An article by Christina Pirello, an advocate of natural foods nutrition and professor of culinary arts at Drexel University, on Huffington Post states the uncomfortable truth about healthcare reform that the mainstream media consistently fails to report:
“Healthcare reform is irrelevant until Americans improve their lifestyles.”
The fact is, our healthcare costs are out of control because the diet and lifestyle that has become the societal norm in this country causes disease. As Ms. Pirello mentioned in her article:
“We are willing to tolerate this revolutionized food because it's cheap. But it comes at a high price to our health. We spend less on food today than any other people at any other time in recorded history. And the less we spend on food, the more we spend on health care.”1
Here are some numbers:
- Overweight and obesity rates are at an all time high – 73% of Americans are either overweight (38.8%) or obese(34.2%).2 In 1980, 15% of adults were obese – over the past 30 years,that number has more than doubled.3
- According to the CDC, U.S. obesity-related health costs totaled $117 billion in 2000, and if current trends continue, that figure is projected to reach $344 billion per year by 2018.3,4
- Coronary heart disease costs are estimated at $177 billion for 2010, costs for stroke at $74 billion, costs for hypertension at $77 billion. 5
- Health insurance premiums have gone up 131% in the last 10 years.6
- Over 50% of insured Americans take prescription drugs for a chronic condition – the majority of these drugs are for blood pressure or cholesterol.7
These costly diseases are caused by poor lifestyle choices, and they are also preventable by positive lifestyle choices.
The problem is not the fact that there are so many uninsured Americans – the problem is that there are so many unhealthy Americans. Do we need a better health care system? Of course. But not as desperately as we need better health. Better health through improved lifestyle choices is also fiscally responsible. Vegetables are cheaper than statin drugs. A gym membership is cheaper than bypass surgery.
Health care costs are the symptom, poor lifestyle choices are the cause. If we want to improve the situation, we need to address the cause. The only way to reduce these costs is to reduce the prevalence of these devastating (but preventable) diseases.
No matter how many confusing messages the American public gets about nutrition, there are some very simple truths. Fruits and vegetables are healthy, processed foods and fast food are not. If you follow a nutritarian diet, it will cost less to keep you healthy.
Ms. Pirello suggests a healthcare system in which individuals are rewarded for having healthy habits – sounds like a great idea to me. She also mentions Whole Foods Market’s new Health Starts Here program, for which I provide nutritional guidance.
“They are about to implement a program that encourages their employees to get and stay healthy. Beginning with a simple blood test and survey, each employee who chooses to participate will receive a diet plan. Each benchmark they hit (lower cholesterol and blood pressure, healthier BMI, etc., will result in a greater discount on their groceries purchased at Whole Foods Market. Imagine a health care plan that does the same thing.”1
No matter what the outcome of healthcare reform in Washington D.C., if enough of us develop and practice healthy habits, it will be to the benefit of our healthcare system.
2. Ogden CL et al. Prevalence of High Body Mass Index in US Children and Adolescents, 2007-2008. JAMA. 2010;303(3)
Flegal KM et al. Prevalence and Trends in Obesity Among US Adults, 1999-2008. JAMA. 2010;303(3)