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Gupta: Meds can't cure poor lifestyle

| Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta is best known for his work with the CNN television news network, where he serves as chief medical correspondent.

Gupta, 43, is an assistant professor of neurosurgery and a practicing trauma neurosurgeon at Emory University's Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

Since joining CNN in 2001 as part of the team reporting on events surrounding 9/11, Gupta has become a high-profile media figure on health, the medical arena and a broad range of health-related issues. In addition to his regular TV reporting, Gupta hosts the weekend medical-affairs program “House Call With Dr. Sanjay Gupta.”

He shared his thoughts on a variety of health issues.

Question: Why do Americans struggle so much with obesity?

Answer: The health illiteracy rate in our country is higher than people realize. There is no single answer. It is beyond “eat less, exercise more” — that is not a bad message; it is just not complete. Not all calories are the same, for example, and this has meaning for weight loss.

Not all exercise has equal benefit either. Intense exercise in the morning, for example, and getting your heart rate over a certain level can actually be damaging as opposed to beneficial.

Q: What are the biggest misconceptions about American medicine today?

Answer: We've done such a good job at some things — heart research and cancer, for example, and childhood leukemia, which used to lead to imminent fatality; today survival rates of some forms are up into the 90th percentile.

In some ways, I think people can think they can live careless lifestyles (regarding diet, exercise, risky sexual behavior) and count on medicine to reverse or take care of these things. It just doesn't work that way.

By 2020, it is estimated that more than half the country will be pre-diabetic or diabetic. The health care system will not be able to handle the surge of patients.

Q: What do we need to get better at regarding our own health care?

Answer: With medicine and health, many people seem so willing to hand off the decision-making to others. You learn more about your schools and your supermarkets than your hospitals. Many don't research hospital emergency rooms in their community in advance of ever having to make that visit. People may not know capability of facilities in their community.

It really comes down to being engaged.

Q: What are some good online sources that you feel comfortable recommending?

Answer: There is good information found online. EverydayHealth.com, Mayoclinic.com, and www.cnn.com/HEALTH/ are good examples.

One caution I offer, however, is that people often go searching for information that will validate their opinion. Given the vast array of information out there, they'll likely find that, and the information may contradict what they are told by their doctor. It could be good information, but it may not be. I really suggest caution.

Michael J. Solender is a staff writer for The Charlotte Observer.

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