Personalized medicine and precision nutrition: Biases distort how individuals respond to health risks

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Credit: Katherine Streeter, NPR

Some people fear sharks more than cars, although the probability of dying in a car is over 30,000 times higher. And yet, a person who scuba dives for a living in Australia and rarely drives may have a reason to fear sharks more.

We all perceive risks differently because, in part, we see the world differently. But just as importantly, we also have different risk profiles. A risk profile for an illness is the probability of getting ill from specific hazards and how severely it will affect us. When we judge how others are reacting to the coronavirus, it is important to recognize both dimensions, risk perceptions and risk profiles and note that people can err in both dimensions.

The reason we are turning to personalized medicine and precision nutrition is because we are learning more about differences based on our bodies and our environment. Our susceptibility depends on our genetic makeup, exercise, sleep, environmental exposures, diet, stress, age, weight, sex, and, as we are increasingly beginning to understand, the microbes in our gut.

Related article:  Viewpoint: How hazard-designation agency WHO’s IARC—International Agency for Research on Cancer—misleads regulators and the public
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Besides not knowing some of our underlying health conditions, we also bring biases to the table. Some people downplay or overestimate the risks because of their political persuasions or because they know someone who has been sick. Both are behavioral biases – political bias and anchoring bias. Both distort our judgment about risk.

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