I recently watched a special news report about John McCain leading the charge towards making legislative earmarks illegal. The Economist defines earmarks this way:

Earmarks, for the uninitiated, are spending projects that are directly requested by individual members of Congress and are not subject to competitive bidding.

Most Americans are rightly upset about the practice of slipping pet projects into larger, well-vetted, and consensus-built legislative initiatives. They know instinctively that it’s morally wrong to sneak in personal favors and appropriate tax payer dollars to special interest groups without allowing others to weigh in. I certainly hope that McCain and his peers will succeed in discontinuing this corrupt practice.

Coincidentally, just after I watched this news report about earmarks, I went online to catch up on my blog reading. The first post I encountered made reference to an opinion piece written by Deepak Chopra, Andrew Weil, Dean Ornish, and Rustum Roy in the Wall Street Journal. Chopra et al. were asking Americans to redouble their efforts to adopt healthy lifestyles (including wholesome diets and regular physical activity) as a means to promote good health and avoid disease. At the end of the article they slipped in a plea for President-elect Obama to consider integrating alternative medicine practices (which included everything from healthy diet to meditation and acupuncture) into a government-sponsored approach to health.

Obviously, healthy eating and regular exercise is sound health advice – and an approach that mainstream medicine has been promoting for decades (well, technically millennia). What irks me is that they seem to suggest that this is “alternative medicine” that they (without help from the medical establishment) are fighting hard to have it included (or integrated) into general practice.

There is nothing “alternative” about healthy diet and exercise. This is mainstream, science-based medicine. The problem with Chopra et al. is that they argue for obviously healthy behaviors and then integrate them with placebos  in some kind of guru’s proprietary recipe for good health.

Why not promote what has been shown to work – healthy diet and regular exercise – and leave out the placebo treatments? Why must “good health” be inexorably linked to specific culture-based practices? Why should people feel pressured to practice yoga, distract themselves by sticking needles in their ears, or participate in Eastern meditation to be well?

As I’ve argued before, we need to disintegrate integrative medicine, and adopt practices based on their individual scientific merits. Adding unproven (and in many cases, disproved) alternative medicine practices into science-based medicine is no different than accepting earmarks in legislative spending. As we anticipate lean times in healthcare, we must carefully consider the evidence for improved outcomes of every potential treatment we fund with our tax dollars, including expensive devices and procedures. Therapies like energy healing, homeopathy, meditation and acupuncture should not be “slipped in” to a government-sponsored approach to wellness without being fully vetted by the scientific medical community.

I can only hope that influential people in Washington will connect the dots between earmarking and certain alternative medicine practices, and say “No!” to both.

Posted by Val Jones

Val Jones , M.D., is the President and CEO of Better Health, PLLC, a health education company devoted to providing scientifically accurate health information to consumers. Most recently she was the Senior Medical Director of Revolution Health, a consumer health portal with over 120 million page views per month in its network. Prior to her work with Revolution Health, Dr. Jones served as the founding editor of Clinical Nutrition & Obesity, a peer-reviewed e-section of the online Medscape medical journal. Dr. Jones is also a consultant for Elsevier Science, ensuring the medical accuracy of First Consult, a decision support tool for physicians. Dr. Jones was the principal investigator of several clinical trials relating to sleep, diabetes and metabolism, and she won first place in the Peter Cyrus Rizzo III research competition. Dr. Jones is the author of the popular blog, “Dr. Val and the Voice of Reason,” which won The Best New Medical Blog award in 2007. Her cartoons have been featured at Medscape, the P&S Journal, and the Placebo Journal. She was inducted as a member of the National Press Club in Washington , DC in July, 2008. Dr. Jones has been quoted by various major media outlets, including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and the LA Times. She has been a guest on over 20 different radio shows, and was featured on CBS News.

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