Look around the office at your baby-boomer co-workers. Chances are that one out of two between the ages of 55 and 64 is walking around with high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Two in 10 are obese, another life-threatening condition.

But the danger doesn't start at middle age, or even in young adulthood. Children are also now contracting diabetes, heart disease, and many other chronic disorders once considered adult problems.

For those of us in the book business, that raises a question: Why haven't all those thousands of health-care encyclopedias, self-help books and health-care tomes we've published had a beneficial influence on our health—or on U.S. health costs and policy? You would think that a profession such as ours, with access to some of the greatest physicians, medical centers and research scientists in the world, would be able to influence readers to live more healthily.

But look at the numbers. The nation's biggest health problems are interlinked and largely preventable. Obesity is a major risk factor for adult-onset (type 2) diabetes, which now affects 7% of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Diabetes links to cardiovascular disease, an underlying cause in 37.3% of all deaths, according to the American Heart Association.

Which brings us back to the question: Why? And more importantly: What can we do about it?

Admittedly, it's hard to get readers to buy any book, let alone follow its advice. That's all the more reason to put our efforts into books that can truly benefit readers. Start by looking at our roster of authors. Did we sign them because of something valuable they have to say—or because of their "platform"? For years we have lived under the misconception that every health book we publish has to offer a new, unique, undiscovered "promise" or "hope for a cure" to sell or attract media coverage. Too frequently the goal today is to pursue "branding" at all costs. A successful self-help author suddenly morphs into a cookbook author? What's next, a line of frozen foods? One publisher, not long ago, told me a book I was pitching would have a better chance if "the author were Bill Cosby's proctologist."

We stoke readers' obsessions with trends, medical miracles and health gurus, while neglecting to give them the basic, scientifically proven information they need.

The solution is simple. We should adopt a new approach for judging all our health, diet and recipe books. That means making publishing decisions based on one question: Does this book increase health literacy and reduce health myth?

We need to go back to where we were 25 to 30 years ago when we published health information—not just brightly packaged "hard abs" or "celebrity" diet books. We need more books like the witty and straightforward YOU: The Owner's Manual: An Insider's Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger by Drs. Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz (Collins) and Healthy Aging: ALifelong Guide to Your Physical and SpiritualWell-Being by Dr. Andrew Weil (Knopf), which promote proper nutrition, moderate exercise, meditation and rest.

The success of these books proves you can make a profit on common sense. I've done it myself. Three decades ago, I created The Pill Book.It started selling immediately because it had needed information in an accessible form. ThePill Book has 14 million copies in print and has never once been the subject of a talk show. When Bantam published this book in 1979 we had no highly visible, professional affiliation—just a good idea, solid information and a publisher willing to take a chance that the public would embrace such an approach. Dozens of knockoffs have followed—one I even packaged and edited, the original edition of the consumer version of the Physicians' Desk Reference.

Remember—titles sell through word of mouth, with people exchanging books all the time. Each time we publish a book that gives one book buyer valuable information, we potentially reach many more consumers. Readers are hungrier for valid, credible advice than we give them credit for. After all, their lives are at stake.