Survivor Bias and Diet Success
The health consequences of diet.
Success sells a lot of stuff. One of the easiest ways to convince someone to buy what you’re selling is by presenting a BEFORE and AFTER. Tell people to use your product, take your pills or subscribe to your program, and in a few short weeks, their life will be transformed. If their life resembles the BEFORE, just do what you did, and they’ll become the AFTER.
Often, that’s where the sales pitch ends. After watching the testimony of a successful person, people assume that everyone who does the same things will achieve the same results.
But that’s not how the real world works. That perfect outcome you see is the best possible option after ignoring or eliminating all the failures. It’s called survivor bias.
Because they survived the ordeal, we’re lead to believe that something they were doing was the secret. By sharing that secret, we can all be equally successful. When only stories of success are shared, that makes us feel good and gives us hope that we can do the same thing. It’s a comforting feeling, but it’s false.
What we don’t see are all the people who tried the very same thing but failed. Life is hard, and there are hundreds of things that can happen to screw it up. If someone fails, they’re not usually asked to share that with the world.
This video on survivor bias and World War II planes might help.
If you want to succeed, you need to minimize survivor bias.
First, recognize from the beginning that the reason you’re hearing or watching someone’s story is that they are unusual. They have achieved something that most people haven’t.
That means your chances of success, if you do what they did, probably aren’t that great. If it were easy, then everyone would have already done it.
Second, look for plans and programs backed by clinical research. My testimony of how things worked for me isn’t proof; it’s just me expressing my belief. Ask to see data that proves the claims. Here’s an example.
I don’t think anybody is surprised by the statement that a poor diet will cause poor health. There are decades of research showing what we eat can dramatically shorten our lives and degrade our quality of life. But how much of a difference does it make? And what are the key things that need to change?
In 2019 a study was published in The Lancet. Researchers looked at the health effects of diet in 195 countries from the years 1990 through 2017. The results were shocking.
The study concluded that in the year 2017 “dietary risks were responsible for 11 million deaths.” One out of five people around the world died an early death because of an unhealthy diet.
In first place was cardiovascular disease, followed by cancer and type 2 diabetes.
The study also measured something they called Disability Adjusted Life Years or DALYs. That number is how many years of healthy life were lost annually because of unhealthy diets. In 2017, the world lost a total of 255 million DALYs.
Researchers uncovered the three deadliest culprits and said this.
“High intake of sodium, low intake of whole grains, and low intake of fruits were the leading dietary risk factors for deaths and disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) globally and in many countries.”
Of the three, too much salt was responsible for more than half the deaths and two-thirds of the DALYs.
Now you have the facts, backed by research. The next step is to find a way to incorporate those healthier suggestions into your life. There isn’t just one correct answer. Your job is to try different ideas until you find what works for you.
If you need to reduce salt in your diet: Look for low-sodium versions of the things you already enjoy. Explore lower-sodium recipes. Try increasing other spices and testing salt alternatives. Don’t think of it as depriving yourself of something. Embrace it as an opportunity to try different things.
Remember, it might not work. That doesn’t mean you’re a failure; you’ve just figured out one of the strategies that don’t work for you. Fight survivor bias. Base your decisions on facts, not fancy presentations.
You can read the study, Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017, published in the April 03, 2019 issue of The Lancet .
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