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Convincing Doctors to Embrace Lifestyle Medicine

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 23 years ago. “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 readers 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.

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 latest live presentation (More Than an Apple a Day: Combating Common Diseases).

    In health,
    Michael Greger, M.D.

    PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

    One in a Thousand: Ending the Heart Disease Epidemic
    Heart Disease Starts in Childhood
    Big Food Wants Final Say Over Health Reports

    Read more: Health, Cancer, Diabetes, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, General Health, Healthy Aging, Heart & Vascular Disease, Men's Health, Natural Remedies, Videos, Women's Health, ,

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    Dr. Michael Greger

    A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at


    + add your own
    9:57PM PDT on Aug 13, 2014

    Thank you :)

    1:00PM PDT on Aug 13, 2014

    Sent on to those who will be interested and need to be informed, Thanks for posting

    4:35AM PDT on Aug 13, 2014


    5:04PM PDT on Aug 11, 2014

    They are forgetting the fourth: Ph(f)armaceuticals! Drugs kill over 100,000 people annually, even when properly prescribed and administered. Avoiding toxic substances, including drugs except when absolutely needed, should be a huge part of medicine. But I guess that transcends lifestyle and gets into "environmental medicine," which really should be the trend for the future.

    ---- Steve

    1:44PM PDT on Aug 10, 2014

    Thank you

    10:57AM PDT on Aug 10, 2014

    The main way traditional doctors move into alternative therapies is either, as in my case, my doctor can't understand how I keep becoming healthier when I'm not following a traditional regime; they become sick themselves and begin to realize that the road they were taught takes them nowhere near healing; or they have a cherished patient and/or family member that hasn't received help from all they've offered. Until then, it's too easy to just stay in the "prescribe for symptom" rut.

    2:28AM PDT on Aug 10, 2014

    Thank you for posting.

    11:17PM PDT on Aug 9, 2014

    Thank you Dr. Vegan.

    8:44PM PDT on Aug 9, 2014


    8:25PM PDT on Aug 9, 2014

    Bob T., I salute you! Very eloquently put and oh! so true!

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    Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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