Today I'm reviewing two books that were sent to me by their publishers. Both are about health and disease prevention, and have a forward or introduction (what's the difference?) by the authors of YOU: The Owner's Manual. One focuses on kids, while the other is organized decade by decade, from pre-natal to "the eighth decade and beyond." Both of them basically tell you to exercise regularly, eat your veggies, and wear sunscreen.
First up is the book about kids: Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children, by Jennifer Trachtenberg, MD. The email I got offering me the book showed the cover, which has the title spelled out in refrigerator magnets, with a carrot and some broccoli magnets thrown in for good luck, so I knew it was likely to push some buttons for me. As long-term readers of this blog know, I have some issues around nutritional advice for parents -- I know darned well what a healthy diet looks like, and that my older son's diet isn't quite making it to Planet Power but have more or less accepted that we can only control what we offer him, not what he eats.
So, when I got the book, I was predictably irritated by the blithe assumptions that involving children in food prep and cutting food into fun shapes would be enough to win over a picky eater. But I was somewhat surprised (and pleased) to see that the book covers far more than nutrition, covering topics from good hygiene (wash your hands, floss your teeth) to safety (buckle your seatbelt, wear a bike helmet) and emotional well-being (spend one on one time with kids, develop relationships with extended family). Overall, the book offers pretty solid, standard advice.
My fundamental concern about the book is who is the audience for it. It seems to me like the sort of well-educated middle-class parents who are likely to buy this book will generally know almost everything that's in it already. Certainly, that seems to be the conclusion of the parentbloggers who have reviewed it. Anxious new parents might buy it, but relatively little of the book is about babies. Maybe it could be a text for a parenting class? Or you could give it to grandparents who might listen to a doctor about seat belts more than to their children? I don't know. I find it pretty hard to imagine anyone reading the book cover to cover.
The second book is The Checklist: What you and your family need to know to prevent disease and live a long and healthy life, by "Dr. Manny" Alvarez. I focused on the chapters for 0-9 (the age of my children) and 30-39 (that would be me).
The chapter on young children suffers from the problem that they've only got 38 pages to cover a huge developmental range. So Alvarez makes no attempt to discuss the full range of health issues, but rather goes through a checklist of topics that you might have heard about in the news -- cord blood, circumcision, vaccines, autism, ADD.
The chapter on 30-something adults has a different problem, that there are very few health problems that are unique to this age group. So instead you get a bland discussion of nutrition, skin care, and urinary tract infections, and then a laundry list of ailments that (fortunately) relatively few people in this age group are actually likely to experience, from cervical cancer to MS.
Fundamentally, I think the decade by decade organization just doesn't work. Good preventative habits don't really change that much from decade to decade, and the litany of diseases would have worked better in simple alphabetical order. The only people I could imagine reading this book cover to cover are hypochondriacs looking for new diseases to obsess about.
Also, the writing/editing was sloppy. For example, from the circumcision discussion: "The AAP also found that the risk of penile cancer in an uncircumcised man is three times more likely than in a circumcised man, though penile cancer is rare in the United States, just one in one hundred thousand males has it." Someone get this man a semicolon.