Saturday, March 17, 2012

It Must Be True I Saw it on TV: Health Myths and Facts

Healthy solutions have become more accessible today because of the internet and the popularity of many doctors on TV. Americans are more aware of obesity, heart disease, and other important conditions because of national TV doctors. However, in recent years I have seen an increase in patients coming to me with bizarre questions that they've heard from watching the latest doctor show, such as: Can I flush out my kidneys by drinking water? Can I get arthritis from cracking my knuckles? What can I eat to stop breaking out?

Recently, some health headlines have raised ratings, but they have also raised questions about foods and drinks that we've enjoyed for a lifetime, and criticized the use of every day household products. But before you throw away all the products in your house it's important to decipher fact from fiction. As a physician who sees patients every day, I wanted to provide perspective on some hot button issues in the headlines lately that I've been asked about by patients.

1. Is there a secret diet, formula or supplement to lose weight?
No, there's actually no secret to weight loss. There is no magic bullet, special diet or fancy formula to take off pounds. I, along with many health experts, believe that weight gain is the result of an imbalance of energy- too many calories consumed versus those expended. As a doctor in Louisiana, which has an adult obesity rate of 31%, it is my personal responsibility to encourage people to eat a balanced diet and exercise. As "Tha Hip Hop Doc" I use music and medicine to encourage our youth to make healthy choices and embrace active lifestyles. I know there are a lot of factors that influence weight gain such as genetics, stress, and lack of education, but we need to emphasize the importance of portion control, healthy choices, and regular physical activity to control weight. A "secret" weapon won't do this for us.

2. Is juice safe to drink?
Yes. Orange juice and apple juice are completely safe. As a father of a beautiful six-year-old daughter, I understand the importance of knowing what's in your kids' foods and drinks. But, recently some TV docs have caused panic, alleging that your morning glass contains everything from arsenic to fungicide. As my daughter would say "eew!" But, it is important to remember that while these claims make for dramatic television, these shows can also distort the truth and sometimes cause unnecessary fear. After all, our food supply is strictly regulated by the FDA; since when have TV doctors trumped government regulation?
In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tests finished juice and produce for contaminants and when foods are unsafe they issue alerts or recalls. The FDA has said that juice is safe, and people can keep drinking it. For kids like my daughter, a glass of juice is one more option to get fruit, including vitamin C, folic acid and potassium into her day.

3. Are my supplements spiked? Should I stop taking my daily vitamins?
Supplements are safe. For millions of Americans vitamin supplements help them get adequate amounts of vitamin nutrients they need, especially if they are not eating a balanced diet. For example, many people don't get enough vitamin D - and while spending more time in the sun is optimal, most Americans need to be indoors for their jobs. Therefore, vitamin D supplements offer a great way for people to achieve the levels they need. Furthermore, like foods and beverages, these supplements are highly regulated by the FDA and are safe to consume.

4. Does diet soda make you fat?
No, diet soda does not make you fat. I know overweight and obesity are huge problems, but again it comes down to calorie balance. There are tools, such as no-sugar foods and drinks, to help people enjoy their lives and manage their health, including diet soda. I haven't seen a single study that has shown a direct link between diet soda consumption and weight gain. Furthermore, a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that diet soda consumption effected the accumulation of excess fat similar to water.

As a doctor, it's my personal responsibility to give the best medical advice that I can. My patients trust me, and it is my duty to warn them that general medical counsel broadcasted to millions of people may not be right for any one individual. Instead of going to your TV for medical advice, I urge people to bring concerns directly to their doctor, who can present patients with the best personalized options. If you have concerns, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Your physician will know your personal history and tailor advice that is best for you.

Dr. Rani .G Whitfield is a board certified family physician, currently in private practice in Baton Rouge, LA. Dr. Whitfield, is also known as Tha Hip Hop Doc, using hip-hop music as an avenue to educate teens and young adults on health issues. He is also the health consultant for several organizations including The Coca-Cola Company, The Grio, and medical director for the National Association of Free Clinics, who provide to uninsured and under insured patients.

An Open Letter to Parents: Leave A Legacy of Health Not Just Wealth

The current state of our economy has raised questions about whether today's kids will be better or worse off than their parents. But, as a physician and father, I question whether they will be healthy enough to even live longer than their parents. Today, more physicians than ever are treating children for "adult" diseases like diabetes, hypertension and even heart disease. So, we should be equally concerned about the future of their health as we are about their wealth.

This Black History Month and Heart Health Month, I decided to write an open letter to African American parents, urging you to start a family legacy of good health. The future of our children depends on it.

It's no secret that heart disease, obesity and diabetes are taking a toll on our families and our communities at a rate higher than any other ethnic group in the country. And it is mostly preventable. As a father to a six-year-old, I know "Do as I say, not as I do" doesn't work when kids are watching and mimicking your every move. Therefore, as parents, we have to take the first steps toward building a healthy, active lifestyle for ourselves with hopes that our kids will "do as we do."

Contrary to what you might think, taking those steps doesn't mean cutting out the things you enjoy - doing that can actually lead to weight gain. To be honest, I'm not giving up my favorite foods and beverages, and neither should you. It's really about making better decisions. If you use two sticks of butter in your famous peach cobbler, use one or a healthier butter substitute. If you use salt pork in collard greens, try smoked turkey instead. Or, if you love soda, try a low- or no-calorie version or drink from a smaller cup.

Another problem I often see in my practice is the idea that kids need to "clean their plate." This was once a good rule, but now that we are feeding our children adult-sized portions, it can be dangerous. With my daughter, I allow her to decide when she's full - clean plate or not - because kids are good at saying when they've had enough. So, next time you sit down to dinner, put a little less on your child's plate and listen when they tell you they're full. It might also help you rethink the amount on your plate, too.

Lastly, family time shouldn't only be TV time. Get up and be active together. If your kids are jumping around with their Wii game, join them. If they're playing tag in the backyard, be "it." One thing I love to do with my daughter is dance because it's good exercise and lets us be silly together. Leaving a legacy of good health doesn't have to be serious and boring, so have fun with it.

This isn't a letter of "shoulda, coulda, wouldas" because I understand food is a cultural and satisfying experience. Rather, it is a challenge for you to take inventory of your family's health habits and make small adjustments that could bring about big changes. Studies show that just a small weight loss can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.

So this month and year round I'm taking a pledge, and I hope you will too: I pledge to leave my daughter with better health habits than the generation before her. I will leave her with less risk for heart disease, diabetes and obesity. I will be active for her and with her. And I will make decisions that set her on the path to good health for the rest of her life.

Good luck creating your family's good health legacy for this generation and the next.

Dr. Rani G. Whitfield, known best as "Tha Hip Hop Doc," is a board certified family physician with a private practice in Baton Rouge. He uses hip-hop music to educate teens and young adults on health issues and is a consultant for several organizations including The Coca-Cola Company. He can be reached at

Also Published on: The New People Newspaper Online