Ignorance Of Critical Medical Information Isn’t Bliss

Read this short Forbes essay by Vasilios Tsimiklis and Henry I. Miller. These statistics are shocking:

(…) Here are just a few shockingly common self-destructive behaviors that can lead to negative – and resource-wasting — health outcomes:

• One-third of mothers answering a survey released in 2010 said they did not plan to have their children vaccinated against the flu. Worse, more than a quarter of healthcare workers polled also said they intended to forgo immunization. Flu not only causes misery and economic losses, but it is a killer — of tens of thousands in an average year in the United States.

• An astonishing 40% of women who regularly take medicine that is considered by the FDA to be “contraindicated in women who are or may become pregnant” fail to practice birth control as prescribed. That puts them at high risk of having babies with birth defects.

• Women who have a high risk of breast cancer can reduce their risk substantially by taking either of two types of drugs — selective estrogen receptor modulators (such as tamoxifen) or aromatase inhibitors (such as anastrozole and exemestane) — yet only one-fifth or fewer of eligible women take one of the effective drugs.

• Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common but largely symptom-free illness that is a major cause of heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease, yet only 10% of patients take their blood pressure-lowering medications as prescribed for more than one year.

• Compliance with doctor-prescribed medicines overall is dismal. For every 100 prescriptions written, patients take only 50–70 to a pharmacy; 25–30 are taken properly; and 15–20 are refilled as prescribed. Asthmatics, diabetics and even AIDS patients sometimes arbitrarily reduce the dose or frequency of their therapy or skip it altogether.

We are continually surprised by the willingness of people to put their health and lives at risk by refusing to do the tried and true but at the same time trying unproven “natural” remedies and other quack cures advertised in magazines and on TV. Not unlike the 19th-century snake-oil preparations that were dangerous but had little (if any) efficacy, many herbal supplements, for example, are toxic, carcinogenic or otherwise unsafe; and a high proportion contain undeclared substances. Known side effects include blood-clotting abnormalities, hypertension, deadly allergic reactions, irregular heart rhythms, kidney and liver failure, exacerbation of autoimmune diseases and interference with critical prescription drugs.

At the same time that they indulge in such harmful behaviors that encompass errors of omission or commission, many of these same people evince concern over various negligible threats to their health. For example, a large number of people who neglect to take critical drugs or choose to expose their children to the very real dangers of preventable childhood infectious diseases at the same time are frightened of imaginary hobgoblins such as plasticizers in toys and shower curtains and pesticide residues in foods. (Not only are the permissible levels of chemical pesticides in food extremely low — and seldom exceeded — but 99.99% of pesticidal substances in food occur naturally.)