Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Post-Holiday Health Quiz


Test your medical knowledge with the following true/false questions:

1. sugar causes hyperactivity in children

2. suicides increase over the holidays

3. poinsettias are a poisonous plant

4. a large fraction of body heat is lost through the head

5. nocturnal feasting makes you fat

6. there are ways to prevent or cure a hangover

7. you should drink at least 8 glasses of water a day

8. we only use 10% of our brains

9. hair and fingernails continue to grow after death

10. shaving hair causes it to grow back faster, darker or coarser

11. reading in dim light ruins your eyesight

12. eating turkey makes people especially drowsy

13. mobile phones cause considerable electromagnetic interference in hospitals

Done? Grading should be easy, since all 13 questions are almost certainly false. While some of these myths lack sufficient evidence to confirm them, others have been well-studied and proven wrong.

I answered a number of these questions as true, but hey -- I'm a radiologist -- what do I know about clinical medicine? My pediatrician spouse also missed a few, but fared better than I did.

These questions were compiled and researched by Rachel Vreeman and Aaron Carroll, pediatric researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Their results [1, 2] are freely available on the British Medical Journal site, and make for a fun read. I especially enjoyed reading about the questions I got wrong.

The authors conclude:
Physicians would do well to understand the evidence supporting their medical decision making. They should at least recognise when their practice is based on tradition, anecdote, or art. While belief in the described myths is unlikely to cause harm, recommending medical treatment for which there is little evidence certainly can. Speaking from a position of authority, as physicians do, requires constant evaluation of the validity of our knowledge.
For extra points, try some of these questions out on your friends -- better yet, on your doctor.

(via Freakonomics)

1. BMJ 2007;335:1288-1289
2. BMJ 2008;337:a2769


Zorg said...

They're not ALL false! For example, nocturnal feasting does make you fat. So does diurnal feasting. And preprandial feasting, post-prandial feasting, and of course, the ever-favorite prandial feasting.

Bottom line: feasting makes you fat, no matter when you're doing it. Adding an adjective like "nocturnal" doesn't make a true statement into a false one.

And that one about losing a "large fraction" of your body heat through your head? Well, it appears that you can lose about 10% of your body heat through the uncovered head. Is that a "large fraction"? What IS "large" anyway?

Okay, I'm devolving into idle silliness now. I'll stop.

The Samurai Radiologist said...

@ zorg:

Points well taken. I clearly sacrificed clarity in the interests of brevity in several cases.

It would be well worth your time to click through to the original BMJ articles, which are more prolix and more precise in their definitions regarding these myths.

You're quite right about feasting anytime making one fat. The point that I obfuscated in the name of brevity was that nocturnal is no worse than any other time.

Likewise, one can certainly lose heat through one's head. However, one doesn't lose proportionately more heat from the head than from other body parts.

Zorg said...

Ah, I see that my rhetorical skills are lacking as I completely failed to convey the fact that I was being a bit facetious and silly with my remarks.

In fact, I am (and was) familiar with the original article, having read it when first released. My goal was to poke gentle fun at the myths more than to challenge the actual science.

Back to remedial humor writing 101!

Zorg said...

And more silliness ... if someone really did lose a disproportionate amount of heat from their head, it could make for an interesting new superhero. The hapless fellow would have to wear a specially insulated hat most of the time, and when he wanted to say, melt some ice cubes or cut his way into the frozen Fortress of Solitude, he'd just remove his hat and bow toward his target. This would cause his head to focus the infrared radiation at his target.

I'd call him something like Hothead.

Silly mode OFF.

The Samurai Radiologist said...

@ zorg:

Fear not, your rhetorical skills are intact, and your humor mode was quite evident to me.

However, the best humor also has is based in reality. You caught me in a few spots where I pared things down a bit too far, and I appreciate the feedback.

Your superhero speculations are also welcome. Hothead would be welcome at a lot more parties than a superhero with his powers located elsewhere, such as his butt.