Fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy said, “The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic… Mythology distracts us everywhere.” Although President Kennedy was not referring to medical myths, his comment applies every bit as much to health information because medical myths are abundant and compromise so many aspects of our lives.
Are medical myths really that common? And, do they really pose a risk to someone’s health or safety? Although no one reading this essay really believes that if you swallow a watermelon seed, a watermelon will grow in your belly, or that if you cross your eyes, they will get stuck that way forever, these are the exceptions to the rule. There are so many more medical myths that not only appear credible but are embraced not just by the public, but also by doctors and other health professionals.
I offer myself as a prime example. Despite being a well-trained pediatrician, I have discovered in recent years that many of the “popular truths” that I have believed to be true are indeed false. When my own children were younger (and I was not as smart about myths), I insisted they wait 30 minutes after eating before they could go swimming. (Don’t tell my kids that I denied them hours of water play each summer!) I also remember taking a bandage off my daughter’s scrape, assuring her that it would heal better if exposed to air at night! (Wrong again!)
Nutrition and Diet Myths
- Myth: Frozen vegetables are not as good as fresh vegetables. Truth: Many nutrients degrade over time during shipping; freezing is often done right after picking.
- Myth: Eating carrots will improve your vision. Truth: Carrots have vitamin A, and a deficiency of this vitamin can result in “night blindness.” However, vitamin A deficiency is exceedingly rare in the United States.
- Myth: You are more likely to gain weight if you eat at night. Truth: Calories are calories!