ATLANTA — In 2009, Dr. Richard Besser faced a public health crisis just months after being named the interim chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With a calm voice, Besser informed and soothed a jittery nation during the outbreak of H1N1 “swine flu.” His performance impressed many — including Amy Entelis, then head of talent at ABC News. She asked him if he’d ever considered being an on-air medical correspondent.
And so the pediatrician and researcher switched roles. As chief health and medical editor at ABC News, Besser has been addressing medical stories to millions of viewers. He said he tries to avoid jargon and present information clearly, concisely and “with a personal touch.”
He takes that same approach to answering almost 70 common but sometimes puzzling health questions in his new book: “Tell Me the Truth, Doctor” (Hyperion, $24.99). They include:
Is antibacterial soap better than plain soap? (He says no.)
Do adults need shots? (Yes.)
Do I need to wash pre-washed lettuce? (Probably not.)
Some recommendations are simple but not necessarily easy to follow. And there may be a few surprises, such as not washing chicken before you cook it.
Besser recently talked to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Q: So what’s the deal with not washing chicken before you cook it?
A: When that water hits the chicken, it can splatter germs all over your kitchen, especially the area around your sink, cutting boards and faucet. It may sound counterintuitive, but the bottom line is: Don’t wash the bird.
Q: You are passionate about water being the beverage of choice, and you also say tap water is the way to go. Why is that?
A: There are so many good things about water. And the first thing is your body will tell you when you are thirsty. I see so many patients who are concerned about their weight, and when I talk to them about what they drink, they talk about sodas and sports drinks and juice. If you are drinking a 20-ounce Coke every day, just switching that one Coke to water, you could lose 20 pounds in a year. ... When you think of bottled water, you think of this beautiful gushing water spring, but the bottled water you are drinking doesn’t come from there — they simply take tap water and filter it. And when you look at tap water and bottled water, there are more regulations overseeing tap water than bottled water. ...
Q: You are not a big fan of taking vitamins. Why is that?
A: You get all kinds of micronutrients and other things when you get your vitamins through food. The studies that look at the benefits of vitamin pills are really a wash — some say yes, others say no. And many vitamins taken in high doses have been shown to be harmful. ...
Q: We often have just a few minutes with our doctor. How can we make the most of these appointments?
A: Write down the questions over the year. Not the pressing questions like my shoulder hurts and why does that hurt but those questions like about worrying about not getting enough exercise and not getting enough sleep. You can contact the office ahead of time and see if the doctor may want those questions ahead of time. ...
And the other thing is to understand your family history. ... Knowing your family history can help your doctor take precautions to keep you and your family healthy ... and it’s important to connect with your doctor and know it’s OK to fire your doctor.