Health and Wellness: A Moving Target?
It is estimated that 90% of the $3.3 trillion spent on health care yearly is directed to those with chronic health and mental conditions. One-third of the approximate 800,000 deaths that occur in the United States is attributable to heart disease and stroke. More than one-third of the United States population is obese. Associated with this, there has been an increase in the prevalence of multiple chronic medical conditions, including type II diabetes mellitus, hypertension and heart disease, obstructive sleep apnea and cancer. Pharmaceutical companies offering treatments for these conditions have seen steady gains in profit with the use of statins, anti-hypertensives and diabetic medications. Meanwhile, the behaviors that are linked to health decision-making often go unaddressed in the usual medical visit or worse in the acute care setting, and these issues get medicated without a proper communication of prevention and mitigation. The wound under the band-aide of healthcare continues to grow.
The medical system has been under greater strain, as it faces a burgeoning population of those with health issues. The most tangible answer is often providing medications and not addressing the underlying behaviors. The individual often relinquishes his/her responsibility to behavior change with the allure of medications. Learned helplessness can be cyclical and compound the problem. The hope for wellness becomes a pipedream with no clear progress toward the goal.
The fuel options that we put in our bodies have dramatically altered. Most Americans have found themselves regularly eating foods that have been processed thoroughly enough to nearly remove all of the nutrition. Children are fed cereal in the morning, sandwiches or pizza for lunch in their school cafeteria and macaroni and cheese for dinner. The tradition of passing on family recipes has become a lost art.
In the last decade, the pendulum is shifting toward a more wholesome, natural diet. Although a health trend today, the concept of eating natural food was the only option in the past, when fruits and vegetables were cultivated from smaller farms and beef, chicken and eggs were distributed to more local stores or bought directly from the farm. After the second world war, as the population of the United States became larger and more dispersed, there were greater strides to up-scaling food processing and packaging. Processed foods, such as cereal, snacks and dessert foods, made their way onto US American tables, with a trend away from home-cooked meals. The rising popularity of fast food restaurant chains, such as McDonald’s and Burger King, created more convenient ways to eat prepared meals with access to a variety of more processed foods and sugary drinks.
A dietary change came from the medical field’s recognition that heart disease was becoming more common in people living in the United States. Meanwhile, a major demographic shift in the population was underway with a longer lifespan, owing to improved public health measures in the early part of the 20th century. This longevity came with it the compromise of a burgeoning rate of cardiovascular disease. A consensus theory was reached in the medical field that the source of it was the western diet. The vessels of those with cardiovascular disease are filled with atherosclerotic plaques, which compromise blood-flow to vital organs, including the heart itself. These plaques are largely cholesterol-laden. The theory was that dietary trends were contributing to this increased incidence and since cholesterol was found in these plaques, cholesterol and fat in the diet were primarily targeted.
The food industry followed suit, removing the fat from their packaged products, making an already unhealthy food, even unhealthier by replacing it with more sugar. Compounding this was the production of other sweeteners, namely high-fructose corn syrups (HFCS) in the late 1960’s from a U.S. corn surplus. The FDA gave it the designation of generally recognized as safe (GRAS) in 1976, giving the food industry the “green light” for what became the standard replacement for sugar during the eighties and beyond. The majority of foods, including soft drinks, sauces, salad dressings, cereals and dried snacks have some degree of HFCS, often masked by one of its numerous aliases, including “fructose”, “fructose syrup” or “corn sugar”.
In the ensuing decades up to now, there has been a new, literally widening demographic in the United States and in much of the world that has access to these processed foods. Health statistics show trends in the body mass index (BMI*), which is one marker for health, with stark increases in BMI throughout much of the United States. Not only has there been the increased BMI levels, but there have followed increased prevalence of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Even more telling is that these increases of BMI have disproportionately affected those in a lower income echelon and that our youth are increasingly more likely to become obese. The United States and much of the rest of the world are truly facing an obesity crisis. Where will our future take us? Moving onward past finding fault, the future lies in our hands through a shift toward active responsibility and empowerment. Obesity doesn’t occur from national sloth or gluttony. It is a disease condition that occurs from dietary disequilibrium. Likewise, getting healthy doesn’t just occur in those who are ultra-disciplined or who exercise all day. It is the hope that through the information presented in this book, one could reverse or prevent obesity toward the goal of achieving even greater health