Solve the health care crisis: Eat well

Health insurance premiums continue to rise. Hassles abound for patients and physicians alike. Tens of millions of Americans are uninsured. And these problems are only expected to worsen in coming years. The system is flawed, to be sure. But isn’t the main problem with U.S. healthcare the fact that it’s simply overburdened?

People are sick and getting sicker. In particular, rates of heart disease, Western cancers, type 2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and osteoperosis only seem to keep climbing.

So many doctors these days are treating symptoms rather than causes. Health care reform, to a large extent, seems to be taking the same approach — ignoring the real underlying problem.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of health care is the role of the patient, and the average patient in the U.S. today is making themselves sick by putting garbage into their body, meal after meal, day after day. Issues of personal responsibility aside, overly processed crap is killing us and costing us a fortune in the process.

The food industry peddles addictive substances for enormous profits, then the health care industry strings along its “patients” (read: customers) with a pill for every ill.

Remember that adage you heard a million times growing up? “You are what you eat.” It was overused for a reason: because it’s true.

Remember that other one? “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”? While it’s a gross simplification, it holds a profound economic truth: They are substitute products for one another.

So here’s the question: Where is the money in educating people, making them healthy and getting them out of “the system”? How do you incentivize health care professionals to steer patients (or potential patients) toward their own substitutes?

It seems impossible, doesn’t it? This appears to be one of those situations where regulatory policy would be a fantastic boon for the public interest — if we could reach some semblance of agreement on what the actual problem is.

Unfortunately, there are wildly varying viewpoints on what is “healthy,” and the science often flies in the face of conventional wisdom. For example, existing educational efforts, such as MyPlate (the new food pyramid), recommend a diet rich in dairy products, which most independent research suggests can be quite harmful. Meanwhile, much of the so-called science is tainted by corporate interests and many of the researchers are guided by personal biases, so it’s difficult to know what to trust.

At the same time, food marketing “facts” and even government regulated nutrition labels are notoriously deceptive. For instance, the label on the front of a can of soup might say it is “98 percent fat free,” but when you turn it around you find that the nutrition label shows it derives 70 percent of its calories from fat. (The FDA and USDA allow companies to calculate fat by weight rather than by calories for front-of-package claims.) The classic example is Pam cooking spray, which says on the front of the can, “Fat Free.” But think about it: What is Pam made out of? Oil, which is 100 percent fat. Dietician and nutritionist Jeff Novick has a brilliant routine about how they get away with this. (It’s definitely worth a watch.)

The water is further muddied by an increasing number of Americans who equate weight loss with health (while they often go hand-in-hand, one does not necessarily imply the other). Long story short, it’s an incredibly complex issue, but one that has extremely far-reaching implications for not only our economic and ecological sustainability, but for the very future of our species.

It’s quite a tangled mess, but if we don’t start teasing it out soon it will only get worse. One way or the other, government probably has a role in that. Obviously I’m not advocating government regulation of what you’re allowed to put in your mouth. I absolutely believe in personal responsibility, but I also happen to think it’s wrong that a company can sell you shit and use taxpayer funded programs to tell you it’s shinola.

Policy doesn’t just fall from the sky. It exists for a reason. Anyone who’s really curious what the “invisible hand” of a completely unfettered market would feed us can get a glimpse of that disturbing reality (and the conditions that led to the establishment of the FDA) by reading Upton Sinclair’s muckraking classic, “The Jungle.” It was written over a hundred years ago, but it couldn’t be more relevant if it was penned just yesterday.

Now pardon me while I get off my soapbox and get back to this 32-oz. cup of Mr. Pibb.

4 comments

  1. Erik Gibson says:

    Beware those who can make complete sense out of a 2500-page health care bill and bloated tax code but who say it’s impossible to decipher the massive six-page US Constitution.

  2. Rita Mathews says:

    While healthcare is not like other services in that it is necessary and its consumers poorly understand what they’re receiving and how it is paid for, healthcare is still subject to basic accounting – there are costs and they have to be met, so that the next person may receive necessary care. The problems with the cost of healthcare are related to the ever-rising standard of care, costs of education and quality.

  3. Annmarie Hewitt says:

    About personal responsibility. Laughable here. I know quite a few people including yours truly here, that changed their health and their lives for the better. Most got off their medications for good and followed everything in the book to maintain a healthy lifestyle and found to be fit as a fiddle. Now you tell me, why is their premiums going up? A few of them, including me, went through individual underwriting to get a premium discount only to sit there and wait and wait and wait. And once appealed, were denied by the insurance company for that premium discount. Why’s that?

  4. get smart says:

    The twenty-seven hundred pages make up the text of the Patients Protection and Affordable Care Act. Put aside, for the moment, the matter of the mandate and “severability” and “community ratings” and all the rest. If the Justices—or their clerks—need to read through a law to figure out whether it’s constitutional, it shouldn’t matter whether the law is twenty-seven pages or twenty-seven thousand (those numbers are divisible by nine, so they can split them up). Perhaps that’s a civilian’s view, and that’s not how things work in the Court these days. (Scalia, in other comments, made it clear that he really didn’t know what was in the law—see item no. 2 on the latest Lizza List .) But it’s a good bet that there are many, many Americans whose chronic illnesses or health crises have generated far more than twenty-seven hundred pieces of paper, from doctors and hospitals and labs and insurers and, in too many cases, ultimately from collection agencies. Even if you’re covered, the broken state of the health-care system has meant hard work, and hardship, for millions of people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *