Perhaps the normally measured physician-economist Aaron Carroll best captured the reaction and sentiments of the healthcare community in response to a recent JAMA article demonstrating that subjects in a weight reduction study using activity trackers lost significantly less weight than those in the control group:
“I TOLD YOU SO!!!!!!” (Emphasis in original.)
These results were cheered for several key reasons.
First, many in healthcare are irritated by the idea of simplistic technical fixes for complex medical (and social) (and cultural) (and economic) problems–like obesity.
Second, as Carroll has pointed out, exercise is healthy for many reasons, but weight loss is probably not one of them; changing your diet seems to matter a lot more.
However, it’s important to critically evaluate research even (especially) when it seems to produce an ego-syntonic conclusion–a conclusion with which we so strongly agree.
My initial reaction to the result was that perhaps it reflects an example of the concept of “moral licensing” that Malcolm Gladwell discusses so thoughtfully on his Revisionist History podcast–i.e., when you deliberately act morally in one context, you may be more likely to act less morally in another context, having already demonstrated to yourself your moral bona fides.