Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Book Review: Getting What We Deserve

Getting What We Deserve: Health and Medical Care in America
Alfred Sommer
Non-Fiction/ Health

Did you know that deaths from measles largely disappeared from the United States before the vaccine was available? The rate had declined by 95% before the vaccine was introduced in 1965.

After the 1930's, with the exception of the Great Depression, housing conditions and food supplies had improved such that children were less likely to suffer serious complications from infection. A similar trend occured with tuberculosis. Dr. Alfred Sommer, former dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, begins his book with this observation.

As an epidemiologist, Dr. Sommer focuses on the big picture in healthcare. His primary point is that the basics of good health are quite simple: eat a balanced, low-fat, low-salt, low-calorie diet; get plenty of exercise; and don't smoke. He has a few other suggestions, but I'll let you read the book to learn those. Technology and medical innovation can be useful, but they can never substitute for the basics.

Dr. Sommer also warns about paying too much attention to observational medical studies, of the type that say one day that coffee is bad for you and then that coffee is good for you. The real test is a randomized clinical trial, otherwise the researchers may not be accounting for relevant variables.

While the current healthcare debate goes on, I find Dr. Sommer's take rather refreshing. I'm not denying that there are serious issues needing improvement with our healthcare system, but I think it is helpful to step back and remember how far we have come.

Did you know that in all of human history only one disease has been completely eliminated? Do you know what that disease is and when it was eradicated?

Answer: Smallpox. The world was declared smallpox-free only in 1980.

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