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The Question Your Doctor Should Be Asking You — but Isn't

Dec 29, 2014
TIME Health
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The last time you went to the doctor, were you asked how much soda you drink? Probably not, but at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, it's now among the standard questions doctors will ask—and then log into the patient's electronic health record. Those records, analyzed in a new study, reveal some interesting connections between sugar-sweetened beverage consumption and a slew of health problems.

"Information about a patient's diet and physical activity are vitally important in preventing and managing certain diseases, yet it's rarely captured in medical records," says Ross Kristal, first author on the paper and medical student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Kristal and his colleagues looked at how much sugar-sweetened soda people drank, how many vegetables and fruits they ate and how active they were, among other things and noticed a correlation between a person's soda habit and other health factors.

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A full 40% of the people in the study drank at least one sugar-sweetened beverage every day. And the researchers noted that those who drank more than one per day were more likely to smoke, were more likely to eat no fruits or vegetables, and were more likely to have gone a month without much walking or biking.

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On the flip side, people who didn't drink a daily soda were less likely to have been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes and hypertension. It seems a doctor's diabetes diagnosis may get people to drink less soda.

Right now, these health behaviors aren't collected systematically, says senior author of the paper Peter Selwyn, MD, chair of family and social medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center. But the more doctors know about each of their patients' health habits, the more they can engage them in an honest—and hopefully effective—conversation about their health.

"These associations can help our providers narrow down on perhaps who would be more at risk for some of these unhealthy behaviors which can lead to these poor health outcomes," Kristal says.

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