Great need to apply public health filter in health and wellness news coverage

by Josh Sosland
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Among the many failings of how health and nutrition are addressed in the media and by public policy makers, the difference between "me" and "we" may be the greatest.

Newspapers and television broadcasts are full of guidance about ways to improve health through nutrition or exercise. But more often than not, the guidance offers an approach benefiting an individual but with no possibility of helping the broad public.

A recent Wall Street Journal article on "Flu Fighters — In Your Food," suggested that readers could raise their selenium intake by eating more Brazil nuts and vitamin A intake by eating more pumpkin. If higher intake of selenium is needed, it’s clear the source will not be Brazil nuts. The U.S. Department of Agriculture tracks consumption of Brazil nuts as part of a miscellaneous "other nuts" category that includes cashews, chestnuts, mixed nuts and pignolias. Per capita annual consumption of the group was 1.06 lbs in 2007, suggesting Brazil nuts intake at a small fraction of 1 lb. A consumer would need to consume 5 lbs of Brazil nuts each year, spread over the year, for adequate selenium intake, meaning intake exceeding 1,500 million lbs nationwide, a prospect too silly to consider.

"Experts" constantly offer advice involving serious public health issues ranging from flu to obesity with utterly impractical "solutions" when it comes to "moving the needle" nationally. Grain-based foods often are at the heart of such guidance, with whole wheat a strong case in point (currently accounting for less than 5% of wheat intake but the centerpiece of many dietary recommendations). Grain-based foods should have a role in addressing the health issues plaguing our nation, but this potential will be fulfilled only when a true "public health" filter is applied to possible solutions.

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