Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How Our Nutritional Choices Affect the United States' Healthcare System, Part 1

I have had this on my mind for a long time and have struggled with how to speak to the subject without sounding aggressive, accusatory and frankly, mad. But yesterday my husband brought home a brief article from AOL Money & Finance entitled "McDonald's same-store sales rise in August". He had circled a few things and made comments in the margins. It was, to some extent, cathartic to see his passion for the topic and disgust with what we both see is occurring in the United States.

The article basically reports how McDonald's same-store revenues rose globally by 8.5% in August, even with "most restaurant chains experiencing slower sales this year as consumers cut back on discretionary spending due to high gas prices, tight credit and the weak housing market." McDonald's credited the increase to:

  • the dollar menu,
  • the breakfast menu (great...the most important meal of the day is being eaten at McDonald's...excuse me while I collect myself...),
  • the Olympics campaign for the "Southern Style Chicken sandwich and biscuit",
  • the nationwide advertising of the $1.00 Sweet Tea,
  • and "everyday affordability"

I need to stay focused on the above to try to explain where my growing frustration comes from, and then I'll dive into the guts of how this affects our health care system.

So much for the abundant nightly newscasts and concerns over obesity, Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc., etc! The article indicates an increase in sales numbers, specifically an 8.5% increase globally, in some areas of Europe an increase of 11.6%, and in Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa, same store sales rose 10%! I notice the quote "everyday affordability" as one of the reasons people patronize McDonald's in this tough economy, but what is the price you are willing to pay for good health?

My frustrations come from the following moral standpoint:

  • doing what's right versus what's en vogue
  • doing what's right versus following the masses
  • doing what's right versus doing what's trendy
  • doing what's right versus what the television advertisements tell you is right
  • doing what's right versus doing what you perceive is easy* or convenient*

And this is not to say that many Americans simply are not educated as to the nutritional lack-of-content of this type of fast food, and I've said before that if you aren't educated on a topic or don't know something, it's difficult to change behavior surrounding it.

Both my husband and a friend today threw another dart at my theory: that perhaps Americans just don't care...don't care that the food is unhealthy, bad for you, causes poor health, contributes empty calories to your diet, is loaded with unhealthy fats, sugar, refined carbohydrates in high quantities, and contains nutritionally-deficient macronutrients such as chemically-laden, factory farmed meats and pesticide doused vegetables...don't care? or just don't know. I shudder at the word ignorant as I find it an offensive word, but my husband uses it so freely in conjunction with people who are uneducated on the intricate and even basic nuances of diet, nutrition and physical activity, that I had to get a better definition. Merriam-Webster defines ignorant as:

1 a: destitute of knowledge or education ;
also : lacking knowledge or comprehension of the thing specified
b: resulting from or showing
lack of knowledge or intelligence 2:
unaware, uninformed

So whereas the term ignorant does apply to those who simply don't know better, I'm going to use the term uninformed, unless, of course, there is a bit of arrogance mixed in with that ignorance, at which point I will use the term(s) arrogantly ignorant (a very unattractive adjective)!

Perhaps people don't care because they don't see the link between this type of eating or these types of nutritional choices (because no one's forcing them to eat from fast food restaurants) to the universal cost of health care and the fact that we (my husband, me, you, my friends, my family) all pay, in dollars...CASH!...for these choices. How? Well first, let me say other countries are already doing it, and are already putting pressure on citizens to make better choices because of a rise in lifestyle-related disease such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer (and this is per the CDC, not my opinion!) and the rising cost of health care, which is already government funded. Don't believe it? Check this out: Japan, Seeking Trimmer Waists, Measures Millions. In an nutshell, Japan is getting fatter and unhealthier due to and increasing "western" influence as it relates to fast food and nutrition. Because Japanese citizens health care is either covered under public health care or through their work, the government instituted an annual waistline measuring campaign for citizens between the age of 40 and 74 with limits placed at 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women. If their waistline is above the limit, they are referred to nutritional counseling, or if the problem is not resolved, financial penalties are to be placed on the companies and/or local governments. Americans were so disturbed and affected with the fact that China could have done this, it made national news! But I digress. We have an impending promise from both presidential candidates to institute some form of universal health care. Universal health care is health care coverage which is provided and most times, mandated, to all citizens of a country. Funding of Universal health care is typically by the government, taxation and/or some private/public industry (employers). As health care costs rise, taxes usually rise to accommodate the increase. We already participate in much of this financial responsibility for the health care of our citizens through the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and through the monthly premiums we pay for our health insurance coverage...we pay, whether we use it or not! And I won't even comment on how much we, as taxpayers, pay out in taxes to cover those who have elected not to carry health coverage whether it because of cost or choice, as they use emergency rooms (admitted as uninsured) and local clinics, which are subsidized by our tax dollars. So, you don't think or believe you could end up paying for your chronic McDonald's' habit or your neighbor's chronic Checkers or Wendy's habits? The financial impact to us could be likened to what's happening with our current mortgage industry. And while I'm not a financial or business wizard, I've kept up on the subject (who can't, with it being in the news everyday).

It's the Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac issue. In another nutshell (and nuts are great sources of healthy fats, remember??!!!), our government has taken control of these two mortgage giants who own or guarantee 50% of our country's' mortgages. Once again, through taxpayers dollars, the government will provide financial aid to subsidize these companies, most likely to the tune of billions of dollars. So, again, you and I are paying to help support Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, even if our mortgage doesn't happen to be with them and even if we aren't having financial problems that put our homes in jeopardy.

My growing frustration and analogy to the McDonald's article and healthy living is about making good, educated decisions for the health and welfare of yourself and your family, and NOT expecting others or the government to fund your poor decisions. Many food choices are made because consumer are "uninformed" because someone told them it was their best choice...just like many citizens who were bamboozled into signing a mortgage they could not afford. Many people, however, make a choice to eat unhealthy, to smoke, or drink excessively and yet complain about the cost of health care. Many Americana's were acutely aware they couldn't afford the lifestyle or mortgage they agreed to and now complain of their dire straits.

Daily choices have consequences that require ownership. As insignificant as a single choice may seem (lunch at a fast food restaurant), made over and over, it can have a major impact on your health. Frankly, the same can be said of your life, relationship(s), marriage and/or career.

Do what you wish, eat what you like, but don't ask me to be responsible for your choices and decisions. Be accountable for your actions, and the consequences (short- and long- term) of your actions.

*Note the asterisks way up in the beginning of the blog where I tagged the words easy and convenient as it related to the fast food breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Getting in your car to drive to the fast food restaurant, through the drive-thru to pick up your fast food, and then back to the office within the hour or half-hour you get for lunch is not only a poor time-management decision, but also a poor environmental decision with the price of gas and our overuse of gas-guzzling, polluting vehicles. Easy and convenient, from my standpoint, would be to use the 1/2 hour the day or night before that you usually spend on the couch in front of Oprah or a soap opera or a gossip show (or heaven forbid a repeat sitcom) to plan your breakfast and/or dinner and pack your lunch for the next day. During that hour or half hour you get for lunch, now you can read the newspaper, catch up on that book you've been wanting to read or to socialize with other health-conscious friends. Maybe you'd even have time to take a quick walk or climb some stairwells before you eat, to combat our ever-so-increasing sedentary lifestyles. Yes, planning takes time, but it's also smart and a necessary part of eating clean and healthy. No less important in my mind than cleaning your toilets and taking out the trash. The are essential chores, and you do them because you have to. Ronald McDonald isn't going to take out that trash, and the dude from Wendy's isn't going to clean your toilets. Maybe they shouldn't be who you rely on to provide food for your body or that of your family.

I'm anticipating Part 2 of this topic to be a personal challenge for those who choose fast food because of the "everyday affordability". I'm going to see if I can price out breakfast and lunch at McDonald's (because of the dollar menu), and then try to feed my two person family on that cost for 3-5 days from the grocery store and my typically planning, excluding dinner because I think it's simply ridiculous to spend good money on a dinner out at a fast food restaurant - geez!

Stay tuned!!

1 comment:

Will-I-Am said...

Great post! Thanks for putting this together. I'll definitely be forwarding this to my clients.