The Vitamin Kid

Avoiding bad medicine and finding non-toxic treatments that actually work

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Location: Ankeny, Iowa, United States

Monday, May 16, 2005

The problem with national health care

Discover magazine reports, on page 59 of their January issue, the scope of the astonishingly bad American diet:

After crunching dietary data gathered from more than 4700 adults, researchers at the University of California Berkeley found that soft drinks provide more than 7 percent of the average daily intake of calories--the largest single source. Soft drinks, alcohol, and sweets, including pastries, account for more than 25 percent of adults' calories. Add fruit drinks and salty snacks and the figure rises to 30 percent. Nearly one-third of our calories come from junk food and alcohol.

Even jaded nutritionists, long inured to the public's atrocious dining habits, were taken aback by the study. "The dose really does make the poison," says epidemiologist Gladys Block, the study's lead author. "We knew people ate a lot of this stuff. But that much?"
Not only do these foods fuel the nation's obesity epidemic, says Block, they are displacing the nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables necessary to fend off disease. The result, Block says, is an unappetizing paradox: a nation of people simultaneously overfed and undernourished.

Since these are average figures, and some people are actually eating healthy diets, that means that many Americans are eating more than 30 percent of their calories as junk food.

It is unfair to put people who take care of themselves and eat their veggies in a risk group with those who are abusing their bodies, trying to commit suicide by Twinkie.

We need a system that economically incentivizes prevention, both from the standpoint of the patient and the standpoint of the doctor. We want to be compassionate, but to avoid consuming all available resources on health care, there does need to be some form of direct or indirect rationing. At the most basic moral level, a child sick with a heart defect is more deserving of resources than a smoker who smoked 3 packs a day for 30 years and now needs a heart operation.

There are no easy solutions, but economic incentives for healthy eating need to be part of the mix.