Will prevention ever be sexy?

As a pediatric emergency medicine provider, many of the reasons patients show up in the Emergency Department are related to symptoms–a fever, cough, rash, ache, nausea, runny nose, diarrhea, etc.  What is this causing it? What will make it go away as soon as possible?

A commentary on NPR’s Shots series notes that, often, despite our best medical evidence and diagnostic technology, “what we doctors do is more about making educated guesses”.

What causes a child’s ear infection or pneumonia? Mostly we guess at what’s causing it and treat accordingly. When I explain the uncertainty involved in various options, this is often puzzling and frustrating to patient families. They want certainty–they want their child feeling all better. Who wouldn’t?

In contrast to the uncertainty around whether to treat an ear infection with antibiotics, we have far better evidence supporting preventive health. Although I have focused a lot on preventive vaccines lately, other aspects of preventive medicine are supported by similarly large bodies of  epidemiological research. Most of prevention is fairly straightforward, rather boring, and lacks the appeal of a quick fix (gluten  free donuts!)

Summarizing, here is the Shots commentary’s list:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Move your body throughout the day.
  • Eat well — a healthy assortment of unprocessed foods. Mostly plants, and not too much. (An idea popularized by author Michael Pollan, whose movie can be seen free for the next month here).
  • Interact socially. Isolation is not good for the body, soul or mind.
  • Take some time to reflect on what you are grateful for.

These life habits are key–so much so that some medical schools are even teaching their students to cook so they can better support their patient’s healthy eating choices.

Female doctor with apple

I append this list with the also-important (and even less sexy) screening recommendations of the US Preventive Services Task Force.


Published by Marion Sills

I am a Professor of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado. I work as a physician in the emergency departments of the Children's Hospital of Colorado and as a health services researcher at the University's Adult and Child Consortium for Health Outcomes (ACCORDS).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: