Health: Absolute risk vs Relative Risk – It makes a Difference!

drug studiesWe read information about pharmaceutical drugs and how they will lower cholesterol or blood sugar by a huge percent. So we should jump on the bandwagon and begin taking them, right? I am reading an excellent book called The Great Cholesterol Myth by Dr. Stephen Sinatra and Dr. Jonny Bowden. I highly recommend it. It’s clear, easy to read and understand and grounded in facts.  In fact, I plan to buy a copy for my husband’s doctor before his next visit and highlight some pages!

They did an excellent explanation of the difference between absolute versus relative risk. Depending on which number is being used will make a huge difference in whether you would get any real benefit from using the drug. All too often, relative risk is used.

Absolute risk is the real reduction in risk you get from using the specific drug. They used a great illustration that really make the distinction clear to me. They said what if you are on a game show and you get to choose 90% of the money behind door #1 or 10% of the money behind door #2? If there was the same amount of money behind both doors – it’s a no-brainer. Choose 90% of door #1.  The point is, unless you know how much money is behind both doors, it’s impossible to know which choice is better.

So knowing the real, absolute number is very important in making these decisions. Knowing a percentage alone really means nothing, unless you know what it is a percentage of! What if there was $100 behind both doors. 90% sounds like a lot. However, if you chose that door and found it was only $90 you would be disappointed. But it is 90% of 100 so technically it’s the truth.

Lipitor advertises a 33% reduction in heart attack risk in their ads. What they don’t tell us is that it’s a relative risk number. If there are 100 randomly chosen men not on any medications. Of those 100 men, statistics say 3 are likely to have a heart attack over a 5 year period. That’s 3% of the total number of men. However, if you put those men on Lipitor, only 2 men would be expected to suffer a heart attack (that’s 2%). The reduction from 3 men to 2 is a 33% reduction, which is a relative number, although  technically true.  The absolute risk reduction is only 1%. (Doesn’t sound that impressive when you see the actual numbers, does it?)

Wouldn’t you rather know the absolute risk?

Want to see more articles like this?   Subscribe to this blog (just click on “Follow”) and get each new post delivered to your email or feed reader.   When you do, why not sign up for my free 7 Days to Feeling Great Challenge? If you have 10 minutes a day you can learn healthier habits in 7 short days! Easy, simple and FREE!  It’s a painless way to begin 2014 creating healthier habits.


About amusico

I am a holistic health coach and independent nutritional consultant. All my coaching plans are based on my 3-D Living program and a big part of that are the Youngevity Products and Supplements I proudly offer! Visit my website at and learn more about the products and my coaching plans!
This entry was posted in Heart Health, Overall Health and Wholeness and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Health: Absolute risk vs Relative Risk – It makes a Difference!

  1. Ann,

    That’s a great point and a very compelling example!

    Have a Victorious Day!

  2. Ann, thank you very much for sharing this distinction, as it is powerful!

    Yes, I would much prefer to know the absolute risk versus the relative risk; it does not surprise me that pharmaceutical companies are less than candid about this in advertisements. Yet another reason to be holistic and God-centered in healing our minds, bodies and spirits! Your 3D Vitality ministry encourages exactly this… 🙂

    Thank you for another no-nonsense nutrition nugget…from which I am always enriched!
    Blessings and gratitude,

    • amusico says:

      Thank you, always, for commenting Caroline and I’m glad the post was informative and powerful. Unfortunately, most of us are unaware of this.

      On Mon, Jan 20, 2014 at 3:04 PM, 3-D Vitality

      • I agree that it is unfortunate; the pharmaceutical industries leverage our lack of awareness to our disadvantage.

        This, however, makes your mission all the more important; the more you equip us with truth, the more we can make healthy decisions. Thank YOU again, Ann, for enriching me and many!

      • amusico says:

        Thank you Caroline – that is my goal and mission.

        On Mon, Jan 20, 2014 at 3:13 PM, 3-D Vitality

  3. You fulfill your goal and your mission well, Ann!!! 🙂

  4. Excellent information. Thank you for explaining what those percentages mean. I think so often traditional medicine is fear-oriented. “If you don’t follow my suggestions, something horrible will happen to you.” Of course doctors may be afraid of being sued if they don’t push the accepted medicine.

    • amusico says:

      You are right Debbie. But especially as Christians we are not to be led by fear and in this case – it could lead to something much worse!

      On Mon, Jan 20, 2014 at 10:42 PM, 3-D Vitality

  5. Great post! I’m a big fan of that book as well. I decided to not take the statins that 3 doctors were telling me I had to take, and ended up reducing my cholesterol with lifestyle instead!

    • amusico says:

      Laura good for you! I love hearing those kinds of reports! It shows people it IS possible and if they’ll read the book they’ll see cholesterol is not the villain doctors and drug companies would have us believe. It’s especially great that you didn’t fall for this as statins are especially dangerous for women. Thanks for reading and sharing that comment.

  6. Its crazy how statistics can be manipulated to convey the totally incorrect message. Thanks for elucidating this, Ann!

    • amusico says:

      It truly is. I remember many years ago when Lipitor had just come out my husband’s doctor saying this was something to invest in because it was going to be “great” and putting him on it before we knew better! I guess they think if we really knew all the facts we wouldn’t take the stuff so they manipulate them. This was eye-opening to me too!

Share your thoughts - what do you think about this?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s