAYS WHO? HOW WE KNOW WHAT (WE THINK) WE KNOW
    (pp. 13-33)

    In the filmThe Road to Wellville, Anthony Hopkins plays Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the legendary health promoter whose surname is now synonymous with cereal. The doctor, portrayed as a buck-toothed, bowelobsessed fanatic who pushes daily enemas as the antidote to just about everything, brags (if that’s the right word) that “my own stools . . . are gigantic and have no more odor than a hot biscuit.”

    Adapted from the satiric novel of the same name, the movie shows patients at Dr. Kellogg’s Battle Creek Sanitarium engaged in all kinds of bizarre practices, including rhythmic laughing, exercising in diapers,...

  5. CHAPTER TWO: THE NEWS MEDIA: EAT THIS!
    (pp. 35-55)

    Of all the reasons I decided to become a health journalist, being popular at parties was not among them. It never dawned on me that immersing myself in topics such as the latest remedies for hemorrhoids or the chief causes of foot fungus would endear me to strangers. Yet I’ve found, much to my surprise, that it often does. As soon as people learn what I do for a living, they frequently corner me and start firing away with questions about some health-related issue. And by far the most common issue is nutrition.

    Whether the questioners are strangers, friends, relatives,...

  6. CHAPTER THREE: DIET BOOKS: DON’T EAT THAT!
    (pp. 57-73)

    What killed the famous diet doctor? No, I’m not referring to the famous case of the Scarsdale Diet doctor, Herman Tarnower, who was murdered by his lover. Nor is this a plot from an Agatha Christie novel or an episode of a TV detective show. It’s a real-life mystery that has never been solved and remains a matter of intense speculation. The doctor is Robert Atkins, the force behind one of the most popular weight loss plans of all time. Critics have long charged that his diet, which shuns carbohydrates in favor of fat-laden foods, increases the risk of heart...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR: ADVERTISEMENTS: TAKE A SUPPLEMENT!
    (pp. 75-91)

    You are greatly uninformed and should do more research!” screams the e-mail in my inbox. “Don’t be so fast to pooh-pooh something you don’t embrace or really understand.” Scolds another: “Caveats to the impressionable readers who will obviously be duped by your lack of knowledge.” So goes the mail, it seems, whenever I report on dietary supplements and raise questions about their claims. I’ve come to expect it.

    On days I receive these howlers—and on just about every other—it’s equally predictable that my inbox will also contain ads for supplements of one kind or another. I’m guaranteed to...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE: GOVERNMENT CAMPAIGNS: WATCH YOUR CHOLESTEROL!
    (pp. 93-107)

    My friend Mrs. F. worked hard to stay healthy, and it showed. Well into her 80s, she walked several miles a day, watched what she ate, and weighed the same as she had as a young woman. She was largely free of the aches, pains, and infirmities that afflicted many of her contemporaries. Possessing boundless energy and intense curiosity about others, she could have easily passed for someone 15 years her junior. In short, she had every reason to be content about her health. But she wasn’t. Whenever I asked how she felt, I invariably got the same response. “You...

  9. CHAPTER SIX: CELEBRITIES: GET TESTED!
    (pp. 109-125)

    If you are an Oprah Winfrey fan (and even if you aren’t), you know she’s never been shy about opening up. She’s shown anger, shed tears, and shared her childhood traumas and adult struggles in front of millions of viewers. In 2000, after years of baring her soul, the daytime talk diva took self-revelation to a new high when she decided to bare her liver, kidneys, and spleen as well.

    In a now-famous episode of her popular TV program, Oprah underwent a full-body CT scan, which takes three-dimensional pictures of the inside of the body. Images of Oprah’s innards were...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN: HEALTH GROUPS: WEAR SUNSCREEN!
    (pp. 127-143)

    Hardly anything is more wholesome than a community festival. Wherever it’s held, you’re likely to find all the familiar features, including lemonade stands, games for kids, and local artists displaying their crafts. If you’ve happened to visit festivals in cities such as Philadelphia, Atlanta, Cleveland, Denver, or Miami, you may have also seen something else: a booth for the “Families Play Safe in the Sun” campaign. The initiative is spearheaded by the Women’s Dermatologic Society (WDS), an association of female skin doctors.

    The campaign, whose mission is to “heighten sun safety awareness and practices among families,” has traveled to events...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT: CONSUMER ACTIVISTS: BEWARE OF CHEMICALS!
    (pp. 145-161)

    If there’s a single fruit people most associate with wellness, it’s the apple. Everyone has heard, after all, that one a day keeps the doctor away. The fruit’s wholesome image took a nosedive in the spring of 1989, however, thanks to the work of an environmental activist group and the news media. In a now infamous episode, this perennial symbol of health was temporarily tagged with a skull and crossbones.

    For years, the group, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), had been pushing for the ban of a chemical called Alar, which was sprayed on apples to regulate their growth....

  12. CHAPTER NINE: ANTI-AGING DOCTORS: DON’T GET SICK, DON’T GET OLD, DON’T DIE!
    (pp. 163-181)

    They bill themselves as “the #1 preventative, anti-aging medical society in the world.” So when I learned that the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, or A4M, would be holding another of their regular conferences, I naturally was interested in attending and called to let them know. Their response caught me by surprise: You’re not invited.

    In my twenty years as a health journalist, I have sat in on countless scientific meetings, and all have welcomed me with open arms. Many even set aside working areas for reporters and offer press releases and tip sheets to highlight studies that might be...

  13. CHAPTER TEN: GUARANTEED! OVERPROMISING ON PREVENTION
    (pp. 183-192)

    J. I. Rodale, whom we met in chapter 1, often touted his own good health as evidence for his ideas. In a June 1971 cover story in theNew York Timesmagazine, which called the seemingly vigorous 72-year-old health promoter a “walking testimonial to his health theories,” Rodale stated, “I’m going to live to be 100 unless I’m run down by a sugar-crazed taxi driver.” (As discussed earlier, he viewed sugar as poison.)

    Appearing the next day on theDick Cavett Show, Rodale similarly boasted that, thanks to his regimen, “I am so healthy that I expect to live on...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 193-230)
  15. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 231-232)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 233-243)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 244-244)