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An important part of health equation

Published December 17. 2011 09:01AM

Without a doubt, there's never been a better time to be alive if you want to achieve optimal health. Compared to just three generations ago, we probably have three times the health-and-fitness information available to us, yet there's a big problem with that.

There's three times the misinformation.

In October, for instance, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article that showed men who took a vitamin E supplement increased their incidence of prostate cancer by 17 percent. This information seemed to be just another bit of the seemingly increasing evidence that you should not take vitamin supplements.

Even Life Extension, an organization that promotes the use of vitamin supplementation for better health and longer life, agreed with the findings but only because they saw the study as biased.

The type of vitamin E used in the study was a synthetic type that decreases the amount of healthy vitamin E in your body.

In fact, when Life Extension first heard of the protocol proposed for the study well before any results were announced they composed a press release reminding all that they had warned of the adverse effects of taking synthetic alpha tocopheral years ago and predicted an increased risk of disease for the subjects in the study.

Life Extension even went so far as to suggest that mainstream medicine has a vested interest in keeping people from intelligently using vitamins because treating cancer as opposed to reducing the risk of it is a great source of revenue, one estimated at $115.5 billion in 2010. But the purpose of sharing this story is not to argue the motives of mainstream medicine.

It's to reinforce that as often as not what you read in newspapers or see on the computer screen is less than the full story.

Greater access to any information, whether it be about health and fitness or covert government activities means more mental work for you. You can't just read and digest.

You must read and think critically.

Take, for example, the early November article that ran in many Tribune newspapers as "Bans on soda don't help obesity in kids." It cited a study published online by Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, and the research, unlike the aforementioned vitamin E study, has not been branded as biased by any watchdog group.

Researchers gathered data on 5,900 students who had been tracked since 1998 in 40 states, 22 that had no policy whatsoever about selling sugary drinks to middle school students, 11 that forbid sales of soda only, and seven that banned all sugar-sweetened beverages including fruit drinks and sports drinks. Yet it didn't matter what state was targeted.

The percentage of obese kids in middle schools in all the states was essentially the same. All the states' figure were slightly above 22 percent.

Research like that might lead you to believe that there's no link between drinking soda and obesity. But you need to do more than read and digest here.

You need to read, think critically, and recognize the overriding factors.

States that ban the selling of soda during the school day can't dictate what the kids consume during the rest of the day. Furthermore, kids who pack food for lunch or even breakfast can bring whatever they want.

At least that's what happens at my school.

There, I run what we call the Breakfast Club, where on the typical day about 25 students eat breakfast. Even though most are on the free-and-reduced lunch program, some bring their own items to augment the breakfast.

But it's never a steaming bowl of oatmeal; it's a can of soda, an energy drink, or a sugar-laden cup of coffee. Clearly, consuming what nutritionists call "added sugar" is more than a dietary habit that can be broken by a school rule.

It's a national mindset the way we are wired to think at present.

Proof of this is at present 16 percent of all calories now consumed in the U.S. come in the form of added sugar.

That's not the percentage of total sugar, which some say is 50 percent higher; the figure of 16 percent includes no natural sugars like those found in milk, milk products, fruits, and fruit drinks only those added to sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, desserts, cereals, candies, and condiments.

So a critical reader may see the ban in certain states of selling all sugar-sweetened beverages not as ineffective but as a necessary first step in changing the way Americans view this habit.

Remember, it was only about 50 years ago when nearly 50 percent of American adults smoked cigarettes. And the first dangers-of-smoking campaigns weren't exactly effective, but they started a trend.

Now, after years and years of public-service announcements and undeniable research results, slightly less than 20 percent of adults smoke. Smokers now recognize that their habit is compromising their health and many want to quit, but just can't.

The onslaught of good and bad information has created a third component to optimal health in addition to eating properly and exercising regularly.

Reading health-related information carefully and thinking about it critically.

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