Health Screens in the UK – A Waste of Money? – by Jamie Bolton

I recently had the ‘pleasure’ of a BUPA Health Screen (the inverted comma’s will soon become clear!). Now, working in the realm of health and fitness, I can quite honestly say my expectations were low for what the doctor might say. Something to the tune of –

“Saturated fat bad for you

Eat more whole grains

Supplements are bad

Do more cardio

Your BMI is too high”

I’m pleased to, and despair to say – they didn’t disappoint.

The morning kicked off with the basics. Height, weight, BMI. On the positive side here, the nurse did acknowledge BMI is pretty meaningless for a strength training individual who’s clearly not obese, but she still couldn’t help but comment that at a BMI of 29, it was still high (*rolls eyes*).

Now, one thing that I couldn’t help but think might skew morning’s results was my last feeding – organic sausages, onion gravy & sweet potato mash – the night before. That kind of meal always causes me some crazy fluid retention and makes me hold about 2-3kg water for the next 18hours or so. It had thrown my weight up by about 2kg this morning already – and I had a horrid suspicion it may well throw my blood pressure off too – it did. My BP came out borderline high.

After some blood samples, urine, hearing, vision, and respiratory tests, I was through to see the doc. Oh goody.

But first – they had to offer me an array of sugary snacks & drinks, since having fasted for at least 6 hours I was clearly about to keel over (It was more like 15hrs at this point due to intermittent fasting, but I digress). I declined.

So I ran through my medical questionnaire with the doc first (before looking at test results). Here we go –

“You eat how much protein? Bad for your kidneys”.

“You lift weights four times a week? That’s bad”

“You say you eat a lot of saturated fat? – that causes high cholesterol and heart disease”

“You take supplements? You don’t take the horrid creatine do you?!”

“You don’t eat breakfast?! Intermittent what?!?!”

“Cardio only a few times a week!? You need to up that”

At this point I was halfway to severing though my tongue from biting down on it so damn hard to stop myself from leaping up and bludgeoning this poor misguided doctor to a pulp. But I managed to hold and finally we got to the results, where I thought I’d start to chip in some home truths.

“Well your kidneys seem to be functioning perfectly well, in fact far better than I usually see.”Yes, that would be because there is no link between high protein intake and impaired kidney function. The studies that you are referring too were done on people with impaired kidney function already. Follow ups show no impact on kidneys from high protein intake.

“Your cholesterol levels are very good. HDL is above where we like to see it, and LDL well below. But I’d still recommend cutting back on saturated fat.” Okay, at this point I really did want to commit an atrocity. But I tried to point out how this is wrong and outdated (for those interest check out, a site pack with the real research!). She wouldn’t have it. We agreed to disagree. I agreed she was an idiot.

If she had looked like this I may have given her some slack...

Now, as I mentioned earlier, my BP came out borderline high. Not high. Borderline high. Now, seeing as she couldn’t find fault with anything else despite me doing so many things clearly wrong. She decided to tear into this one. I pointed out a high salt/ sodium dinner the night before was probably putting the result out. Nope. Apparently my supplements were probably to blame. I learnt a lot here from her – whey protein causes high BP, vitamin D causes high BP, omega 3 causes high BP (note the tongue in cheek humour). A quick google search for studies shows the opposite is true in all cases. I gave up at this point since it was clear she wouldn’t listen.

I’ll start to round up here, but the short story is it didn’t get any better. Cardio apparently builds longer ‘lean’ muscle whilst weight training builds shorter (fat?) muscles. I didn’t even know how to react to the implication here therefore that cardio also changes the insertion point of muscles in the body. *Head in hands despairing*.

In summary, I was pretty pissed off with the level of competency displayed by private health care practitioners who were being paid £1000 for this (luckily not out of my pocket). There was a complete lack of up to date knowledge, on well, anything. They could interpret some tests well enough, but that was about it. As to lifestyle advice – give me a break.

We need change and luckily for us professionals such as Joseph Lightfoot with his Move. Eat. Treat. campaign and Martin MacDonald of MacNutrition, are pushing to educate the powers that be. Do your part – support their causes and spread their word to stop this ignorance in our health system.

Let’s be clear…this isn’t a blanket certification that all health-care professionals are idiots. They’re not. I’m sure there are plenty out there who are very good at what they do. Maybe I was just unlucky. But I had low expectations based on what I read and see everyday. And unfortunately this doc failed to meet even those.

If I had to do this all over again, I’d do this a little different – I’d get some blood tests done and assess myself by, well, myself. If something then came out well & truly wrong, I’d look up some help. But I’m not about to shell out that kind of money for some out of date… no… in fact, just incorrect advice.

The take-away message? You can’t necessarily trust the word of all ‘professionals’. There are good ones and bad ones out there – seek the good ones if you can but be prepared that may not be possible. Educate yourself if this is what really interests you. It’s your life and if you truly care about your health & fitness, perhaps you should be taking this into your own hands and do some research.


About Elite Kinetics
Ben Coker CSCS & Jamie Bolton UKSCA. Elite Kinetics Strength Training Systems offers a no BS approach to strength training and athletic development. Our moto: 'Train hard. Train smart. BE Strong', is applied to elite-level peformance athletes right through to your recreational warrior wanting abnormal, outstanding results in all areas - bigger, stronger, faster.

2 Responses to Health Screens in the UK – A Waste of Money? – by Jamie Bolton

  1. I know someone fairly influential at BUPA. Do you mind if I send it to him…? Don’t want anyone your end to get in trouble if you got the test free…

    I can just copy the text and paste it otherwise?

    Well done for documenting this. It’s ridiculous and people need to be called out for this crap.

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