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Don’t Swallow Your Gum

Do you know whether heartburn pills are safe for long-term use?

Rarely does a “wellness” book come along that actually teaches us stuff about personal health we don’t already know, the last one being Tom Emerick’s An Illustrated Guide to Personal Health.   Typically, books that we review undo the misinformation perpetrated by wellness vendors, on the subject of prostate screening, crash-dieting etc.

Another such book that has “come along” (copyright © 2009, but I am just finding out about it now, as my internet connection has been slow lately) is Don’t Swallow Your Gum: Myths, Half-Truths, and Outright Lies about Your Body and Health. The authors are Drs. Aaron E. Carroll and Rachel C. Vreeman.  If the former name rings a bell, it’s because this particular polymath is also part of The Incidental Economist. If that name rings a bell, it’s because TIE has the same impression of wellness as we do, so we often refer TSW readers to them. The only difference being, as far as I can tell, is they have Day Jobs and possibly even Lives, and hence unlike us can’t spend all their time dissing these Goetzel-infused Einsteins.

In any event, these 164 pages will teach you a ton about everyday health and well-being. Like, if your kid swallows his gum, you don’t need to pump his stomach or even turn him upside down and shake him.  He’ll survive. Or whether acupuncture, Airborne, or zinc work. (Sometimes, no, and unlikely.)  Or whether walkers help your baby walk sooner. (Not even close. Incredibly, it’s the opposite.)

Several workplace wellness myths are debunked, like the eight-glasses-of-water thing, a staple of Provant’s program.

More serious topics are covered as well, like fluoridated water, drinking while nursing, and giving cough medicines to children. These are sprinkled in and provide a nice balance.

Quizzify, of course, is full of similar tidbits (to lighten up some much more serious health and healthcare education issues), though in a Q&A format. Indeed, although roughly 30 topics overlap, there is only one disagreement


Yep, you guessed it. Quizzify is totally chill on the chances of getting sick by dipping a chip in a dip that’s been double-dipped. Incredibly and probably uniquely in my lifetime, that puts me on the same side of an argument as George Costanza. Drs. Carroll and Vreeman, by contrast, are firmly in Timmy’s corner. (“Don’t you see? That’s like putting your whole mouth in the dip.”)

We all agree that it is rude and spreads germs. Beyond that, we observe (and we are in good company here) that:

  • If someone is sick enough to spread harmful germs (most germs are harmless), they probably aren’t at the party;
  • If they are at the party, they probably aren’t eating;
  • If they are eating, they probably aren’t double-dipping;
  • If they are double-dipping, the odds of getting those particular germs when you dip are pretty remote anyway;
  • And if they really are that sick, you got way more germs when you greeted the perp via a handshake or kiss.

Further, there is a logical fallacy.  You can’t assume you’ve seen the double-dipper. Someone could have double-dipped while you weren’t looking. Who stares at the refreshment table for the entire party? That’s ruder than double-dipping.

On the flip side, if you go to a party, you want to have fun. If you spend your time fretting over a 20-year-old Seinfeld episode, you might as well stay home. And loneliness — this is a major observation in Tom Emerick’s book — really is a major health risk.

Mind you, the folks at Quizzify aren’t exactly Pollyannas on the subject of party dip. We recommend steering clear of it towards the end of the evening. Not because of the double-dipping risk, but rather because who the hell knows what’s going on in guacamole that’s been sitting out all night in an overheated roomful of half-soused nightclub rabble? (Yes, another Seinfeld line.)

That, though, is the exception that proves the rule. For the large but fortunately diminishing pool of employees unlucky enough not to have access to Quizzify via their employer, this book is a worthy and entertaining substitute, for topics of everyday personal health.



In the immortal words of the great philosopher Pat Benatar, hit me with your best shot.

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