An opinion article was recently published entitled “Our Food Is Killing Too Many of Us.” After being initially taken aback by the heavy, straight-forward title of the article, the subtitle stated “Improving American nutrition would make the biggest impact on our health care,” which is a statement that I vehemently agree with. I was intrigued and felt inspired to write about it.
The authors argue that healthcare in the U.S. is extremely costly and those costs continue to rise. It is so costly because so many Americans are sick. They state that more than 100 million Americans have pre-diabetes or diabetes and about 122 million people are dealing with cardiovascular disease. Annually, that equates to about $327 billion and $351 billion, respectively. Yes, billions.
Sure, we can find ways to cut some costs by lowering drug pricing, administrative costs, and hospital costs, but these tactics don’t address the underlying issues. Reducing prices is a bandage on an open wound. Technology and medications will continue to advance to deal with diseases as they arise, and costs will continuously increase over time. In our country, we choose to be reactive instead of proactive by examining and acting on preventative measures.
What is the underlying issue or the elephant in the room? The authors freely state what dietitians already know - our food culture, quality and eating habits are making and keeping us sick. There are other factors at play of course, such as genetics, but the rate and cost of diseases could be significantly reduced through pro-action.
What might seem like a revolutionary idea to some (but not to any nutrition expert) is that food is medicine, and we should start viewing it as such. The article's authors are leaders of the Food Is Medicine Initiative in collaboration with Congressional leaders, advocacy partners and other stakeholders. The initiative advocates for simple measures that can be implemented to further lead our country in the direction of healthier food:
- More investment in nutrition research
- Worksite wellness
- Subsidizing healthy foods
- Regulatory safety and industry standards
- Updated medical training
- Patient prescriptions for healthy produce
- Home-delivered meals for those in need
- Further strengthening nutrition standards for school meals
To name a few.
As a Registered Dietitian, this information is not new and it is what our profession continues to fight for and promote. Food is medicine and it is our job to help people understand what that means and how to take advantage. To my disappointment, nowhere in this article do the authors mentioned nutrition professionals. I would add that improved access to nutrition experts, such as Registered Dietitians, can help improve health outcomes throughout all stages of life. The profession is growing because the need is inevitable, but meeting with a dietitian outside of a hospital or without a referral from a physician can be costly. This needs to change.
I’m happy to say that The Chopping Block is now offering health-focused cooking classes. Classes like The Non-Diet Diet and Healthy Harvest are great resources to learn practical skills from a dietitian to put into practice at home. Cooking more whole, fresh foods at home is a proven way to improve diet quality.
We should be starting young and teaching our children how to take care of themselves and their bodies, which includes how to eat. I can remember looking at the food pyramid maybe once a year in my early education. The nutrition knowledge that I received and that most receive when we are young is insufficient. Learning about how to nourish our bodies and stay healthy is arguably more important than math, science, history, etc. The food we consume is so incredibly important in ways that most people do not even understand or they do not care to understand. It is possible to eat a healthy diet and still enjoy all the foods that you crave in moderation. This is where a Registered Dietitian can come in handy!