Spending your life in human body is—among other things—a risky endeavor. So much can go wrong. Cells can misbehave and start growing into tumors. Arteries can narrow until blood can no longer flow through them. Brain cells can start to shrink and die. Immune cells can start to attack our own tissues. Reproductive organs can stubbornly refuse to do their jobs.
If we could just figure out what factors lead to or contribute to these unfortunate developments, perhaps we could prevent them. Accordingly, society spends billions of dollars and medical researchers devote their lives in an attempt to find the factors that cause disease. And we consumers hang on every press release and pronouncement, always looking for that pill or program that will allow us to cross whatever scary thing we’re most anxious about off our worry list.
Our understandable desire to avoid disease and disability, coupled with the need for researchers to publicize and fund their work, has given rise to something I call the Disease Proofing Myth.