Honey, does this Shopping Cart Make Me Look Fat?

It amazes me how stubborn Americans are sometime. Land of the Free, Land of the Brave but Land of the chronically ill. Ironically, most of our chronic illnesses are self-imposed.

According to the According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three-quarters of health care spending now goes to treat “preventable chronic diseases.” Many, if not most, of them are directly related to really poor lifestyle choices. Specifically, what we choose to spear with our forks: We’re spending $147 billion to treat obesity, $116 billion to treat diabetes, and hundreds of billions more to treat cardiovascular disease and the many types of cancer that have been linked to typical American diet. One recent study estimated that 30 percent of the increase in health care spending over the past 20 years could be attributed to the soaring rate of obesity.

Honestly, I think it is immoral to deny anyone health care predicated on income. No one should go without care because it is unaffordable; however, I do think there is an ethical problem with taxpayers having to foot the bill for another individual’s chronic bad habits. Habits imply choice.

For a long time, obesity, it seems has been accepted as a cultural norm…television shows such as the Biggest Loser, or the Style Network’s chronicles of Ruby Gettinger’s 700 pound journey of weight loss beg the question of causality and responsibility – at what point does an individual not know that their lifestyle choices are not the healthiest? While individuals on these programs have made the admirable, if not difficult choice to change, how many other individuals are at home, on the sofa, bag of chips in hand, who have not made that choice?

I love food. Yet maintaining a healthy lifestyle and consequently, a healthy weight, has always been very important in our home. I loath dieting. As we all know, Americans spend billions on weight loss products and strategies. The efficacy of which is frequently questionable, if not nonexistent. Instead, of deprivation, I believe in celebrating food.

The rule to maintaining a healthy weight is eating whole, real foods…I agree with Michael Pollan, and go with the rule that we only eat foods that our grandparents’ would have recognized as such. I also make sure that we have one home cooked – from scratch—meal a day. I know that we are lucky; where we live there is a farmers market everyday of the week somewhere in our community. There is an organic bakery down the block and a green grocer around the corner.

Wouldn’t be ideal if this were the rule rather than the exception? Instead of paying for health care, it would make more sense to have the government invest in small farms….or give tax credits to small businesses that serve organic or whole food ingredients.

I volunteer for a group that promotes communty gardens in low income neighborhoods. These communities are over run with chronic illlnesses such as diabetes and hypertension–the effects of economics, lack of education rather than simply poor choices. However, the benefits from organic gardens sprout like wildfire, entrepeneurial spirits flower. Organic restaurants and bakeries are popping up in neighborhoods where you’d least expect them. I have no doubt that the health benefits are slowly becoming more and more apparent where families have access to community gardens. Once educated, most people are more careful about the choices they make. Wouldn’t it make more sense for more government investment in programs like these?

The second component to staying healthy is movement. I would go nuts without my matinal three mile hike over the hills in our neighborhood or our weekly jog on the beach. When these get old, I alternate with Pilates classes or my favorite, Bikram yoga. When these get old, I fall back on my old prosaic gym membership. My husband runs around Lake Merritt everyday after work. We’re not unusual, most mornings my neighborhood is filled with runners and walkers. More telling, the rate of obesity is, pardon the pun, slim to none.

Wouldn’t it be nifty if the government focused less on healthcare and more on preventative health measures? Tax credits for running shoes? Or even, issuing pedometers…say, for every 100,000 steps, people earned a tax deduction? (that’s less than five miles a day for two weeks!) Or mandatory gym memberships? When I was a little girl, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness was a big deal. Then again, this was back in the day when school’s had enough money for physical education.

More funding should be invested in programs that promote wellness than treating illness that results from poor choices and lethargy.

Published in: on December 27, 2009 at 5:21 AM  Comments (2)  
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