The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Archive for the ‘diet’ Category

MYSTERY THEATER

I don’t remember whether this was a short story or something that aired on television and I certainly don’t remember the name or author.  But it was an intriguing tale that I thought would be worth sharing.

Set in Victorian England, a beautiful young woman marries an elderly member of the peerage who is in rather poor health.  She is delighted with her ascent into the nobility but less enthralled with the old duffer who served as her entrée.  But she doesn’t expect him to last long so she perseveres as his wife.

Sadly, the variety of maladies from which her husband suffered appear to be remediating and she decides to take matters about sending her husband into the next world into her own hands.

She begins to add the most minute quantities of poison to his meals – insufficient to kill him instantaneously which might draw suspicion on herself, but enough to make him start to experience physical malaise.  She continues this poisoning for months and finally the cumulative effect of the toxins begin to take their toll on the old man.  His vital organs start to fail and he succumbs to death.

Of course, today we would be able to prove the cause of this man’s death was due to poisoning but the physicians of that time would have concluded that his demise was due to natural causes.

By the way, the widow came under no suspicion and polite society grieved with her at the loss she had experienced.  It turns out this was the perfect crime.

Poisoning has been the preferred method of murder for women for centuries.  Lucrezia Borgia was quite proficient in the practice as were many other of our female ancestors.  Of course, men have also used this method to dispatch adversaries as was the fate handed down to Socrates.

Most of us would agree that murder in any form is heinous and those of us who are responsible members of society, other than perhaps saying in anger, “I’m so mad I could kill him,” have never seriously contemplated that as a way to resolve our differences with our fellow men.

But what if there were someone loose in our midst whose time framework for murder were not months, as in our story, but rather decades?  How would we ever see his handiwork after so great a time period – even with today’s modern methods of detection?  I suggest that we should consider just such a perpetrator – the government agency which oversees those foods it deems safe for us to eat – the FDA.

Perhaps the term murder is inappropriate.  Any crime has to contain several elements which include motive, means and opportunity.  I can think of no rational reason that the FDA would be motivated to cause the death of millions of Americans – other than the far-fetched one that by ensuring we consume a poor diet, we are more likely to then rely on pharmaceutical prescription drugs which it also oversees – thus adding to the term of the job expectancy of its employees.  But I am loath to make that suggestion.

But the FDA in its role as overseer of the foods we allow on the shelves of our supermarkets, does have both means and opportunity to carry out this plot – intentionally or unwittingly.  I would like to take one product with which many of us are familiar to illustrate my point.  That product is manufactured by General Mills and is called Hamburger Helper.

According to the General Mills’ website, Hamburger Helper is available in 40 delicious flavors.  Further, the company offers the following information about itself:

“Our Mission is Nourishing Lives.  Making lives healthier, easier and richer every day.”

“Our Values.  Everything we do reflects our strong core values and we live these values every day.”

Let’s look at what goes into this product and see how that is reflective of General Mills’ Mission Statement and their Value Statement:

Enriched macaroni made from bleached Durum wheat is the first ingredient.  What is that?  I mean enriched certainly makes it sound nutritious.  Well this is what it means.  Perfectly wholesome wheat is first stripped of its nutritive value (bleached) in order to extend its shelf life and then other nutrients (chemicals) are returned to it (enriched) in the manufacturing process.

A little further down the list of ingredients (after a variety of chemical additives which I would probably misspell and have thus omitted) we come to Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil.  This means that Soybean Oil has had hydrogen added to it (again for the purpose of extending shelf life).  Unfortunately this particular form of oil is one of those nasty things that tends to clog our arteries, thus causing all sorts of cardiovascular problems as we consume them over time.

And, of course, no good processed food would be worthy of the name if it didn’t contain sugar in some form.  In this case, the form which sugar takes is corn syrup.

Unlike our first two ingredients which are designed to allow the product to stay “fresh” on the shelf through the next Ice Age, sugar is added to a great number of our processed foods for one simple reason.  We are addicted to it and our food manufacturers realize giving the customer what she wants is a good way to keep her coming back for more.  With nearly $14 Billion in annual sales, apparently General Mills has found a winning formula.

It would be unfair to single out General Mills and say they are manufacturing junk food under the guise of its being “nutritious” and foisting this off on an uneducated public.  They are not alone.  They and their competitors who manufacture similar products all fall under the supervision of the FDA.

We have seen how government has difficulty dealing even with short term issues – let alone ones whose ramifications are long term.  In this regard, the FDA is probably no more or less guilty than others in the bureaucracy or than those whom we elect to public office.  When something will not manifest its bad effects for years or decades it is not only easy but convenient to sweep it under the rug and leave it to someone else to deal with at a later time.

We are all dealing with the effects of that sort of thinking in the massive overload we have placed on our healthcare system, much of which could have been avoided had we spent our lives consuming nutritious foods instead of junk and rearing another generation who is learning to consume the same unhealthful items.

Once upon a time, people who believed that “You are what you eat,” were considered off-base and a little kooky, not only by the general populace but by the medical establishment as well.  Today that thinking has changed and we understand more fully the relationship between good food and good health.  But we still fill our grocery carts with products that do anything but meet the definition of “good” other than, perhaps, as far as taste is concerned.

The Federal government still allows these items into the food chain – even at a time when it is grappling to find ways to cut “fraud” from Medicaid and Medicare.  What greater fraud is there than that a tremendous number of products available for consumption are at the heart of our medical conditions and are approved by the FDA for sale?

If you go to the FDA’s web page the by-line reads, “Protecting and Promoting Your Health.”  That is a noble cause and one we should all applaud.  But it plays better as theater than fact.  How they can make that statement in light of the ever increasing evidence that we are eating our way into illness is a mystery to me.

GET ON THE BANDWAGON

People go into business for an opportunity to better themselves and their families.  I believe it would be fair to say that no one develops a business plan which is designed to guarantee failure.  But sometimes that happens.

Consider the company that manufactured horse-drawn carriages.  Things are going along nicely, the company offers a quality product at a good price – and then along comes Henry Ford with that darn horseless carriage thing.  All of a sudden a thriving business becomes a thing of the past.

If the business of medicine truly had our welfare at heart, it should be encouraging us to use their services as little as possible.  A well-crafted wellness system would mean that we would rely on their expertise in the case of accidents, congenital conditions, some surgical repair work and very little else.

I realize that this will sound bizarre if you have the mindset that every time you have a sniffle you need to consult the man in the white coat with the stethoscope.  But let me offer an example from one medical discipline which nearly put itself out of business.  It’s called Dentistry.

As a child I remember going to the dentist in order to have a cavity filled.  I still remember the sound as the pulleys turned the drill – that horrible screeching sound followed by the smell of burning calcium as the head made it’s way into my tooth.  Like most people, I viewed a trip to the dentist’s office as an excursion into horror.  We consulted the dentist because we had a problem – much in the same way we go to see the doctor today.

But dentistry evolved.  It turned from being a reactive profession to a proactive one.  It learned that we could easily prevent many of the problems that people of my generation experienced through a regular regimen:  brushing, flossing, regular cleanings and checkups.  Much of the practice today consists of routine maintenance and cosmetic procedures.

The number of cavities which are treated, thanks to these preventive steps, have declined by nearly 80% since I was a child.   That’s good news for patients – not such good news for dentists.  But they have adapted to the effects of their own good work and most of us are smart enough to see the dentist at least twice a year for our regular checkups and cleanings – and perhaps an occasional tooth whitening.

So if a proactive approach to dental health seems effective, why is it that medicine has not adapted the same strategy?  I can only conclude that there are two reasons for this.  The first is hubris and the second is money.

The fundamental premise of our approach to healthcare is to wait until a problem develops and then attempt to correct it.  It is the exact opposite of what dental science realized was the most effective way to deal with dental disease – avoid it in the first place.

Then we treat the condition with a primary emphasis on doling out drugs, 90% of which do nothing  to address the underlying condition but merely treat the symptoms of the condition – and most of which have side effects that are as hazardous to our health as the disease for which we sought treatment.

I suspect that if you were to ask anyone who is on a “drug therapy regimen” if they would prefer treating their symptoms or getting rid of the disease for which they are taking them, they would universally opt for the latter.  But that is not what modern allopathic medicine provides.

So where does hubris come in?  It begins with that little prescription pad that sits on your doctor’s desk.  Only she can put down the magic words that will enable you to start on a life of servitude to the pharmaceutical industry.  That gives your doctor a great deal of power which most of us lack.

As to the subject of money – there is no question that the root cause of many of our economic woes are generated by our healthcare system.  Medicare and Medicaid are rapidly moving us to the brink of insolvency.  That is not my opinion but rather the consensus of virtually everyone familiar with the subject.

There are many who want to attack the symptoms of the problem by reducing the massive amount of fraud in the system and that is a good first step.  But that is merely a temporary fix applied to a system that is based on an illogical premise.  The concept of waiting for disease to develop and then trying to treat it rather than the proactive approach of avoiding it in the first place simply doesn’t make sense – unless you’re a pharmaceutical company.

What would happen if we turned our emphasis to education and to implementing policies which would encourage people to eat nutritious meals, to engage in a regular program of healthful exercise and to avoid doing things that have been shown to be harmful to our health?

What would happen if our public schools only provided healthful choices in their cafeterias for our children at lunch?

What would happen if each of us took primary responsibility for our health and well-being?

I believe the answer is that over time, we could greatly improve our health and avoid many of the conditions with which we burden the medical system.   We would need fewer doctors and fewer hospitals and fewer pharmaceuticals.  And we would need to worry less about figuring out a way to pay for all of them.

Of course, the key to all of this is our assumption of personal responsibility.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of that going around in America today.  We all have excuses which are mouthed by our political leaders and the man on the street.

Rather than embark on a long-term program of self-improvement we prefer the quick fix of popping a pill and thinking we will wake up the next morning looking glamorous and muscle-bound.  Check out the infomercials on early morning television if you question the truth of that assertion.

Is there a way to begin on the road to wellness?

As a starting point, what if we got a rebate from our insurance company if we took an annual physical?  What if we received a rate quotation from our insurer based on our personal use of the system – the more use the higher the premium and vice versa?  What if the government subsidized nutritious foods reducing their cost and making them more appealing financially to the consumer – and taxed foods which were highly processed and contain little nutritional value?

(I do hate the thought of governmental involvement but they are already involved.  At least we could redirect the efforts of some in the bureaucracy to something that would have long-term benefits).

There is a specific reason I began this post by talking about the advent of automobiles – because, like cars, our bodies are machines – though far less durable.

If we are negligent in our driving practices, exceed the speed limit, breeze through red lights or fail to maintain our vehicles properly, we are far more likely to be involved in an accident.  We know this is staistically true.

If you have ever had a driver hit your car you know what ensues from that incident.  You have to deal with claims adjustors, drive your car to a body shop, pay a deductible and rent a car.  All of this is a hassle which could so easily be avoided.

In most cases, your car can be repaired.  If the damage is too severe your insurer will “total” the car and then you have to deal with finding a replacement.  And herein lies the difference between our car machines and our body machines.  Bodies are one to a customer.

Dentistry has proven that prevention is far more cost-efficient than treatment.  And it’s a lot more comfortable for the patient.

Isn’t it time that the medical establishment and the government got on the bandwagon?

THE OXYMORON

We are all familiar with phrases which are composed of two words that seem to be inherently contradictory such as “Jumbo shrimp.”  We describe this as an oxymoron.  Occasionally we find one word which has the same characteristic and it is to that we turn our attention today.  The word I would like to examine is “Malnutrition.”

Of course, “Mal” means bad while the part of the word to which it is attached, “Nutrition” is something that sustains us.  When we use this word, our minds often gravitate to graphic images of children in the third world.

We have probably all seen pictures of infants and children so lacking in food that they have understandably become the poster children of private agencies asking that we send donations to remedy their horrible situations.  Even as a child I was moved to start making a monthly donation to CARE to help these poor kids.

Many years later it is still the same story.  There are children (and adults) who do not eat enough or nutritiously enough on a regular basis.  This problem is not limited to the third world – it exists in America as well.

The reason that millions die of starvation every year is the same as it was when I was a child.  Our ability to procreate exceeds our ability to provide.  And in the United States we encourage this overpopulation with its inevitable resultant consequences as a matter of both social and fiscal policy.

Consider our distribution of supplemental funds to those living at or below the poverty level in this country.  How much does a recipient receive on a monthly basis?  That is determined as a function of how many adults and children are in that particular family.  Each additional child provides an additional income.  Sadly the poor are often the uneducated and there have been reports of some recipients intentionally bearing more children simply to get the additional monthly stipend.

Our income tax laws also promulgate this same sort of “reward” for people with large families.  Each additional dependent provides an additional deduction from Form 1040.  Apparently the Congress which crafted the Internal Revenue Code subscribes to the biblical injunction, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Nutrition or, if you prefer, malnutrition is at the fundamental core of the problem that we euphemistically call, “healthcare.”   Now that the Supreme Court has decided that Obamacare’s dictate that most Americans purchase health insurance is a Tax, I would like to explore a few ideas on how an informed health-Tax policy might actually set us on the road to becoming a healthier nation in the future

We tax cigarettes and alcohol for one stated reason – they are supposed to be “bad” for us.  The fact that both the Federal and State governments derive huge amounts of revenue from these taxes is corollary to my argument.  Nor am I alleging that the use of tobacco or alcohol are good.  I accept the statement that they are deleterious to our health.

With the high court’s ruling,  we have potentially embarked on a new era of taxation in order to support our healthcare system.  It would be beneficial  if medical scientists and nutritionists would develop a list of other things that, like smoking and drinking, are bad for us and which we might tax.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has already correctly identified one of those.  That is soda (or pop) depending on where you live.  He has put forth several proposals that would either tax each soda sold in the city or limit the quantity that could be sold to a consumer in one purchase.

The reason is that refined white sugar (or perhaps even worse, artificial sweeteners) have long term detrimental effects on our health.  I’ve attached a link that outlines the history of refined white sugar’s role in the advancement of slavery as well as its harmful effects when consumed over long periods of time – but there are many others which come to the same conclusion should the reader wish to explore this subject more fully.

http://macrobiotics.co.uk/sugar.htm

If I were to go with one of the Mayor’s proposals it would be the first one.  Add a tax to the cost of each soda that is sold, whether at the supermarket or at restaurants.  This may surprise some of you who realize that I write from a Libertarian point of view – supporting yet another government tax.  But I view this as consistent with my principles.

I believe that everyone should be free to do whatever he or she wants without government intervention or interference – up until the point that their behavior affects me.  At that point I have the right – no I have the responsibility – to get involved in the conversation.

It is clear that the explosion in so many chronic diseases including diabetes and cardiovascular problems could be greatly reduced if we made good dietary and lifestyle choices.  The failure to do that on the part of some of our citizenry affects all the rest of us in terms of the cost and availability of our healthcare.  Just as we penalize smokers and alcohol users, the same logic should apply to diet.

There are many who probably do not understand the effects that their food choices have on their health.  Obviously government does understand this since it now requires the listing of ingredients in products, the number of calories that a particular item contains, the amount of saturated and non-saturated fats that can be found in a meal to cite a few examples.

There are certainly many who, despite the fact that they realize their food choices are unhealthful, continue to make those same choices.   Bad habits are hard to break – particularly if we have held to them for long periods of time.  And while I give credit to the fast food industry for introducing more healthful choices for their customers, I suspect that those represent a fairly small portion of their overall sales.

It would have been difficult to advance this argument with any hope of success as few as ten years ago.  You can imagine the reaction from the soda giants, Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola (which today will still lobby strongly against it).  But whether it was simply a matter of expanding their line of products or because they realized that the handwriting might be on the wall, both of these now sell bottled water which has been a fast growing segment of their businesses.

The longest journey begins with a single step – and we have a long way to go before we become a healthier nation.  Perhaps Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to tax carbonated beverages is that first step – and one in the right direction.

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