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Eating our good intentions



While mulling everything my doctor wants me to do – exercise, eat right, get enough vitamins/ minerals, etc. – I decided to make a deal with myself.


I definitely want to do something to stay healthy, so among those options, I started with taking vitamins ... because, well, easy-peasy, right? I do have to buy them (negative), but then I just pop a tablet daily (positive) and, voila!, I'm working at being healthy. Job done.


Doing ANYTHING seems like a great choice, especially when doing the HARD THING seems too daunting.


That moment of self-revelation reminded me of research my friend Peter Ubel, M.D., talks about in this 13-minute American Medical Association interview, “Why too many vitamins seems about right.” (You may remember Peter, who studies the psychology behind the sometimes-quirky health care decisions we make, from “It's Hard Being You,” in the section on human resilience.)


An overview of the podcast notes:


“U.S. adults spend more than $10 billion per year on vitamins and dietary supplements, believing against most evidence that fortified gummy bears and water infused with vitamins will improve their health and well-being.


“Vitamins are necessary for life ...but as the recent US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendation statement and updated evidence report and systematic review show, there is little evidence that supplemental vitamins and minerals prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, or mortality.


“No vitamins were found to reduce death from cancer or cardiovascular disease, with multivitamins earning an I-statement from the USPSTF (meaning that evidence remains insufficient to recommend for or against taking such supplements).


“... A total of 84 studies were reviewed, testing vitamins in almost 700 000 people, and the rosiest conclusion is that more evidence is needed. In the face of such underwhelming benefits, what explains the number of people who regularly consume these unnecessary supplements?”


Peter cites “action bias” among the explanations. It makes us want to do something – even when the science/evidence behind that action is sketchy. Plus, of all the things doctors want us to do, including losing weight and exercising more, taking vitamins is the easiest. (Guilty!)


Most Americans could get all the nutrients they need from their food, if they worked at it. I'm applying my action bias to doing that right now.


If the effort doesn't kill me, it's surely food for thought.


 

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8 Comments


Guest
Apr 30, 2023

Great insight. I'm a vitamin-a-day guy but this is somewhat disappointing. But, much like the vibe here, I'm glad Spring is present to get even more activity "way out there." -Brian

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Sharon Emery
Sharon Emery
May 01, 2023
Replying to

Brian, Yes, yay for exercise!

And if you think you feel better with vitamins -- and they aren't breaking the bank -- then go for their placebo effect.

-- Sharon

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Guest
Apr 30, 2023

On point. Too many snake-oil pitches remain online and on the airwaves. Many available products developed for profit margin, not science.

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Sharon Emery
Sharon Emery
Apr 30, 2023
Replying to

Yes, but what surprised me was that doctors know so little about nutrition. Very few medical schools provide even a minimum number of hours in nutrition classes. A headline from the Harvard School of Public Health: Doctors need more nutrition education.


Thanks for your comment, Sharon


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Guest
Apr 30, 2023

Right on target. Now to grow (and tend) some of that food myself…

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Sharon Emery
Sharon Emery
Apr 30, 2023
Replying to

Being intentional about what we eat seems so obvious, but a lot of what we choose to eat is a result of habit, convenience and cost. Good luck on that garden!

-- Sharon

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Clarice Joos
Clarice Joos
Apr 29, 2023

Thank you for shedding light on action bias. I’m just as guilty of loving the idea of a “magic pill” that fixes me without any hard work required. I think another part of action bias is that it always feels easier to add a behavior than to take away a behavior -- positive vs. negative. In other words, easier to take a supplement or add a walk to our day than to stop eating ice cream in the evening.

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Sharon Emery
Sharon Emery
Apr 29, 2023
Replying to

I know what you mean, although there are some actions -- like taking that walk -- that are proven to be beneficial. So action bias toward something that is effective is good. That ice cream at night ... questionable! 😂 Thanks for commenting, Clarice.

-- Sharon

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