Fads and Faith: Belief vs. Fact in the Struggle for Health

We explore how faith, a desire for easy answers, and a lack of trust in medical science shape two modern trends. 

Episode 197 | March 31, 2015

“We have absolute faith that these dietary supplements and vitamins can only be good for us. That they’re made by elves and old hippies on flowering meadows." — Dr. Paul Offit

In 2014 the United States ​had 650 reported cases of measles, a disease made preventable by a vaccine introduced 30 years ago. The majority of these measles victims were children whose parents chose not to vaccinate them. Meanwhile at least 85,000 dietary supplements line the shelves of GNC and other “big box” chains, as well as smaller health food stores. Even though the FDA cannot ensure the safety or effectiveness of any of these products before they’re sold, they enjoy widespread popularity in the United States. This episode of Distillations explores what connects these two issues.

Our journey starts in Shanghai, where reporter Rebecca Kanthor investigates a strange fashion trend among pregnant women—a special apron meant to protect its wearers from the harms of electromagnetic radiation.

Then we talk with Paul Offit, an infectious disease pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine, and Catherine Price, author of Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection, about what drives these fads. Our guests suggest that faith, a desire for easy answers, and a lack of trust in medical science all come into play.


Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Guests: Catherine Price and Paul Offit
Reporter: Rebecca Kanthor
Producer: Mariel Carr
Music: Courtesy of the Audio Network