Preventive Medicine Column

Dr. David L. Katz

Ralph Cramden was the quintessential sucker. The Honeymooner’s character, brought indelibly to life by Jackie Gleason, was the inspiration for Fred Flintstone- another sucker- just as Ralph’s long-suffering wife, Alice, was the inspiration for Wilma. Ralph and Fred can teach us all something about health, wealth, and wisdom– or more specifically, neglect of the first, reverence for the second, and inconsistent application of the third.

More often than not, Ralph dragged his goofy best friend, Ed Norton, into get-rich-quick boondoggles.   We looked on and laughed as Ralph played the sucker, again and again.  Norton would get cajoled into the role of accomplice.  Alice would knowingly roll her eyes.

When it comes to health, we are a society of Ralph Cramdens and Fred Flintstones.  So either we are suckers, or we think health sucks. Either way, I am rolling my eyes.

Talk about money, and the whole world listens.  People with a reputation for having money stick to them wind up having the most people stick to them, and their every word, as well.

When it comes to money, get-there-quick schemes are the stuff of vintage sitcoms.  When it comes to weight loss, or health, however, get-there-quick schemes are the stuff of very current best-selling books, and mesmerizing infomercials.  They are fodder for national morning shows just about every morning.

Mainstream media handle wealth and health very differently.  There are hours of programming each day devoted to money management.  Some of this is just drama, of course, but mostly, these involve serious people talking about serious alternatives for investing, saving, and cultivating those hard-earned dollars. Almost none of the serious programming is about a magical formula for making millions in mere days.  If we treated wealth like health, that’s exactly what it would be.

In contrast, successful medical programming doesn’t tend to be about groups of experts discussing the various legitimate approaches to a given condition.  It tends, overwhelmingly, to feature the health equivalents of getting-rich-quick.

I recognize the risk here. I may sound as if I’m whining. But honestly, I’m doing fine. This isn’t about me, any more than it’s about Rodney Dangerfield.  Rodney and I share this space with folks way above our pay grade.

What do I mean?  Well, name five famous movie stars. Easy, right?  Name five prominent politicians.  No problem. Name five superstar athletes.  Piece of cake.  Name five really rich people.  A child could do it.

Now, name five Nobel laureates in medicine.  Take your time.  Chew on it.  Oh forget it-name two.  Oh, never mind-just Google it.

See what I mean?  We’re just not that into health- until it’s time to try and put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  And then, it’s not health that sucks after all – it’s the disappointing performance of the King’s men and horses.  We can put satellites into orbit, put people on the moon, and beam messages through cyberspace- but we can’t, even in 2013, unscramble an egg.

Perhaps we are all just suckers.  But in other matters, we seem quite sensible, and rational.  We take good care of our money.  If we are suckers, we are suckers selectively.  We seem to turn off our common sense only when our lives are on the line.  We are patient, and diligent, and wise about wealthy, but healthy– not so much.

We could manage our weight and our health with at least as great and reliable a ROI as we can get by managing our money.  We could, if we chose to use what we know, eliminate 80% of our lifetime risk of chronic disease. If we treated wealth like health, most of us would passively anticipate bankruptcy at midlife as a rite of passage, and then deal with the consequences.  Heart disease and diabetes are more preventable than bankruptcy- but millions upon millions get them anyway. That’s a little odd.

Ralph and Fred never did get rich, quickly or otherwise.  I’ve seen enough patients in dire straits over 20 years to know that health eventually is a priority for everyone, even if only after it’s gone.  My wealthiest patients would give their last dollar to get back the health they lost.

My advice?  End the honeymoon with get-healthy-quick nonsense.  Laugh at Ralph and Fred, but take health seriously.  As with wealth, it’s a lifelong commitment and thoughtful investing that really pays over time.  Suck it up, and deal with it.




Dr. David L. Katz;