MARTY RUSSELL: At least in Oz, the Tin Man had an excuse

The old insult that you couldn’t find your, ahem, backside with both hands and a map may not be as much of an exaggeration as the joke suggests.
While desperately searching for something to watch on daytime TV the other day besides soap operas, talk shows and reports on the escalating tensions between those two superpowers – Sarah Palin and David Letterman – I stumbled across a cable news story about a new health survey recently conducted in England.
The survey, published in the medical journal BMC Family Practice, showed that half of those questioned couldn’t locate the human heart on a diagram of the body.
Now, my first thought upon hearing that report was that Jay Leno must be trying desperately to get his hands on a list of the survey participants to line them up for the next installment of his Jaywalking segment, you know the one where he asks people on the street questions like “When was the War of 1812 fought?” or “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” and never gets the obvious answers.
I can see it now.
LENO: “Where is your heart located?”
JAYWALKER: “Umm, I think I left it in San Francisco.”
My second thought upon hearing the survey results was that the outcome sounded about right since about half the people I run into don’t seem to have a heart in the first place so why would they know where it should be?
The survey also showed that only 31.4 percent of participants could identify the lungs and only slightly more – 38.4 percent – could pick out the stomach. Apparently either out of deference to the survey participants or because those conducting the survey couldn’t ask the question with a straight face, those participating weren’t asked where their brains were.
A similar survey was conducted in 1970 and the researchers say there hasn’t been any improvement in the general public’s knowledge of basic human anatomy in that 39-year period. And while the recent survey only polled British citizens, the researchers say the results would probably be the same or worse here in the United States.
As one of the researchers was quoted as saying on CNN.com, “Very many Americans don’t even know where New Jersey is, so how would they know where their pancreas is?”
The survey results are disturbing because many of the participants were patients being treated for diseases of the very organs they couldn’t identify. Let’s just hope none of them were cardiologists.
It’s also disturbing because, as the health care debate heats up in this country with an emphasis on preventative health, how can Americans be expected to monitor their own health if they think a pain in their, ahem, backside must mean they have a brain tumor?
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at marusse1@olemiss.edu.

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