WebMD produces a daily E-newsletter called Inside WebMD. Targeted to laypersons, it’s free and informative with tips that help readers recognize, understand and deal with common medical issues.
However, the December 18 edition contained a piece about lifestyle that illuminates a common problem when doctor organizations promote healthy behaviors. Doing so, of course, is a grand idea that should be applauded, but doctors seem to have a hard time releasing responsibility to patients. In fact, they sometimes inadvertently tether patients to a parent/child relationship when they describe exercise, nutritious food choices and other health-enhancing activities as medicine. Let me offer an example.
WebMD’s prevention article contained the following:
1. Lifestyle medicine is an evidence-based approach to treat, reverse, and prevent chronic disease by addressing the root causes, including diet, exercise, sleep and social support. Health professionals trained in lifestyle medicine will write specific prescriptions for exercise and diet, along with medication.
2. WebMD! Here’s a bit of breaking news: a wellness lifestyle is not lifestyle medicine. There is nothing medical or medicinal about it. Skills and behaviors associated with reason, exuberance, exercise and nutrition (athleticism) and personal freedoms (liberty) need not be tied to, approved by or under the supervision of medical personnel. Furthermore, we do not need prescriptions, specific or otherwise, from doctors or anyone else for exercise and diet.
Prevention is good and life enrichment is even better. Doctors (and medical organizations) can and should promote both, but the latter is independent of matters medical.
By linking lifestyle with medical care, WebMD shifts some responsibility to caregivers, when in fact healthy lifestyles are sustained by a conviction that it is up to us consumers to make daily choices that enable and sustain wellbeing. Medical doctors and all manner of experts can provide advice and care, but a healthy lifestyle must be a passion, a personal commitment and a rewarding source of satisfaction to the individual. Lifestyle is no more a medicine than medicine is a lifestyle.
Of course, WebMD is not the first group to bandy about the oxymoronic phrase lifestyle medicine. Over the course of several decades, I’ve seen it many times and, on a few occasions, convinced well-meaning offenders to choose a more appropriate, non-dysfunctional description of doctor support for healthy exercise, diet and other choices.
Even Wikipedia acknowledges the phrase, noting that it is a branch of medicine dealing with research, prevention and treatment of disorders caused by lifestyle factors. That is something entirely different, however, from the WebMD usage of lifestyle medicine. Coaching and supporting people on better ways to shop for and cook healthy food should be part of medical practice; asserting that it is the role of medical practitioners is taking a good thing to another level that benefits neither doctor nor client.
In summary, WebMD needs a new catch phrase for its interest or involvement in promoting healthy habits and practices.