Growth Prospect: Western Diet Ills and Prevention

Posted on June 2, 2010


After reading Michael Pollan’s book The Botany of Desire and then listening to him talk (Authors @ Google – highly recommended) on his recent research on food and diet, I decided I needed to know what he uncovered in his book In Defense of Food. His thesis is that the typical U.S. or “western diet” has devolved into a relatively unhealthy collection of too much bad and too little good, which has produced very negative health effects that few other cultures suffer from; all of this is couched in the irony that the U.S. is the most diet-obsessed nation in the world with the worst collective eating habits and health to show for it.

Mr. Pollan’s research shows the specific byproducts of a diet high in processed foods and low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  He relates:  “Four of the top ten causes of death today are chronic diseases with well-established links to diet:  coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer.” 

Add to the argument a quote from Toby Cosgrove, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic:  “Forty percent of the premature deaths in the United States are caused by obesity, inactivity and smoking, all of which ought to be preventable.” It seems we Americans have dug ourselves a hole:  we consume a poor diet and then make poor lifestyle choices that multiply the effects of the poor diet to fatal results. Within the next 40 years, the CDC predicts 29 million Americans will be diagnosed with diabetes, which increases the chance of a lower extremity amputation 28x. 

Obesity, it seems, is on the minds of many these days. The WSJ just published a very good summary of obesity in the U.S., and globally, with a link to societal issues which could also be linked.  Five of the top ten most downloaded articles of the Journal of Health Economics are on obesity.

Hospitals, these are the numbers around which to plan. Consider your patient demographics. Can your facilities (size and staff) handle the increases in these areas? Staff:  do you have an abundance of vascular specialists… nutritionists… orthopedics… physical therapists? Existing capacity:  ORs… dialysis bays… labs? And your typical rooms:  do they have ceiling lifts… ADA accessible including showers / tubs?  Facilities:  wheelchair storage… ADA accessibility?  Off campus growth:  bariatric clinics… diabetes centers… nutrition / diet counseling centers… rehabilitation hospitals?

Enter:  prevention. We can learn a thing or two about eastern (Asian) medicine traditions because they are based on prevention; they address the body, which is in a delicate balance, holisitically as a system. Ill health signals a deviation from the normal state, an imbalance or disharmony that can be corrected through adjustments to mind, environment, stress, lifestyle, etc. factors. On the other hand, the western medicine tradition is interventional; it is reactive and waits for illness to appear and then figures out how to scientifically and specifically treat the issue.

Besides reacting to the inevitabilities of the western diet fallout, I see a market for more prevention and more emphasis on yearly, monthly, weekly health maintenance so the catastrophic effects of diet and lifestyle, which take years accumulate long-term damage, cannot take root. Who pays?  Well that is a discussion for another time.

Posted in: Growth Prospect