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.