Monday, November 9, 2009

Americans' food habits ... and national healthcare

You've seen the Nutrition Facts labels on foods -- they give you the nutrition info per serving of that food, and they also provide a Percent Daily Value, which is based on a 2000-calorie (or "average") diet. In other words, this number represents the contribution (expressed as a percent) of that nutrient to a diet providing 2000 calories. The number 2000 was agreed upon by FDA nutrition scientists who came up with the newest nutrition facts label.

Maybe at one time, 2000 was the average number of calories consumed by American adults. No longer. According to recent research, the average American consumes over 3,500 calories a day. I found a fantastic interactive diagram that illustrates caloric intake of various populations around the globe. (You'll need Flash installed to use it.) This illustration shows the percentage of calories contributed from each food group among different nations. You will notice that Americans consume the most calories, and that Americans get almost 40% of their calories from fats and sugars. Intake of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and root veggies (all together), only account for 10 percent of total calories. TEN percent! Another 23% come from grains (white flour is the base of a huge proportion of what Americans eat), and 24% from animal products. No wonder 2/3 of Americans are overweight and diseases of excess are at an all-time high.

Compare US sources of food calories to that of other countries. We consume the most fat, sugar, and animal products, while consuming the least plant-based foods, of all countries represented.

And our healthcare crisis overshadows that of any other country.

Do you think these two facts are related?

Whether you support or reject universal healthcare, I have a question for you. What about personal accountability? While there's been widespread debate over the national healthcare plan, much of it revolves around whether or not the government should offer an affordable plan to everyone, and what should and should not be available to people. But looking at the problem a bit differently, why do we have this crisis in the first place? Why are premiums so high, and why is everyone in the red?

For many years, healthy people were the majority of the insured and sick folks were the exception. All of the insurance premium money went into a pool that provided medical services and pharmaceuticals for unexpected illnesses and illness of older age. Nowadays, insurance companies are having a harder and harder time affording to insure people because so much more money is being spent on preventable disease management and drugs, and the affected are getting younger and younger. Now, the majority of the insured need more money in treatment than their premiums cost. And the shrinking source of that money? Premiums from healthy people who take care of themselves.

Which, I feel, points to accountability. Are people who eat themselves into a heart attack or gastric bypass surgery entitled to full coverage of these procedures? People choose unhealthy lifestyles knowing full well the risks. Sure, smokers' premiums are a bit higher, and some insurance plans charge more for high BMI (measure of obesity). But this does not begin to cover the cost of all the drugs, illness, and treatment resulting from lifestyle-related diseases.

In my opinion, if more people actually took care of themselves by eating less overall, incorporating more plants and less junk, and exercising, our healthcare crisis wouldn't be so dire.

I'm interested in hearing others' views on this.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

I believe a Twinkie Tax would help greatly, not to mention raise a considerable amount of $. The only thing that will get many to improve their bad eating habits is to make quality foods cheaper and junk more expensive. When gas skyrocketed, habits changed. Sadly, many had no choice but to bear the burden of the cost. Everyone has access to healthy food in this country.