Years ago, I heard a standup comic read aloud the directions on a bottle of shampoo: Shampoo. Rinse. Repeat.
And then he asked a question that all of us, at some point in our lives, should have thought to ask: â€œWhy do they put directions on shampoo? I mean, if you donâ€™t know how to wash your hair, should you really be standing naked under hot, running water by yourself?â€
This newsletter, as Daily readers know, is dedicated to exploring the great disruption thatâ€™s happening in healthcare and medicine, and probing the ever-expanding science of well being. But thereâ€™s a dirty little secret itâ€™s time to share: All of the new whiz-bang technology that inventors come up withâ€”and all of the efforts to shape public health policy for the betterâ€”wonâ€™t amount to much if people donâ€™t have the basic smarts and sense to take care of themselves.
Yesterday, as a case in point, the CDC released an update on the number of American middle and high schoolers who smoke or otherwise use tobacco. That number, happily, went down from 2015 to 2016 (mostly due to a decline in e-cigarette usage). But as the new FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, pointed out: That still leaves 3.9 million smoking, vaping, and hookah-sparking kids out there. (Not to mention a few weird pipe smokers in the chess club.) Every day, more than 400 young Americans â€œbecome daily cigarette smokers,â€ Gottlieb says.
As for basic smarts about food and nutrition, Americans seem to be starting from an even lower base. Witness a few telling data points that the Washington Postâ€™s Caitlin Dewey scooped up yesterday as well. â€œSeven percent of all American adults believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows,â€ she reported, citing a survey commissioned by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy. â€œIf you do the math, that works out to 16.4 million misinformed, milk-drinking people,â€ Dewey saidâ€”or a population roughly the size of Pennsylvaniaâ€™s.
All this said, thereâ€™s no doubt an ambitious young developer is hard at work on a technofix for this very problem: maybe a smartphone app you can point at a taco supreme and have it tell you exactly whatâ€™s in itâ€”and whether itâ€™s animal, vegetable, or mineral.
Until then, however, maybe we ought to do a better job of teaching the basics of health and wellness in fifth grade. And a little primer on shampooing wouldnâ€™t hurt either.
This essay appears in today’s edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily.Get it delivered straight to your inbox.