Nature is infinitely wise. As a biologist this amazes me over and over. Plants make energy from the sun. It's called photosynthesis. They incorporate all the minerals needed for survival from the soil and use these building blocks to make most of what is required for life as we know it. It's an awe inspiring process. All of life on the planet is dependant on plants doing their thing. Humans cannot replicate this process.
Plants are the perfect food. They are full of vitamins and minerals, mostly low in fat, and full of fibre. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colours and tastes. They are made to be attractive so that we will eat them. We thrive on a plant based diet. The majority of the foods that we put into our bodies should be plants.
But today up to 93% of the standard American diet is made up of animal products and processed foods. This is not what nature intended. As a result of this, our bodies break down. We are currently facing an epidemic of degenerative diseases in most developed countries.
Four types of chronic disease – cardiovascular disease, cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and diabetes – kill an estimated 153,000 Canadians every year, account for nearly three- quarters of all deaths in the country, and are the major causes of premature death and hospitalization.
The Centre for Disease Control says that more than 75% of health care costs are due to chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, and their under- lying causes such as obesity and tobacco use. Total health care spending in Canada was estimated at $207 billion in 2012. This translates into over $155 billion Canadian tax dollars spent to treat people with diseases that are largely preventable.
All of these major health risk factors are affected by our lifestyle choices. Daily choices related to diet, exercise, tobacco and alcohol usage, and our coping strategies to manage stress are some of the central behavior patterns contributing to prevention. But instead of focusing on prevention, our current medical system focuses on almost exclusively on treatment.
The American Dietetic Association, Dieticians of Canada, Heart and Stroke Foundation, and Canadian Pediatric Society all state that appropriately planned vegetarian and vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. So why aren't these diets promoted more?
Doctors don't have time to counsel their patients on diet and lifestyle choices and they receive little to no training on nutrition in medical school. So they rely heavily on medications meant to manage symptoms, not to cure or prevent the disease.
"We don't have a health care system, we have a disease management system." I love this quote by Dr. Andrew Weil in Rescue Fire, a documentary about the state of the American Health Care System (watch Rescue Fire here for free). In this movie, it is pointed out that we have a very profitable 'disease care system' in which nobody makes money on healthy people or on dead people; the money is in the chronically sick people. The system needs us to keep coming back for more treatment.
Canadians already contribute a sizable share of their tax dollars to healthcare. But are we healthier because we spend more on health care than ever before? Medical wait times are painfully long and doctors race through appointments to see as many patients as possible in a day. Our health care system is under a huge amount of stress. We will not be able to preserve, let alone improve, the quality of our health care without major reforms which require a massive rethinking of medicine at all levels of society.
The impact on overall health and costs shows a dramatic decrease when spending is focused on prevention as opposed to treatment. However, a huge portion of the health care budget is spent on treatment, while only a small fraction is allocated to prevention programs. In order for this shift to occur in health care spending funds must be shifted towards prevention.
My personal opinion is that Canadians must be given the tools to make educated choices about their health. Government subsidies must put in place to support farmers growing fruits and vegetables instead of commodities, so that costs to the consumer more accurately reflect the costs in terms of environmental impact, economic impact as well as the impact on our health. Junk foods should be taxed like cigarettes.
We must change the compensation scheme for physicians to encourage more personal attention and allow medicare to encompass a more holistic approach to health care which includes alternative therapies, nutritional and exercise coaching. Money spent on physical exercise classes and gym memberships should be tax deductible. Health care education must begin in the schools. Children need to grow up with all the tools they need to make healthy choices. Companies should encourage healthy habits in the work place and provide courses and trainings for their employees to motivate them to make healthier choices. Healthier employees result in higher productivity and less time off work, so everyone wins!
This is of course, just one woman's humble opinion. I would love to hear your thoughts. Please leave them in the comments below. I also encourage you to share this on facebook to keep the conversation growing and to encourage a dialogue on these important topics.
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