I talk a lot about numbers and statistics, but as the Director of Yale’s Prevention Research Center Dr. David Katz put it in an editorial in the American Journal of Health Promotion, to reach doctors, our fellow colleagues, maybe we need to “put a human face on it all.”
We have known, for at least a decade that the “leading causes of both premature death and persistent misery in our society are chronic diseases that are, in turn, attributable to the use of our feet (exercise), forks (diet), and fingers (cigarette smoking). Feet, forks, and fingers are the master levels of medical destiny for not just thousands of people on any one occasion but the medical destiny of millions upon millions year after year.”
We as doctors, as a medical profession have known—Ornish published his landmark study 25 years ago (See Our Number One Killer Can Be Stopped). “We have known, but we have not managed to care,” writes Dr. Katz. “At least not care deeply enough to turn what we know into what we routinely do.” Were we to do so, we might be able to eliminate most heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and cancer.
But saving millions of lives is just a number. He asks doctors to:
“forget the bland statistics of public health, and ask yourself if you love someone who has suffered a heart attack, stroke, cancer, or diabetes….Now imagine their faces, whisper their names. Recall what it felt like to get the news. And while at it, imagine the faces of others like you and me imagining beloved faces. Now imagine if eight out of ten of us wistfully reflecting on intimate love and loss, on personal anguish, never got that dreadful news because it never happened. Mom did not get cancer; dad did not have a heart attack; grandpa did not have a stroke; sister, brother, aunt, and uncle did not lose a limb or kidney or eyes to diabetes. We are all intimately linked, in a network of personal tragedy that need never have occurred.”
Which leads to what he is asking doctors to do about it: put a face on public health every chance you get. “When talking about heart disease and its prevention—or cancer or diabetes—ask your audience to see in their mind’s eye the face of a loved one affected by that condition. Then imagine that loved one among the 80% who need never have succumbed if what we knew as doctors were what we do.”
“Invoke the mind’s eye,” he advises, and “then bring a tear to it.” (See Convincing Doctors to Embrace Lifestyle Medicine).
I think I’ve only profiled one other editorial (Ornish’s Convergence of Evidence), but this one really struck me, so much so I used it to close out my live presentation, More Than an Apple a Day: Combating Common Diseases.
Why don’t more doctors practice lifestyle medicine? Two theories are offered in The Tomato Effect and Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease.
For more on the power of our day-to-day choices, see:
- Cavities and Coronaries: Our Choice
- Dr. Burkitt’s F-Word Diet
- One in a Thousand: Ending the Heart Disease Epidemic
-Michael Greger, M.D.
PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.
Image Credit: Maia Weinstock / Flickr