All American Thick-burger, AKA “The Quadruple Bypass”
“I hope I die with a mouthful of bacon.” ~ overheard at a fast food restaurant
Twice now at GOP debates, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has stated that just four diseases (the “Big Four”) contribute the lion’s share of health care costs in the US: heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.
“We need to be focusing on what fixes this country,” Huckabee said. “I’ve continued to focus on the fact that we need to declare war on the four big cost drivers because 80 percent of all medical costs in this country are chronic disease. We don’t have a health care crisis in America, we have a health crisis.” (NY Times: GOP debate transcript)
To put that 80% number into perspective: According to Forbes magazine, annual health care spending in the US last year was $3.8 trillion dollars. (Forbes) That’s trillion with a ‘T’ and it is roughly the equivalent of the entire 2014 GDP of Germany, the Euro-zone’s economic powerhouse. (CIA World Factbook) 80% of $3.8 trillion is $3.04 trillion dollars: a number that currently exceeds the annual GDP of all other nations on earth except China, Japan and Germany according to data compiled by the International Monetary Fund. $3.04 trillion is 6.25 times the projected 2015 US deficit of $486 billion. (The Hill) A $3.04 trillion dollar annual savings in health care costs would pay off the entire US national debt in a little more than six years.
So, yes, Huckabee’s statement is 100% true: a rare feat for a Republican presidential candidate to be sure (hence noteworthy of its own accord). In order to control health care costs, we have to find a way to control the big diseases that are driving those costs. What isn’t generally known, however, is that at least two of the “Big Four” diseases are known to be caused by, or mainly result from, poor nutrition — heart disease and diabetes. Of the remaining two, Alzheimer’s and cancer, the latest research shows strong, apparently causal, links between Alzheimer’s and diabetes and between some cancers and highly processed meats like hot dogs, bacon and baloney. In short, all of the “Big Four” diseases driving the vast majority of our health care costs are mostly diet-related. Among them, diabetes alone is already one of the most costly and destructive medical epidemics of the early twenty-first century. Nearly 21 million adults and children in the United States have diabetes, while an estimated 41 million people between the ages of 40 and 74 have pre-diabetes. (Life Extension Magazine). That’s almost 1/5th of the population.
Lightmap: 14,000 McDonald’s Locations
Consequently, if Huckabee intends to “declare war” on the Big Four diseases, the best place to start is at the source: the eating habits of the average American, or what is often called the Standard American Diet (SAD). But that will be a daunting challenge and one I doubt Huckabee is cut out for. The simple fact is that Americans have abominable eating habits. We eat too much food, we eat far too much fatty food; we eat far too much diabetes-inducing sugars, starches and alcohols; we eat enormous amounts of food adulterated with herbicides, pesticides and chemical preservatives; and we get really, really sick because of it. Not to mention that the fast food we consume by the bushel basket is designed to be addictive. (When was the last time you had a “Mac attack”)? The end result of a lifetime of poor eating habits is a slew of chronic diseases that develop over a lifetime and tend to appear later in life, when it’s mostly too late to do much about it. (Forks Over Knives)
“Interesting, in only thirty days of eating nothing but McDonald’s I gained twenty-four and a half pounds, my liver turned to fat and my cholesterol shot up sixty-five points. My body fat percentage went from eleven to eighteen percent, still below the national average of twenty-two percent for men and thirty percent for women. I nearly doubled my risk of coronary heart disease, making myself twice as likely to have heart failure. I felt depressed and exhausted most of the time, my mood swung on a dime and my sex life was non-existent. I craved this food more and more when I ate it, and got massive headaches when I didn’t. In my final blood test many of my body functions showed signs of improvement, but the doctors were less than optimistic.” Morgan Spurlock, Supersize Me
In order to even begin to manage these chronic diseases, we’d have to radically change the American diet and Americans’ eating habits. And while I congratulate Mr. Huckabee for pointing it out, the problem is that he is proposing, as President, to use the power of the office to try to do something to reduce the prevalence of those diseases and their impact on the high cost of health care. Or, undertake what his fellow Republicans like to call ‘intrusive government.’
Let’s see how well a couple of modest attempts at changing Americans eating habits has worked out, shall we?
When First Lady Michelle Obama initiated a plan to end the epidemic of childhood obesity in the US (“Let’s Move!), it included nutrition standards for taxpayer-subsidized school lunches, a position for which she was widely derided by those on the right:
– Fox News stated that school nutrition standards would mean “the lunch lady is now a health czar.”
– Fox host Sean Hannity predicted that Michelle Obama’s healthy school lunch program would lead to a nanny state, and wanted to know why “every American family need[ed] a dietitian appointed by the government.”
– Rush Limbaugh claimed that the government would start monitoring citizens as part of the “obesity problem.”
– Fox’s John Stossel argued nutrition standards would allow the government to “dictate” which citizens are allowed to marry. (Media Matters)
Others denounced the First Lady as a hypocrite, pointing out at the time that she herself could lose a few pounds.
Still others argued that nutrition standards in schools would cause massive “plate waste” and widespread hunger leading to hungry children and lower scores on standardized tests.
Nutritional standards gonna get’cha momma. GONNA GET’CHA MOMMA, BOY!
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