Category: Health

The connection between preventive health and health literacy

It was nice to read the article Michael Mosley’s Five Biggest Health Myths this weekend. On the same weekend I was in a store and overheard a conversation between customers about managing their common colds – they related their remedies of high doses of vitamin C and echinacea and were disappointed that it was still too cool to indulge in salt water. The first two methods are unproven in randomised trials and well, the latter, who knows.

Although I didn’t agree with all of Mosley’s advice (and he admitted some of it was based on early data) his underlying point is correct. We use our health knowledge (or health literacy) to inform our health choices.

Unfortunately many people really have poor health literacy – a lady I’ve treated for ovarian cancer for 18 months recently asked me where her pelvis is. The problem is aggravated by a proliferation of health myths. A lot of common information about diet and exercise is basically wrong or was ill-formed and made part of wide-spread public health initiatives.

One of the things we need to do to promote preventive medicine is actually provide accurate health information about diet and exercise rather than old-fashioned myths.

After that we need to know how to nudge people to follow the advice but that will be part of another blog post.

The problem with health food stores

Today my wife and I cooked pound cake but instead of equal parts sugar, flour, butter and eggs we substituted almond and hazelnut meal for the flour and stevia for the sugar. The recipe was from a book by Peter Reinhardt that contains gluten ad sugar free recipes. It might sound bizarre to want sugar-free cake but our current diet is heavily influenced by Gary Taubes’ book on Why We Get Fat – which lays the blame on carbs and sugars (not fats and /or total calories). This got me thinking about health food stores.

Many of these stores are no doubt profitable but what is their purpose? Health food stores send extremely mixed messages – the users can be looking for unusual cooking ingredients, be after weird and unproven alternative medicines, gluten-free, organic food, free-trade food, locavore food, body-building supplements, or peace, love and mung bean sprouts, just to name a few things.

I think the problem is that health food stores themselves haven’t defined what constitutes health, let alone health food. Essentially it could be anything that isn’t in the supermarket next door….although they are creeping in on the market.

I’d like to see heath food stores be more pro-active and evidence-based: let them define what they consider to be health and then sell stuff that fits the evidence and the vision rather than a bit of everything for everybody.