Health illiteracy is widespread: neither patients nor doctors grasp the fundamentals of nutrition

Tuesday, June 08, 2004
by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger
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Health literacy is a huge problem for controlling health care costs, says a new study published by the Institute of Medicine. By "health literacy," they mean the ability of the general public to read and understand basic health information. The absence of this ability is costing our nation $29 billion a year in additional medical costs, and that was back in 1996!

I completely agree with the findings of this research. I've found health literacy to be astonishingly low among the general population -- even among people who can read just fine! A fundamental grasp of nutrition, for example, is almost completely lacking in our population. I've listened to people tell me that they think eating white rice at a Chinese restaurant is good for them "because it contains so much fiber." That's quite a surprise to hear, since white rice has virtually no fiber whatsoever and isn't healthy at all: it's more like a dietary sugar than a health food.

Amazingly, most people have no clue that soft drinks are bad for their health. They've never been told that store-bought cookies promote obesity and diabetes. They have no awareness of the fact that hydrogenated oils lead to heart disease. This is basic information, folks, and barely 1% of our population is aware of it.

So what's the cause of this widespread health illiteracy? By and large, the information just isn't taught to anyone. Public school health classes hardly cover nutrition and certainly don't mention ingredients or foods to avoid, since that would outrage the junk food manufacturers who depend on children for revenues. As a result, the health information taught in schools is the old watered-down, politically correct garbage found on the USDA's utterly outdated Food Guide Pyramid, which is actually just a promotion gimmick for food growers and industries that have political clout. Even the USDA's own employees admit the pyramid has a lot more to do with politics than sound nutritional advice.

The federal government also fails to educate people about basic nutritional wisdom. Even while our nation suffers from a rapidly accelerating obesity epidemic, there are no public service messages telling people to avoid soft drinks, high fructose corn syrup or refined white sugar. The government doesn't have the political willpower to instruct the public to eat less of anything, thanks to the political backlash from the junk food companies.

And yet it's not just the general public that's illiterate when it comes to health: the vast majority of medical doctors are also nutritionally illiterate thanks to the mysterious lack of nutrition education in our nation's medical schools. Bestselling author Dr. Andrew Weil explains it in the same terms. "Physicians are nutritionally illiterate," he says, and part of his mission is to bring nutrition classes to medical schools so that tomorrow's doctors can at least demonstrate some basic understanding of the relationships between foods and health.

With foods being the #1 cause of chronic disease, you would think medical schools might be interested in teaching something about nutrition, but thanks to the influence of the pharmaceutical industry (which has open-door access to medical schools these days), the schools remains steeped in teaching drugs, surgery and other strategies of western medicine that are now known to be almost universally useless, unproven, or extremely dangerous. Here's a fascinating fact: I've spent more than 4,000 hours studying nutrition and the relationships between foods and health. Most M.D.s, on the other hand, have spent as little as one hour learning about nutrition during their entire medical education. If you spent just ten hours reading the nutritional information found on this website, you will possess ten times the nutritional knowledge of most doctors!

So with most western doctors literally clueless about basic nutrition (that's not an exaggeration), we have a situation of the blind leading the blind: doctors have no way to teach patients how to make healthy food choices, since they don't know themselves! Interestingly, none of this has anything to do with the classic definition of illiteracy. These people can read just fine. They're smart people. They've just been denied a quality education by our nation's medical schools which simply refuse to teach future physicians about the true causes of health and disease. That's one reason why so much of organized medicine is a sham -- the system has no foundation in the true causes of disease and health. That's why prescription drugs fail in more than 90% of all patients and why simple lifestyle changes like diet and physical exercise outperform even the most expensive drugs by huge factors.

So what's the solution? Obviously, we need to start teaching doctors about nutrition. There's some progress in that area, and naturopathic physicians are of course already learning and teaching nutrition. Secondly, we need to ban all junk food advertising and, instead, start running public service announcements that teach people what foods and ingredients to avoid. Third, we need to teach the truth about nutrition, foods, disease and health in our nation's schools and universities, regardless of what Coca-Cola thinks about it. Finally, more people should read websites like this one where the truth about nutrition is presented without the political meddling of junk food companies.

Because we have all the information we need, right now, to be a society that's almost universally disease free. We can create a world with virtually no cancer, no diabetes, no heart disease and no mental illness. It's not a mystery. The answer is found in our food choice and exercise habits. Most people want to be healthy but they don't know how. This whole health care crisis we're experiencing today is nothing more than an information distribution challenge: if we get the truth about nutrition into the hands of the general public, people will make healthier choices. Disease rates will plummet. Health care costs will fall. Pharmaceutical companies will go bankrupt. This is a good thing, folks. This is what every modern society should aim for.

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About the author: Mike Adams is an award-winning journalist and holistic nutritionist with a mission to teach personal and planetary health to the public He has authored more than 1,800 articles and dozens of reports, guides and interviews on natural health topics, and he has published numerous courses on preparedness and survival, including financial preparedness, emergency food supplies, urban survival and tactical self-defense. Adams is an honest, independent journalist and accepts no money or commissions on the third-party products he writes about or the companies he promotes. In mid 2010, Adams produced, a natural health video sharing website offering user-generated videos on nutrition, green living, fitness and more. He also launched an online retailer of environmentally-friendly products ( and uses a portion of its profits to help fund non-profit endeavors. He's also a noted technology pioneer and founded a software company in 1993 that developed the HTML email newsletter software currently powering the NaturalNews subscriptions. Adams is currently the executive director of the Consumer Wellness Center, a 501(c)3 non-profit, and pursues hobbies such as martial arts, Capoeira, nature macrophotography and organic gardening. Known on the 'net as 'the Health Ranger,' Adams shares his ethics, mission statements and personal health statistics at

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