Saturday, July 16, 2016

It's Time to be Proactive about Our Health

The United States Government has a CEO (the President), a CFO (the Secretary of Treasury), a chief diplomat (the Secretary of State), and a chief war officer (the Secretary of Defense).  It also has a chief health officer – a person who is responsible for speaking out on issues involving public health.   And we call this person the Surgeon General.  

Isn’t that crazy?  If you don’t see why, do me a favor and head out tomorrow morning to the nearest IHOP or Bob’s Big Boy.  Look at the patrons, and watch what they eat.   You’ll see heaping helpings of bacon, sausage, French toast, pancakes, waffles, and lots of butter and syrup.    God knows we need more syrup.   Many of the people who are eating this food are already obese; many others are on the way to that state.   Sadly, that won’t stop them from coming back for lunch and ordering pie.   This is no laughing matter.  Rather, it’s a formula for high blood pressure, crazy-high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, you name it.   And yes, eventually they’ll need some surgery.   But when you think about the people who’re living on that obesity-friendly “Americana Diet,” do you really say, “Hey, what they need is a good surgeon?”

Perhaps what we should do is tell the Surgeon General to go back to the private sector and enjoy his or her massive salary in peace.  What we need instead from the Government is a Nutritionist General -- someone who appreciates the absurdity of living in a culture where tobacco is treated like the herb from Hell, while at the same time half of the country is loading up on refined and processed sugars.   Please tell me what makes Marlboros so evil, if Whoppers, Big Gulps, and Elephant Ears can be not-so-guilty pleasures?

I suppose that some people are lucky.  They come from families where you can eat as much crap as you want and your health doesn’t deteriorate.  But they’re the exception, now aren’t they?  For the most part, when people go on the Americana Diet, they pay the price and so do their loved ones, not to mention their fellow taxpayers.   Tragically, though, while they slowly began to develop the habit of eating unhealthy foods and quantities, they may not have received much push back from society.   Just ask Don Draper – “Things go better with Coke.”   And one of those things is a Big Mac (“Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame-seed bun.”)  I didn’t even have to look up those words; I’ve heard the damned commercials so many times that I have them memorized.  

I’ve been thinking about this topic lately because I had a physical exam recently and my blood pressure was up a bit, but my doctor didn’t say a thing about nutrition.   Mind you, I’m not faulting him.  In our society, it’s just not a doctor’s job to emphasize nutrition – or, for that matter, to put people on better exercise regimens.  The role of the doctors is to dispense medicine or perform surgery.  If you want something else for your health, you’re expected to seek it out for yourself.  

Here’s the rub, though.   It has become accepted wisdom that responsible adults should go to their doctor every year and get a physical.   In fact, once you reach a certain age, you’re also supposed to get periodic medical checks-ups to get specific procedures like mammograms or colonoscopies.  
But nobody is telling us that we should go to a nutritionist.  Ever.    When it comes to diet, we’re totally on our own.   And that’s what keeps IHOP, McDonalds, and Arby’s in business.

There are all sorts of reasons why people need to eat responsibly.  For one thing, the beef industry is indisputably one of the largest contributors to climate change.   We can give up the consumption of cows and cow products without harming our own personal health, and just think about what an amazingly positive contribution that would make to the health of our planet.   But let’s leave the societal benefits of sane diets aside.   Focus on yourself as an individual.  Would you like more energy?   Lower blood pressure and blood sugar?   Healthier joints?   A longer life?  Then why turn over all of your health needs to a surgeon or a drug dispenser, even if it’s someone who has a degree from medical school?

Honestly, I am so incredibly thankful for modern medicine and the hard-working people who practice in that profession.  But as helpful as it is to have an inspired Surgeon General, what we need even more is someone who can wake up all the IHOP patrons and motivate them to google “nutritionist” on their computer.    Take it from someone who has been thinking a lot about nutrition and diets lately – and who started a new diet 11 days ago – it’s actually fun to watch what you eat.   I assure you that as much as the Americana Dieters enjoy their doughnuts, I enjoy stepping on the bathroom scale even more. 

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