The Office on Women’s Health (which is part of HHS) recently sent me a book to review: The Healthy Woman – A Complete Guide For All Ages. It is on sale at the U.S. Government bookstore. The book says that it provides “easy to understand information from the nation’s leaders in women’s health.” And I agree that it lives up to that promise.
When I receive a general consumer health book there are a few sections that I generally read first to determine whether or not the book is trustworthy: complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), nutrition, and hormone replacement therapy. The Healthy Woman passed my test on these subjects, though I could quibble with some of their content. For example, they suggest that homeopathy requires “more research” to determine it’s potential therapeutic uses – one could say the same for fairy dust I suppose, though I wouldn’t waste tax payer dollars on that research. I also think they overstate the literature on salt consumption (for people without renal failure, CHF, or severe hypertension, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to worry about salt intake in my opinion).
However, overall the book does an admirable job of synthesizing the scientific literature in a simplified and consumer-friendly form. Compared to other books I’ve been sent by supposed “health experts” (which were so filled with pseudoscience that I declined to review them), this one is outstandingly good. By and large it can be relied upon by readers to provide an accurate introduction to the various diseases and conditions likely to affect women at various ages and stages of life.
A few shortcuts were taken in creating this book – Getty images replaced original photography in many instances, questionnaires were adapted from research literature without careful thought being given to the likely readership (one screening questionnaire asks the reader if they’re “living in prison” or “blind”), no original research studies are cited in the reference section of the book, and the medical glossary is quite sparse (I noted only 6 entries under the letter “v,” one being “voyeurism.” I had not expected that particular v word would make it into the top 6 in a general medical text, but I digress.)
The book is written at a sixth grade reading level which is appropriate for the general public. It is a fine introductory reference guide to women’s health – though I doubt that women will want to read it cover-to-cover, but rather delve into the sections relevant to them.
The strength of the book lies in its plain writing and accessible format. Its weakness is that, because it covers all diseases and conditions that affect women, it does not offer the kind of depth necessary to master any of the health topics.
In the final analysis, I’m grateful that this book exists as a counterbalance to the sea of misinformation constantly churned out by publishers looking to turn a profit on “miracle cures your doctor won’t tell you about.” Thank you, HHS for making the effort.