Monday, March 17, 2014

In Defense of Fat Doctors

One of the cool things about people actually reading my blog is all of the topic suggestions that get thrown my way.  Some of them I shrug off because they seem corny, or obvious, or too controversial (even for me), but this weekend my dear friend (who should probably remain anonymous) plopped a fabulous one right in my lap.

"You need to blog about my visit to the doctor!"

So here I am...blogging about someone else's doctor visit.

My friend went seeking help for a cold she's been dealing with for some time, so nothing overly serious.  But her doctor, while capable and helpful, was not exactly the picture of health.  In fact, he was fairly obese, and definitely not overly concerned with his own health.  This left his patient (my friend) distracted by the doctor's abundant body fat...because here is a man giving her instructions on her own health (and she is young and active and conscious of her dietary practices), who can't seem to keep himself particularly healthy.

If you are going to hand over your money to a professional (even if it is in the form of an insurance co-pay), that person should have some physical evidence of their knowledge and expertise.  A person would be crazy to consider hiring a mechanic to fix their vehicle if that mechanic has a lemon of a car that barely runs.  Would you hire a fat personal trainer?  Would you trust a teacher who could barely read?  How about an accountant with several bankruptcies on his credit report?

So how could one place their health concerns in the hands of a doctor who is in poor health?

And this is where it might surprise you that I jump to the doctor's defense...

Because doctors are NOT experts on health.

They are experts on disease.

In fact, they are very well educated (generally at the hands of pharmaceutical companies) in disease treatment.  They are constantly looking for it with their toolboxes of high-tech gizmos and gadgets, and once they find it (or just the hint of it), they swoop in to "save" the day by focusing on the symptoms of disease.  They are quick to prescribe chemical trademarked pharmaceutical drugs with lists of side effects much more heinous than the symptoms they claim to control (Hooray for anal leakage!).  And they rarely address the causes of those symptoms, and certainly not their prevention.

In Dr. Obesity's defense, he likely received very little instruction about nutrition in med school.  According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, medical school students receive very little practical instruction on nutrition.  In fact, less than one third of medical schools even require a course devoted to nutrition. So our doctors-in-training are getting their nutrition information in and around the other stuff, which certainly leaves an awful lot of gaps.

In contrast, medical students spend scads of hours studying drugs and their many uses and side effects.  It's quite pathetic when you consider Hippocrates' view on nutrition, "Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food."  By principle our doctors should be paying a lot more attention to what food their patients put into their bodies (and probably what they put in their own, too, Dr. Obesity being a case in point).

But health care (which really is a misnomer.  The system cares little for actual health.  Medical care seems a more appropriate term) is big business, and there's no profit to be made unless trademarks and patents can be purchased. While we would like to think that our doctors and hospitals and research centers and drug companies actually care about keeping healthy people healthy and making unhealthy people well, understanding that it's all business can help us see the picture a bit more clearly.  Because at the core of every business is making money, and the "health" care business is no different.

Pharmaceutical companies spend BILLIONS of dollars every year researching and producing the latest and greatest wonder drugs...drugs to treat everything from cancer to male pattern baldness. And since much of the medical research that is being published out there is funded by Big Pharma, a lot of information the local clinic doctor is receiving is skewed.  Because money is only made if those prescriptions get signed.  And trust me when I say that Big Pharma is big time romancing the local doctor.  Lavish dinners with elegant wine and posh vacations in tropical paradises are freely gifted to doctors and their staff to woo them into "learning" about drug treatments and therapies.

I can't imagine these opportunities for "learning" are particularly unbiased since money is only made if large amounts of drugs are prescribed.  Doctors aren't learning about the virtues of nutrition therapy or fresh air and sunshine or yoga when there are so many flashy and fancy and expensive drugs out there to choose from.  No.  Instead there is an extreme focus on whatever has the most profit potential...and all that life-saving or life-enhancing shit be damned.

Plus lifestyle choices take work.  Regular exercise and clean eating take an awful lot of personal responsibility.  There's no guarantee that the patient will actually follow through long term.  It's much easier to just pop a pill when the effects of rough living catch up to you.  High blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, clinical depression, heart disease.  There's a pill for that.

So let's let up a little on poor Dr. Obesity.  It isn't really his fault.  But let's take his recommendations with an eye of skepticism knowing where he's getting his information.  While doctors are great for setting broken bones and stitching traumatic injuries, they probably aren't the best resources for HEALTH information...because they aren't really in the business of health...although they are definitely in business.

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