Feature

Editor's letter: A word about health studies

The last time I saw my doctor for a physical, I asked him what he thought about the latest study on diet or somesuch.

The last time I saw my doctor for a physical, I asked him what he thought about the latest study on diet or somesuch. “I don’t pay much attention to studies,” he said gruffly, “until at least five years pass.” His point, which my own years of work with health/science stories had made evident, was that hundreds of health studies are disgorged by universities and research institutions every week—many of them contradicting previous studies. This is why The Week’s year-end roundup of health studies is labeled, “Things they said were good for us,” and “Things we were told to avoid,” with an implied “this time around.” Our recent “good for you” list included castration, which, one study found, appeared to prolong men’s lives. Any takers?

Similar skepticism is warranted in weighing last week’s most publicized study, which concluded that people who are a little overweight as measured by body mass index actually have a lower risk of dying early than people of “healthy” weight (see Science & Health). As critics have pointed out, it might be that some of the thinner people in the study were not truly healthy, but thin because they smoked or had been chronically ill, thus skewing the results. It might also be that the imprecise BMI falsely categorizes muscular workout enthusiasts as overweight. There are many possible explanations for the findings; when it comes to the complexities of human health, isolating a single cause for an observed effect is extremely difficult. So take this study, and any single study you see, with several grains of salt. That salt, by the way, may or may not give you high blood pressure. Some studies say it does. Some say it doesn’t.

William Falk

Recommended

Kim Jong Un admits North Korea's food situation is dire
Kim Jong Un.
crisis

Kim Jong Un admits North Korea's food situation is dire

The Biden comment that likely got Putin's attention
Joe Biden.
biden-putin summit

The Biden comment that likely got Putin's attention

The 5 weirdest moments of the Biden-Putin summit
Biden and Putin.
'There is no happiness in life'

The 5 weirdest moments of the Biden-Putin summit

Biden says Russia faces 'devastating' consequences if Navalny dies
Joe Biden.
Biden-Putin summit

Biden says Russia faces 'devastating' consequences if Navalny dies

Most Popular

Bernie Sanders wants to know if cannabis reporter is 'stoned' right now
Bernie Sanders.
Sounds dope

Bernie Sanders wants to know if cannabis reporter is 'stoned' right now

SCOTUS deals blow to sentencing reform
The Supreme Court.
Picture of Bonnie KristianBonnie Kristian

SCOTUS deals blow to sentencing reform

Stephen Colbert gleefully returns to a live studio audience
Stephen Colbert
Last Night on Late Night

Stephen Colbert gleefully returns to a live studio audience