< Go Back

The Health Advice I Don’t Find Credible

The Health Advice I Don’t Find Credible

    The other day I read an article in which an “exercise scientist” said that people who exercise regularly are far more likely to keep off the weight after a diet.

    So…therefore…you should exercise if you want to keep the weight off. That was the implication.

    That doesn’t sound credible to me. 

    I’m a big fan of exercise, for health reasons, but it seems to me that the people with the greatest determination to maintain a healthy weight simply do all the things that are recommended for weight management, whether those things work or not. And exercise is generally the top recommendation from experts, after diet.

    Look at it this way: If experts told us that the only good ways to maintain a healthy weight included a good diet and shaving off your eyebrows, you would see a high correlation between people who succeeded in keeping off weight and people with no eyebrows.

    Here are some more correlations that have never sounded credible to me.

    Married people live longer. The implication is that being married is healthier than being single. Maybe. But you know what else is true?

    People don’t like to marry unhealthy-looking people. SO OF COURSE THE UNMARRIED DIE SOONER. THEY WERE LESS HEALTHY TO BEGIN WITH.

    Getting married might be good for your health, but I don’t think you can believe any data showing a correlation. And I have to think, based on observation, that no more than 20% of married people would say that being married reduces stress.

    Dog owners are healthier. The implication is that owning a dog is good for your health. Experts speculate that dog-owners take more walks, and walking is good for you. Or maybe dogs reduce our stress. But you know what else is true?


    Or if you prefer, people who don’t feel capable of taking care of pets probably don’t know a lot about taking care of themselves either. Incompetence doesn’t stay confined to one area as much as you’d hope. 

    Owning a dog might be healthy, but the data is not credible to me. And it conflicts with observation. My dog is great, and I love her, but she adds huge stress to my day.

    Light Drinkers Live Longer: The implication is that light drinking is good for your health. I consider this the least credible correlation of all time. Because you know what else is true of light drinkers?

    They are probably inclined toward moderation in general, and good self-discipline as well. Those qualities are likely to be correlated with good health because it all falls into the category of doing what common sense and experts tell you to do. That seems like a healthy way to approach life.

    And light drinkers are probably not poor, because alcohol is expensive, which means they have access to better healthcare and better information about health.

    My guess is that light drinking is roughly as healthy as light smoking. But we will never know for sure because most researchers are also drinkers (I assume, because most adults are drinkers) and the booze industry is presumably funding some of those studies. How do you get credible information in that context?

    To be super-clear, when I say something is not credible, that is different from saying it is false. All I’m saying is that in the cases I mentioned, the evidence does not feel persuasive to me. Based on pattern alone, the studies I mentioned seem more like they belong in the class of things that we will someday laugh at ourselves for believing.

    In other news…

    In the Berkeley Start-up Blog, find out how bees can get you buzzed. As a bonus, save some rain forests too.

    In Top Tech Blog, only God can make a tree. That is why I plan to build a religion around the new 3D printers that can print wood.

    And how about a cyborg glove to make your human hand more useful? Great for folks with hand problems. It hasn’t been optimized for masturbation, but that can’t be far behind.

    Oh, and while you were napping, some folks 3D-printed a spaceship engine. That…works. You know what is about to change in your life because of all this 3D printing? I’m going to say everything.


    Oh, and also, book.

More Episodes