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If people live an unhealthy lifestyle, should taxpayers pay their health care costs?

Posted Feb. 24, 2014, at 1 p.m.
BDN

Recent studies have shown that food may be the underlying problem of almost all health problems with Americans today.

In fact, by simply changing our diets now, we are more apt to avoid a plethora of medical problems in the future and, in some cases, even reverse the effects a disease may have already had on one’s body.

Most experts in food and nutritional science believe that the best way to treat health problems in America is to simply switch from a “Western” or “American Diet” (typically comprising meat and dairy products, high fat and sodium foods, and fast food), to a diet based on whole foods, nonrefined fruit and vegetables.

The food we eat can have adverse affects on the development and growth of cancer within the body, according to a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study found that in rats given a high animal-based protein diet (about 20 percent), the replication of cancer cells greatly increased. Conversely, in rats fed a diet of little to no animal protein (less than 5 percent) and fed more plant-based proteins, cancer cell activity could virtually be shut off at any stage.

Put simply, products high in animal proteins seem to grow cancer cells, while plant-based proteins stop cancer growth.

We also see a significant decrease in heart problems among those who consume plant-based proteins.

We need look no further than Norway during World War II to find a particularly useful example of this. Once the Nazis had taken over Norway, they confiscated most of their livestock, forcing the Norwegian people to switch from animal-based diets to ones that were more plant-based. The results were undeniable.

Forks Over Knives,” a documentary film about human health and dieting, cites a study finding there was a clear decline in heart-related deaths from 1940 through 1944 when the Norwegians were forced to switch diets.

The U.S. spent about 17.6 percent of its gross domestic product on health care in 2010, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Additionally, PBS Newshour reports that the U.S. spends nearly 2 ½ times the average amount on health care ($8,233 per person) compared with the 34 other wealthy nations that make up the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In the U.S., this is about more than our health. It’s about our wallets. Unfortunately, this money is often spent on procedures that are avoidable with a simple diet change.

You may be questioning why this is important to people in Maine.

In our state, MaineCare enrollment has doubled in the last decade, driving up the share of our state budget spent on health care. Maine is predicted to spend nearly $2.7 billion on health care in 2014 (roughly 25 percent of the entire state budget), according to the Office of Fiscal and Program Review.

With the recent increase in federal involvement of health care, the issue of unhealthy dieting is now one that will affect all Americans.

Should taxpayers have to pay the health care costs of unhealthy people who have neglected to maintain a healthy lifestyle and good, low-cholesterol diets?

If government spending is any indication, the government wants you to eat meat, poultry and high-fructose corn syrup products because it subsidizes these industries.

According to Food Safety News, major U.S. food companies spent about $40 million in 2011 to ensure Congress’ endorsement of their industries through legislation. Americans need to realize that the current system is actually endorsing companies and programs that are harming (and in some cases killing) us, only to leave the taxpayers to pay the bills.

Hopefully, with the recent implementation of the Affordable Care Act, we will look more closely at what we are putting into our bodies and the surprising connections between government, the food industry and health care costs.

In Maine, health care and welfare reform will likely be central to upcoming election cycles. The potential subsidization of locally grown natural produce is one topic I would like to see included in debates about welfare, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in Maine.

The organization Food AND Medicine has recently spearheaded this initiative, supplying a 50 percent discount on all produce from local farmers’ markets when paying with EBT Cards.

Would it not be wiser, then, to follow the advice of the ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates and simply “let food be thy medicine”?

Food for thought …

Trey Stewart is a second-year political science major, with a business and legal studies double minor, at the University of Maine. He originally hails from Presque Isle and is currently the author and editor of an online blog in Professor Robert Glover’s class on Maine government.

 

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