We will be what we eat

Have you seen Food, Inc? Not that we need another health care problem, but this one, at least on the surface, seems to be a potentially mighty one.  (Disclosure: my bias is high as my sister is a food scientist.)  This exchange about genetically modified, mass produced food and increased caloric consumption leading to a higher incidence of diabetes is interesting:

Robert Kenner: When I was a kid we spent something like 18% of our income on food, today we spend about 9%.

Jon Stewart: So we’ve won!

RK: That’s great.  The fact is we have really inexpensive food which is great news. The problem is now, when I was kid health care costs were about 5% of our paycheck and today they’re about 18%.  …  We’re not going to be able to fix the health care system until we fix the food system.

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Healthy food in hospitals

One of the most stunning contradictions in today’s hospitals is the unhealthful food they serve.  In a place dedicated to healing and healthful decision making a patron can find a wide array of dining options that are definitely not healthy.  Some hospitals even have fast food restaurants within their walls.  It all makes little sense.

Hospitals around the country continue to realize their error, most recently Hennpein County Medical Center in Minneapolis:

For the first time, “trans fat” has been wiped off the hospital menu.

HCMC says it’s the first hospital in the Twin Cities to go completely “trans-fat free” — eliminating or replacing 130 items, from cookies to snacks to refried beans, from its cafeterias and room service.

Yet other hospitals, too, have joined the growing national movement to shun trans fats because of the link to heart disease and obesity. (Star Tribune)

Obesity, Health Systems, and Individual Pubic Health

Obesity rates are climbing. Its impact is worsening. The issue is quite troubling.

Americans’ eating habits have much to do with obesity. Our sedentary lifestyle (little walking, avoidance of stairs, no exercise) is also a big factor.

But there is lots to discover within these two major factors. That information will help us target preventive/health care for addressing the obesity issue.

Freakonomics reports a study which “found that neighborhoods with dramatically more fast-food restaurants and convenience stores than supermarkets also have significantly elevated rates of obesity and diabetes.”

A program in Philadelphia is targeting this problem.

We know that our environment and lifestyles have a major impact on our health, even more so than medical care.

Obesity, and its ramifications, will be the largest health issue we deal with in the very near future. The role of the health system needs to become more community collaborative as our society becomes focused on “health.” Fighting obesity is very much a public health issue—and is encouraging a move toward preventive medicine. The health system’s role could be transformed by becoming part public health agency, part individual medical care deliverer. Call it individual public health. The larger the role a health system plays in a person’s health, the more sustainable these organizations will be.

Income and health: keep kids in school

A widely reported study has shed light on disturbing graduation rates in U.S. metropolitan cities—more than 1 million students drop out of high school each year.

The implications are scary, as Richard Florida writes, “Ponder the implications of this from everything to human development, crime, social cohesion, and economic competitiveness.”

Maybe the key to improving health in the United States is to keep those lost students in school.

Health and income are related.  As one study reports, “A doubling of income is associated with a similar effect on health, regardless of the point at which this occurs.”

Our employer-based health insurance system also makes it highly desirable to have a well-paying job with benefits.  This article reports a large gap between high school dropouts and those who graduated, “Adults who don’t finish high school in the U.S. earn 65 percent of what people who have high school degrees make.”

A healthy (and well-educated) America is a competitive America.