America – as we’re frequently reminded via news, bills and paycheck deductions – is in the midst of a healthcare crisis.
Healthcare costs continue to skyrocket as our health as a nation further deteriorates. More people are getting sicker and staying sicker for longer, increasing the demands on medical resources and medications. Current estimates predict that total healthcare costs will exceed 20% of GDP within the next five years. Worse still, these extravagant costs are not resulting in exceptional health outcomes. Something is wrong with that.
The most frequently proposed solution is an overhaul of our health care system. Different forms of legislation promise to alleviate the pressures, but while the issue may be bipartisan, the approaches are quite polarized, all with a variety of shortcomings. The contrasting needs and agendas of all those involved – patients, healthcare providers, insurance companies, lobbyists, and politicians – make the issue increasingly convoluted.
While the state of healthcare may seem dire, the complexity of the situation is actually just masking a relatively simple solution.
The healthcare crisis cannot be solved with a better healthcare system. It can only be addressed with better health.
One of the greatest pressures on the healthcare system is the care of chronic diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of the $3.3 trillion spent annually on health care, 90% of the expenditures are for individuals with chronic and mental health conditions. Conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease can require medical supervision, testing, treatments and pharmaceuticals for years, even decades.
While certain political forces artificially inflate the prices within the healthcare marketplace system, we don’ t have to be stuck paying those exorbitant costs. For the most part, these conditions are highly preventable. Think of the many choices you make each day. What did you have for breakfast? How much water did you drink? What decisions did you make about soda, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol? How did you react to stress? How late did you go to bed? The answers to those questions can determine whether you are choosing to opt-in or opt-out of a broken health system.
In the arsenal of weapons against chronic disease, food is the nuclear bomb.
No other single intervention has a broader impact, improving every tissue and body system. Healthy eating sometimes has the reputation of being a habit for waif-like models, crunchy hippies, and ripped-ab athletes. But when we start talking about lower life expectancies, diminished quality of life, and economic collapse, abs seem pretty unimportant. With appropriate nutritional intervention and therapy, years of expense and suffering can be avoided starting now, even if the onset of chronic disease has already begun.
The easy part about using food as a weapon of mass health is that the opportunity to improve health and lives is presented 2-5 times every day. Every time a meal or snack selection arises is another chance to increase health and vitality and defend against chronic disease. No vaccination, health screening, or even exercise presents itself that frequently.
Now the tricky parts. First, healthy eating does not look the same for everyone.
Some people thrive on more animal products, some people must avoid dairy, some people can’t eat tomatoes. Fortunately, one of the most significant trends in healthcare right now is the inclusion of health coaches. Many healthcare companies are beginning to employ these professionals to support patients in making the correct lifestyle changes with the time and attention that primary care providers are unable to implement. Additionally, freelance health coaches are cropping up throughout communities, as well as the internet, to provide truly customized plans and advice. These coaches are trained to help you figure out what to eat and when and how to eat it, as well as other pertinent lifestyle changes.
The other tricky part is that food changes can be downright hard to make. There are so many factors that come into play, convenience, cost, comfort, tradition, habit, availability, knowledge, that making these changes may seem uncomfortable at best, impossible at worst. But again, when opting into junky convenience foods actually means condoning the economic and health collapse of our nation, well, hopefully, that merely makes passing on pastries seem a bit more doable.
Many other factors can ease the burden on the healthcare system by helping to avoid the onset of chronic disease.
The CDC lists adequate sleep, regular physical activity, avoiding smoking, and too much alcohol as a few. Optimal nutrition, however, holds the greatest power for population-level change.
Our healthcare system – and our health – can still be saved. It starts with food.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/costs/index.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/prevent/index.htm