Health Buzz: Many Americans Seek Medical Diagnoses Online

Be nice! Good deeds are good for you, too; Plus, schools over scalpels

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More Than A Third of Americans Consult the Internet with Medical Issues

If ever you've tried to identify a sniffle, pain, or rash with a Google search, you're not alone. Thirty-five percent of U.S. adults have jumped online specifically to figure out what medical condition they or another person may have, according to a Pew Research Center survey of about 3,000 people, released today. Pew refers to these folks that compose the 35 percent as "online diagnosers," and among them, 53 percent wound up talking with a clinician about what they found online. Upon doing so, 41 percent of online diagnosers' condition was confirmed by a clinician. So where do these people turn for information? When asked to remember the last time they searched for medical information, 77 percent said they started with an online search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo, while 13 percent searched a specialized health site like WebMD. "Historically, people have always tried to answer their health questions at home and made personal choices about whether and when to consult a clinician," the study authors wrote. "Many have now added the internet to their personal health toolbox, helping themselves and their loved ones better understand what might be ailing them."

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  • Be Nice! Good Deeds Are Good For You, Too

    Kindness is a virtue. Love thy neighbor. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    Being nice isn't revolutionary advice—but when your day starts by getting cut off in traffic, then chewed out at work, and you come home to see war and murder on the news, you kind of want to issue a reminder to humanity. Instead of wishing we could all just get along, it's up to us to spread some cheer. Do something nice for a friend, neighbor, or complete stranger, and chances are, he'll feel encouraged to pay it forward in return.

    "When you're doing good deeds, you're enticing a common feeling across two people, and that's part of what knits a community together," says Barbara Fredrickson, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina and author of the upcoming book Love 2.0. And make sure it's coming from a selfless place: Don't expect applause from the wait staff for leaving your server a generous tip, and don't assume your neighbor will return the favor if you shovel her driveway. "I define kindness as doing something nice for your fellow mankind with no expectation of return," says Brooke Jones, manager of the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, a nonprofit based in Denver.

    Of course, as anyone who's ever done something nice knows (and we hope that's everyone), you do get something in return. It feels good to be nice—and it's healthy, too. Doing good not only guides you "on this path to be a better version of yourself," says Fredrickson, but it "actually makes us physically healthier and puts us on a trajectory of growth." Specially, positive personal connections have been linked to better heart health. [Read more: Be Nice! Good Deeds Are Good For You, Too]

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    School Over Scalpels

    In some ways, it wouldn't even matter if the over-interpretations of the recent and already notorious meta-analysis about obesity and mortality were true, and we could get as fat as we might like with impunity. Alas, for all who favor that idea, it is not true—the adverse health effects of obesity are decisively established.

    But in some ways, it wouldn't matter, writes U.S. News blogger David Katz. Even the controversial new study confirms that severe obesity leads to an increased risk of early death—and severe obesity is the kind we are now producing most expeditiously.

    Overall rates of overweight and obesity in this country appear to have leveled off in recent years. This is no great surprise—they had to level off somewhere, even if it were at 100 percent. It's not 100 percent, of course, but it's not all that far from it either. So we were bound to push up against a ceiling eventually. More encouraging are indications that rates of childhood obesity may be declining, albeit by very small increments, in those places where the most is being done to achieve just such outcomes. The hopeful message in such data is: When we do enough of the right things, we get results. [Read more: Schools Over Scalpels]