Hand to Hand

The last item on "The Cutting Edge" {July 7} reported the findings of a Brigham Young University psychology student's research on hand washing after leaving the restroom. Noting how much we deodorize and sanitize, she concluded that "yet we still don't wash our hands after going to the potty."

Having been a public health educator years ago when such hand washing was stressed at every turn, I have been sensitive to and shocked at how lax adult men are (have become?) about this matter.

In bygone days there were, among other things, posters in restrooms admonishing people to wash their hands. Perhaps it is an idea whose time has come again. William R. Miner Washington

Swamp? What Swamp?

Almost everywhere you go in the United States, not to mention the world, it gets hot in the summer. This fact rankles many Washingtonians because they cling like a damp shirt on a humid day to the belief that Washington summers are unique.

To distinguish our summers from Philadelphia's, New York's and Boston's, writers harken to Washington's past. No one draws any implications about the current healthfulness of Boston, New York or Philadelphia from the swamps, or fens, if you will, that were once in those cities. But Washington's supposed swamp lives on as the city's badge of summer courage.

"Beating the Heat: Handling Washington's Historic Health Hazard" {Consumer News, July 7} makes the most of the supposed tropicality of the city's roots. Other than the swamp, the writer throws out three other hot, hoary facts. However, there are interpretations for them other than a heat-such-as-no-other- civilized-place-was-prone-to.

Perhaps President Taylor did die of sunstroke, but contemporaries ascribed his death to his eating too much fresh fruit (cherries in most accounts) or cucumbers, and combining that indiscretion with copious drinks of cold water and/or cold milk.

Congress rarely met in the summer. Early in the 19th century, it rarely met in April or May either, the city's most fetching months. The poorly paid members were often farmers and planters. Crops called them home before the heat drove them out.

And perhaps Britain did give its minister here hazardous duty pay because of the "sweltering summers." There is another explanation. During the 19th century, economizers in London refused to upgrade the British mission in Washington to ambassadorial level. Paying a hardship bonus got extra money to diplomats without alarming economizers back home.

Of course, there is historical evidence that it got hot in Washington. In 1800, Gen. James Wilkinson wrote to Alexander Hamilton, "The heat here for a few days past has exceeded my experience, and unhinged all my faculties rational and sensual." But Wilkinson didn't ascribe the heat to any physical feature of the city like a swamp or marsh, because in 1800 there was no swamp or marsh. One congressman, who arrived in the city in January 1801, looked about him and said he saw swamps. Every other congressman and visitor who wrote a description of the city failed to see a swamp.

When financier Robert Morris first saw the city in 1795, he wrote, "I'm delighted with the place; nature has done for it all that could be desired. I see that man will soon do the rest." And indeed man did. By 1816, most of the nonornamental trees in today's downtown were felled. A shallow mosquito-breeding canal was built, and in the building of it began to create a marsh. To effect a boom in commerce, the bluffs along the Potomac in Southwest Washington were leveled.

Don't blame the primordial swamp for Washington's summertime problems. Blame man. To cure it, return to nature. Plant trees. Level a city block and instead of building another luxury hotel, put in a well-shaded city park. As any noontime walker can see, the city doesn't have enough shady squares to accommodate those who want to get away from air conditioning and experience the unhinging of "faculties rational and sensual." Bob Arnebeck Washington

Doctors and Nutrition

An extraordinary myth has been cultivated about the education of physicians in the field of nutrition. For many years, it has been a practice of certain "experts" to speak of how little the average physician knows of nutrition, and the fault is usually placed in the medical schools, which presumably have little or no interest in the subject. Some doctors are even heard to state on talk shows that their schools had no courses at all in the subject.

In the July 14 Health section, Dr. Myron Winick of Columbia University has an article labeled "The Nutritionally Illiterate Physician: Most Medical Schools Fail to Teach Enough About the Diet." Of course, Dr. Winick does not say that his school is one of those. In fact, none of the medical schools are guilty. Dr. Winick says that 25 hours "is enough to cover the topics in nutrition that every medical student should know."

The typical medical student gets many times that. The second year is usually partly taken up with medical physiology; one of the popular texts is "Guyton's Textbook of Medical Physiology," first published in 1956. A recent edition (1971) has 103 pages on nutrition, which is defined as "the sum of the processes by which an animal or plant absorbs, or takes in and utilizes, food substances." Also in the second year, the subject of biochemistry deals at length with the chemistry of foodstuffs.

The third and fourth years deal with, among other matters, the dietary management of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, ulcers and other gastrointestinal diseases, kidney ailments, pregnancy and obesity. Not one of these courses is labeled "nutrition," but diet is taught in every one, and diet is a very important factor in each. William R. Moses, MD Bethesda

Letters intended for publication must be signed and include the writer's home address and home and business telephone numbers. Letters may be edited. Although we are unable to acknowledge all letters, we appreciate the time and value the viewpoints of those who write. Send letters to Health Section, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.