Taking research with a pinch of salt
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Taking research with a pinch of salt

It may sound bizarre, but this column is about not taking every medical research reported in the media very seriously.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2009 23:08 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times

It may sound bizarre, but this column is about not taking every medical research reported in the media very seriously. Sure, you cannot ignore some — and these almost always make the headlines — but most others should not make you feel guilty about not making changes in your lifestyle.

My advice is to treat reports on new medical research findings like your fortune for the day. Give it some thought, and the parallels will surprise you. Just like your day’s fortune, you read or hear about a new study, cluck about how it never makes sense, tell anyone who’d listen how it contradicts everything that was reported last week, and forget all about it the moment you put the newspaper or the remote away.

Of course, at times a particular finding stays with you. If it continues to nag you even at the end of the day, go back to it, think about how it affects your life or that of those around you — which is why you are still thinking about it — make the changes you can, and move on. Never, never, worry about things or situations you cannot change.

And there are many. If we start taking every doomsayer’s prediction of an impending threat to the world’s health seriously, we would stop eating, drinking and breathing. You must realise that we have little control over many health risks — toxins and heavy metals in food, pesticides and bacteria in water, noxious fumes and viruses in air, to name a few — so there is no point in worrying about them.

Take the report I read over breakfast. A study in the medical journal, Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association reported that the more fast-food restaurants there are in a neighbourhood, the higher is the risk of stroke for the area’s residents.

After statistically controlling for demographic and socio-economic factors, researchers reported that people in homes surrounded by fast-food restaurants had a 13 per cent higher risk of strokes than others. The risk increased by one per cent for each fast-food restaurant in a neighbourhood.

The study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between eating fast foods and increased stroke risk, but advocated
that areas with a high number of fast-food restaurants should have stroke prevention programmes.

If I were to apply this formula to my life, I would be dead by now. A top-of-the-mind count of the fast-food restaurants in
a 2-km radius of my house threw up 15 names, discounting the innumerable home-delivery menus stuffed in the sideboard drawer.

The US-based study did not factor in the work environment. With my office in Connaught Place, I cannot even begin counting the fast-food restaurants around. When I add to that the chana-kulcha fellow at the main gate, the pakora-seller at the back gate, the aloo-chaat chap across the street, and the countless kake da... hotels and restaurants around the corner that the American researchers do not know about, I’m surprised how people have managed to survive in any Indian metro without getting serial stroke attacks.

At the end of the day, it’s best to go for what we know works — eat healthy and stay active. The rest will fall in place.

First Published: Feb 21, 2009 23:07 IST