Face the Facts to Save Your Health

Face the Facts to Save Your Health

Our experts set the record straight on common misconceptions about your health—and share how you can stay better informed.

We’ve had a lot of inquiries recently from folks asking why people believe falsehoods about their health and how to protect it when actual facts are staring them squarely in the face. We think that’s important because it has such a profound effect on individual lives, on overall public health and on the economic well-being of people and the nation.

First, let’s look at two common misconceptions that an alarming number of folks seem to accept or advocate: 1) Vaccinations are dangerous; 2) There is no such thing as climate change (whether man-made or natural or both) and it has no health repercussions.

The chance of experiencing a serious side effect from vaccination versus the benefit it provides (avoiding serious illness and death) is 1: 40,000! Clearly, the benefits of getting a vaccination are enormous.

Before the polio vaccine: 15,000 cases of paralysis annually in the US.

After: No polio cases have originated in the US since 1979.

Before the pertussis vaccine: From 1940 through 1945, more than 1 million cases of pertussis (whooping cough) were reported, with many deaths.

After: Cases have been reduced by 80 percent; deaths by 99 percent.

Not getting vaccinated doesn’t just affect you: People who cannot be vaccinated for legit medical reasons, such as getting chemotherapy (that’s a lot of people!), can be at mortal risk for infection with flu, for example, if people around them skip immunization. And the economic cost of unvaccinated adults in the US: $7.1 billion a year, according to a 2016 study out of the University of North Carolina.

The same kind of fact-suppressing dynamic surrounds the subject of climate change (whatever the cause). A Pew survey showed that 39 percent of Americans do not believe that climate scientists provide full and accurate information about the changing environment. But ignoring the data will not prevent floods, increasingly severe storms, rising temperature, fires or drought. The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment, put out in 2016 by U.S. Global Change Research Program (, gives in-depth evidence for far-reaching health problems, from mental illness to heart disease, asthma and heatstroke caused by climate-change-related air pollution, disease from ticks and mosquitoes, water-related illnesses, and problems with food production, distribution and safety.

Why do folks disregard the evidence?
When people choose to deny health-related facts, there’s usually an element of anger and fear involved. That triggers chronic elevation of stress hormones—cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine—that can damage blood vessels and arteries, increase blood pressure and raise the risk of heart attack and stroke. In addition, chronic stress affects the brain: The mind’s center for logical thinking, the amygdala, gets overwhelmed, and irrational emotions can take over.

We suggest that the impulse to ignore clear facts comes about when you feel there’s nothing you can do to improve a situation or to make yourself healthier. You give up the battle to attain a healthy weight, avoid or reverse type 2 diabetes, reduce your town’s carbon footprint, use less plastic—you name it—because it seems hopeless. But it’s not! You can make a huge difference in your own health, in your community’s well-being and in the economic future of the USA.

The best way to defuse fear and anger: find the facts for yourself

  • Keep in mind coincidences are not correlations or causes—just because a six-year-old is diagnosed with autism after receiving vaccinations doesn’t mean they were the cause, any more than being diagnosed after eating brown rice would serve as evidence!
  • Take the time to look at studies and read articles from experts. Go to the source—don’t play telephone with the facts.

And remember—when you battle back against distrust and discouragement in yourself, you stop the chronic fight-or-flight response to a threat, whether real or perceived. And that helps restore clearer thought and prevent disease.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

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