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Apple eaters visit the doctor just as often as everyone else, study finds

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An apple a day doesn't seem to be quite enough to keep the doctor away

USDA Agricultural Research Service

In what's sure to be a blow to the fruit-industrial complex, a new research study has this week found no evidence to support the old proverb that an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Investigating the veracity of that cliched phrase was done in the humorous spirit of April Fools' Day, but the data and findings are no spoofs.

Studying the eating habits of 8,399 Americans, the researchers separated out a group of 753 who ate at least one small apple every day. These apple eaters were generally healthier and better educated than the general populace, but once the effects of such confounding factors were accounted for, there was no statistical difference to be found. Apple eaters were just as likely to visit the doctor or have an overnight hospital stay as everyone else.

On the plus side, eating apples seems to be helping people cut down prescription meds

This analysis, led by University of Michigan assistant professor Matthew Davis, has a number of important limitations. While its subjects are nationally representative for the US, the data is based on their recall of food consumption over a period of 24 hours, which they assert to be representative of their usual diet. That's then compared against their hospital or doctor visits over the previous month, which are again self-reported, and the metric for "keeping the doctor away" is to have no more than one meeting with a medical professional during that period. That leaves the nuance of why people might need treatment unaddressed.

There is, nonetheless, some good news for the dedicated apple devourers in the study. Apple eaters have been shown to use fewer prescription medicines than the rest of the US population, leading the study authors to conclude that an apple a day can, in fact, be said to keep the pharmacist away.