Food, health and the I-want-mine-now mindset

Posted on October 13, 2010


As Poor Richard, Ben Franklin popularized the ancient adage: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

We all know that an apple a day isn’t going to prevent all health problems. But the general principle is sound. Fruits and veggies should be at the center of our diets. IMG_2178

It surprises me that the importance of a healthy diet doesn’t get more respect among policymakers who want to deal with the healthcare crisis. I regularly hear news about the impact of chronic disease care and management on the U.S. healthcare system, especially on the cost of healthcare. Insurance premiums continue to rise at rates far in excess of inflation, largely because of increased demand and utilization due to management and treatment of chronic conditions like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and a host of obesity-related problems. Most of these chronic health problems can be traced directly to lifestyle choices–poor diet and lack of physical activity.

Businesses suffer from lost productivity when workers are absent. It seems to me we ought to be finding ways to minimize absences due to chronic illnesses–by reducing the scope of mostly-preventable disease.

In my own extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins I see a direct correlation between the diets and lifestyles of those with chronic health problems and those who tend to eat more healthy diets and get a reasonable amount of exercise on a regular basis. I see weight issues in those who eat junk food, processed food, fast food.  Those with the worst dietary habits tend to have to greatest number of health problems.

My observations are, of course, based on personal experience. But I think the empirical research solidly supports the conclusion that diet and lifestyle (especially the lack of physical activity) directly impact personal health and are the prime contributing factor to the massive rise in chronic disease in the U.S.

Lest you tune out here–I’m not advocating the imposition of a tax on weight or anything like that. But we have budget deficits that are out-of-control at both the state and federal level. We must find ways to reign in consumption of medical services–because, under our current system, healthcare is one area where the laws of supply and demand don’t work. And we must find ways to educate people on the importance of lifelong lifestyle changes. Children need exercise and more real veggies, not french fries and extra-cheese nachos in the school lunchroom.

This blog post is the first in a series that will address food, physical activity and health in American society.  I’ll go beyond food choices and look at issues of food preparation and family eating habits. I’ll look at the role of out-of-whack system of agricultural subsidies. And the influence of advertising on the eating preferences of children.

I’m a political news junkie and I’m constantly hearing politicians, pundits and preachers harping about cultural issues. I’ve come to the conclusion that poor dietary choices and lazy lifestyles are but two symptoms or examples of a cultural shift that started some years ago and is now being manifest in all aspects of American life. We see the consequences of this shift in the accounting scandals that plagued Enron, WorldCom, HealthSouth, in the economic meltdown of 2008, Bernie Madoff, the Balloon boy, the popularity of American Idol, and the willingness to consume super-sized “meals” of high caloric substances that bear only a passing resemblance to food.

As a society, we have arrived at where we are because a sizable percentage of Americans want something for nothing. Or at least something for very little.

To get to the next point, I need to explain how and why I came to believe in the importance of eating healthy food. And role of food preparation in a healthy society. “My Food History” is the subject of tomorrow’s post.

And I want to hear your thoughts on these issues. Am I wrong to suggest that diet and exercise matters? Or that the increasingly-prevalent “I want mine now and I want it for little or no effort”  mindset plays a major role in how we got to where we are as a society? I invite competing viewpoints. But please be civil in your comments. Hate-mongering and flaming will get you nowhere on this blog.