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Eye-opener to health and well-being

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Have you ever picked up a magazine or book because of the promise of an easy way to lose 10 pounds by summer, or to get flat abs or a sexy behind in time for your winter vacation?

Ever wondered how the Human Genome Project might tell you about your genetic risk for heart disease? And have you ever taken a medication prescribed by your primary care provider after seeing an ad for it on TV?

If you answered "yes, of course," then this book is going to open your eyes and perhaps even give you a virtual kick to the solar plexus of your well-established beliefs about health and well-being.

Timothy Caulfield is an Edmonton-based scholar with both a professional and personal interest in health and fitness. His academic credentials are impressive.

He is a professor in the faculty of law and the school of public health at the University of Alberta and the recipient of a Canada research chair in health law and policy.

He has published numerous papers and book chapters, but this appears to be his first book. He is a self-described health and fitness nut (or nerd) who, in the research for this book, subjected himself to a strict eating regimen that would strike fear in the minds of most of us.

He endured a gruelling workout assessment with a celebrity fitness guru, had his genetic makeup analysed, and visited numerous alternative health practitioners in an attempt to find a cure for his severe motion sickness.

The result is an entertaining and thought-provoking exposé of many of the beliefs that some of us hold dear. Caulfield is firmly from the evidence camp of science and his writing is highly critical of the many and varied myths so abundantly promulgated by magazines, newspapers and self-help books.

His writing is clear and often amusing but some times a little dry. However, his experiences and the conclusions he draws will certainly challenge many of the assumptions and commonly held attitudes we all ascribe to.

This book will make you think about some of your actions, and if you talk about it to your family, they will challenge some of what Caulfield asserts.

For example, are you one of the hundreds and thousands who are doing yoga, hot or not? Well, give it up, if you think it's good for your health. According to Caulfield's critique, yoga is all about clever marketing.

And working your core muscles? You may as well just lie on the floor in your yoga pants and breathe for all the good that it does for you.

And most of the well-publicized diets won't help you lose weight. Only strict calorie restriction will do that.

Two criticisms of this book. Caulfield's sources are not always clearly linked to the text. References are provided by chapter at the end of the book, so it takes a little detective work to link them to statements in the text when he does not mention the author of a particular paper by name.

And his analysis of the role that Big Pharma plays in the prescribing practices of physicians is rather superficial.

But this is a good read that may change the way you view your daily latte or stroll around the track at the gym.

So if you're planning on losing 20 pounds by lake time, read this book first and save yourself a whole lot of frustration.


Anne Katz is a Winnipeg nurse and author and a newly born-again exerciser.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 28, 2012 J9

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