Posted on Aug 26, 2019, 10 p.m.
It’s no secret that our food is killing us, improving American nutrition would make the biggest impact on our healthcare, however too much debate is being spent over who should pay the bill, which has been going on for decades with no clear answers.
The reality is that healthcare is expensive and Americans are sick. Due to the population continuing to age and technology advances these costs are likely to continue to increase, as well as the added weight of no real stance being taken on tackling obesity. Changes in drug pricing, lowered administrative costs and hospital fees, as well as fewer unnecessary procedure being done will help slow the rise, but trimming the edges can only do so much.
Most have no idea just how sick Americans are, for starters, more than 100 million adults have pre-diabetes or diabetes, for more perspective that’s about half the adult population. Around 122 million are affected by cardiovascular disease which causes about 840,000 deaths a year; and 3 out of 4 adults are either overweight or obese. Bottom line is that more Americans are sick than are healthy.
Rather than debating who should pay for all this why is noone asking what is making us so sick, and how can we fix this so less is spent on healthcare? The answer to this is food; within the USA poor diet is now the leading cause of mortality, causing more than half a million deaths a year, and dietary factors are estimated to be the cause of some 1,000 deaths every single day from diabetes, stroke, and heart attack. The cost of these conditions is nothing short of staggering: cardiovascular disease costs $351 billion annually; diabetes cost around $327 billion; and obesity costs around $1.72 trillion a year which is about 9.3% of our gross domestic product.
Human and economic costs of these conditions are the leading drivers of the ever rising healthcare spending, strangled budgets, diminished competitiveness in business, and a reduced military readiness. So just when will these financial and mortality costs be deemed to much to debate over, and a plan be made to take action?
Advances in nutritional science and policy can step in to provide a road map to address this ever growing national nutritional crisis. Food can be medicine, the solutions this mindset can provide are a will succeed in promoting better well being, lower healthcare costs, greater sustainability, reduced disparities, improved competitiveness, and all around greater national security.
If nutrition was included in electronic health records, medical training and continued education guidelines were updated to put an emphasis on nutrition, patient prescription programs were offered for healthy produce, and home delivery of medically tailored meals to the sickest patients were covered, measurable improvements would be made easily; the last example can save $9,000 in healthcare cost per patient per year alone.
Junk food and sugary beverages should be taxed everywhere and paired with subsidies on healthy protective foods such as nuts, beans, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish. Placing a strong emphasis on healthy protective foods is a needed representation and message for public and food industry to show a positive step to celebrate and reward good nutrition. Industry targets or regulatory safety standards should be set to lower harmful additives such as sodium, trans fats and added sugars.
School standards have improved the quality of meals by 41%, but this should be more. The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program should be extended to middle schools and high schools, and School Garden Programs should be expanded. Additionally the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program which supports 1 in 8 Americans should be leveraged to help improve diet quality and health.
The private sector could also be motivated to play a key role by changing shareholder criteria and investor coalitions to reward companies for joining the battle to tackle obesity, diabetes, and other diet influenced conditions. Partnerships could emphasize research and development on best agricultural and food processing practices, and work to get more healthy food into cafeterias and vendors to include incentives for eating healthy.
Without funding for research and coordinated efforts with federal leadership it will take many more decades that we simply can’t afford to wait for to understand and utilize these new areas related to food processing, cancer, autoimmune disorders, gut microbiome, allergies, brain health, obesity, diabetes, treatment of battle injuries, and efforts of nonnutritive sweeteners and personalized nutrition.
The significant impacts of the food system on health and well being, healthcare costs, economy, and the environment paired with public and industry awareness of these important issues have created an opportunity for government leaders to step in and champion real solutions to this growing epidemic.
Why are these critical national issues not being addressed or making campaigns of most presidential candidates? Food should have a platform and every debate should explore these positions given our crisis, and a new and stronger emphasis has to be placed on nutrition and how it can improve health and lower healthcare costs in this obesity epidemic. A smart candidate would realize this is long overdue, and include this in the platform and stick to their word showing they really do care about America.
Materials provided by:
Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.