The Waldo Problem

Take a look at this picture from afar. Where’s Waldo?
OTfytjANot easy to find if you look at the whole picture and particularly on a quick glance. So what do you have to do to find him? Scan the picture looking for something that looks like Waldo and then zoom in and investigate. Or you zoom into a section first and check it out until you’re satisfied you’ve either found him or eliminated that area from contention.

This is what’s happened in health. We looked at people with health issues, ranging from mild to severe, and said, wow, finding out why they have obesity/diabetes/heart attacks/cancer/etc. is like trying to find Waldo. It’s too hard if we look at the whole picture. There’s just too much going on, we need to zoom in to find the suspect.

Zooming in is reductionist medicine. We can get down to the cellular level and see what’s going and that has led to some great discoveries. But, like every seemingly simple process, it’s not always that easy. Take a look at the next picture for instance.nf6oSGR

Seemingly straightforward Waldo search until you check out the guide on the left. Not only is it more crowded than the first picture but there’s a bunch of Waldo Watchers, which basically look like him at first but aren’t exactly him. So even if you think you got him there’s a pretty big chance you don’t.

Does that sound like our health system? We zoom in until we see what looks to be a Waldo and then make our case. How often do we find that not only were we not looking in the right place but that we weren’t even close? Maybe that’s why health, nutrition and fitness advice changes by the week, even when we were sure about something. We’ve gotten so good at zooming in that now we can see the equivalent size of a few inches of his shirt. That zoom ability hurts us when someone else wears a striped shirt, glasses, little hat, backpack… you get the picture. Health and the human body are incredibly complex systems so when we try to simplify it down to singular variables and causes we hardly ever get it right and ignore the whole picture- which is what health is. The whole picture.

Wow! What A Search!

Now think about this: every Waldo scene is a different health/body/disease issue. The last picture was obesity. Here’s the gut…


And here’s the cardiovascular system…


You might be thinking, “that actually looks pretty simple” and that it wouldn’t take long to find Waldo. Once again, with all those lookalikes it’s probably a little trickier than it seems, even if you find cholesterWaldo hanging out next to that car crash. All these Waldo watchers are part of the picture so unless we find them all, even if we find Waldo, we haven’t fully figured out the puzzle.

Waldo Gets Trickier

What if everyone’s Waldo was in a different spot? This is very reflective of personal health. Everyone has different physiological processes and problems so just because you found Waldo once doesn’t mean the next search will be so easy (because there’s probably a lookalike in that place that Waldo once was) so if you assume or glance quick you’re gonna have a false ID.

What if he moved within the picture? Just because you looked there once and didn’t see him doesn’t mean he’s there. Think about age. How many things work differently as we get older, even when they were absolutely Waldo free before?

Finding Waldo in the body is harder than we thought. Particularly when we think things are caused by just one Waldo. Beyond the Waldo Watchers who contribute to the health pictures, what if there were Waldo clones in each picture (i.e. multiple first degree causes)? How hard is it to find and be sure about just one Waldo, much less multiple? What if you didn’t know many clones you’re looking for? What if you thought you found the two Waldos and turned the page, only to leave a glaring Waldo left undiscovered?

How tricky is this stuff?

Leave this discussion with three things in mind:

  1. There’s almost always multiple Waldos and Waldo Watchers in the body.
  2. Mucho respect for those who search for Waldo and his gang. It is not easy, tireless and very frustrating, particularly if done right.
  3. Have tremendous hesitation toward those who claim that finding him is easy.
  4. We are obsessed with Waldo but it’s the whole picture that matters.

Thanks for reading, have a great day!

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