Friday, January 18, 2008

Public Suffering From Overload of Advice

Wow, I really couldn’t have said it better so I won’t. Actually Kim brought this point up in the comments section on one of my previous posts. Enjoy!

Twenty-four hour news channels constantly squawk about the latest studies on food, drink and health. "Groundbreaking" articles on diet and wellness flood the papers every day. And science headlines increasingly read like the style section. Rather than educate people about healthy choices, this revolving door of health reports only fans the fears of an already anxious public.

The prognosis: Americans are suffering from an overdose of conflicting advice.

If you need an example, look no further than your fridge. "Experts" used to tell us eggs were little more than cholesterol bombs served sunny side up. Now, eggs are back at the top of the grocery list. Nutritionists have crowned them the perfect food, delivering tons of protein and vitamins for a mere 75 calories a pop. Same egg, new spin.

This paradox extends to other dietary debates: butter vs. margarine, regular vs. decaf, carbs vs. protein.

Over the past several decades, the health community has even been sending us mixed messages about sunshine. Following the invention of sun protection factor (SPF) in the last half of the 20th century, health reports drove Americans to hide from the sun. People lathered on sunscreen, layered their clothes, or simply stayed indoors. Time magazine brought the sun out of exile this winter by naming Vitamin D one of the "Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs" of 2007. In a number of prominent studies, researchers discovered that Vitamin D not only helps to strengthen bones, but can also ward off diabetes, prevent multiple sclerosis, and even thwart many different cancers. Unfortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 180 million Americans are not getting enough.

From eggs to sunlight, the advice dispensed by modern health reports illustrates the law of unintended consequences. For instance, nutrition activists have convinced many cities across the nation to ban trans fats (aka "margarine") and force local businesses to switch to a new oil, interesterified fat. Now, it looks like the replacement oil is actually worse.

Of course, we are sometimes faced with incontrovertible evidence, like the dangers of smoking. But clear-cut cases are few and far between.

Normally, decisions about our health involve a complex trade-off between risks and benefits that can't be boiled down to catchy headlines or news clips. There are no absolutes, no good vs. evil, no all-or-none.

As the saying goes, it's the dose that makes the poison. And a day without sunshine is like, well … a day without sunshine.

James Bowers is the managing director at the Center for Consumer Freedom

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