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Recently, when attending a medical talk about the connection of unhealthy diets to obesity, heart disease and cancer, I was caught by surprise.

“When I want to discuss this issue with patients,” the speaker, a physician, said, “I ask permission.”

Permission? I said to myself. Since when do doctors with proven strategies for improving health ask for permission?

I am well aware of concepts like patient autonomy, which reminds doctors that patients should be the ultimate decision-makers. And I am very careful to ensure that my patients give informed consent before embarking on treatments — particularly ones that carry risk.

But when it comes to informing patients about potentially healthy interventions, I am not shy. A former colleague of mine used to ask medical students whether there was any topic that a physician did not have the right to ask a patient about. “Who they voted for in the last election,” he ultimately concluded. But that meant that mental illness, substance use, sexual behavior — and diet — were fair game.

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The New York Times: Well Blog

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