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Family Health and Telling the Truth

By Maxine Roeper Cohen, M.S.

Parents are encouraged to visit a pediatrician regularly with their children. In fact, once that first child is born, a regular pattern of doctor visits is dutifully followed for the good and welfare of the child. In addition to physical check-ups and inoculations, pediatric visits also offer the opportunity for parents to ask questions about their child’s health or behavior. Parents need to be honest in giving information the medical professional asks for in order to receive proper guidance for their child’s optimal growth and development. With their child’s welfare at stake, that honest information is vital. 

Are parents as honest and forthcoming with their own medical check-ups? A very interesting study published in the January, 2019 Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open found that up to 81% of adults lie to their doctors about how much they eat, as well as how often they exercise! You might ask why they do this, and the answer is that they do not want to be judged negatively by their doctors. 

Researchers from the University of Utah, the University of Michigan, and the University of Iowa analyzed data from two groups of patients. One group consisted of 2,011 individuals with a median age of 36, and the other group consisted of 2,499 individuals with a median age of 61. Both groups were asked if they ever avoided telling the truth during seven common doctor-patient interactions. These categories involved taking medication as prescribed, exercising, understanding doctor’s instructions, agreeing with a doctor’s recommendations, maintaining a healthy diet, taking a particular medication, and taking someone else’s medication.

The study found that approximately 81% of the younger group (median age of 36) were dishonest in answering at least one of the seven questions. With the older group (median age of 61) that figure was lower with 61% being dishonest. Both age groups were most dishonest about eating and exercising behaviors. Also, both groups were hesitant to disagree with their doctor’s recommendation and were also hesitant to tell their doctor when they didn’t understand instructions. Those individuals with the poorest health were more likely to be dishonest.

This dishonesty makes it more difficult for doctors to give accurate diagnoses. They might also prescribe higher than needed doses of medication, causing negative health effects.

The number one reason these adults were not honest was embarrassment. More than 50% of patients were too embarrassed by their habits, or too embarrassed by their inability to understand the doctor’s recommendations to be totally honest. They did not want to be judged negatively by their doctors. Most of us want our doctors to think highly of us.

For the sake of all family members, aim for honesty with your healthcare professionals. Doctors are trained to be non-judgmental and discreet. It might be difficult and embarrassing, but providing honest answers will ultimately lead to better health outcomes for children and parents alike.

Maxine Roeper Cohen is a Parent Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at


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