If Americans might be expected to jump to conclusions in one particular area, it’s health. We are a nation, after all, that legitimized “8 Minute Abs” and created a near-infinite list of everyday objects that increase the risk for cancer, all the while sinking deeper and deeper into our own obesity epidemic. Given the public’s familiarity with “fake news” and the sheer volume of health information available today, it can be nearly impossible to discern fact from fiction. That said, some people proved more gullible than others when it came to believing the health information they read.
We showed over 1,000 Americans a list of myths and several facts (all confirmed as such by at least three reputable sources) and asked them to select the statements they believed to be true. For the purposes of our study below, we only visualized the myths. We also talked to health professionals about the potential consequences of believing particular health claims. Continue scrolling to see if you’re unknowingly buying into the same health myths as some of the people in your demographic.
Human Health Perceptions
All myths studied were broken into five health-related categories: medicine, nutrition, fitness, sex, and miscellaneous. Overall, Americans bought into nutrition myths more easily than any other health category. In fact, it was the only one of the five health categories studied in which more than half of our respondents believed one or multiple health myths to be true.
Americans proved unknowledgeable in other areas as well, with as much as 5 percent or more believing in at least one myth from the sex, fitness, and medicine categories. Sitting close to the TV will negatively affect your eyesight? Not true, but only a little more than half of the respondents got that one right. Do people only use 10 percent of their brain? Not true. And where does the myth that our hair and fingernails continue to grow after death even come from? Nearly a third of participants believed that one too.
While pinpointing the exact origin of a myth may not always be feasible, we were able to see which demographics were the most susceptible to these claims.
The most widely believed medical fallacy across the demographics studied – gender and generation – was that people used just 10 percent of their brain. Neurologist Barry Gordon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine calls this myth “laughable.” Instead, Gordon insists, “We use virtually every part of the brain.” Of our generational respondents, baby boomers and Gen Xers were the most likely to buy into the notion of this 10 percent rule. Women were also more likely than men to believe this idea.
The Face of Fitness
Committing to an exercise regimen is difficult enough, but that effort is compounded when you’re under the impression you should work out every single day. While this is not only time-consuming and unsustainable but also it can prevent you from replenishing your energy and repairing important muscle fibers. Women and millennials bought most of this popular myth, with 19 percent of each believing good health necessitated a daily gym presence.
Frequency wasn’t the only bar Americans set too high for themselves: Intensity and maintenance also presented unrealistic expectations. Thirty-two percent of Gen Xers and 29 percent of women felt their muscle would somehow convert into fat if they paused their fitness regimen at any point. The truth is, muscle and fat are entirely different tissue types, neither of which are interchangeable. Men and millennials were the most likely to believe a workout was only successful if muscle soreness occurred the next day, but soreness can be a poor or false indicator of a workout’s benefits.
The Subtleties of Sex
Sexual fallacies can be an example of a Catch-22: Not knowing whether these statements are false may lead to an STD or pregnancy, yet the topic of sex can be a difficult or awkward discussion, demotivating the search for truth. In other words, not knowing the answer can create serious health concerns, while finding the answer can be too awkward and confusing of a pursuit for many.
One concerning example is the fact that men were the most likely to believe women couldn’t get pregnant while on their period. While it is less likely for a woman to become pregnant during this particular time in her cycle, it is certainly not impossible. Buying into this myth has the potential to reroute your entire life with a single sexual encounter.
On a lighter and more inconsequential note, 40 percent of millennials deemed chocolate to be an aphrodisiac. The Mayo Clinic, however, says there is very little evidence to support this claim. That said, there is no harm in experimenting with foods in this way, so bon appétit!
Difficulty of the Diet
America is no stranger to diet fads and nutritional advice, many of which come from completely unsubstantiated sources. What would Thanksgiving be without somebody claiming they’re sleepy after a meal with so much turkey? It’s probably the carbohydrates and alcohol putting you to bed, however. Perhaps the person you recall making this statement was your mother, as 61 percent of women thought the chemical tryptophan found in turkey was a sleep inducer.
Another popular (and incorrect) piece of nutrition advice was the notion that everybody, regardless of height, weight, and diet, should drink eight glasses of water per day. The reality – that optimal water consumption varies from one person to the next – sounds more reasonable. We reached out to Dr. Jake Hyde, a doctor of chiropractic medicine and a board-certified holistic health care practitioner. Dr. Hyde said, “Overhydration could cause serious health issues, just as dehydration can.”
On the off chance you needed an additional reason to watch more TV, here you have it: Sitting close to the screen will not cause poor eyesight. However, it may cause eyestrain. In all likelihood, there are probably things more deserving of our concern, such as the fact that more than half of women believed their menstrual cycles synced up while living together for an extended period. While it’s not uncommon for cycles to coincidentally overlap, living together does not encourage this to happen.
In another example, your hair and nails will not continue to grow after you die. Over a third or more of baby boomers and Gen Xers thought this was true.
After compiling all demographic averages, an interesting dynamic revealed itself: Across all health categories, Gen Xers bought into health myths more readily than any other generation or gender. People in this category believed 27 percent of myths, on average, while baby boomers believed only 22 percent. Gender played a slightly smaller role in overall willingness to believe. On average, men believed 24 percent of the myths presented, while women believed in 26 percent.
You and Your Health
Continuing on your quest for good health is important. Considering the inundation of information Americans deal with on a daily basis, this may not always be the easiest task. That said, try not to outsmart common sense when it comes to most health concerns. And more importantly, don’t beat yourself up if you believed any of the myths presented in this study.
In addition to utilizing common sense, try to exercise regularly, eat as healthy as you can, and plan for a medically supported future. Of course, take each new health claim you stumble upon with a grain of salt. Just because you’ve heard or seen it multiple times, doesn’t make it true.
We compiled a list of nearly 50 statements regarding health – some true and some false. We then asked 1,006 Americans whether they believed each statement to be true. Only focusing on the statements that were confirmed as myths by at least three reputable sources, we began to highlight the various demographics of respondents that bought into specific categories of myths the most often. The main limitation with this project is that various reputable sources disagree over the myths and facts.
Of the total 1,006 respondents, 51.8% were male, 47.7% were female, and 0.5% identified as a gender not listed in our study. Participants ranged in age from 19 to 76 with an average of 37 and a standard deviation of 11.2.
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