Trust Doctor’s Dietary Advice At Your Own Risk

I live near a hospital and I’m always baffled by the sight of obese health professionals smoking cigarettes in their scrubs outside of the hospital.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to fathom that these same people are giving health and diet advice for a living.  I fully understand that their personal blunders don’t necessarily disqualify their advice; however, I also don’t think you should believe everything they say.

Before the rise of the modern medicine, it is was generally an intelligent thing to trust in health experts.  For example, if a village elder urged you not to eat a plant from the forest, it was probably best to heed his advice instead of experimenting yourself.  He didn’t have anything to sell you and he didn’t have to worry about being sued if you took his advice and something bad happened anyway.  I think we humans evolved a rule of thumb (a heuristic) to trust the advice of village experts for this reason.

Not surprisingly, this is the same reason that we trust people in white coats today.  We assume that they have the relevant and valuable information that pertains to our health, and often times they do.  However, along with improved knowledge of medicine and health care have come new legal and financial systems.  The incentives surrounding doctor and patient relationships have also changed.

Diet is certainly one of the most important issues in the health and obesity debate today.  It’s also a very controversial topic.  There are countless fad diets out there and I think most people are more confused than ever when it comes to determining what a healthy diet is.  In a recent New York Times article, Teaching Doctors About Nutrition and Diet, the author (who happens to be an M.D.) unequivocally states that doctors don’t know jack about diet. The young doctor in the piece states, “I know we’re supposed to know about nutrition and diet, but none of us really does.”

Of course, I do believe that there are some doctors out there who are very knowledgeable about diet and it would be foolish to make such a sweeping generalization that most don’t.  The fact remains, however, that obesity is on the rise and a poor diet seems to be one of the main culprits.  I suspect that one of the reasons doctors don’t focus on diet is because there is an incentive to prescribe drugs for problems instead of treating the root problem.  Money, then, obstructs the health care process because there is an incentive to sell a cure rather than give one away for free.


3 Comments on “Trust Doctor’s Dietary Advice At Your Own Risk”

  1. Ryan Roth says:

    Hey Greg –

    Interesting thoughts! Here are few things to consider.

    People are fat because calories in > calories out. Bottom line: One can still be skinny if he/she eats donuts all day then burns more calories than they had consumed. That person may not be heart healthy – but at least they’re skinny.

    I love next to a hospital too. One of the things you have to consider in this conversation is that everyone who works in a hospital (- administration) wears scrubs. That’s high school education all the way to many graduate degrees.

    Have you identified the smokers/obese people in any other way?

    Hope all is well.

    • Greg Linster says:

      Hey Ryan! Thanks for the thoughtful comment. You bring up some great points. You are correct; it is not necessarily true that being skinny means you’re healthy. Have you ever heard of the term ‘skinny fat’? While being skinny doesn’t necessarily equate to being healthy, being lean is part of being healthy. I think that distinction is important.

      I agree with your second point as well. I was trying to be very careful about making sweeping generalizations for that reason. Regardless of education level, I don’t think there are many (if any) people in this country who don’t know that smoking is unhealthy. For that reason, I find it particularly shocking that people who work in a hospital would smoke when they see the ill effects it can cause at their place of work.

      Anyway, thanks again for keeping things interesting here. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on it!


  2. Greg Linster says:

    […] should be weary of an unlikely source for bad nutrition and diet information, which you can find here. The essence of the post was that doctors are often, but not always, clueless when it comes to diet […]

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