Knowledge and Power

By David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP

I was privileged to speak to hundreds of healthcare colleagues at a Lifestyle Medicine Summit in Nashville, Tennessee, last weekend. As the conference’s “closer,” I spoke after all the others who attended the sessions for two days prior. Inevitably, I followed speakers who presented theories and epiphanies competing with those of other speakers. There were authors of books that refute everything in all the other books that in turn refute everything the audience heard in the preceding sessions. There were claims, counter-claims, and contentions about this food and that, this nutrient and that, this supplement and that. In other words, business as usual in the world of health promotion, or what passes for it in our culture today.

We Have Enough Knowledge to Prevent
Most Diet and Lifestyle-Related Diseases

I won’t belabor the particulars of what I had to say. Readers who visit here already know where I stand. I will instead simply share one fundamental point I consider the essential take-away from my talk, and then ask something of you. The one point is this: We know enough!

Believe it or not, when the parsing and peddling, back-peddling and back-stabbing is all done – it’s a fact established and reaffirmed over a span of decades that we know enough. What we know about health promotion, disease prevention, sustainable weight control, and lifestyle as medicine IS ENOUGH to prevent 80% of all chronic disease and premature death. We already know enough – and have known enough for decades – to add years to people’s lives, and add life to those years.

No one refutes this. The evidence is too strong, too consistent, too often replicated. Even the iconoclasts don’t refute it. The renegade geniuses don’t refute it. Those with competing theories don’t refute it.

Instead, they simply ignore it, and pretend that the focus should be on what we don’t know; what can be made to seem, at least, controversial. They ignore it, and pass on to the one particular thing they want you to believe, buy, or berate.

Which leads me to what I am asking of you. Please don’t ignore it. Please don’t let anyone else ignore it. Please don’t look on passively at a culture fiddling while “Rome burns.” And please, don’t add your own fiddle to the orchestra.

This isn’t a column; it’s a campaign. I am calling it the let’s #UseWhatWeKnow campaign. I am asking you to share, tweet, pin, and email that moniker – and help me agitate a movement.

Imagine letting a building burn to the ground while debating the best particular kind of fire hose (e.g. length, caliber, materials, etc.), the best kind of water (e.g. soft, hard, etc.), and the best way to handle and direct the spray. Imagine, far worse, that there are people in the building while the debate rages along with the fire. Imagine our collective horror at discovering that the bickering and parsing lasted until there was nothing but ash and body bags.

This, folks, is our culture. We are bickering over what may even be legitimately debatable at times, but doing so while failing to use all that we already know, and let preventable chronic diseases reduce lives to ash and cinder. It is a tragedy! It is a travesty! We could put an end to it any time!

Admittedly, if we used what we already know, we could only save about 80 percent of the buildings on fire. We could only save 8 out of every 10 people in such buildings. But right now, the hyperbolic claims compete for our attention as the flames take them all.

Let the parsing continue. Competition is healthy if it helps us do something about the residual 20 percent of all chronic disease we don’t already know how to prevent. But let us not squander what we do know while working to learn what we don’t. Let us not subordinate the tried and true to the new and titillating. Let us not ignore what we know and count the cost in years lost from life, life lost from years. Let us recall that we all have skin in this game – our own, and that of the people we love. The next time one of these metaphorical buildings catches fire, one of us, or one of them, could well be in it.

Knowing more is always good. But we know enough to do an astonishing amount of good; good we would all see and feel. So please help put out the fires. Please let’s #UseWhatWeKnow.

David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP is the founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. He is a board certified specialist in both Internal Medicine and Preventive Medicine/Public Health. He is the director and founder of the Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital in Derby, CT. For more information visit http://www.davidkatzmd.com and http://www.turnthetidefoundation.org.

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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