Undereating and Overtreating

A study in the journal Pediatrics given prominence by the AP reports a link between heavy readership of weight-loss articles in teen mags and risky weight-loss practices five years later.

Since the study was based on self-reporting by the subjects, there is no way to determine how accurate it was. But even if there is such a link, the problem isn’t the reading – God knows that young people need to be reading anything they can – it is the behaviors of the girls, their parents, their doctors and the people who stock physicians’ waiting rooms with such magazines.

A related and more dangerous health risk is reported in an essay in the New York Times by three prominent advocates of evidence-based medicine who note that the health care system – and its penchant for “medicalizing” every natural ache, pain and mood – is itself dangerous to our well-being. We are, the authors argue, overscreened, overdiagnosed, overtreated and, ultimately, underserved by a system that makes us use doctors more, not less.

In the case of magazines, it is pretty transparent what is going on – publishers selling ads based on teenagers’ fears. But in the case of disease-mongering, we are blinded by the fact the hucksters have M.D.s and Ph.D.s behind their names.

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