Doctors, Nutritionists and Jewish Geography

Doctors know as much about nutrition, diet, supplements and exercise as Portuguese language professors know about agility training for the Portuguese Water Dog.
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So the other day I'm having a perfectly lovely conversation with an exercise guru who is pretty much a household name in the world of popular diet books, the author of at least a dozen of these suckers (one of which was a NY Times best seller), a pretty smart cookie by anyone's standards, including mine, and quite tangentially I happen to casually mention, in my best "how do you like them Jets" tone, something innocuous about the upcoming election, a subject about which I spend more than a fair amount of time ruminating.

At which point I hear the voice on the other end of the telephone lower to a conspiratorial tone and say, "Well, you know, I can't stand that Obama. He's a complete phony. He wasn't even born in this country, you know, he faked his birth certificate."

And where, I ask oh-so-casually, did my friend get this confidential information?

"Oh from the Israeli websites! (sotto voce) I could tell you things you wouldn't believe!"

(Cue appropriate Jon Stewart-look-at-audience here.)

So this got me thinking.

Idiot savants have long been a staple in American folklore. We like Rain Man, and we take it in stride when a trained actor of incredible chops happens to believe that George Bush personally blew up Building Number 7, or when the greatest chess master of all time thinks the CIA is bugging the fillings in his teeth. No problem.

So although it was disappointing to find out that my bright personal trainer friend is a political idiot, it wasn't necessarily surprising.

But that's because no one expects someone who's trained in health to necessarily know anything about politics. We have a whole different set of expectations when we think -- however incorrectly -- that two fields of expertise are related.

Example: We assume that someone who is "in the art field" is likely to be just as expert in graphic design as he is in fine arts, or someone "in music" must know an equivalent amount about late Gregorian chants and late Thelonious Monk. It's the academic version of Jewish geography -- "Oh, you're interested in web design? You should talk to Allison! She works at Staples!"

Which brings me to doctors. And modern medicine. Where, sad to say, we are all about as clueless as the person who expects the 17 year old hostess at Cheesecake Factory to know the difference between a 1787 Chateau Lafite and Thunderbird.

Asking your doctor about nutrition or nutritional supplements is like asking your accountant to recommend golf clubs. Your typical MD knows about as much about preventative medicine, wellness, health and food as he does about Elizabethan costume drama. (Telling you to "talk to you doctor before taking nutritional supplements" is like telling you to check with your tennis pro before opening an Excel spreadsheet.)

But we routinely assume doctors know about these things because -- after all -- they're in the field of "health".

They're not. They're in the business of prescribing pharmaceuticals.

Doctors know as much about nutrition, diet, supplements and exercise as Portuguese language professors know about agility training for the Portuguese Water Dog.

Putting doctors in charge of the public discourse on preventative health care, natural medicine and nutrition is pretty much like putting Dick Cheney in charge of the national dialogue on energy.

Which is fine. Just don't expect any tax breaks for solar and wind.