“Shit Happens”, says Norwegian Doctor


Norwegian medical doctor Ståle Fredriksen offers a refreshing perspective on healthy living. In his opinion, our thinking about illness is still largely ruled by old superstitions where what happens to a person is somehow just what he or she deserves. If the neighbour has a heart attack, we will semi-unconsciously think that he should have taken more exercise, eaten less fatty foods and smoked less. All these things might have saved him. But Dr Fredriksen’s point is that for each person who lives in a certain way and has a heart attack, there are hundreds who live in exactly the same way, or even less healthily, who never fall ill. The real culprit when a person falls ill is generally simply bad luck. And such a person deserves sympathy, not secret condemnation.

Medical research has identified any number of correlations between various behaviors, diets and environmental factors and various illnesses. One of the strongest correlations is that between smoking and lung cancer. Dr Fredriksen points out that this correlation is only 10%. For every smoker who gets lung cancer, there are nine who do not, and what decides is mainly factors beyond anyone’s control: genetic heritage and random chance.

So, says, Dr Fredriksen, calm down. Take basic precautions such as eating and exercising in a sensible manner and not smoking. But don’t let the quest for perfect health become an obsession. It’s largely illusory as most illness in the Western world is due to bad luck. Health nuts are chasing a mirage. You can’t actually control your health, and it’s healthiest to accept that and concentrate on more fruitful pursuits. Hakuna matata.

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  1. #1 kai
    February 16, 2007

    As somebody else offered recently: Whether you will get sick or not is a lottery, but some people buy ten thousand tickets.

  2. #2 Martin R
    February 16, 2007

    Fredriksen’s idea seems to be that a lot of people buy ten thousand tickets and still don’t win.

  3. #3 kai
    February 16, 2007

    For sure. To use the example given by Dr Fredriksen, most smokers don’t get lung cancer because most people don’t. In fact most people don’t get any cancers. However, of those that do get lung cancer only a pitiful few are non-smokers. And of course, one of the reasons not all smokers get lung cancer is that they die of other smoking-related diseases before they have had time to get cancer :-/

    I can agree that in many cases it may be gainful to say “Don’t worry, be happy”, but then again, if nobody worries about the current state, how are we going to make the world a better place? :-p

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