The real truth about cause-and-effect claims and hard health outcomes

“Will Green tea make you live longer?”


“Is sitting down bad for you?”


“Will exercising less make you fat?”


I get a lot of these kinds of questions… and maybe you have even wondered about the answers to these types of questions from time to time too?


There is a common issue with a lot of these queries though – a problem which I believe is rooted in the health product marketing we’re bombarded with every day.


The problem with these types of questions isn’t so much the items in question, but rather the thought process they’re wrapped around. 


It’s the mentality that getting a grip on your health is all about cause-and-effect between isolated things, with little or no regard for the context. 


What do I mean by this?


There are several common problems with cause-and-effect statements – here are just a few:


Correlation vs. Causation

Just because two things happen at the same time, it doesn’t mean that one causes the other. For instance, there is a correlation between nutrient supplementation and improved health outcomes. However, people who take supplements, usually have other healthy habits that contribute to better health outcomes as well.


Reverse Causation

Even if there is a cause-and-effect relationship between two things, it’s not always just one way, and often the effect can also be the cause. For instance, is it because a person is exercising less that they’re fatter? Or is it because they’re fatter that they’re exercising less? 


Confounding Variables

Another issue to consider is other variables. To give you an example, let’s say you collect data on fat gain and movie watching. It would be easy to show that longer and more frequent movie watching is associated with a higher probability of fat gain, and therefore watching movies makes you fat! …That’s unless you account for the proclivity that most people have to throw crappy food down their neck when in front of a movie screen.


As you can now see, very rarely are solutions to problems so cut and dry, and fixed by one or two simple interventions (especially when it comes to your health).


Instead, there is a complex interplay of many different factors that determine a person’s overall health status, and you would be better served considering the multiple components in the overall context.


Don’t fall into the trap of believing the simplistic cause-and-effect health claims of products that are pushed at your eyeballs…and/or blasted into your ear holes!


Be on your guard and always remember that some vigilance and critical thinking can take you a long way.


I hope that this figurative face slap has given you answers to some purported “simple solutions” that have been pushed into your brain. 


Oh, and will “green tea will make you live longer?”- no it F-ing won’t!


– Michael

Health Claim Heathen

P.S. What are some common cause-and-effect health claims you are you unsure about right now? Send me a message (via the box below) and let me know – I will be happy to unpack them for you 😊