Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Temperature Analogy

This has been kicking around in my head for a while.

Imagine that you’re going to the doctor for a routine check-up. You’re overall very healthy, all your numbers basically look good, you’re moderately active and eating well. You’re quite happy with yourself. The doctor takes your temperature when you arrive, and discovers that rather than the average of 98.6 degrees, yours is 99.7.

The doctor tells you that you’re running a slight fever, and for a second you’re confused. Then, you realize that some information must be missing from your chart. Since childhood, your healthy resting body temperature has always been a little bit higher than most people. There is no illness, only an extra degree on the thermometer.

The doctor shakes his head. If you’ve always had a high body temperature, then that just makes it more imperative to change it now, before it’s too late. It’s not healthy to run hot all the time, you always have a slight fever. You must cool off. You’re prescribed at least an hour, daily, of sitting in short sleeves and shorts outside (now that it’s winter) to try to bring your temperature down. In the summertime, if the treatments haven’t worked by then, you’ll have to substitute an ice bath. It might cost a fair bit of money or at least effort to have enough ice to bathe in for an hour each day. It will be difficult and painful, perhaps a lifelong battle to bring it down. But this is about your health.

Did you protest that you’d be not only making yourself uncomfortable, but possibly jeopardizing your health by purposeful daily exposure? Wouldn’t it just make more sense, considering you’ve always been above the average temperature, to consider 99.7 your “healthy”, and 98.6 in fact a sign of slight hypothermia?

Why are you in denial about your health? Why do you want to sabotage the doctor’s efforts to help you?


It’s obviously not a perfect metaphor. But no doctor in their right mind would insist on forcibly lowering body temperature, when it’s well-known that some people just run hotter or cooler than others.

Why is weight so different?


  1. i like this. Thanks! I think this analogy would work with doctors... They might get it, just a little, especially if they were also exposed to the data that BMI and mortality are NOT linearly related... :)

  2. Thank you! I'd hope it would...I'm not even close to being a doctor but this was the next thing to come to mind after someone made the analogy to me about height. Which also works - we don't try to insist that people make themselves shorter - but the thought of how much you'd have to torture yourself to lower body temperature, and that being something physically possible to do, seemed like a better analogy.

    I've read a lot of your posts, by the way, and they've been helpful even though I'm only feeding myself, and not a family.