In an unsettling finding, the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine reports this morning that although daily apple eaters are less likely to use prescription medications, "Evidence does not support that an apple a day keeps the doctor away."
"People who eat an apple a day are a little more likely to keep the doctor away, but once we adjusted for all the other differences—as you can imagine, apple eaters are very different from non-apple eaters—the effect disappeared," said Matthew Davis, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan.
Davis and colleagues reviewed data from 8,728 consumers of food. Nine percent, it turned out, were daily apple eaters. Those people were less likely to smoke and had higher average education levels than the non-apple-a-day majority. The daily-apple people also were more likely to be from racial and ethnic minorities. They were not, however, any less likely to have seen a doctor more than once during the past year.
"We debated, what does it mean to 'keep the doctor away?'" Davis, who admits he's a health-services researcher, not a nutrition expert, recalls. "I always thought the phrase was funny, because there's a big difference between health status and healthcare use. People assume that they go hand in hand, but they're very different things from our perspective, and they don't always go in the direction you imagine."