Everyone's concerned about rising health care costs, and I can hardly blame them. As with most problems, a little common sense will go a long way in bringing costs under control. Last month, I gave you ideas of how to do just that-things like
- reducing the influence of drug companies
- bringing good, old fashioned competition back to health care
- making health care less drug-centric
- making simple lifestyle changes
It's this fourth point I want to focus on today-making simple lifestyle changes. No one likes to talk about lifestyle changes much. We all do things we know are bad for us, and most of us are in no hurry to stop.
But in some cases, you probably have no idea that some of the lifestyle choices you are making are so unhealthy. In fact, there are many powerful people out there who have a vested interest in misinforming you and keeping you sick.
I'm going to show you how two powerful lobbies-Big Sugar and the early-detection lobby-are using misinformation to line their own pockets at the expense of American health care system and your well-being. They're literally getting rich by keeping you in the dark about the unhealthy choices you're making.
They've turned our health care system into a personal gravy train-and it's time we put on the brakes.
The burden of obesity on the health care system
Do you have any idea how heavy the burden of obesity is on the health care system? Let's take a look at the numbers.
In the 1970s, 15 percent of the population was obese (at least 30 pounds overweight). In the 1980s, it rose to 23 percent. In the end of the 1990s, it was up to 31 percent. And by 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 64 percent of adults qualified as overweight or obese. We're four times as fat as we were 30 years ago.
Health care costs follow that same upward trend. In 1987, employers and privately insured families spent $3.6 billion on obesity-linked illnesses. By 2002, that number rose to $36.5 billion.
How could those numbers be so high? It's easy to see when you consider that being obese increases your risk of diabetes, coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, stroke, gallstones, gout, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, kidney stones, depression, cancer, and more.
Kenneth Thorpe, the lead author of a study on weight-related illnesses that was published in the journal Health Affairs, said, "Most of what is going on now to try to control health care spending is missing the target. Companies are tweaking co-pays and talking about health care savings accounts when really they need to redirect their focus to reduce the prevalence of obesity among children and workers."
The logical question, of course, is how to go about doing that. Most of the so-called nutrition experts would tell you to eat like a bird and exercise like a hamster. Forget it. Yes, there's a lot that goes into maintaining a healthy weight, but I want to focus on just one: Sugar.
The health consequences of America's #1 addiction
I don't need to tell you that refined sugar is bad for you. Even most five year olds know that by now. Yet somehow, the average American manages to consume more than 180 pounds of sugar every year, according to the book Get the Sugar Out by Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD. When you break it down, that equals more than one teaspoon of sugar per hour - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.
Sure, eating too much sugar contributes to obesity and weight gain. But it does a whole lot more than that. Sugar contributes to diabetes, depression and osteoporosis; it impairs your immune system, and interferes with the absorption of protein; it can cause cardiovascular disease, food allergies, weakened eyesight, damaged DNA; it feeds cancer-and the list goes on. Are you getting the picture here?
I know you'd never spoon-feed sugar to your kids or grandkids. The notion is absurd. But when you consider the typical American diet, you'll quickly realize that's exactly what's happening. Parents feed kids sugary cereals for breakfast, enriched white bread, chips and cookies with lunch, dinners of chicken nuggets and French fries, and a little ice cream for dessert. Then they wash it all down with some sugar-filled fruit juice and vending machine sodas.
Of course, plenty of seemingly innocent foods are anything but-like bagels, pasta sauce, frozen foods, salad dressing, and ketchup.
No wonder everyone's so sick.
How did it get so out of control? It wasn't by accident, I can tell you that.
Cornering the market on legal addictive stimulants
Sugar is as addictive as any other drug-it just happens to be socially acceptable. Don't believe me? There's no denying the temporary highs you get from sugar-the elevated mood, the increased energy.
But have you ever seen someone try to go cold turkey with sugar? Better yet, have YOU ever tried it? Inevitable symptoms include moodiness and irritability, headache, light-headedness, lack of energy, anxiety, and depression. And here's the most telling sign of the addiction-cravings for more sugar.
I don't think that sugar is all that different from an addictive substance like cocaine. Both are derived from natural sources-sugar from sugarcane, and cocaine from coca leaves. They've both been refined to an unnatural state that your body doesn't quite know how to process. Sugar might not destroy your health as quickly as something like cocaine, but make no mistake-it will destroy your health.
The battle against refined sugar has been going on for years. Problem is, the sugar industry is far more powerful and lucrative than any of its opponents, and they've managed to infiltrate the government and the health organizations to the point where you can't tell where one ends and the other begins.
Believe it or not, the Great Sugar Lords have even managed to gain control over the nutritional guidelines set by the World Health Organization.
Let's take a look at how they do it.
Drug money keeps the truth under wraps
If you don't think this is a political battle for the health of the entire nation, you need to think again.
Through creative labeling, the Big Sugar industry has been able to sneak sugar into tons of food items under names like glucose, fructose, lactose, sucrose, maltose, corn syrup, and more. Even those people who care enough to read labels can be easily tricked by something as simple as serving size.
Take a 20-ounce soda, for example. According to the label, it contains 27 grams of sugar. The catch? One bottle is considered to be two and a half servings. So the reality is that one bottle of soda contains 67.5 grams of sugar. That's about a third of a cup! Maybe that could explain the mid-afternoon crash so many people complain about these days.
Back in 2002, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CPSI) fought to get manufacturers to clearly label how much sugar was in a given product. True to form, the Food and Drug Administration turned down the petition.
The powerful sugar lobby has even been able to influence the wording of certain dietary guidelines.
Perhaps the most infuriating part of all is the fact that YOU, the consumer, are the one funding this industry promoted by deception and fueling national disease.
For years, the government had such tight restrictions on sugar imports that U.S. manufacturers were free to tripple the cost of sugar to U.S. consumers. The money came rolling in, and you can be darned sure that Big Sugar pumped a good portion of that money right back into the system that gave them the monopoly to begin with.
I call it a bribe, but the more acceptable term is political donation. During the 2004 elections, two of the Big Sugar companies in Florida donated as much as $925,000 to election coffers. There's no telling how much they're putting out this time around, but I assure you-Big Sugar knows it's well worth it.
They even have enough money to fund their own bogus research institutes, the World Sugar Research Organization and the International Life Sciences Institute-both of which say that sugar is actually good for you. Give me a break.
The less processed, canned, pre-packaged, frozen, manufactured food you eat, the better.
You should also consider using alternatives to the standard granulated sugar-and I'm not talking about Equal or Splenda, or any other artificial, lab-manufactured substance. They've got their own problems.
I'm talking about alternatives such as Xylitol. This natural sweetener looks and tastes just like sugar, but it doesn't come with the same health consequences. You can use Xylitol to sweeten your coffee or tea, or even to bake with.
But the best part about this sweet sugar substitute is that it actually carries health benefits of its own.