The main question we should be asking is: How did we end up with a healthcare crisis in the first place? With impressive technological advancements in both medicine and surgical procedures, how come our dietary habits top the lists of both death and disability causes in 2018? The dietary choices we are making are either a major co-factor or directly responsible for approximately 900,000 deaths a year. Yes, the causes of death range from: heart attacks, heart disease, strokes, cancer, type two diabetes, obesity and organ failure to failing immune systems that are incapable of fighting off viruses or infections that a healthy body would most likely resist. Sadly, the majority of these deaths are greatly influenced by what we are eating.
Statistically, heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, and unintentional injuries were responsible for 63% of all deaths that occurred in the United States in 2010. Aside from unintentional injuries, of the 63% of these deaths, between 20% and 40% of these premature deaths are preventable. There is no question there is a correlation between these statistics and what we are eating.
The story continues to take a turn for the worse when factoring in national demographics focusing on household incomes and disease rates. People with lower incomes are more likely to have worse diets due to the cost of healthier food choices. Some low-income households end up with diets rich with foods with too much salt, processed meats, red meats and sugary drinks and not enough healthy choices like fresh fruits and vegetables. It is estimated that almost twice as many people will die each year from eating processed meats like hot dogs than from car accidents. It is estimated that 58,000 people will die from the side effects of eating processed meats versus roughly 35,000 people killed on the road. Income should not play such a large role in access to healthy foods and ultimately poor diet and premature death.
Yes, low-income households are suffering at a staggering level, but these statistics affect everyone. Healthcare is a $3.2 trillion-dollar-a-year cost burden on the United States economy. It’s a cycle that plagues all of us. In the business world, poor health of employees equals lost productivity along with increased health costs to each company. Diet-related conditions account for the vast amount of healthcare costs for American businesses. The cost of healthcare is crippling the productivity, profit, growth and success of the American economy. When Warren Buffet chimes in calling out rising medical costs as the, “tapeworm of American economic competitiveness”, it should raise concern.
The bottom line is really nutrition, and it has been ignored by the current healthcare system we have put in place. It is rarely seen as a topic during government debates regarding healthcare. Doctors have confessed for years that nutrition, healthy eating and preventative strategies are merely glossed over during their time at medical school working towards their degrees. To put it bluntly, federal spending for nutritional research across all agencies is roughly $1.5 billion per year. That seems like a large number until you factor in the more than $60 billion a year spent on industry research on drugs, biotechnology and medical devices. When healthcare cost and premiums are at all-time highs and obesity, diabetes and other conditions are at epidemic levels, maybe it’s time we rethink our priorities.
It’s time to take a hard look at the advancements in nutritional technologies with a focus on foods that should be either utilized or avoided. Offering programs to help offset the cost of healthy foods like fruits and vegetables is not only necessary, it should be mandatory. The fact that there isn’t equal access to healthy foods due to low income is un-American. Not only is it unfair, if cost were cut by ten percent on fruits and vegetables, it is estimated that it could save 150,00 lives over the next 15 years. Still want to enjoy a soda? That’s fine but adding a 10% tax on high-sugar sodas could potentially save an additional 30,000 lives. Finally, if salt in packaged foods could be reduced by even three grams a day, it could potentially save thousands from cardiovascular problems and deaths each year.
Food is definitely part of the nutritional answer and, finally, people are waking up. Not only have we been unnecesarily losing lives, our economy is negatively impacted, and people are suffering from not only health problems but financial ones as well, due to rising healthcare costs. Through adequate education and financial incentives, hopefully things can turn around so that Americans from all social strata can enjoy long, happy and fulfilling lives.
For more on this topic visit Tufts University, Professor of Nutrition, Dariush Mozaffarian’s findings.
Also, see what else we have to say about nutrition here.